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Travel Security Advice for Sierra Leone

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sierra_leone_mapSierra_Leone_Overview


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 the Department of State Background Notes on Sierra Leone  for additional information.



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 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 LondonOverseas, 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.

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.



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 American standards in response time, communications, and specialty skills.
 
Areas outside Freetown lack most basic services.  U.S. Embassy employees are free to travel throughout Sierra Leone.  Travelers are urged to exercise caution, however, especially when traveling beyond the capital.   Road conditions are hazardous and serious vehicle accidents are common.   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, and maintain security awareness at all times.  In addition, American citizens should carry a means of communication at all times (fully charged cell phone with emergency contacts).

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State,
Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website,


Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s information on A Safe Trip Abroad.



CRIME: 

Entrenched poverty in Sierra Leone has led to criminality.   Visitors and resident Americans 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.   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 is a serious problem at all levels within the government of Sierra Leone.  Americans traveling to or residing in Sierra Leone should maintain a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings to help avoid becoming the victims of crime.

Upon arrival in Sierra Leone, U.S. citizens are urged to register at the Embassy in Freetown (see Registration/Embassy Location section below) where they may obtain current safety information and advice on minimizing risks.

The Embassy receives regular reports from potential American investors 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/gold dealers.   It is not uncommon for registered diamond/gold dealers to target foreigners using sophisticated scams resulting in significant financial loss.

Business fraud is rampant and the perpetrators often target foreigners, including Americans.   Schemes previously associated with Nigeria are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including 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.   Of course, 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 drains their accounts, incurs large debts against their credit, and takes 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.



INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: 

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.  The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

There is no local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Sierra Leone.

Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.



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.  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.  Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.



SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:  

Lungi Airport is located across a large body of water from Freetown.  There are usually four travel options to/from Lungi airport: helicopter, ferry, hovercraft and road.  While none is without risk, all are used by Embassy personnel.  The cost for the ferry service is minimal; however, the service experiences frequent delays, and the ferry terminal is located in East Freetown, which has a higher crime rate than other parts of the capital.  When the hovercraft and helicopter services are operating, they charge approximately $50-70 each way (payable in U.S. currency).  Passengers departing Freetown by air should expect to pay an airport tax of $40.00 (payable in U.S. Dollars).

Sierra Leone is generally a cash economy.  However, an anti-money laundering law passed in July 2005 prohibits importing more than $10,000 in cash except through a financial institution.  On the whole, travelers are advised not to use credit cards in Sierra Leone because very few facilities accept them and there is a serious risk that using a card will lead to the number being stolen for use in fraudulent transactions. Pro-Credit Bank, a German based institution, has two locations where international ATM networks are available.


Travelers' checks are not usually accepted as payment; however, they can be cashed at some banks including Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Pro-Credit Bank and Rokel Commercial Bank.  The traveler must have proof of identification and a signed receipt by the institution where the travelers’ checks were purchased.  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.

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, Fifth Floor, Youyi Building, Brookfields, Freetown, Sierra Leone; tel. (232-22) 240-420 or 240-176; fax (232-22) 240-574.

Corruption is a problem in Sierra Leone.  Travelers requesting service from government officials at any level may be asked for bribes.  Corrupt government officials should be reported to the Anti-Corruption Commission at one of the following locations:  The Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission, 3 Gloucester Street, Freetown; 14a Lightfoot Boston Street, Freetown; 37 Kissy Town Road, Bo, Southern Province; Independence Square, Rogbaneh Road, Makeni; tel. (232- 22) 229-984 or 227-100 or 221-701; fax (232-22) 221-900; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Travelers must obtain official permission to photograph government buildings, airports, bridges, or official facilities including the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the United States Embassy.  Areas where photography is prohibited may not be clearly marked or defined.  People sometimes do not want to be photographed for religious reasons or may want to be paid for posing.  Photographers should ask permission before taking someone’s picture.

U.S. citizens who are also Sierra Leonean nationals must provide proof of payment of taxes on revenues earned in Sierra Leone before being granted clearance to depart the country.  The Government of Sierra Leone now recognizes dual U.S.-Sierra Leonean citizenship.  However; the U.S. Embassy may have difficulty assisting American citizens involved in legal or criminal proceedings if they entered the country on a Sierra Leonean passport. 

Please see our Customs Information.



MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: 

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Sierra Leone.

There are medical conditions and illnesses in Sierra Leone that are rarely seen in the Western world or which are difficult to treat locally.  Emergency medical care in Freetown is poor and limited by both the services available and flight schedules.

Medical facilities in Sierra Leone fall critically short of U.S. and European standards. There is no ambulance service in Sierra Leone, trauma care is extremely limited, and local hospitals should only be used in the event of an extreme medical emergency.  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 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. Since sanitary conditions in Sierra Leone are poor and refrigeration is unreliable, caution should be used when eating uncooked vegetables, salads, seafood, or meats at restaurants and hotels. Only bottled water should be consumed.

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 websiteFor information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) websiteFurther general health information for travelers is available from the WHO.



MEDICAL INSURANCE: 

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

Emergency medical evacuation from Sierra Leone cost over $100,000 for the airplane alone.  These 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.

Americans 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 State Department's website.



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 4-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.   U.S. government employees 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 and 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.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.  Visit the website of Sierra Leone’s National Tourist Board for more information.



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.  American citizens departing Lungi International Airport have reported incidents of attempted extortion by officials claiming that travel documents were not in order.  Luggage can often be lost or pilfered.



CHILDREN'S ISSUES: 

For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.



REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:  

Americans living or traveling in Sierra Leone are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Sierra Leone.  Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency.  The U.S. Embassy is located Southridge, Hill Station Regent "emergencies and after-hours: 232-76-515-000, or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it The consular ACS section fax number is 232-76-515-075.



This replaces the Country Specific Information for Sierra Leone dated June 10, 2008, to update the sections on Safety and Security, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Medical Insurance.


The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding Sierra Leone HERE.....

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can also check out our World Wide Embassies Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens).......

There is a Malaria Warning for Sierra Leone HERE.....

Regards

The SW Team.......

 

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