Cookies on the DFA website

We use cookies to give the best experience on our site while also complying with Data Protection requirements. Continue without changing your settings, and you'll receive cookies, or change your cookie settings at any time.

Skip to main content

Sierra Leone

If you’re travelling to Sierra Leone, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information.

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

Overview

Security Status

We advise Irish citizens to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to and within Sierra Leone.

It is recommended that Irish citizens travelling in Sierra Leone register with the Embassy.

Latest Alerts

In the lead up to Presidential and Parliamentary elections in March 2018, political rallies occur regularly in Freetown and throughout Sierra Leone. Travellers are advised to avoid areas where rallies are taking place and to exercise a high degree of caution in the vicinity of rallies and demonstrations.

Contact the Embassy in Freetown on 079 250623 for consular advice.

On 14 August heavy flooding and mudslides occurred on the outskirts of Freetown, mainly in the Regent area. Affected areas should be avoided unless activities relate to the emergency response.

Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free in March 2016. Visitors should nonetheless exercise vigilance in their healthcare.

The availability and quality of medical services in Sierra Leone is poor. Citizens should be aware that you may have difficulty accessing even basic medical services, particularly in remote areas. If you need treatment, you may be asked to pay up front. If you have a pre-existing medical condition or underlying health concerns, you should note that it may not be possible to get appropriate drugs or treatment during your stay. If you choose to travel, bring enough medication with you for the duration of your visit.

If you develop fever, unexplained fatigue, diarrhoea or any other severe symptoms while in Sierra Leone, or in the few weeks following your departure from Sierra Leone, you should telephone your GP or Accident and Emergency Department mentioning your symptoms and your travel history, since it may result from an infection like malaria that requires immediate investigation and treatment.

If you're planning to drive in Sierra Leone, you should be extremely careful as traffic accidents are common. Emergency medical services in Sierra Leone are limited, and poorly equipped to deal with road traffic accidents, particularly those involving complex trauma. Therefore, extra caution should be exercised when using the road, either as a driver or as a passenger.

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities.
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency.
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates.
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide.

 

Safety and security

Terrorism

The threat of terrorism in Sierra Leone is low, although Somali terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab issued a threat in 2013 against Sierra Leone due to its participation in a UN/African Union peace keeping mission in Somalia. There is also a global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which can target areas frequented by foreign tourists.

Crime

Crime levels in Sierra Leone are generally low and the greatest risk to short-term visitors is petty crime such as pick-pocketing. However burglaries can also occur, particularly around Christmas (from November until the New Year). Always take sensible precautions:

  • Don't carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together - leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place.
  • Take a number of photocopies of your passport with you in case your passport is lost or stolen. Leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home.
  • Avoid carrying valuables or large sums of cash in public.
  • Take particular care when in large crowds or when out at night, especially in central Freetown or in the beach area, or at bars or nightclubs. Concerts and sporting events at the national stadium are often overcrowded and unsafe, and pickpocketing is common. Theft of personal effects during political rallies is a possibility.
  • Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, and arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible.
  • Keep a close eye on your personal belongings and hold on to them in public places such as internet cafés, train and bus stations.
  • Make sure that your accommodation and vehicle are well secured, with locked doors and windows at all times.

If you're a victim of crime while in Sierra Leone, you should make a report to the local police and contact the Embassy of Ireland.

Driving

If you're planning to drive in Sierra Leone, you should be extremely careful as traffic accidents are common. A major road construction and repair programme is underway across the country, with considerable improvement in major roads. However, conditions on minor roads remain generally poor, including in Freetown, and worse during the rainy season from May to October as heavy rains damage road surfaces and create large potholes. Most roads have no street lighting or painted markings. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for minor roads outside of Freetown. You should avoid travelling outside of urban areas after dark.

