When Filming in Ethiopia

When Filming in Ethiopia


Ethiopia is a landlocked country on the Horn of Africa, in the east of the continent. It is bordered by Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somaliland (Somalia).

In Ethiopia, the climate varies mostly with altitude, and it goes from the hot and arid climate of the lowlands to the cool climate of the plateau. Lying just north of the Equator, the country experiences little variation in temperature throughout the year.
Rainfallis caused by the southwest monsoon, which affects the country from June to September (the rainy season is called Kiremt), but it only affects some areas, namely the plateau and the mountain slopes exposed to the south-west, while in the south-east of the country, there are two rainy periods, though less intense, usually from March to May and in October/November; in the latter area, during some years, the rains don’t occur at all, causing drought.

The best time to film in Ethiopia is September to April, but particularly at either end of the rains. Public holidays must be taken into consideration. The local Mauritian film fixer will advise on these.

Ethiopia is a remarkably easy country to visit, and nearly all of the country is quite safe for foreigners of all nationalities.  Hospitality and generosity are traits almost universal to the entire nation.  As with many countries, there are areas best avoided. Once again local film fixers will advise on this.  

The major ethnic groups are the Oromo, predominantly in the south, the Amhara and Tigrai from the central and northern highlands, the Somali, the Sidamo, the Gurage, and numerous smaller groups.  An Amhara, a nomadic Afar, a Mursi of the southern people, or a Gambella, all are very much Ethiopian, but each ethnic group is quite distinct in appearance, language, and culture.  Over 80 languages are spoken with Amharic as the official state language.  . 

The official currency of Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB). The Ethiopian Birr is subdivided into santim; 100 santim = 1 ETB. Br is the symbol used for the Birr. The best currency to bring with for the film production  is the United States dollar, Euro, and Pound sterling. you can easily exchange them at any bank in Ethiopia.

At present there are no tax incentives for foreign film production of TV commercials, films, TV shows and documentaries.


Unique cultures, natural beauty, amazing history makes Ethiopia a film location to be seriously considered by International film producers.


Hidden for centuries in the remote highlands, about 700 kilometers north of Addis Ababa, the magnificent rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are not to be missed by today’s visitor. This group of eleven monolithic and semi-monolithic structures was carved directly into the stone of the mountainside at least 800 years ago. With the largest monolithic church in the world; a maze of passageways and tunnels; intricately carved reliefs; and fabulous examples of icon paintings;  the Lalibela churches were built by carving a massive rectangular trench around a solid stone block.  This solid block was then hollowed out, leaving interior columns, windows, reliefs, etc.  Other churches were carved in a similar fashion but leaving either one side or the roof attached to the surrounding stone.  Not only the craftsmanship but also the sheer size of the churches is stunning.

Gondar- The Historic Route

In 1632, King Fasilidas proclaimed that Gondar, a previously obscure village, would become the site of the Empire’s new capital.   The population consequently swelled to over 60,000 and for the next 250 years, the Kings of Ethiopia ruled from Gondar.  Beginning with Fasilidas, a succession of Ethiopian kings built the castles that still occupy the heart of modern day Gondar. Known collectively as the Royal Enclosure or “Fasil Ghebbi”,  the castles have survived several wars, including air raids during World War Two.   The site is easily accessible and recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

Omo Valley

The Omo River Valley in southern Ethiopia is undoubtedly one of the most unique regions in the world.  Within this small geographic area reside at least 30 distinct ethno-linguistic groups, whose lifestyles, until very recently,  did not vary much from those of their ancestors.  Elaborate body painting, scarification, women with clay lip plates, elaborate headdresses of clay and feathers help distinguish one tribe from one another.   This part of Ethiopia, extending into northern Kenya, is incredible for both its cultural diversity and the isolation of its inhabitants for centuries past. 


Harar, with its 16th century walled “old city” of Jugal, is quite distinct from Ethiopia’s other historical sites with their strong connections to Orthodox Christianity.  While Christianity was introduced and accepted by the nation of Ethiopia very early, Islam also arrived at the outskirts of the Ethiopian Empire not long after Mohammed began spreading his faith on the nearby Arabian Peninsula.  

