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Sierra Leone

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Summary

  • Exercise a high degree of caution because of the high level of crime and the possibility of civil unrest.
  • Avoid protests, street rallies, political demonstrations and large public gatherings as they can turn violent. See Safety and security.

  • Exercise particular caution in border areas with Liberia and Guinea because the security situation is volatile. See Safety and security.

  • Yellow fever is common. You'll need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate to enter Sierra Leone. See Entry and exit and Health.

  • All transport options from Lungi airport to Freetown involve safety and security risks, which increase after dark. Don't travel at night. Arrange your Lungi airport accommodation or transfers before you travel.

  • Medical facilities are very limited. If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated. Evacuation costs can exceed $100,000. Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you travel. See Health.

  • The rainy season is May to November. Floodwaters can block roads, damage infrastructure and cause deaths, injuries and displacement. Monitor weather forecasts and plan accordingly. Follow the instructions of local officials. See Natural disasters.  

  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Sierra Leone. Contact the Australian High Commission in Ghana to enquire about consular assistance in Sierra Leone.
  • See Travel smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit

Visas

You'll need a visa to enter Sierra Leone. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Sierra Leone for up-to-date information.

Other formalities

You'll need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate to enter Sierra Leone. Yellow fever is common. It is a serious and potentially fatal disease that is preventable by vaccination. Read Yellow fever for information on re-entry to Australia following exposure to yellow fever. See: Yellow fever risk and certification requirements (by country, WHO)

If you're a dual Australian-Sierra Leonean national, you'll need to provide proof of payment of taxes on money earned in Sierra Leone to get clearance from Sierra Leone border authorities to depart the country.

Passport

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to get access to your passport by deception.  If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Embassy for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

The local currency is the Sierra Leone Leone (SLL). Report all amounts in excess of SLL 50,000 on arrival. Euros and $US are the easiest foreign currencies to exchange. Only exchange currency at banks or official exchange bureaux.

The economy is predominately cash-based. Opportunities to use credit cards and travellers cheques are limited. There is a limited number of ATMs in Freetown. Plan ahead and take sufficient cash to meet your needs. Contact your bank to make sure that your cards will work.

Safety and security

Civil unrest and political tension

Political demonstrations and large public gatherings can turn violent. The political and security environment is fragile. You could be affected by politically-motivated violence directed at others.

Refugees and internally displaced persons cross the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea, in both directions. This has led to violent clashes. The poorly patrolled border areas in both Sierra Leone and Guinea are home to criminal gangs and smugglers whose activities are unpredictable.

The security situation in the region bordering Liberia is unsettled.

  • Avoid protests, rallies, and other large public demonstrations.
  • Monitor the media and other sources for news of planned and possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel to the border with Guinea.
  • Be particularly alert to possible disruptions to security near the border with Liberia.

Crime

There are high levels of crime in Sierra Leone, including in Freetown. Armed robbery and violent assault are common. Petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is common. Residential burglaries are increasing. Security risks increase at night. Some criminals target tourists and expatriates.

  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables, including your passport, in a secure location.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid displaying expensive watches, jewellery, phones and cameras.
  • Avoid carrying bags that are easy to snatch.
  • Pay close attention to your personal possessions at all times
  • Avoid walking in isolated areas or along dark streets at night
  • Secure your accommodation against intruders, including when you're in it.
  • When driving, keep windows closed and car doors locked, including when moving.

Scams

Internet scams come in many forms, including romance, friendship, business and employment opportunities. Victims have suffered financial loss. Victims who travel to West African countries to meet a friend or prospective marriage partner they have met online, or to seek restitution for money they have lost, are at risk of kidnapping, assault and robbery. Some victims have been killed. 

Commercial internet fraud is common and often originates in West African countries. Criminals are known to seek details of 'safe' bank accounts overseas to transfer large sums of money (as a donation or for a percentage of the amount involved). They may also provide fake cashier cheques for 'urgent' shipments of large quantities of goods, request sizeable fees for a fake government contract and extort money from individuals they have convinced to travel to Africa for a business opportunity.

Bogus internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes are operating from West Africa. These scams typically result from connections made through internet dating sites or chat rooms. Once a virtual friendship develops, you'll typically be asked by your 'friend' or prospective marriage partner to send money to enable them to travel to Australia. In some cases the relationship is terminated with very little chance that any funds can be recovered. In other cases, foreigners are lured to Africa to meet their friend or prospective marriage partner and become victims of crime including kidnapping, assault and robbery.

  • Scrutinise all approaches originating in Sierra Leone (or other West African countries) from people you don't know.
  • Don't send money to anyone in Sierra Leone until proper checks are made.
  • If you are the victim of a scam, get legal advice. 
  • Don't to travel to Sierra Leone to seek restitution.

More information: Scams

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world, including in Sierra Leone. A terror attack could happen anywhere and at any time, including in places visited by foreigners.

  • Be alert to possible threats, especially in public places.
  • Report any suspicious activity or items to police.
  • Monitor the media for any new or emerging threats.
  • Take official warnings seriously.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • If there is an attack, leave the affected area immediately if it is safe to do so. 
  • Avoid the affected area in the aftermath of an attack because of the risk of secondary attacks.

More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Airport transfers

Overcrowding, poor maintenance, lack of basic safety equipment, and the possibility of criminal activity mean all transport options for transferring between Lungi airport and Freetown (including helicopter, airline, ferry service, private boat service, hovercraft/road travel) involve safety and security risks.

Risks are greater after dark. Accommodation for travellers arriving at night at Lungi is extremely limited. 