Emergency medical services in Sierra Leone are limited, and poorly equipped to deal with road traffic accidents, particularly those involving complex trauma. Therefore, extra caution should be exercised when using the road, either as a driver or as a passenger. Road traffic accidents can lead to heated disputes. If you are caught up in a serious road traffic accident, you are advised to remain inside your vehicle, with the doors locked, until such time as the police arrive. If it becomes unsafe to remain at the scene of a road traffic accident, you should make your way immediately to the local police station to report the incident.

If you are travelling outside of Freetown, you should plan your journey in advance. You should also travel in convoy where possible, to avoid getting stranded in the case of break-downs.

If you want to drive:

  • Bring your full Irish driver's licence and your international driving permit and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance.
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked, especially when stopped in traffic.
  • Remember that in Sierra Leone, you drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Makeshift roadblocks are commonly seen on rural roads, often manned by children and youths, requesting payment from travellers using the road.

Public Transport

Private taxis, motorbike taxis or ‘poda-podas’ (mini buses) available for public transport can be hazardous as vehicle maintenance and driving standards are often very poor and vehicles overcrowded.

Higher risk activities

Sierra Leone boasts some beautiful beaches. However, travellers should take caution when entering the ocean, as currents can be strong and beaches are not manned by lifeguards. You should not swim beyond your depth, and you should not enter the water at night-time or in a state of intoxication.

Corruption and fraud

Corruption is common in Sierra Leone. Business fraud against foreigners is also a problem. If you’re thinking of making an investment or entering into a contract, we advise you to research the person or company concerned before making any commitments. Be particularly careful when the business opportunity is the result of unsolicited contact or promises rapid financial gain.

Border Regions

Sierra Leone shares its border with Guinea and Liberia. If you’re visiting border areas, you should get local advice and keep informed of political developments.

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal.

Personal ID

Although not common, you may be asked to produce valid photo ID. Therefore, you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times. You should store your passport in a safe place.

LGBT

Homosexual activity is illegal. Caution and discretion are advised at all times. Transgender persons may face additional discrimination or adverse treatment.

Religion

The majority of the population of Sierra Leone is Muslim (60% - 70%) although there is also a sizable Christian community. There is little religious extremism in Sierra Leone and tension between religions is extremely low.

You should, however, be aware of your actions and take care not to offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or other religious festivals, or if you intend to visit religious areas.

During Ramadan, Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours. To avoid offence, you should exercise discretion when eating, drinking or smoking in public during this time.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of drugs are severe and you should not become involved in drugs in any way.

Police Reports

The Sierra Leone Police levy a SLL300,000 fee for all foreign nationals who need a police report. They are unable to issue crime reference numbers without a police report. You should make your payment to the Sierra Leone Police Revenue Generation Fund Account at the Bank of Sierra Leone and get a receipt. Don't pay the Sierra Leone Police directly. If you wish to report a crime but do not require a crime reference number or a written report there will be no charge.

Precious gems and minerals

Sierra Leone’s customs authorities enforce strict regulations about the export of precious minerals and gems such as diamonds and gold.  Anyone exporting such exports should comply with Sierra Leonean law.

Health

The availability and quality of medical services in Sierra Leone is poor. Citizens should be aware that you may have difficulty accessing even basic medical services, particularly in remote areas. If you need treatment, you may be asked to pay up front. If you have a pre-existing medical condition or underlying health concerns, you should note that it may not be possible to get appropriate drugs or treatment during your stay. If you choose to travel, bring enough medication with you for the duration of your visit.

Travel Insurance

Before travelling, we strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you in Sierra Leone for the activities you want to undertake.

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Outbreak

The last known Ebola-infected patient in Sierra Leone was discharged from hospital on February 5th 2016. Sierra Leone then entered a 42-day period of heightened surveillance, which ended on March 17th 2016, at which point the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone was declared over.

The risk to travellers of contracting Ebola is extremely low. Nonetheless, travellers should exercise due caution. Travellers should avoid being directly exposed to any bodily fluids from a dead or living Ebola-infected person, including through unprotected sexual contact with patients that have recovered from Ebola. If you do become exposed, you should seek rapid medical attention. You should contact the medical care facility by phone before your visit, in order to enable medical personnel to use appropriate protection at the time of admission.

