The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses that travelers should reconsider travel to Sierra Leone due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.
The Institute for Economics & Peace Global Peace Index 2021 ranks Sierra Leone 46 out of 163 worldwide, rating the country as being at a high state of peace.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Freetown as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
The U.S. Department of State has included a Crime “C” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Sierra Leone, indicating that there may be widespread violent crime and/or organized crime present in the country, and/or that local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.
The crime emergency line in Sierra Leone is +232 76 771 721. Review the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
Crime: General Threat
Victims rarely report crimes to the police for fear of reprisal and lack of trust in the systems in place to arrest and prosecute criminals. Robberies, home invasions, assaults, and petty street crimes continue to occur throughout the country. However, the rate of violent crime in Sierra Leone remains comparable with that of other West African countries.
Sierra Leone continues to grapple with poverty, rising inflation, and high unemployment rates; this is especially so among the youth, who possess limited job prospects. Over 90% of the population lives on less than $5.50 per day. Economic desperation has fueled increases in crime.
Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal in Sierra Leone and punishable by up to 15 years in prison. However, rape is common, and indictments are rare. Domestic violence is illegal and punishable by a fine of up to five million Leones ($455) and up to two years in prison. However, domestic violence is common, and police are unlikely to intervene.
Most crimes against U.S. travelers in Sierra Leone are opportunistic and non-violent, though violent crime remains a concern. Pickpocketing and petty theft are the most common types of non-violent crime affecting Westerners. As in many countries, expatriates are the targets of petty crime due to their perceived wealth.
Criminals may steal personal belongings from hotel rooms, even with doors locked. Store valuables securely at all times. There have been no reported thefts of items from within installed hotel room safes since 2016 at internationally branded hotels, but no hotel in Sierra Leone is immune to theft – even upscale establishments. The small safes provided by the hotel are vulnerable; do not trust them with highly valuable items.
Travel to/from Sierra Leone increases during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays as people travel to visit family and friends. Hotel rooms and international flights may become scarce from November until February. Freetown experiences seasonal rises in crime (e.g., petty theft, luggage pilferage, pick pocketing, scams, fraud) with the influx of affluent visitors.
There have been incidents in which criminals used local tools of convenience (e.g., machetes, bladed weapons) during robbery attempts. In the event of confrontation with an armed criminal actor, immediately hand over the desired property to avoid escalation or injury.
In 2020, there were no reports of carjacking involving U.S. travelers.
Keep security plans diverse and flexible to ensure the safety of individuals and the security of property. Diplomatic missions, foreign organizations, expatriates, and wealthy local nationals typically contract with private security services for the protection of facilities and residences as a deterrent to property crime. Crime can still occur despite the employment of private security personnel. Do not invite strangers into your living quarters. Supervise/escort all workers in your living quarters. Practice good operational security if you are transporting valuable items into and around Sierra Leone. Some reported robberies committed against expatriates appear to involve those with inside information regarding the victims.
Gangs pose a potential threat to public order, with increased criminality, antisocial behavior, and drug use. Most often, gangs are composed of unemployed youth who align according to political affiliation, sports teams, or music preferences (e.g., rival local hip-hop artists). Most gang activity occurs in the eastern area of Freetown, and usually does not affect foreigners.
In 2020, the United States deported 28 Sierra Leonean nationals convicted of various types of crimes. The U.S. Government resumed normal visa processing in July 2021 as Sierra Leone made major improvements in supporting these deportations.
Sierra Leone has a cash economy. Most stores, restaurants, and hotels do not accept credit cards, so you must pay in cash. Some businesses are beginning to accept credit cards. Visa cards are more prevalent than other brands. Point-of-sale terminals exist in some major shops, hotels, and restaurants. Credit card machines operate over the cell phone system, so ensure the machine comes to you. Some ATMs accept international Visa cards. Use credit cards cautiously; there is a serious risk that criminals may steal the card numbers for use in fraudulent transactions.
In August 2019, the Bank of Sierra Leone announced a prohibition on conducting business in foreign currency. The prohibition went into effect immediately, with violations punishable by a fine of 100 million Leones ($9,100) and/or imprisonment of not less than three years. Handle currency exchanges only through a bank or established foreign exchange bureau. Avoid exchanging money with street vendors, since criminals may "mark" such individuals for future targeting; there is also a risk of receiving counterfeit currency or being short-changed in the transaction.
