image of bank notes from Ethiopia and other countries

Banking and purchasing in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is still primarily a cash economy, and the official currency is the Ethiopian birr (ETB), consisting of 100 cents. Birr notes are available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100.

Dollars can be exchanged into birr at a good rate upon arrival at Bole International Airport. All travelers are permitted to carry $3,000 in foreign currency in and out of Ethiopia with proper evidence of its source. Travelers can only carry up to 200 ETB out of the country.

Foreign currency should be exchanged in authorized banks, hotels, and other legally authorized outlets, and proper receipts should be obtained for these transactions. Exchange receipts are required to convert unused Ethiopian currency back to the original foreign currency, and visitors may change back any surplus birr at the airport before departure. The currency declaration form must be retained as this will be required by customs on departure. Check the current exchange rate >>

Banks and ATMs

The largest bank in Ethiopia is the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. Standard hours at most banks are usually from 8:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m. Saturdays. Closing times may be an hour later in some private banks. Most banks work through lunchtime; however, foreign exchange services are closed during lunch hours (noon–1:00 p.m.).

There are limited ATMs available throughout the country, usually at the larger hotels in Addis Ababa, although they have been known to be out of service for significant periods of time.

Opening an account

A local bank account entitles a program to obtain money in foreign currency when needed for business functions, such as per diem staff travel, paying local vendors, and so on.

If a new program wishes to open a bank account in Ethiopia, signatories on the account should be the resident representative of the program as well as the finance officer, or a project officer as applicable. Signatories from the U.S. cannot be added according to local regulations.


Sarah Harlan
Assistant Director, Global Services
Office of Global Strategy and Initiatives