COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Sierra Leone is a developing country in western Africa still recovering from a ten-year civil war that ended in 2002. English is the official language, but Krio, an English-based language, is widely used. Tourist facilities in the capital, Freetown, are limited; elsewhere, they are rudimentary or nonexistent. Read more about U.S. relations with Sierra Leone.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PRAOGRM (STEP)/EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Sierra Leone, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. We can also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly with the U.S. Embassy.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
Southridge, Hill Station
Telephone: (232) (76) 515 000
Emergency after-hours telephone: (232) (76) 515 000
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visitors are strongly encouraged to obtain visas in advance of travel to Sierra Leone.
Visitors to Sierra Leone are required to show their International Certificates of Vaccination (yellow card) upon arrival at
the airport with a record of vaccination against yellow fever. The Embassy of Sierra Leone is located at 1701 19th Street
NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 939-9261. Information may also be obtained from the Sierra Leonean Mission to the
United Nations, 245 East 49th St., New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 688-1656; and from the website of the Sierra Leonean High Commission in London. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Sierra Leonean embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of Sierra Leone’s website for the most current visa information.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Sierra Leone.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information Sheet.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Security in Sierra Leone has improved significantly since the end of the civil war in 2002. The United Nations Peacekeeping
Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) withdrew in December 2005 and Sierra Leone resumed responsibilities for its own security.
The Sierra Leonean police are working to improve their professionalism and capabilities, but fall short of U.S. standards
in response time, communications, and specialty skills.
Areas outside Freetown lack most basic services. U.S. Embassy officials are free to travel throughout Sierra Leone. Travelers are urged to exercise caution especially when traveling beyond the capital. Road conditions are hazardous and serious vehicle accidents are common. Travel outside the capital after dark is not allowed for U.S. Embassy officials and should be avoided by all travelers. Emergency response to vehicular and other accidents ranges from slow to nonexistent.
There are occasional unauthorized, possibly armed, roadblocks outside Freetown, where travelers might be asked to pay a small
amount of money to the personnel manning the roadblock. Because many Sierra Leoneans outside of Freetown speak broken English
or Krio, it can be difficult for foreigners to communicate their identity. Public demonstrations are rare, but can turn violent.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid large crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations. You should maintain security
awareness at all times. In addition, you should carry a means of communication at all times (fully charged cell phone with
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CRIME: Entrenched poverty in Sierra Leone has led to criminality. Visitors and resident U.S. citizens have experienced armed mugging, assault, and burglary. Petty crime and pick-pocketing of wallets, cell phones, and passports are very common especially on the ferry to and from Lungi International Airport as well as in the bars, restaurants, and nightclubs in the Lumley Beach and Aberdeen areas of Freetown. The majority of these crimes against U.S. citizens are non-violent confrontations characterized as crimes of opportunity (i.e., pick-pocketing, theft of unattended possessions in public places or hotel rooms, bag snatching, and financial confidence scams). Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly, if at all. Police investigative response is often incomplete and does not provide support to victims. Inefficiency and corruption are serious problems at all levels within the government of Sierra Leone. U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Sierra Leone should maintain a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings to help avoid becoming victims of crime.
Home invasions, especially targeting westerners, are extremely common in Sierra Leone. Most residential break-ins are perpetrated by small groups of well-organized, armed bandits equipped with tools. These criminals are motivated, intrepid, and aggressive. They do not fear confrontation and are often armed with machetes or homemade firearms. They often use stealth techniques to effect an entry, such as taking advantage of a rainstorm to mask their movements, sneaking past a sleeping guard, cutting through roofs, or tunneling under walls. As is common in many developing countries, expatriates are frequent targets due to their perceived wealth.
In the past few months, the U.S. Embassy has received several reports of crime perpetrated on westerners driving vehicles. In each case, cars were stopped in traffic or moving slowly when thieves reached in open windows or opened unlocked doors to steal purses, telephones, and a variety of other valuables from the unsuspecting motorist. Thefts tended to occur on poorly maintained roads requiring slow speed and elaborate maneuvering around potholes and drainage canals. Criminals also threw rocks and caused diversions to distract drivers while simultaneously entering the passenger side of the vehicle to steal property. Specifically, thieves have targeted Signal Hill Road (near the UNIPSIL Headquarters) in Western Freetown because it is a high-traffic area with poor road conditions, lack of street lights, and heavy foliage. For more information about driving safety, see the Embassy’s recent Security Message for U.S. Citizens here.
The U.S. Embassy has received reports that U.S. business leaders have increasingly been intimidated by police through interrogation harassment, with lengthy questioning and demands for bribes. The Embassy also receives regular reports from U.S. citizens investing in Sierra Leone who have been victims of fraud, often in the mining industry. While law enforcement authorities have been involved in investigating the cases, many remain unresolved. Investors are urged to proceed cautiously when engaging in business transactions with individuals presenting themselves as legitimate diamond or gold dealers. It is not uncommon for registered diamond or gold dealers to target foreigners using sophisticated financial scams resulting in significant financial loss.