In August 2021, The Governor of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone announced the redenomination of Sierra Leone’s currency. The New Leone will have three zeros eliminated from the face value of the old Leone and will include Le 1, Le 2, Le 5, Le 10 and Le 20 denominations. The notes will be equivalent to Le 1,000, Le 2,000, Le 5,000, and Le 10,000 respectively of the old Leones. The Le 20 denomination, equivalent to about two dollars, is being introduced for the first time. The coinage will include one cent (Le 0.01), five cent (Le 0.05), ten cent (Le 0.10), twenty-five cent (Le 0.25), and fifty cent (Le 0.50) denominations. The old and New Leones will run concurrently as legal tender until a time to be specified by the Central Bank of Sierra Leon when the old currency will cease to be legal tender. The initiative is expected to begin in late 2021 or early 2022, with the transition taking from three to six months to complete. Do not allow would-be swindlers to convince you that your old currency is worthless.
U.S. nationals and foreigners can be victims of schemes involving the purchase of gold dust and diamonds by local nationals who claim to work for various gold vendors, the Government Gold and Diamond Office (GGDO), government ministries, customs, and the police. The Embassy received one report last year from a U.S. citizen who attempted to invest in extractive industries and was defrauded. Beware of offers to sell you gold, diamonds, etc.; these types of activities could result in substantial loss of money or violation of local laws. Regulation of the gold and diamond industry remains under the control of the government. Only make purchases of gold or diamonds through licensed brokers. Do not purchase diamonds, gold, or other gems/minerals from an unlicensed source. Many diamond distributors are unlicensed and produce fraudulent gem certificates.
Land-fraud schemes continue to be prevalent throughout Sierra Leone. Many foreign investors fall victim to individuals claiming to be employed by the National Power Authority (NPA) who are providing false documents of land ownership to would-be investors. Conduct any transactions involving investment or land purchases directly with the NPA and not with individuals claiming connections within the NPA to facilitate the sale.
U.S. citizens wishing to conduct business in Sierra Leone should consult the U.S. Embassy’s Economic Section for business advice and words of caution. The U.S. Embassy continues to support the establishment of an American Chamber of Commerce in Sierra Leone. When searching for legal representation in Sierra Leone, use extreme diligence; some local attorneys are often at the center of criminal activities.
Crime: Areas of Concern
There are no specific geographical areas of concern within the capital city of Freetown or in the country that are off-limits for U.S, Embassy personnel due to crime.
Petty crime and pickpocketing of wallets, cell phones, and passports is very common, especially on the ferry to/from Freetown’s Lungi International Airport (FNA), as well as in the bars, restaurants, and nightclubs in the Lumley Beach and Aberdeen areas of Freetown. Thieves often attempt to distract a victim by asking questions, begging for money, bumping, or jostling the individual, or offering to sell items.
Areas that tourists frequent are havens for incidents involving theft, prostitution, drug sales, and disorderly conduct. The Lumley Beach area is one such location in Freetown. Avoid walking in this area at night, as it has poor lighting and attracts intoxicated persons.
Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind, Hotels: The Inns and Outs, Considerations for Hotel Security, and Taking Credit.
The U.S. Department of State has not included a Kidnapping “K” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Sierra Leone. Review OSAC’s reports, Kidnapping: The Basics and Active Shooter and Kidnapping Response Tips.
Kidnapping and kidnapping for ransom are not common in Sierra Leone. No cases involving international personnel have been reported in recent history.
Drug trafficking and cultivation exist in Sierra Leone, and continue to threaten the stability and safety of the region. The increase in narcotics trafficking through Sierra Leone, with links to international organized crime syndicates, is a disturbing trend. The considerable wealth associated with the drug trade, channeled with the help of corrupt officials, has had a destabilizing impact on the country. Transiting drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamines, and marijuana, are easily found on the local market. Most of the marijuana in the country is for transport and sale across neighboring borders. Poorly maintained border controls contribute to the growth of the illicit drug trade in the region and provide opportunities for the expansion of organized crime.
