WHAT TO BRING
When traveling to Ethiopia, it is best to disregard typical traveling advice regarding money. Traveler’s checks and credit cards are mostly useless in Ethiopia.
Traveler’s checks are very hard to cash in Ethiopia, and will probably only work at big hotels like the Sheraton. You will be required to show the receipt as well as the actual traveler’s check, thus negating some of the protection of traveler’s checks.
Credit cards, likewise, will only be honored at the big hotels. You can get a cash advance on your credit card at the Sheraton, which is a nice thing to keep in mind in case of emergency. But expect to pay a large fee for this convenience.
The very best type of money to bring to Ethiopia is crisp, new $50′s and $100′s. You will proably need to call your bank ahead of time and let them know you need non-worn, uncreased, unmarked money. I’ve had to wait 3-4 days for my bank to get in a shipment of nice money, so don’t expect to do this the day before you leave, unless you have time to go from bank to bank, picking a few nice bills at each place.
Make sure it is newer than 1996. Apparently 1996 was a big year for counterfeit money, and so these bills are often rejected by money-changers in Ethiopia. Get ready to laugh, but I actually ironed my money before I left, then sandwiched it between a couple of small pieces of cardboard in my money belt.
HOW TO CARRY IT
Many people feel uncomfortable at the thought of carrying that much cash on them. You’ll want to carry a money belt either around your neck or at your waist UNDER your clothing. Money belts can be purchased inexpensively wherever you can buy luggage. I always divide the money between the adult travelers so that no one person has it all.
In country, I keep my money on me at all times and also divide the money into two chunks. The majority of it I kept under my clothes. Then the money I expected to need during one day I kept in my front pants pocket or fanny pack. I didn’t want to be advertising/flashing my money belt each time I needed to purchase something while out and about in Addis.
HOW TO CHANGE IT
Even money changers in the big airports like Heathrow won’t change your money for Ethiopian dollars. You’ll have to wait till Addis to change your US dollars for birr. You can change money at the airport, at a bank right across the big room from the visa window. When I was there, this bank was even open in the middle of the night.
They’ll probably only let you change a couple hundred dollars at time there. I experienced this at the Ghion as well. They don’t want any one person cleaning out their money stash, I guess. This means you’ll probably have to change money several times while there.
You can also change money at the Sheraton or the Hilton. I liked going to the Sheraton just because the hotel is so gorgeous!
HOW MUCH TO BRING
Expenses in-country include:
Lodging ($40-250 per night, depending on where you stay)
Meals ($3-6 per person per meal is adequate)
Child’s visa at Embassy ($380-$400)
Souvenirs: at your discretion
Your visa on entering Ethiopia and your exit tax on leaving Ethiopia (see my airport post).
Some people end up with a child who needs to go to the doctor while there. Medical care is quite reasonable there, but you’ll want to have a little extra money stashed just in case.
I brought about $2000 each time I went, bringing a teenager along with me. That was enough for all expenses with not much left over. I spent several hundred dollars on shopping.
If anyone else has money tips to share or newer information than what I have shared here, please post it in comments! Thanks!