Business fraud is rampant and the perpetrators often target foreigners, including U.S. citizens. Schemes previously associated with Nigeria are now also prevalent in Sierra Leone, and pose a danger of grave financial loss. Typically these scams begin with unsolicited communication (usually e-mails) from strangers who promise quick financial gain, often by transferring large sums of money or valuables out of the country, but then require a series of "advance fees" to be paid, such as fees for legal documents or taxes. The final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees. A common variation is the scammer’s claim to be a refugee or émigré of a prominent West African family, or a relative of a present or former political leader who needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash. Still other variations appear to be legitimate business deals that require advance payments on contracts. Sometimes victims are convinced to provide bank account and credit card information and financial authorization that is used to drain their accounts, incur large debts against their credit, and take their life savings.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if a proposition looks too good to be true, it probably is. You should carefully check and research any unsolicited business proposal before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. It is virtually impossible to recover money lost through these scams. Please see the Department of State’s brochure on International Financial Scams for more information.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates ). You should report lost or stolen passports to the local police and to the nearest embassy or consulate immediately. We can:
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
There is no local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Sierra Leone.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Sierra Leone laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sierra Leone are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Consensual sexual relations between men are criminalized in Sierra Leone. Although the U.S. Embassy is not aware of any recent prosecutions for consensual sexual activity between men, such activity is illegal and penalties can include imprisonment. While there is no explicit legal prohibition against sexual relations between women, lesbian girls and women can be victims of “planned rapes” initiated by family members in an effort to change their sexual orientation. LGBT travelers should review the LGBT Travel Information page.
Airport transportation: Lungi Airport is located across a large body of water from Freetown. There are usually four travel options to and from Lungi airport: helicopter, ferry, water taxi, hovercraft, and by car. None of the options are without risk, and Embassy personnel do not travel from the airport to Freetown by car. The cost for the ferry service is minimal, but the service experiences frequent delays. The ferry terminal is located in East Freetown, which has a higher crime rate than other parts of the capital. When the helicopter is operating, the charge is $120 each way (payable in U.S. dollars). Passengers departing Freetown by air should expect to pay an airport tax of $65.00 (payable in U.S. dollars).
Currency: Sierra Leone is generally a cash economy. There are some ATMs that accept international Visa cards only. There are no functioning MasterCard cash points in Sierra Leone. Point of sale credit card terminals exist in some major shops, hotels, and restaurants, but very few facilities accept cards. Travelers are advised to use credit cards cautiously in Sierra Leone because there is a serious risk that using a card will lead to the number being stolen for use in fraudulent transactions. An anti-money laundering law passed in 2005 prohibits importing more than $10,000 in cash except through a financial institution.
Travelers' checks are not usually accepted as payment and most travelers have a difficult time locating a bank that will accept them. U.S. dollars printed before 2007 are generally not accepted in Sierra Leone. Currency exchanges should be handled through a bank or established foreign exchange bureau. Exchanging money with street vendors is dangerous because criminals may "mark" such people for future attack and there is the risk of receiving counterfeit currency.
Exports: Sierra Leone's customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the export of gems and precious minerals, such as diamonds and gold. All mineral resources, including gold and diamonds, belong to the State, and only the government of Sierra Leone can issue mining and export licenses. The legal authority for the issuance of licenses is vested in the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources. Failure to comply with relevant legislation can lead to serious criminal penalties. For further information on mining activities in Sierra Leone, contact the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources: The Director of Mines, Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources, 5th, Youyi Building, Brookfields, Freetown, Sierra Leone; tel. 232-22-240-420 or 240-176; fax 232-22- 240-574, or see the Department of State’s annual Investment Climate Statement.
Corruption: Corruption is a problem in Sierra Leone. Travelers requesting service from government officials at every level are likely to be asked for bribes. Corrupt government officials should be reported to the Anti-Corruption Commission via one of the following methods: The Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission, 3 Gloucester Street, Freetown; tel. (232) 022-223-645, (232) 076-394-111; (232) 077-985-985; email the Anti-Corruption Commission at Info@anticorruptionsl.gov.sl or Reports@anticorruptionsl.gov.sl.
Photography: Travelers must obtain official permission to photograph government buildings, airports, bridges, or official facilities including the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the U.S. Embassy. Areas where photography is prohibited may not be clearly marked or defined. People sometimes do not want to be photographed for religious or other reasons, or they may want to be paid for posing. Photographers should ask permission before taking anyone’s picture.
Dual Nationals: U.S. citizens who are also Sierra Leonean nationals must provide proof of payment of taxes on revenue earned in Sierra Leone before being granted clearance to depart the country. The Government of Sierra Leone recognizes dual U.S.-Sierra Leonean citizenship. However, if a U.S. citizen enters the country on a Sierra Leonean passport, the Embassy may have difficulty assisting in legal or criminal proceedings against them because law enforcement officials may not recognize their U.S. citizenship.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Sierra Leone fall critically short of U.S and European standards. There are no 911 equivalent ambulance
services in Sierra Leone. Trauma care is extremely limited, and local hospitals should only be used in the event of an extreme
medical emergency. Blood transfusions can be life-threatening rather than life-saving due to lack of screening and poor quality
control. Many primary health care workers, especially in rural areas, lack adequate professional training. Instances of misdiagnosis,
improper treatment, and the administration of improper drugs have been reported. Quality and comprehensive medical services
are very limited in Freetown, and are almost nonexistent for all but the most minor treatment outside of the capital. Medicines
are in short supply and due to inadequate diagnostic equipment, lack of medical resources, and limited medical specialty personnel,
complex diagnosis, and treatment are unavailable. Life-threatening emergencies often require evacuation by air ambulance at
the patient's expense.
Visitors with serious health concerns, e.g., diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or who are on blood thinners (with the exception of aspirin) are discouraged from traveling to Sierra Leone.
All visitors traveling to Sierra Leone must have current vaccinations prior to arrival in Freetown. These include, but are not limited to, tetanus, yellow fever, polio, meningitis, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, and rabies. The cholera vaccine is not required. The International Certificate of Vaccinations yellow card should be hand-carried as proof of current yellow fever inoculation.
Visitors should begin taking malaria prophylaxis two weeks prior to arrival, and hand-carry enough medication for the duration of their visit. It is mandatory that visitors bring their own supply of medications.
The quality of medications in Sierra Leone is inconsistent and counterfeit drugs remain a problem. Local pharmacies are generally unreliable. In the event medications are needed, such as over-the-counter medication, antibiotics, allergy remedies, or malaria prophylaxis, travelers may contact the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit to receive general information about reliable pharmacies. ACS maintains a list of physicians, clinics, and pharmacies as provided by the Embassy Health Unit.
Gastrointestinal diseases, malaria, and HIV pose serious risk to travelers in Sierra Leone. Lassa Fever is endemic in Eastern
Province. Since sanitary conditions in Sierra Leone are poor and refrigeration is unreliable, use caution when eating uncooked
vegetables, salads, seafood, or meats at restaurants and hotels. Only bottled water should be consumed. In the past, even
some bottled water was found to be contaminated by bacteria. Swimming in the ocean is safe, but swimming in rivers is not.
For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see the CDC Travelers’ Health website.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. Medicare does not pay for any medical care received outside of the United States or its territories. If your policy doesn’t cover you when you travel, it is a good idea to take out another policy for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
Emergency medical evacuation from Sierra Leone can cost more than $100,000 for the airplane alone. Fees must be paid before the plane leaves its country of origin. Hospital fees are an additional cost, and many hospitals in Europe will not accept a patient without a substantial down payment. In addition, an emergency evacuation may take 24-48 hours to arrange, which could be detrimental for a seriously ill or injured patient.
U.S. citizens visiting Sierra Leone should consider purchasing comprehensive medical evacuation insurance and coverage. There are many plans and companies that offer such services. Many even offer packages for long term expatriates. It is advised to purchase as much coverage as affordable, taking into consideration the potential costs of evacuation, travel plans, and current insurance plans. A list of air ambulance companies can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s Medical Insurance page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United
States. The information below concerning Sierra Leone is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate
in a particular location or circumstance.
Most main roads in Freetown are narrow and paved, but have potholes. Extremely narrow unpaved side streets are generally navigable. Most roads outside Freetown are unpaved and are generally passable with a four-wheel drive vehicle. However, certain stretches of mapped road are often impassable during the rainy season, which usually lasts from May to September. During the rainy season, add several hours to travel time between Freetown and outlying areas. There is a major road repair and resurfacing program going on throughout the country that is slowly improving the quality of roads. Public transport (bus or group taxi) is erratic, unsafe, and not recommended. Pick pocketing is common in public taxis and mini-buses. U.S. Embassy officials are prohibited from using public transportation except for taxis that operate in conjunction with an approved hotel and that are rented on a daily basis.
Many vehicles on the road in Sierra Leone are unsafe. Accidents resulting from the poor condition of these vehicles, including multi-vehicle accidents, are common. Many drivers on the road in Sierra Leone are inexperienced and often drive without proper license or training. Serious accidents are common, especially outside of Freetown, where the relative lack of traffic allows for greater speeds. The chance of being involved in an accident increases greatly when traveling at night, and U.S. Embassy officials are not authorized to travel outside of major cities after dark.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Sierra Leone, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Sierra Leone's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA's website.
It is not uncommon for regional airlines to alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and overbook flights. Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in and must be prepared to handle alternate ticketing and/or increased food and lodging expenses. European carriers are typically more reliable. U.S. citizens departing Lungi International Airport have reported incidents of attempted extortion by officials claiming that travel documents were not in order. Luggage is often pilfered at the Lungi International Airport. Travelers should avoid putting high value items, such as jewelry, laptops, and other electronic equipment in their checked luggage.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for April 12, 2012 to update all sections.