Consult with the CIA World Factbook’s section on Illicit Drugs for country-specific information.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Freetown as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
The U.S. Department of State has not included a Terrorism “T” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Sierra Leone. Review the latest State Department Country Report on Terrorism.
The Institute for Economics & Peace Global Terrorism Index 2020 ranks Sierra Leone 115 out of 163 worldwide, rating the country as having a very low impact from terrorism.
Terrorism: General Threat
There are no known organizations targeting U.S. travelers or interests in Sierra Leone. However, there exists a real and growing threat in West Africa due to the operational presence of multiple terrorist groups, including regional affiliates of al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State. Sierra Leone has not experienced terrorist attacks, but remains vulnerable to terrorist activities due to its porous borders, regional instability, and increasing terrorist attacks targeting Western interests, foreigners, and African governments. The Government of Sierra Leone remains sensitive to the threat of terrorism and engages with its international partners to detect and combat it.
Al-Qa’ida-affiliated terrorist groups based in Mali have launched multiple attacks on soft and hard targets foreigners frequent in major cities in West Africa, including those outside of the traditional areas of operation for these groups.
Political Violence and Civil Unrest Environment
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Freetown as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
There have been no acts of political violence directed toward U.S. nationals in recent years. Political violence is sporadic and is expected to increase in the leadup to the 2023 presidential elections. Political demonstrations and rallies are generally peaceful, but sporadic clashes do occur, often instigated by individuals within the crowds. Participants at political rallies are easily incited and may use weapons of opportunity, including sticks and rocks. Strong rivalries exist in Sierra Leone; participants at large demonstrations can become aggressive toward one another and the police. The police deploy crowd-control techniques, including the firing of warning shots and use of tear gas. Avoid all political rallies and demonstrations; even peaceful gatherings can escalate to violence.
Protest & Demonstration Activity
Protest and demonstrations occur within the city, and many times lead to clashes between the participants and police. The reason for these protest and demonstrations varies from land disputes, poor or lack of public services, to students’ activist’s groups. When these protests and demonstrations turn violent, participants have thrown rocks, glass bottles, and even Molotov cocktails at police who respond with tear gas, rubber bullets, and at times small arms fire. Avoid all protests and demonstrations; even peaceful gatherings can escalate to violence.
Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Law Enforcement Concerns: Security Agencies
The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) is a national police force administered from Freetown. Of the approximately 12,000 members, there are about 3,000-armed officers assigned to the Operational Support Division (OSD). OSD officers carry shoulder weapons and usually staff roadside checkpoints, serve on emergency response patrol teams, and protect foreign missions. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces is responsible for external security, but also has some domestic security responsibilities to assist police upon request in extraordinary circumstances. The armed forces report to the Defense Ministry. Civilian authorities maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces have committed some abuses.
SLP capabilities have improved with guidance and support from international advisors, but only continued training will help the police reach international policing standards. SLP seeks to improve its response to escalating crime, but the lack of resources hinders progress. The lack of police vehicles to provide transportation for officers and, at times, no paper on which to prepare reports are challenges the SLP faces in its daily operations. As a result, officers must rely heavily on local transportation to travel to/from assignments. While vehicles may be available, fuel may not be. Police response is often slow and unreliable. It is not an uncommon practice for victims of crime to pay for or provide transportation for police officers to accompany them to the local station to file a report. The U.S., UN, and UK continue to work with the SLP on preparedness and crime prevention strategies.
The SLP has been accused of excessive use of force and corruption within its ranks, especially among OSD officers. The Government of Sierra Leone calls upon OSD to quell public protests that arise. Public opinion of and confidence in the SLP remain low. Sierra Leone ranks 117 out of 180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, and 51 out of 100 on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
Some U.S. citizens who have traveled to a police station to report a crime or accident have stated that police officers requested money to purchase paper and pens before the officer could take a statement or write a report. There is a fee to make a police report; for foreigners, the cost is 300,000 Leones, (about $30), and for residents it is 50,000 Leones. Pay at the bank, not at the police station
Do not pay bribes, “gifts,” or on-the-spot fines; if one is requested of you, obtain the officer’s name and badge number, and politely ask to speak with a supervisor and/or request to go to police headquarters for further processing. By international convention, the Government of Sierra Leone must notify the U.S. Embassy when it arrests a U.S. Citizen; however, it consistently fails to do so. Arrested or detained U.S. nationals should assert the right to speak with a representative from the U.S. Embassy; you may need to repeat this request.
