It has come to our attention that UK and other passport-holders normally eligible to apply for a US visa waiver via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) are likely to have their application rejected if they visit Somaliland or have done so since March 2011. This is because Somaliland is still legally part of Somalia, which features on the list of countries for which ESTA applicants are required to disclose any visit, for whatever duration and purpose, undertaken since March 2011. Rejected ESTA applicants are still entitled to apply for a US visa, and may well be granted one, but this is a relatively costly and time-consuming process, and the outcome is uncertain.
Having bought a visa in Addis Ababa, we were able to cross the border at Taj Wajaale with no problems (although the Somaliland immigration office who checks and stamps your visa is not at the border itself, but a few kilometers away. Buses on the way to Hargeisa will stop here on their way so people can get their documents checked. We weren’t charged any additional fees of any kind either leaving Ethiopia or entering Somaliland, which was a welcome suprise. We heard from an Australian we met in Hargeisa who flew in that he was charged $60 at the airport as an entry/exit fee, in addition to whatever he paid for his visa. When we flew back to Addis from Hargeisa, we still were not charged anything.
Our experience in Somaliland was mostly great. As a man, it’s easy to move around, find food, sit and eat or drink coffee with locals (almost all men). There are a lot of the Somali diaspora who have returned to Hargeisa from Europe, Australia and the USA who speak English and are interested in talking with travelers. Also, hardly any of these conversations ended with a request for money or offer to be a guide at a “good price”, or anything else, unlike our experience with the majority of people we met in Ethiopia.
As a woman, it is a different experience. Although we were assured that it is no problem for foreign women to sit with men at restaurants and cafes, we didn’t see a single other woman sitting with men at any of the restaurants, and most have a separate eating area for women and children, usually separated by a curtain or sometimes a separate room with a separate entrance, often in the back of the building. Between this and the expected dress code for women in a strictly muslim nation like this, some women may find the experience oppressive and uncomfortable.
We only spent a few days in Somaliland. After taking the bus from the border ($2, about 2.5hrs with checkpoints) we stayed three nights in Hargeisa at the Oriental hotel ($15/night for two people in a single room, although this took some haggling. Given our timing, we organized a tour to Las Geel and Berbera for a day trip. This trip cost us $244 for two people including guide/driver, armed guard, Las Geel permits and a letter of passage from some ministry to get you through checkpoints (you might not need this last piece, it seems like we just happened to be talking about the trip when someone who works at the ministry was nearby and insisted on it…).
Las Geel was amazing and worth it for us. Not only is the rock art beautiful, abundant, and fascinating, but the wildlife in the area is pretty great, too. We saw monkeys, warthogs, deer tortoise and myriad birds, as well as the ubiquitous camels and other stock animals. It could be cool to camp here, and looks possible. We later met some people who were driving themselves who did just this, although they may have gotten into a little bureaucratic trouble for having the wrong permits, so maybe try to sort this out in Hargeisa before you go.
Berbera was 46 degrees C, a bit too much for our weak northern bodies, but bearable for an afternoon. We were happy that we didn’t try to spend the night here. If you do, it might be worth springing for the $30 room with A/C instead of the $10 room with a fan, depending on your budget. The water is warm and felt great after sweating all day, although the gender differences may again affect your experience. All of the women we saw were swimming with just as much clothing as they wear walking around town (long sleeves, dress, and hair covered). Most of the men were wearing boxers and nothing else. Also, there is very little shade beyond some thorny bushes on the high side of the beach, so prepare for some sun!
The city itself is interesting to explore for a bit. As an active port, it has a bit of an industrial feel with a small downtown area with some little shops and restaurants. Almost half of the buildings seem to be collapsing, mostly from the civil war, although several shining new and/or newly renovated mosques stand out amid the rubble. Most people we saw were hiding out from the sun, which is basically what we did after an hour or so of exploring.
Leaving via the airport was easy after another day of hanging out in Hargeisa. Be prepared to have your bag completely emptied and searched at the second security checkpoint at the airport (between the waiting area and the gate). They’ll also check all of your electronics to make sure they turn on, and we got the most thorough body pat-down I’ve ever received.
After we spent several days trying to find the Somaliland Embassy in Addis, I thought I’d update the info on here. Apparently they moved just a few months ago into a “permanent diplomatic mission” donated by the Ethiopian government. (http://www.somalilandinformer.com/somaliland/the-embassy-of-somaliland-relocates-to-newly-furnished-premises-photos/) As I look at those photos now, though, I’m realizing that the place I visited a few weeks ago isn’t even the same as the one from this article back in February. There was a permanent-looking sign on the wall outside the compound, though, so maybe it’ll stick around this time.
