Somaliland – Practical Information

Cali Mataan Mosque - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Cali Mataan Mosque – Hargeisa, Somaliland

Before you go: A visa is necessary for all visitors entering Somaliland. You can either contact a hotel in the country who can facilitate the process or visit the Somaliland Liaison Office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a visa can be obtained in less than an hour.

Be aware that it is no longer possible to obtain an Ethiopian visa in Hargeisa. Unless you already have an onward visa for either Djibouti or Ethiopia, you will be forced to travel by plane as these visas are not issued at the land borders. Try to obtain a dual or multi entry visa prior to travelling to Ethiopia as it allows more travel options.

There are no ATMs in the country so bring plenty of US dollars to exchange. Ethiopian birr and Euros are also accepted, but US dollars are the dominant foreign currency and they should be your first choice.

Somaliland is a conservative country, so be suitably attired. This means women should wear long loose fitting clothing and a head scarf. Men should also dress conservatively in long sleeves and pants.

Accommodation: I found accommodation to be of good quality and well priced. Mostly these are locally run establishments that are the equivalent of a guest house or bed and breakfast. The Oriental Hotel is a very solid choice in Hargeisa – and the location in the heart of the market area of Hargeisa cannot be matched.  Outside of Hargeisa, the choices are fewer, but the standard for the price still represents good value.

Food: There are many tasty eating options in Somaliland. With the exception of chicken and obviously pork, all meats and fish are easily obtained, along with a good array of vegetables, rice and local bread. Be willing to eat at popular street vendors, their food is delicious and extremely affordable.  Away from Hargeisa, restaurants have more limited choices (vegetarians beware) and they even close early, so bring snacks just in case.

Transport: It is possible to use public transport easily between Hargeisa and Berbera, but only if you have a travel permit and an Special Protection Unit (SPU) waiver form (see below). It is also possible to travel to Sheikh and Burao with public transport, but options are more limited.  Transport to the Ethiopian or Djibouti border is easy to organise, but be aware that latter road is extremely rough and tiresome. Travel anywhere else is going to require your own vehicle since you will need an armed SPU.

When leaving the country by plane you will need to pay a US $30 departure fee, $3 security fee and $10 airport fee (as of January 2014) so ensure you have sufficient US dollars on hand.

Permits: To travel anywhere in the country you need to obtain a travel permit (or have a tour agency to do work) and organise a SPU to travel with you, but you can avoid the SPU if you have a waiver. Firstly, apply for the travel permit from the Ministry of Tourism. Be warned, if you state that you are staying at any hotel with a travel agency attached (such as the Oriental or Ambassador) you could be requested to book a tour with them to obtain the permit. Easiest way around this is to provide another hotel name. The potential problems that can arise at the Ministry of Tourism are detailed in Somaliland – Is It Safe?.

If you obtain a permit independently (and not through a tour agency) you should then lodge the permit with the Ministry of Interior where you can then request a SPU waiver. This will be granted for all travel between Hargeisa and Berbera, probably for travel west to Ethiopia and north to Djibouti, and possibly even to Sheikh and Burao. Other destinations will require an escort. You must visit the police headquarters to obtain the waiver form.

Note that government offices are only open in the morning (Friday and Saturday are the weekend) so your work in this area will be confined to the morning – achievable if you start early.