  • Consider all options carefully.
  • If you'll be arriving at Lungi airport in the evening and will be continuing by road or sea, spend the night at Lungi before transferring to Freetown the next morning.
  • Arrange your Lungi airport accommodation or transfers before you travel.

Road travel

Road travel outside the Freetown Peninsula is hazardous, especially at night. Driving standards are poor. Roads and vehicles are poorly maintained. Serious traffic accidents are common. You are five times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in Sierra Leone than in Australia.

You may encounter difficulties at roadblocks and checkpoints, including requests for payment. 

  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Carry personal identity and vehicle registration and ownership papers at all times.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Be alert to possible hazards, especially at night.
  • Don't drink and drive.
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked and windows up at all times, including when driving – see Safety and security.

More information: Road safety and driving

Driver's licence

You can drive in Sierra Leone for a period of one month with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). After that, you will need a local licence. You must get your IDP before departing Australia.  

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Taxis

Only use registered taxis and limousines, preferably those arranged through your hotel.

Public transport

Public transport is limited and safety and maintenance standards can be unreliable.

Boat travel

Ferry travel is risky due to generally low safety standards and adverse weather. Vessel passenger limits are sometimes exceeded and, in many cases, insufficient life jackets are carried.  Always wear a life jacket, even if others don't.

More information: Travelling by boat

Air travel

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Sierra Leone.

More information: Air travel

Beaches and swimming

Strong coastal currents are common. There are no life guards/emergency services available to rescue swimmers.

  • Always seek advice from locals before swimming.
  • Don't swim alone.

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular services charter. But we cannot get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include mandatory prison sentences.

More information: Carrying or using drugs

Other laws

While perhaps legal in some countries, the following activities are illegal in Sierra Leone:

  • homosexual acts – more information: LGBTI travellers
  • export of precious minerals from Sierra Leone without a licence from the Ministry of Mines and Resources
  • taking photographs or video of government buildings, airports or bridges.

Areas where photography is prohibited may not be clearly marked or defined. If you're unsure whether it's legal, don't do it.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Sierra Leone doesn't recognise dual nationality. If you enter Sierra Leone with a Sierra Leonean passport, you'll be treated as a Sierra Leonean citizen by local authorities. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide you with consular assistance if you're arrested or detained. Travel on your Australian passport at all times.

Local customs

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Sierra Leone, particularly for women. Take care not to offend.

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is expected to occur between early May and early June 2019. During Ramadan, take care to respect religious and cultural sensitivities, rules and customs. In particular, avoid eating, drinking and smoking in public and in the presence of people who are fasting. 

More information: Ramadan 

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take legal prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Carry copies of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Lassa Fever

Lassa fever is a known risk in all West African countries. In 2018, cases and/or outbreaks of Lassa fever have already been reported in Nigeria and Benin. However, given the porous nature of most West African borders and limited services, Lassa fever could spread as far as Sierra Leone and/or its neighbouring countries.

Exercise appropriate precautions to protect yourself from Lassa fever:

  • Avoid exposure to or direct contact with rodents
  • Maintain a high standard of basic personal and food hygiene. Ensure that all foods are well cooked and covered. Keep your body, personal belongings, utensils and common contact surfaces (including door knobs and counters) clean at all times.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you develop any symptoms of Lassa fever.

Ebola virus disease (EVD)

A contained outbreak of EVD occurred in 2016. EVD could flare up again in Sierra Leone and/or neighbouring countries.

The 2016 EVD outbreak overwhelmed many local healthcare facilities. If there is another outbreak, your options for getting routine or emergency medical care may be severely limited.

  • Make sure that your travel insurance will cover your healthcare and/or medical evacuation if you get EVD.
  • If you are in the region for work, ensure your employer has contingency plans for quarantining and treatment or evacuation of personnel who show symptoms of EVD.

More information: Ebola (Department of Health)

Mosquito-borne diseases

Sierra Leone is listed by the WHO as common for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination.

Malaria and other tropical diseases are common in West African countries, including Sierra Leone.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is insect proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • get vaccinated against yellow fever before you travel
  • consider taking malaria prevention medication
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.

More information:

HIV/AIDS

The rate of HIV/AIDS infection is high. Exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including cholera, lassa fever, hepatitis, bilharzia, and tuberculosis) occur with more serious outbreaks from time to time.

  • Use good hygiene practices including frequent handwashing.
  • Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Don't swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to as bilharzia (schistosomiasis) and other water-borne diseases.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

Medical facilities are very limited in Sierra Leone.

You'll usually need to pay upfront, before doctors or hospitals will provide medical treatment.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to a destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation costs can exceed A$100,000.

Natural disasters

The rainy season is May to November when flooding may occur and roads may become impassable. In the past, flooding has resulted in deaths and the displacement of large numbers of people. On 14 August 2017, a mudslide in the Regent area of Freetown resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries.

  • Monitor weather reports and local news sources and plan accordingly.
  • Take official warnings seriously.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag).
  • closely monitor local media and other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • follow the advice of local authorities
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts.

More information: Severe weather

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire: phone 999
  • Medical emergencies: phone 999 or go direct to the hospital
  • Criminal issues: phone 019 or visit the nearest police station

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular services charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Sierra Leone. Contact the Australian High Commission in Accra, Ghana, for consular assistance.

Australian High Commission, Accra

2, Second Rangoon Close
(cnr. Josef Broz Tito Ave)
Cantonments
Accra, Ghana
Telephone: (+233) 302 216 400
Fax: (+233) 302 216 410
Email: AccraHC.Enquiries@dfat.gov.au
Website: ghana.highcommission.gov.au
Facebook: Australian High Commission, Ghana
Twitter: @AusAmbGha

Check the High Commission website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you are unable to contact the High Commission in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources