The Birr, denoted by ETB, is the unit of currency used in Ethiopia.
The first currency of Ethiopia was introduced in 1894 and was known as the “Menelik talers.” In 1934, the occupying Italian forces made the Italian lire the legal currency in Ethiopia until their expulsion in 1942. The Ethiopian Birr was finally introduced in 1945, first called the Ethiopian dollar and was only renamed the Birr in 1979.
Coins in circulation are 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents. Banknotes in circulation are 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 Birr. 1 birr can be divided into 100 cents.
The monetary system of Ethiopia is decimal based, with the primary unit of Ethiopian money being called the Ethiopian Birr. The fractional unit, Santim, is alternately listed in various sources as Centime and Cent. The names and relative values of the coins depicted above are, from left to right:
One Santim – 1/100 of a Birr
Five Santim – 5/100 of a Birr
Ten Santim – 10/100 of a Birr
Twenty-five Santim – 25/100 of a Birr
Fifty Santim – 50/100 of a Birr
Usual banking hours are 8:00am to 3:00pm, Monday – Thursday, Fri 8:00am to 11:00pm and 1:30pm to 3:00pm on Fridays and 8:30am to 11:00am on Saturdays.
Credit cards can be used in some places like hotels, airline offices or travel agencies in the capital Addis Ababa, but, with some exceptions, not outside of the city. Some banks will give you cash advance on a credit card. Most accepted cards are Visa and MasterCard and typically merchants add additional 3-5% to the bill when using them.
Foreign Currency Exchange
Foreign currency can be exchanged at any commercial bank, including branches located at larger hotels and at the airports. Exchange rates are the same everywhere in Ethiopia.
Foreign currencies that will give you the best exchange rates are US dollar, euro and pound sterling. US dollars is the best as some banks will not accept other currencies.
It is illegal to change money on the black market.
Exchange of Birr back to foreign currency is only allowed for visitors holding onward ticket from Ethiopia. You will find it very very hard to exchange any Birr outside of Ethiopia.
Traveler’s checks can be cashed in banks, but are difficult to exchange outside of Addis Ababa. Best rates are offered for checks in US dollars or pounds sterling.