Last year someone posted an updated location with a GPS marker, but it is NO LONGER THERE! Also, nobody on the ground seems to know where it is and the website just says address TBD. We found it by contacting the Somaliland mission in the USA, who gave us the phone number of an employee at the Addis mission, who was able to describe the location to us over the phone.
The new location (as of June 28, 2017) is in Bole, very close to the Malawi and Mozambique embassies and next door to IOM. I’ve submitted it to google to add to their maps (they’re still showing the old-old location from the Bradt guidebook), and here’s a link to the location.
Once we found the embassy, getting a visa was easy, although it is more expensive than previously posted on this forum. They charged us $100USD each (as US citizens), although they were willing to take 1/2 of the price in ETB. It’s not easy to get more USD in Addis, but we were able to do it after some run-around at the commercial bank of Ethiopia headquarters (the big round building downtown). We dropped our passports and cash off at the mission in the morning, they said to come back around 1pm, we were back at 12:30pm and they were ready for us to go!
The Somaliland Mission in London has moved and they haven’t bothered updating their details. I’ve just had a horrible few weeks trying to get my passport back from Royal Mail!
Their new details are:
Somaliland Mission UK
234 Whitechapel Road London- E1 1BJ.
Tel. 02034412631 or 07534329915.
Bob Francescone writes:
We did this trip overland in May, 2016. It’s an easy trip to Somaliland, a time-consuming one back. Buses leave from Harar for Jijiga very frequently, but not until they are filled, double-filled, and triple-filled. Our bus had 25 seats and 45 people. Ditto for the bus from Jijiga to the border. It’s all easy. Transfer time in Jijiga was just a few minutes, but we may have been lucky. The two buses are about 35 and 40 Birr each.
The border is a mayhem filled market, but the passport procedures are a snap…if you can find where you stamp out of Ethiopia and into Somaliland. People will help. The Ethiopia guys are pleasant and efficient. The Somaliland guys are worth the trip, happy go lucky, hand-shaking, welcoming, smiling guys. Our visa had expired, but they made a quick phone call up to Addis and issued us a new one, for the usual charge of $60 for a Somaliland visa. Easy stuff! They only get about 25 walkers a day, so they remembered us 5 days later on the way back, with equal affability and charm. Harar to the border on the two buses took about 4 hours.
The ride into Hargeisa is about $7.00 and takes about 2 hours. It will be cramped. They’ll drop you off at your hotel.
(NOTE: if you get your visa in Addis, plan carefully. Pay very careful attention to the 30 day limit. It begins to count down from the day you GET your visa. 60 day visas may also be available there. Issuing the visas takes a few hours. If you go early you may get it almost immediately. We got there at 11 and had the visa at 1. )
The return trip is another experience altogether. Border to Harar took 8 hours. Details to follow.
The bus from Hargeisa leaves from the bus station and is about $3-$4, with seats and little crowding. Reverse the immigration process at the border. There had been heavy rains so the Ethiopian passport office had moved. People helped us find it.
The bus to Jijiga was crammed with people and piles of goodies they are trying to bring back into Ethiopia. Somaliland has no taxes. Things cost a fraction of what they cost in Ethiopia. You’re traveling with small time ‘smugglers’, and the Ethiopian authorities know it. The buses were stopped 8 times. They’re looking for electronics (and smuggled US cash, the currency of favor in Somaliland) , we were told. They search everything and every package. One stop was essentially a pro forma wave through. Most required us to off load, be questioned and searched. Our back packs were emptied onto the road and our wallets emptied and counted at one. That one also included a body search. It was all polite, and everyone else seemed to take it as a matter of course, so that’s what we did. Other passengers showed us what to do and where to go. It was pretty simple. All the goodies were opened and confiscated.
Our trip might have taken less time, but the first bus broke down and the substitute bus had clutch problems and ‘sped’ along at the rate of a careful stroll. We got to Jijiga as it was getting dark, but there was a bus loading up. It left about 30 minutes later. The bus fare collectors may try to charge you more than they charge the other passengers. On the border-Jijiga busTwo women behind the fare collector waved 3 fingers at us, telling us the fare was 30Birr and not the 50 he asked for.
All in all, it was easy, fun, crowded and a quintessentially Ethiopian experience, with friendly people. This is why we travel.
Bradt Somaliland with Addis Ababa was very helpful. My initial plan was tour to Ethiopia along with 2 other friends then after reading the Somaliland part of the book we decided to go to Hargeisa and Laasgeel.
All credit to Somaliland Tours ( www.somalilandtours.com ) for an innovative approach. Customer service was first class from the first contact and was patient enough to try to understand what we want and our tight schedule before proposing us an itinerary.
According to this post (January 2016) on the Thorntree, the Somaliland Embassy in Addis Ababa has moved yet again – this time close to Edna Mall & Medhane Alem Church (Grid G5 on the map on p 158-9 on the Bradt Ethiopia 7th edition)