Important facts to grasp about work permit in Ethiopia

The very first step for issuing a work permit in Ethiopia is obtaining investment permit. Then, you have the option of running your own business or hiring professionals from other countries.

Which positions are open to foreigners?

  • Managerial and supervisory positions, important for administering and regulating the company and,
  • Those positions with specific technical expertise that can’t be filled by Ethiopian experts.

Therefore, if you or the expatriates you are hiring fulfill the requirements above, you can apply for a work permit.

What are work permits?

Work permits are Identification books that allow expatriates to work in Ethiopia. They are also requirements for obtaining residence IDs.

A work permit contains basic information such as name, sex, country of origin, occupation, and place of work about the expatriate.

Hence, a work permit identifies an expatriate as an employee of a company operating in Ethiopia.

Are there foreigners who do not require work permits?

A foreign national, under a few circumstances, can work in Ethiopia without a work permit. This applies for:

  • Foreign citizens of Ethiopian descent with Ethiopian origins ID

In addition, upon the confirmation of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Members and employees of:

  • Members of a diplomatic mission
  • Members of a consular office
  • Other International Financial Organizations
  • And employees from other agencies with similar functions.

Another exception to the rule…

Let’s suppose you are a foreigner who is a sole owner or shareholder of a company in Ethiopia, but you do not occupy an official position within the company. Nonetheless, you want to live here and oversee the company.

In this case, your shareholder status permits you to skip the work permits and directly apply for and obtain a resident ID.

Who issues the work permits?

For companies within Industrial parks

If your company is inside one of the industrial parks, then the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) is responsible for issuing, renewing and canceling the work permits.

Hence, EIC Headquarters and the One-Stop-Shop offices in each industrial park perform this task.

For companies outside Industrial Parks

In this case, companies who were issued investment permits at the EIC (refer to our article on investment permits for details), will apply for work permits for their employees at EIC.

Thus, the EIC provides this service only up to the point that the company receives a business license.

Following the Issuance of a business license, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) will be responsible for issuing, renewing and canceling work permits.

Legal obligations of employer and expatriate

The Employer

  • Make sure an expatriate is only filling the position the work permits.
  • In the event that an expatriate disappears from the workplace, upon their knowledge, the employer must report the incident within 5 working days.
  • Whenever the relevant government authority requires the physical presence of an expatriate; the employer must facilitate it.
  • In case the employer terminates the contract with an expatriate; the employer must apply for cancellation and return the work permit within 5 working days after the termination.
  • In the event that an employer changes an expatriate’s location of work; the employer must notify the relevant authority within 5 working days after the location change.
  • Once an expatriate’s engagement in unlawful activity is proven; the employer must immediately return and cancel the expatriate’s work permit.

the employer must…

  • Employ an expatriate without a work permit.
  • Whenever the appropriate government authority requires, keep a record of the residential address of its employees and must disclose this information.
  • Not give the expatriates tasks that would go against the law or are considered immoral by society.
  • Create a system where the expatriates can train and transfer their knowledge to Ethiopian workers.

The Expatriate employee


  • Only work for the employer indicated on their work permit.
  • Be present at their workplace along with their work permit.
  • Only engage in the work stated under “occupation” on their work permit.
  • Transfer their knowledge and skills to the Ethiopian trainees under them.
  • Not engage in unlawful and/or immoral activities.
  • Be present to report whenever the relevant government authority requires them to do so.

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