The Department of Foreign Affairs strongly recommends that comprehensive travel insurance, including medical insurance, is obtained before travelling to Sierra Leone. Travellers should note that the Irish Government does not provide funds for emergency medical repatriation or for repatriation of remains.
There is no travel restriction in place advising against travel to Sierra Leone. The most significant dangers to travellers relate to medical risks and traffic accidents. The availability and quality of health care in Sierra Leone is poor and Irish citizens are strongly advised to take out comprehensive travel insurance, including medical insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs including medical evacuations, before travelling.
Irish citizens planning to travel to Sierra Leone are encouraged to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Travel Registration service Department of Foreign Affairs - Citizen Registration. As in other countries, it is advisable to carry a copy of your passport at all times and to keep your passport in a secure location.
Consular services to Irish citizens in Sierra Leone are provided by the Embassy of Ireland in Nigeria and by the Honorary Consul General of Ireland in Sierra Leone, Dr. Wadi M. Aboud. Dr. Aboud can be contacted on +232 76 222200 or at Eirecon-Freetown@wasltd.com. Irish citizens travelling to Sierra Leone are encouraged to register at the consulate and can do so by emailing Dr. Aboud. The consulate office address is 8 Rawdon Street, First Floor, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Irish Companies may wish to contact the Irish Diplomatic and Development Mission for assistance on trade-related matters. The Head of Mission is Sinead Walsh who can be contacted at +232 76 472744 and firstname.lastname@example.org. The Deputy Head of Mission is Paula Molloy who can be contacted at +232 76 771984 and email@example.com
Safety and Security
Security and stability in Sierra Leone have improved significantly since civil war in the country ended in 2002. As in other countries while travelling, it is advisable to avoid large gatherings, political rallies and demonstrations. The threat of terrorism is low, although Somali terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab has issued a threat against Sierra Leone due to its ongoing 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.
Sierra Leone shares borders with Guinea and Liberia, which can pose security concerns. Travellers visiting border areas should seek local advice and keep informed of political developments.
Traffic accidents are a significant hazard in Sierra Leone and road users should exercise extreme care. A major road construction and repair programme is underway across the country, but road conditions are generally poor, including in Freetown, and worsen 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 and outside of Freetown, travel outside of daylight hours should be avoided. Travellers should take extra care in looking both ways even when crossing one way streets as it is not unusual for cars/motorbikes to drive on the wrong side of the road.
Makeshift roadblocks are sometimes seen on rural roads, often manned by children and youths, requesting payment from travellers using the road. Travellers are advised that the private taxis, “ocadas” (motorbike taxis) or “poda-podas” (mini buses) available for public transport can be hazardous. Vehicle maintenance and driving standards can be very poor and vehicles are often overcrowded.
Irish citizens are strongly advised to take out comprehensive travel insurance, including medical insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs including medical evacuations, before travelling. Policies should be checked to ensure they cover all planned activities. If referred to a medical facility for treatment the insurance company should be contacted immediately. Travellers should note that the Irish government does not provide funds for emergency medical repatriation or repatriation of remains.
Prior to visiting to Sierra Leone, visitors should consult a doctor about necessary vaccinations and precautions. The yellow fever vaccination is an entry requirement for the country and a yellow fever vaccination certificate will be requested by border control on arrival in Sierra Leone. Malaria, including cerebral malaria which can be fatal within 72 hours, is endemic in the country and the use of a malaria prophylaxis is strongly recommended, together with other precautions such as using insect repellent, keeping limbs covered at night and sleeping under a mosquito net. Travellers should also bring sufficient malaria treatment for the duration of their visit. Cholera and other water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, giardia, dysentery and typhoid are also common, so travellers should drink and brush their teeth with bottled water only, and avoid eating uncooked foods. 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.
The availability and quality of medical services in Sierra Leone is poor, and generally only basic care can be obtained. Irish citizens in need of treatment may be asked to pay up front. Emergency services in Freetown are unreliable, and there are no emergency services outside the capital. While some medications can be obtained in Freetown it is advisable to bring your own basic supplies such as antihistamines, immodium, motilium, oral rehydration salts and antibacterial wipes. It is also advisable to bring a supply of strong mosquito repellent, sun cream and after sun.
Irish citizens with pre-existing medical conditions or underlying health concerns may wish to be particularly cautious when deciding whether or not to visit Sierra Leone. Visitors should bring sufficient medication for the duration of their visit, as it may not be possible to obtain appropriate drugs or treatment in the country.
Crime levels in Sierra Leone are generally low and the greatest risk to short-term visitors to the country is petty crime such as pick-pocketing. However muggings and assaults can also occur. The risk of such thefts and muggings increases in the period around Christmas, from November until the New Year. Travellers are advised to exercise the normal precautions and to 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. Carrying valuables or large sums of cash in public should be avoided. Concerts and sporting events at the national stadium are often overcrowded and unsafe, and pick-pocketing is common. Visitors should ensure that their accommodation and vehicles are well secured, with locked doors and windows at all times.