Law Enforcement Concerns: Emergency Contact/Information
Travelers requiring police assistance should contact the police through the Control Room at +232 76 771 721, which has the best-equipped offices to assist international travelers. If this number is unavailable, contact the Local Unit Commander (LUC) for the area in which the incident occurs. Many residents call their LUC when in need of assistance. Visitors should obtain the phone numbers of LUC of the areas they will visit. The U.S. Embassy is unable to provide these contact numbers, as the LUCs frequently change assignments and phone numbers. Local police stations, like so many residences and businesses, do not have working landline telephones. Most police officers rely on private cell phones for communication, and these numbers are not made public. Officers answering the telephone often do not understand English speakers with a U.S. accent. Many nationals speak “Krio,” the lingua franca of the country.
Driving conditions in Sierra Leone present a serious hazard to travelers. Sierra Leone’s roads are poorly maintained, lack illumination, do not have shoulders for parking or stopping in emergencies, and have minimal/no signage. There are few adequate sidewalks and guardrails. Local motorists rarely adhere to the rules of the road, and regularly engage in unsafe driving practices, such as failing to signal while turning or not remaining in correct travel lanes. Motorcycle taxis (okadas) are notorious for passing between vehicles or driving on roadsides, sometimes in the opposite direction of traffic.
The lack of a systematic and rigorously enforced vehicle registration and inspection system contributes to the dangers of driving in Sierra Leone. Many vehicles do not meet international safety standards; some lack headlights and/or brake lights.
The U.S. Embassy recommends its personnel not drive at night outside of Freetown. Outside of Freetown, accidents occur frequently due to poorly maintained and dimly lighted roadways, speeding, transiting livestock, and the presence of large vehicles such as long-haul trucks and buses. After a vehicular accident, a large crowd may gather and could become hostile and aggressive. This may happen even if you are not at fault. If you feel threatened or fear for your safety, leave the scene and go to the nearest police station.
During the rainy season (April-November), roadway hazards increase substantially throughout Sierra Leone. Roadway flooding and near zero-visibility present added hazards to motorists; plan for delays while traveling during the rainy season. Familiarize yourself with flood-prone areas and consider traveling in high-clearance, 4x4 vehicles.
Drinking and driving is illegal; police do not routinely enforce this prohibition due to a lack of a vehicle-equipped traffic police. As a result, local drivers may be under the influence. The U.S. Embassy maintains a zero-tolerance policy for its personnel driving under the influence.
Police and immigration checkpoints occur throughout Sierra Leone. These checkpoints are official and require all vehicles to stop so that police can search passengers and vehicles and verify occupants’ identity documents. Legitimate checkpoints feature police officers in uniform and normally feature a “Police” sign or the logo of the Sierra Leone Police. Children and road repair crews often establish impromptu roadblocks using string, rocks, or branches to obtain money from passing motorists. These impromptu roadblocks are illegal; do not feel compelled to pay for passage.
For detailed, country-specific road and vehicle safety information, read the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety in Africa, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Safety
Public transportation vehicles are in poor condition, frequently overloaded with passengers, and do not meet Western safety standards. Minivans used as taxis (poda-poda) routinely carry more passengers than is safe. Motorcycle taxis normally carry one passenger, but many carry up to three at once. Three-wheeled vehicles (keke or tuk tuk) are another popular form of public transportation. There is a very limited domestic bus system. The use of helmets by motorcyclists and safety belts by vehicle occupants is rare. U.S. Embassy employees may not use kekes, okadas, and poda-podas. The U.S. Embassy mandates the usage of seat belts by all occupants of official vehicles, and prohibits staff use of taxicab, motorcycles, and minibus taxis. Avoid public transportation, including buses, taxis, and motorcycles. Hire a dedicated car and driver from a trusted and reliable source.
Review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights; and consider the European Union Air Safety List.
Lungi International Airport (FNA) is in Lungi, across the Sierra Leone River from Freetown, and is accessible by a water taxi or public ferry. Travel to the airport is also available by roadway, but the drive time from Freetown to Lungi can take three or more hours depending on road conditions. Use only licensed water taxis and ferries.
