Mobile phones in Ethiopia

There is one, government run mobile phone operator in Ethiopia, called ETC.   There is reasonable mobile phone connectivity in all the main towns and cities, and along the main roads.

If you are visiting from the UK, the position seems to be that:

  • Contract (pay monthly) mobile phones on UK Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile networks seem to roam OK here. The costs are considerable, though – about £1.50 a minute to receive a call.
  • Orange does not have a roaming agreement: so your Orange phone will not work
  • Pay-As-You-Talk SIM cards from the UK do not work at all here.
  • Text messaging works in both directions. It costs about 35p to send a text message to the UK.

You can buy a local pay-as-you-go SIM card for ETC which will probably work in your phone (if your phone is not locked to a UK network).   (If you are staying with us, we will lend you one.)  The easiest place to get one is in the lobby of the Hilton; but you can also get on in an ETC office or in several shops around town.  You will need to have your passport (they will retain a copy of the photograph page).   Another good shop for SIM cards is on the Bole Road, next to Shoa Bakery near the New York Supermarket. The SIM will cost about ETB 300 ($30).   You can buy top-up cards all over town.

If you are visiting from the US, you’ll need an unlocked GSM phone.  The (more common) CDMA phones won’t work, as far as I know.

There are currently no data roaming agreements with Ethiopia, so your Blackberry may work as a phone and for text messaging but you won’t get your email on it.    But you can get round this by buying a local pay as you go SIM card.

If you want mobile internet, read this.

32 comments on “Mobile phones in Ethiopia”

  1. When did mobile phone started in mekele ?how many peoples were using at that time? how about now ?I need Resent informations if possible.

  2. Have been planning a “phone a friend” session in a workshop I’m facilitating in Addis from 12-13 March and information on which networks work is really useful for understanding what is realistic. Do you have any info on which African networks work on roaming in Addis (e.g. Airtel, Safaricom)?

  3. Owen, thank you this post is really helpful. Have just landed here with an Orange phone, but have brought a spare to use a local sim card…but you have explained the silence!

  4. Hi I want to Buy 200 Pay as you go sim card every month. beacouse I want to start call center Busness in addis ababa or any other state in Ethiopia & for that I want 512kbps up/ 512kbps down Pure internet conectivety. Do you ahve any idia? How can I manage this both things? Pl Hepl us to start my Busness in Ethiopia. We are form Dubai.

  5. I have a UK Asda PAYG SIM and it works fine here in Addis, £1.40 to call or receive calls and 40p per text. My phone even reckons it has 3G internet but I don’t have the balance to test it. About to hopefully buy a local SIM – someone said I can show my passort and bring a photo.

  6. I just bought an ETC SIM from a high street seller for Birr 40, which had Birr 15 of credit on it. I needed a photocopy of my passport, (which they kept, I didn’t need the original document), and two passport photos. My phone reckons it can get internet although I haven’t got it working yet. But I did notice my taxi driver this morning googling while he waited for me, so I’m sure it is just a case of APN etc settings. (How do you fit a 230 character alphabet on a 4×3 keypad????)

  7. @Jak,

    Yeah you can buy 200 sim even more every month from Ethio Telecom dealers but what kind of call center business are you planning cause if it is about voip related staff, am afraid the telecom doesn’t allow. If it is a support kind of business may be.

  8. Is any person tell me How much the charge for 512up/512down Kbps Pure Dadicated line in Ethiopia….in any city..And the docuements need.. we are form Dubai base company…

  9. Does anyone know if there is a mobile phone network in Assosa?

    Is there only one company till today? 

    What are the local and overseas call rates from the mobile phones?

    Any unlimited internet/gprs/edge option for a monthly pay? 

  10. We have lost our phone we purchased in Uganda that we used when traveling to Africa.  Is there anywhere in the US that we can purchase a phone that would work in Addis?

  11. I have a question concerning Ethiopian area codes for mobile phones: The 251-(91) seem to be standard for Addis Ababa and other areas, however, I have a friend with an area code of (92) or 251-92; yet I have searched the web extensively with no clear idea as to what region area code (92) covers. Could anyone shade some light on the mobile area code 251-(92)?

  12. I have been trying to find the published rates for pre-paid minutes from Ethio Telcom. Does anyone have the per-minute costs of airtime on pre-paid there?? Possibly peak and non-peak? Thank you!!

  13. ……So, all the above was interesting! …but what is the August 2012 situation? 2 photos and copy of passport and 40 Bihr buys an ETC sim which presumably replaces any UK network sim in the phone…is the current cost £1.40/minute or 40p/text?…thanks

    ….anybody out in Ethiopia on a Gap year??? ..check out my wwwwebsite and maybe get in touch thanks, HK

  14. As of November 2012 (and confirmed again in February 2013) it seems Vodafone pay as you talk SIM cards DO work.

  15. I have been trying to find the published rates for per-paid minutes from Ethio Telcom. Does anyone have the per-minute costs of airtime on per-paid there?? Possibly peak and non-peak? Thank you!!

  16. A very useful post, thank you.  I was out in Ethiopia in July of this year (2013).  There is still no data roaming so blackberry’s will not work (for e-mail) as you state, but my UK pay-as-you-go SIM card worked fine, so that problem is clearly overcome.  Most hotels (even the so-called 3* ones) tend to have WiFi and Internet works OK, so you can always get your fix of e-mail by logging onto them. Roaming fees for incoming/outgoing calls are still pretty high.

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  18. Hi – How reliable is mobile/cellular phone coverage in: Addis, Harar, Lalibela, Simiens Mountains, Gondar, Bahir Dar? I’m about to book a trip but it is very important that I can keep in regular contact with my own family back home.

    Also which company covers these areas? I’m not sure who Vodafone Ireland have their agreement with.

    Thanks guys!

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