Further information on Ebola is available from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre website.

If you develop fever, unexplained fatigue, diarrhoea or any other severe symptoms while in Sierra Leone, or in the few weeks following your departure from Sierra Leone, you should telephone your GP or Accident and Emergency Department mentioning your symptoms and your travel history, since it may result from an infection like malaria that requires immediate investigation and treatment.

Yellow fever

The yellow fever vaccination is an entry requirement for Sierra Leone and a yellow fever vaccination certificate will be requested by border control on arrival in the country. 

Malaria

Malaria, including cerebral malaria which can be fatal within 72 hours, is endemic in Sierra Leone and we strongly recommend using a malaria prophylaxis, together with other precautions such as using bed nets and insect repellents, and wearing closed shoes, long sleeves and trousers. You should also bring enough malaria treatment for the duration of your visit.

Water-borne diseases

Cholera and other water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, giardia, dysentery and typhoid are also very common, so practise good hygiene, drink and brush your teeth with bottled water only, and avoid eating uncooked vegetables, salads, seafood and meats. 

General diseases

Other diseases including but not limited to, rabies, HIV, hepatitis A and B, meningitis, polio and Lassa fever are also present in some parts of Sierra Leone and can pose a risk.

 

Additional information

Climate

The climate in Sierra Leone is consistently hot and humid year round, with temperatures fluctuating between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius. The dry season extends from November to April and the rainy season lasts from May to October. The rainy season brings extremely heavy rainfalls and thunderstorms, which can lead to flash floods and landslides in exceptional circumstances as well as deteriorating road conditions.

Banking

The national currency of Sierra Leone is the Leone (SLL). Sierra Leone is a cash-based economy and you should bring enough cash to cover your expenses while you’re here. Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are very rarely accepted and you shouldn’t rely on them.

Although there are a number of ATMs in Freetown, many don’t accept foreign bank or credit cards and the security of the transactions can’t be guaranteed. The exchange rate given by ATMs is also highly unfavourable.

There are restrictions on how much cash you can bring into the country, and you should verify the latest requirements with your nearest Embassy or Consulate of Sierra Leone before travelling. US dollars and euros are often accepted for payment in high-end hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, although dollar notes printed before 2006 may not be accepted. Foreign currency can be exchanged for Leones in banks or official foreign-exchange offices. Always be careful when carrying cash.

Visas and Immigration

Irish citizens require a valid visa to enter Sierra Leone. Visa applications from Ireland should be submitted to the Sierra Leone High Commission in London. Those travelling to Sierra Leone are also required to show evidence of having received a yellow fever vaccination.

Language

English is the official language of Sierra Leone and is widely spoken in Freetown. Krio, an English-based creole dialect, is the lingua franca of Sierra Leone and is widely spoken across the country.

Water and Power

Mains water is limited, and tap water should be boiled before drinking it. Bottled water is readily available.

Power is improving but remains unreliable, particularly during the dry season. Rented accommodation and hotels rely on generators and private water supplies.

Getting to Freetown from the airport

Lungi airport is situated on the far side of a wide estuary from Freetown. There are several transfer options from Lungi airport: road, ferry, and water taxi.

  • Road - the journey time by road is normally between 3 and 5 hours. You should prearrange pick-up as there are no car hire facilities at the airport. It is not recommended to use this option after dark.
  • Ferry - the journey time is about 1 hour on the water. The service terminates in Freetown in the eastern end of the city. You should pre-plan your onward journey from there, particularly if you are arriving at night. The service offers a crossing for both foot passengers and vehicles. The ferry lacks basic safety equipment. Foreign foot passengers have reported being pick-pocketed.
  • Water taxi – the journey time is 25 to 45 minutes on the water. These water taxis operate between Freetown (Aberdeen) and Lungi (Mahera Beach). They have navigational aids, night lights and provide life jackets for passengers. They have limited additional safety equipment and rescue capability.