Sierra Leone does not have major problems with piracy within its territorial waters or banditry along its highways. There are growing disputes over territorial rights between Guinean, Liberian, and international anglers caught in Sierra Leonean waters. Sierra Leone currently prosecutes piracy on the high seas as “armed robbery;” lawmakers continue to work on specific laws to recognize this crime as piracy. Sierra Leone has also become a “flag of convenience” country in the international shipping industry. The government has certified a shipping agency headquartered in Singapore to manage Sierra Leone registrations of vessels. Sierra Leone’s staff responsible for the registry of sea vessels requires more training and management to meet international standards.
Consult with the Stable Seas Maritime Security Index for detailed information and ratings regarding rule of law, law enforcement, piracy, and other maritime security indicators.
Personal Identity & Human Rights Concerns
Significant human rights issues include unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious acts of corruption; and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.
Safety Concerns for Women Travelers
The law provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women under family, labor, property, and inheritance law. Women continue to experience discriminatory practices. Their rights and positions are largely contingent on customary law and the ethnic group to which they belong. The law provides for both Sierra Leonean fathers and mothers to confer nationality to children born abroad. The law provides for equal remuneration for equal work without discrimination based on gender. Both spouses may acquire property, and women may obtain divorces without being forced to relinquish dowries.
The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but authorities do not always effectively enforce it. It is unlawful to make unwanted sexual advances, repeatedly follow or pursue others against their will, initiate repeated and unwanted communications with others, or engage in any other “menacing” behavior. Conviction of sexual harassment is punishable by a substantial fine or imprisonment not exceeding three years. No reliable data is available on the prevalence of sexual harassment.
Consider composite scores given to Sierra Leone by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in its Gender Development Index, measuring the difference between average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development, and Gender Inequality Index, measuring inequality in achievement in reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. For more information on gender statistics in Sierra Leone, see the World Bank's Gender Data Portal.
Review the State Department’s webpage for female travelers.
Safety Concerns for LGBTI+ Travelers
Consensual sexual relations between men are illegal in Sierra Leone. Although the U.S. Embassy is not aware of any recent prosecutions for consensual sexual activity between men, penalties can include imprisonment. While there is no explicit legal prohibition against sexual relations between women, lesbians of all ages can be victims of “planned rapes” initiated by family members in an attempt to change their sexual orientation.
A few organizations, including Dignity Association, supported LGBTI+ persons, but they maintain low profiles. Although LGBTI+ groups noted that police bias against LGBTI+ individuals had not disappeared, they did report that police were increasingly treating LGBTI+ persons with understanding.
LGBTI+ advocates report that the community faced challenges ranging from violence, stigma, discrimination, blackmailing, and public attack to denial of public services such as health care and justice. Advocates report LGBTI+ persons face no discrimination in schools. The government reportedly registered a transsexual organization in 2018, and advocates stated they have engaged with the HRCSL on LGBTI+ matters.
It is difficult for LGBTI+ individuals to receive health services; many choose not to seek medical testing or treatment due to fear their right to confidentiality would be ignored. Obtaining secure housing is also a problem for LGBTI+ persons. Families frequently shun their LGBTI+ children, leading some to turn to commercial sex to survive. Adults risk having their leases terminated if their LGBTI+ status becomes public. Women in the LGBTI+ community report social discrimination from male LGBTI+ persons and the general population.
Review OSAC’s report, Supporting LGBT+ Employee Security Abroad, and the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI travelers.
Safety Concerns for Travelers with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment and provision of state services, including judicial services. The government does not effectively implement the law and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications.
There is considerable discrimination against persons with mental disabilities. Most persons with mental disabilities receive no treatment or public services. At the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital in Kissy, the only inpatient psychiatric institution that serves persons with mental disabilities, authorities report that only one consulting psychiatrist is available, patients are not provided sufficient food, and restraints are primitive and dehumanizing. The hospital lacks running water and has only sporadic electricity. Only basic medications are available.
Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.
Safety Concerns for Travelers Based on Race, Religion, & Ethnicity
The constitution provides for the protection of fundamental human rights and individual freedoms, including freedom of thought and religion, subject to the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, and health, and to the protection of other persons’ rights and freedoms. The constitution also provides for freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of expression. The law prohibits religious discrimination and allows all persons to observe their own religious practices and to change religions without interference from the government or members of other religious groups.