Ethiopia’s National Parks

With a landscape that ranges from rainforests, to grassy savannas, mountains, and deserts, Ethiopia boasts scenery that is as diverse and fascinating as its people.  Splitting the country in two, the Great Rift Valley provides breath-taking views that rival those of the Grand Canyon.  At 4,620 meters, Ras Dashen is the fourth highest peak in Africa while the Danakil Depression is the lowest point on the continent.  Near Lake Tana, the Blue Nile begins its voyage to Egypt and a string of Rift Valley lakes and rivers belie Ethiopia’s image as dry and parched land.  Deserts are an important part of Ethiopia’s  ecosystem, but so are the indigenous forests which are the most extensive in all of east Africa.   This variety of habitat has resulted in an impressive array of wildlife including over 850 species of birds, many extremely beautiful and exotic.

Danakil Depression

With more than 30 active and dormant volcanoes, the Danakil Depression is one of the most unique geological regions on earth.  A strange and mysterious landscape – scattered with noxious hot springs, frozen black-lava flows, and massive salt basins left over from ancient lakes – it is one of the most tectonically active places on the planet  In stark contrast to the cool, temperate Ethiopian highlands, it is also one of the lowest, driest, and hottest places on earth.  The lowest point (155m/509 ft below sea level) on the African continent, the Danakil is where the famous 32 million year old fossil hominid “Lucy” was discovered in 1974.

The local film location scouts can elaborate on many other choice film locations. Ethiopia is a film destination well worth considering for your next film production.


Visas & Work Permits

Visiting crews need to apply for Foreign Media Accreditation at their closest Ethiopian embassy. The application must include the project synopsis, locations list, crew details, local fixer details, equipment list, budget, and shoot duration information. After submitting your application you will be required to go to the Ethiopian embassy for a briefing with the Press Office. The Press office then sends your application on your behalf. Once the Foreign Media Accreditation is approved in Ethiopia, the embassy will then contact you to come an apply for a business visa. You will need to bring your passport, copy of passport, a complete business visa application form, visa fee payment, and the original documents used for your Foreign Media Accreditation. Once your business visa is issued, you’re all set to travel.Tourist visas (valid for up to three months) can be issued on arrival only at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

Film Equipment Import Permits

Bringing in gear is an easy and inexpensive process. Ethiopian film fixer will need a full gear list with serial numbers. This will be submitted at the same time as the Foreign Media Accreditation application. Their Ethiopian customs broker will process all in preparation for your arrival and meet you at the airport to ensure all runs smoothly.

Ethiopia Film Location Permits

In most cases there are no set fees. Donations are often required for local assistance. Some regional governments will charge location fees. In many cases, film fixer will need to travel to negotiate location fees in person. National parks fees are quite high, especially if filming aerial shots. Aerial filming in Ethiopia requires the pilot have a flight permit from the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority. 


Transportation Infrastructure. Major roads are paved. Rural roads are slower going especially in the south of the country during the rainy season. Road travel by night is not recommended. Local film fixers organises safe and reliable 4WD transport. Several international airlines service flights to Ethiopia.

Accommodation. Film friendly hotels in Addis Ababa:

Addis Regency Hotel
Sheraton Addis

Film Equipment. Some basic camera, grip and lighting equipment is available locally. Kenya is the closest place for more equipment. Bringing in gear is an easy and inexpensive process.

Costs. Locations, local talent and support crew are inexpensive. Key crew and equipment may need to be brought in from abroad or neighbouring Kenya. Local film fixer will negotiate local deals and provide the appropriate level of production support to match every budget.

Talent day rates and buyouts are negotiable.

Afar, Amharic, Oromo, Somali, and Tigrinya are the official languages. The country has over 140 different dialects.

Ethiopia has over 80 different ethnic groups. The largest ethnic groups are the Oromo, and Amhara. Ethnic minorities of note include the Tigrayans, Sidama, Welayta, Gurage, Somali, Hadiya, and Afar people. Of particular interest to filmmakers and photographers are the colourful Hamar and Mursi people. All other talent is best cast abroad.

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