Business fraud against foreigners is also a problem. Business people considering making an investment or entering into a contract are advised to carefully research the individual or company concerned before making any commitments. Particular caution should be exercised when the business opportunity is the result of unsolicited contact or promises rapid financial gain.
Corruption is also a common problem in Sierra Leone.
Should an Irish citizen be a victim of crime while in Sierra Leone, they are encouraged to make a report to the local police and to contact the Consular Office of the Embassy of Ireland in Nigeria or the Honorary Consul General of Ireland in Sierra Leone.
Local Laws and Customs
The majority of the population is Muslim although there is also a sizable Christian community. There is little religious extremism in Sierra Leone and tension between religions is extremely low. Travellers should be respectful of local traditions and should be particularly mindful of this during the holy month of Ramadan.
Irish citizens in Sierra Leone are subject to local laws and regulations and those who commit criminal offences can expect to be prosecuted and jailed or expelled from the country. Prison conditions are extremely difficult. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of drugs are severe. Homosexuality is illegal in Sierra Leone, though the law is not pro-actively enforced.
Sierra Leone’s customs authorities enforce strict regulations regarding the export of precious minerals and gems such as diamonds and gold. All such exports should be conducted in compliance with Sierra Leonean law.
Natural Disasters and Climate
There is no significant risk of large scale natural disasters. Sierra Leone is not located in a seismically active area. However visitors should exercise caution when travelling during the rainy season as flash floods and falling debris can be hazardous.
The climate in Sierra Leone is consistently hot and humid year round. During the dry season, from November to April, temperatures and humidity are higher. The rainy season lasts from May to October and brings extremely heavy rainfalls and thunderstorms. If visiting during the rainy season raingear is recommended.
Additional Country Info
Irish citizens require a valid passport, a visa and a yellow fever vaccination certificate for entry to Sierra Leone. For more detailed information, contact the nearest Embassy or Consular Office. The High Commission of Sierra Leone in the UK handles visa applications from residents of Ireland.
Arrival at the Airport
On arrival at the airport visitors are currently requested to pay approximately $2-$5 or Le 10,000 (€2) for use of a trolley for luggage if required. A ferry or water-taxi is then required to get to Freetown. The ferry which will take visitors either to the centre or East of Freetown costs Le 8,000 – Le 20,000 (€2 - €4) and visitors will need to get a taxi to the port. Most visitors to Sierra Leone take the water taxi to Freetown which docks in the West of the city and has buses to takes visitors to the port. The water-taxi costs $40 (€30) and the only company currently in operation on a regular basis is called Pelican or Seacoach. On exiting the airport building, the Pelican/Seacoach office is to the right. Upon payment of the fare, the staff will tag baggage for collection on the Freetown side.
Sierra Leone is a cash based economy. The local currency is the Leone. Although there are a number of ATMs in Freetown, many do not accept foreign bank or credit cards and the security of the transactions cannot be guaranteed. Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are very rarely accepted and should not be relied upon.
Travellers should bring sufficient cash to cover expenses while in Sierra Leone. There are restrictions on the quantity of cash that can be brought into the country, and travellers should verify the latest requirements with the local 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 are generally not accepted. Foreign currency can be exchanged for Leones in banks, foreign exchange offices, high-end hotels or at supermarkets. There is a foreign exchange bureau at the airport after customs. The use of street vendors to exchange currency is not recommended. Care should be taken when carrying cash.
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.
The voltage is normally 220/240 volt AC. Sockets generally accommodate Irish/UK 3-pronged flat plugs. Power supplies are subject to break without warning. High voltage surge protectors should be used to protect sensitive electrical equipment as well as protection from voltage fluctuations and lightning strikes during the rainy season. Hotels, restaurants and business have generators for use during power-outages but it is advisable to bring a torch.
Mobile communication is widespread and of a good quality in major urban areas. Some rural areas do not have coverage. Some Irish networks work in Sierra Leone, however costs to use an Irish mobile phone in Sierra Leone are high. Local pre-pay sim cards can be purchased for approximately Le 10,000 (€2). An average 5 minute conversation to Ireland will cost approximately Le 10,000 (€2) but will vary depending on network.
There are a number of internet cafes in Freetown and in some of the larger towns such as Makeni, Bo and Kenema. Internet strength and speed is often very weak and is significantly affected by the rains and stormy weather. Wireless internet is available in some high-end restaurants and hotels in the major towns, including Freetown.
To rent a vehicle and driver visitors should expect to pay approximately $120 (€88) to $200 (€146) per day (exclusive of fuel). It is standard practice for vehicle rental to include a driver. See Sierra Leone Travel and Tourism - Your Online Travel Guide and Local Tour Operator in Sierra Leone for further information.