is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office
at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Sierra
Leone. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Sierra Leone country page
for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some
of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
The current U.S. Department of State Travel
Advisory at the date of this report’s publication
assesses Sierra Leone at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise
increased caution due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding
the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and Safety
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. 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 rise throughout the country. However, the rate of violent
crime in Sierra Leone remains comparable with that of other West African
Leone continues to grapple with poverty, rising inflation, and high
unemployment rates; this is especially so among the youth, who possess limited
job prospects. More than 75% of Sierra Leoneans live below the national poverty
line, with most making less than $2 per day. Economic desperation has fueled
increases in crime.
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
($513) and up to two years in prison. However, domestic violence is common and
police are unlikely to intervene.
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. 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.
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.
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; however, 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. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels:
The Inns and Outs and Considerations
for Hotel Security.
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. Review OSAC’s reports, All
That You Should Leave Behind.
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.
2019, there were no reports of carjacking involving U.S. Citizens.
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.
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.
2019, the United States deported 84 Sierra Leonean nationals convicted of
various types of crimes. The U.S. Government discontinued the issuance of B
visas - temporary visitors for business and pleasure - for officials affiliated
with the Foreign Affairs and Immigration Ministries. These visa restrictions do
not affect other consular services within the U.S. Embassy, including
adjudication of applications from individuals not covered by the suspension.
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. There are no functioning MasterCard cash
points in Sierra Leone. Use credit cards cautiously; there is a serious risk
that criminals may steal the card numbers for use in fraudulent transactions. Review
OSAC’s reports, The
Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking
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 ($10,275) 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. 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.
Embassy has received reports from U.S. citizens about 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.
OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity
Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling
with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite
Phones: Critical or Contraband?
Road Safety and Road Conditions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
mission personnel driving under the influence.
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.
OSAC’s reports, 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 Conditions
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.
OSAC’s report, Security
In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
International Airport (FNA) is located in Lungi across the Sierra Leone River,
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. Helicopter service from Lungi discontinued after a fatal accident.
Leone relies on shipments of gasoline and diesel to maintain the nation’s fuel
supply. Occasional interruptions to these deliveries have caused fuel shortages
which, in turn, led to price gouging, long lines, and gas stations closing due
to lack of fuel delivery.
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. There are no known organizations targeting U.S. citizens
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 ISIS. 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.
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.
sentiment is rare.
Religious, and Ethnic Violence
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. citizens in recent years. Political violence is
sporadic and normally increases during election periods.
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. Review OSAC’s
rising number of gangs in Freetown remains a concern, given that some have
aligned along ethnic lines.
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.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
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.
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;
however, Sierra Leone’s staff responsible for the registry of sea vessels
requires more training and management to meet international standards.
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.
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.
citizens wishing to conduct business in Sierra Leone should consult the U.S.
Embassy’s Economic Section webpage
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.
Personal Identity Concerns
genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is widespread in Sierra Leone. The
government imposed a moratorium on practicing FGM/C as an emergency health
response to the Ebola outbreak, and the moratorium remains in place, but
authorities do not actively enforce the prohibition. Review the State
Department’s webpage on security for female
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 effort to
change their sexual orientation. Review the State Department’s webpage on
security for LGBTI+
Leone law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities
and offers no specific protections for such persons. The law does not mandate
accessibility of buildings or assistance to disabled persons and there is no
government policy or program to assist persons with disabilities. Review the
State Department’s webpage on security for travelers
OSAC’s report, Freedom
to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based
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.
areas with neighboring states are more susceptible to criminality due to the
lack of security force presence and/or enforcement of customs/immigration laws
at most crossing areas.
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.
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, or see the Department of State’s annual
Investment Climate Statement. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs
and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out
of other countries.
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.
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.
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 119th
out of 180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, and 26th
out of 54 on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
requiring police assistance should contact the police through the Control Room
+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 local 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.
U.S. citizens who have traveled to a police station to report a crime or
accident have stated that police officers requested money in order 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 50,000 Leones for local residents. Pay at the bank, not
at the police station. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance
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.
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.
facilities fall critically short of U.S. and European standards. The Ebola
outbreak negatively affected the state of medical services; even prior to the
crisis, medical facilities were poorly equipped, understaffed, and generally
incapable of providing even basic services. Since the Ebola outbreak, physician
availability has been spotty and inconsistent. Find contact information for
available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S.
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.
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
U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health
insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments
webpage on insurance
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. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health
guidance for Sierra
OSAC’s reports, The
Healthy Way, Traveling
with Medication, I’m
Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken:
The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare
for Travel, and Fire
OSAC Country Council
Embassy Freetown hosts an OSAC Country Council. Participants meet on a quarterly
basis at various locations throughout Freetown. Interested private-sector
security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa
Team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Contact
U.S. Embassy in Freetown is located at Leicester Square, off Regent Road, in
the hills above the city.
hours: Monday-Thursday 0800-1715; Friday 0800-1300
+232 99 105-500; After-hours Mission Duty Officer: (099) 905-007
you travel, consider the following resources: