Abstract We compare several local absorbing boundary conditions for solving the Helmholtz equation, by a finite difference or finite element method, exterior to a general scatterer. These boundary conditions are imposed on an artificial elliptical or prolate spheroid outer surface. In order to compare the computational solution with an analytical solution, we consider, as an example, scattering about an ellipse. We solve the Helmholtz equation with both finite differences and finite elements. We also introduce a new boundary condition for an ellipse based on a modal expansion.