Review the latest U.S Department of State Report on International Religious Freedom for country-specific information.
Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.
U.S. Embassy employees consistently report that the public and their professional counterparts are welcoming, and that there are no concerns relating to anti-US or anti-Western sentiment.
Concerns involving the Rule of Law, Arbitrary Detention, Official Harassment, Corruption &/or Transparency
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission indicate that police occasionally arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, including members of opposition parties. The government allows the Sierra Leone Police and chiefdom police to hold suspects in detention cells without charge or explanation for up to three days for suspected misdemeanors and up to ten days for suspected felonies.
The government has taken some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, but impunity persists.
Corruption present at all levels within the government and private sector. According to an Afrobarometer 2020 survey, Sierra Leoneans have perceived corruption to be increasing among the police, judiciary, and parliament since 2018. In the same survey, 46% of Sierra Leoneans reported paying bribes for public services (i.e., education, health care, identity documents, police services) in 2020, which is essentially unchanged from 2018 when 47% of Sierra Leoneans reported doing so.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Sierra Leone 117 out of 180 worldwide, where 1 means most transparent.
Most registered newspapers are independent, although several are associated with political parties. Newspapers openly and routinely criticize the government and its officials, as well as opposition parties. Independent broadcast media institutions generally operate without restrictions, and international media outlets operate freely but are required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communications and the government-funded Independent Media Commission to obtain a license.
The government does not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there are no credible reports that the government monitors private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
The Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International reported no arrests or detentions in relation to freedom of expression in 2020. Of note, in July 2020, parliament approved the Public Order Amendment Act, decriminalizing seditious libel and slander, which was previously used to impede witness testimony in anticorruption and other cases, and to target persons making statements against the government.
The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks Sierra Leone 75 out of 180 worldwide, where 1 means most freedom. The Freedom House Freedom in the World report rates Sierra Leone’s freedom of speech as partly free.
Review OSAC’s report, Lèse Majesté: Watching what you say (and type) abroad.
Emergency Health Services
Medical facilities fall critically short of U.S. and European standards. Since the Ebola outbreak, physician availability has been spotty and inconsistent
Trauma care is extremely limited. Only use local hospitals in the event of an extreme medical emergency. Blood transfusions can be life threatening due to inadequate donor screening. Many primary health care workers, especially in rural areas, lack adequate professional training. Medicines are in short supply and, because of inadequate diagnostic equipment, lack of medical resources, and limited medical specialty personnel, complex diagnosis and treatment is unavailable.
Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on health insurance overseas.
The U.S. Department of State has not included a Health “H” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Sierra Leone. Review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) country-specific Travel Health Notices for current health issues that impact traveler health, like disease outbreaks, special events or gatherings, and natural disasters.
See OSAC’s Guide to U.S. Government-Assisted Evacuations; review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad; and visit the State Department’s webpage on Your Health Abroad for more information.
Strongly consider COVID-19 vaccination prior to all travel.
All visitors traveling to Sierra Leone should have current vaccinations prior to arrival. 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, but health officials at ports of entry do request proof of yellow fever vaccination. Yearly cholera outbreaks are common. Malaria is endemic and prophylaxis is a necessity. Expatriates have died from cerebral malaria as recently as 2017. Consult your physician for anti-malaria medication prior to traveling. Lassa fever is endemic in the Eastern provinces with deaths reported in November 2019.
Review the CDC Travelers’ Health site for country-specific vaccine recommendations.
Issues Traveling with Medications
The availability and quality of medications is inconsistent, and counterfeit drugs remain a problem. Bring sufficient medication supplies for the duration of your stay, if possible, including over-the-counter drugs. Do not pack medications in checked luggage.
Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.
There is no potable tap water in Sierra Leone. Use bottled water for brushing teeth. The water sources are contaminated with human and animal fecal matter, as well as runoff from agriculture. The pipes in Freetown are very old and poorly maintained, creating both leaching of contaminants into the pipes as well as formation of biofilms. Water is available from local water treatment and bottling companies. Unfortunately, several of these companies continue to test positive for E. coli strain O157.H7.
Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?
Flooding remains a major concern. Freetown lacks the drainage infrastructure to accommodate storm water runoff. As a result, low-lying areas of the city and major vehicle thoroughfares flood during the rainy season. Torrential rains also challenge Freetown’s often poorly constructed hillside structures.
The Embassy has received reports from U.S. citizens involved in financial scams. Scams involving promises of investment or business opportunities happen in Sierra Leone. Do not respond to any unsolicited opportunities to make money. Perform due diligence before entering into any financial agreement.
Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling Abroad with Mobile Devices, and Guide for Overseas Satellite Phone Usage.
There are no counterintelligence issues specific to private-sector operations in Sierra Leone.
Other Security Concerns
Although there have been recent armed conflicts to include the civil war which ended in 2002, landmines were not heavily used and do not pose a concern in Sierra Leone.
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 National Minerals Agency (NMA) can provide licenses for export, while the agency’s Directorate of Precious Minerals Trading is responsible for Kimberly Process certification of diamonds. For further information on mining activities in Sierra Leone, contact the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources.
Establishments will not accept U.S. dollars dated 2006 and earlier, even though they are legal tender in the United States. An anti-money laundering law passed in 2005 prohibits importing more than $10,000 in cash except through a financial institution. Most outlets do not accept travelers' checks as payment.
A country-specific listing of items goods prohibited from being exported to the country or that are otherwise restricted is available from the U.S. International Trade Agency website.
Always ask permission before taking a photograph. Local citizens may request a small fee for taking a picture (“snap”) of them or their surroundings. Obtain official permission to photograph government buildings, airports, bridges, or official facilities, including the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the U.S. Embassy.
Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
The identification documents required to enter the country meet all requirements for identification throughout the country and no additional identification requirements have been established.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
Traditional landline telephone service is almost non-existent in Sierra Leone. Most communications are via cellular phones and/or the internet. Nationwide, internet service is expensive and slow.
OSAC Country Chapters
U.S. Embassy Freetown hosts an OSAC Country Chapter. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, participants meet on a quarterly basis at various locations throughout Freetown.
Contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.
Embassy Contact Information
U.S. Embassy: Leicester Square, off Regent Road, in the hills above the city. Tel.: +232 99 105-500; After-hours Emergencies: +232 99 905-007. Hours: Monday-Thursday 0800-1715; Friday 0800-1300.
Trustworthy News Sources
There are a wide variety of print and radio news sources are available throughout the country.
- Awoko: One of the most credible independent newspapers in the country. Established in 1998, it does not demonstrate bias towards any political party, and operates on a commercial laissez faire model of journalism. It has the second-highest circulation of any paper, with 1,000 copies a daily.
- Politico: An independent and liberal paper. The Proprietor is a BBC reporter whom the previous government accused of supporting the incumbent Sierra Leone People’s Party when they were in governance, but he remains the most credible and most popular journalist in Sierra Leone. Politico has an average circulation of about 500 copies, published three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).
- Concord Times: Established in 1992 by a Nigerian businessman, the newspaper has won the respect of many Sierra Leoneans for its objectivity and originality. The Concord Times has a circulation of 350 copies a day.
- Premier News: Established in 2007, the Proprietor is a former SLPP government minister who resigned to set up a media and advertisement agency. He is a Humphrey Scholar. The Premier Newspaper has an average circulation of about 500 copies every day.
- Global Times Newspaper: is a pro-government newspaper owned by current Board Chairman of SALCAB, Sorie Fofana. Global Times has an average circulation of 500 copies daily.
- AYV Newspaper: published by the African Young Voices Media Empire, which is owned by businessman Anthony Navo, its editorial contents are different from that of the television and radio stations owned by the same empire. Articles published by the AYV Newspaper are sometimes inaccurate and one-sided. The AYV Newspaper has a circulation of 330 copies a day.
- Africanist Press: Based in Philadelphia, Africanist Press investigates and writes on corruption issues around Africa. One of its writers, Chernor Alpha M. Bah is a Sierra Leonean rights activists who lives in the U.S. Chernor was a politician with the National Democratic Alliance party when he was in Sierra Leone. Being an online platform, the Africanist Press has wide social media circulation in the country. Articles on Sierra Leone are shared on all major WhatsApp and Facebook groups in the country – the two most used social media platforms in Sierra Leone.
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