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.
For entry requirements for Sierra Leone, please contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate.
It is advisable to take a number of photocopies of your passport with you. During your stay you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times.
SAFETY & SECURITY
While stability in Sierra Leone is improving, some tensions remain. Groups of youths, demonstrations, large crowds and political gatherings should be avoided at all times, as should events at the national stadium where overcrowding, poor crowd control and pickpocketing pose a risk to personal safety.
Road accidents, medical risks – in particular malaria - and theft present the greatest potential danger to expatriates and travellers in Sierra Leone.
Neighbouring Guinea remains politically fragile and therefore, local advice should be sought before travelling to areas near the border with Guinea.
The threat from terrorism is low, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.
While Sierra Leone has a relatively low crime rate, normal precautions should be observed. Pick pocketing, petty crime and business fraud are the most common incidents but there has been a recent increase in the rate of violent crime, including armed robbery.
Irish citizens should ensure that their accommodation is well secured. Care should be taken at night, particularly around beach bars and nightclubs as well as in central Freetown.
You should avoid carrying valuables in public and be vigilant at all times, especially at night.
Irish citizens should be aware that, although efforts are being made to tackle it, corruption is widespread in Sierra Leone. There has also been an increase in business fraud targeted against foreigners. Perpetrators frequently promise rapid financial gain for a seemingly legitimate business contract to purchase minerals or to supply equipment. This is commonly on the basis of the transfer of high advance fees. Business persons should be aware that, in addition to the high risk of financial loss, there have been instances of serious threats to persons who follow up on or report such frauds. Any individual considering committing funds, providing services or undertaking travel is urged to carefully research in advance the individual or company concerned.
LOCAL LAWS & CUSTOMS
The majority of Sierra Leoneans are Muslim and Sierra Leone has a tolerant Islamic culture. You should be sensitive to this when travelling throughout the country, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan.
You should not become involved with drugs of any kind. The export of all precious stones and minerals and the importation of foreign currency should be conducted in compliance with Sierra Leonean law. Those who commit criminal offences, including drug trafficking, money laundering, diamond and mineral smuggling can expect to be subjected to local law. There are heavy penalties for those convicted. Local prison conditions are harsh.
Homosexuality is illegal in Sierra Leone.
TRAVEL AND ROAD SAFETY
Lungi International Airport is situated on the far side of an estuary to Freetown. Whilst there are a number of options for transfer from the airport to Freetown, including road, sea and air, all options carry a certain risk. Travel by road (4 – 5 hours on an extremely poor road) is not recommended, nor is the use of the ferry or hovercraft due to poor safety standards. Reputable water taxi services are available and are preferable to other sea transfer options, however, it is not recommended to use these services outside daylight hours due to the lack of navigational aids and poor lighting. As most international flights arrive and depart at night, it is recommended that, where possible, the helicopter transfer service is used, although this option also has a level of associated risk. As transfer services are scheduled around the airport’s flight timetable, travellers should be aware that it is necessary to travel to the airport approximately 3-4 hours in advance of their scheduled flight departure time. Flights should be re-confirmed 72 hours in advance of departure.
The roads in Freetown are poor, with conditions particularly bad during the lengthy monsoon rain season (May – November). Care should be taken at all times but particularly after dark. Roads elsewhere in the country are in extremely bad condition and travel outside Freetown after daylight hours should be avoided. Makeshift, occasionally armed, roadblocks, often manned by children or youths, are common on rural roads. The use of local motorbikes, buses and taxis should be avoided as such vehicles are poorly maintained. Traffic accidents are a frequent hazard and travellers should exercise extreme care.
Medical services are extremely poor in Sierra Leone and are almost non-existent for all but basic care outside of Freetown. Emergency services are limited and unreliable within Freetown and largely non-existent in the rest of the country. Any individual with a pre-existing medical condition should ensure that they carry adequate medication for the duration of their visit as counterfeit drugs are widespread. However, travellers with underlying health concerns are strongly discouraged from visiting Sierra Leone. You should ensure that you have comprehensive travel and medical insurance, which covers a provision for medical evacuation. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.
You should consult with your doctor well in advance of travelling to Sierra Leone about necessary inoculations and precautions and current travel health notices. The use of malaria prophylaxis and all other normal precautions - such as the use of insect repellents, covering limbs at night and avoiding areas in which water has pooled - is strongly advised due to the endemic nature of malaria in the country, in particular the cerebral strain which can prove fatal within 24 -72 hours. Travellers should carry adequate malaria prophylaxis for the duration of their visit.
All vaccinations should be up to date; yellow fever vaccination is required for entry into the country. As water-borne diseases, including cholera, are common, travellers should drink or use only bottled water, including for brushing teeth, and care should be taken when eating out due to poor food hygiene. Lassa fever is widespread in the eastern parts of Sierra Leone; any traveller should seek immediate medical advice if suffering from a fever not positively identified as malaria.
Sierra Leone is a cash-based economy although some banks have debit card ATMs for their own customers. Credit cards are rarely accepted and the security of these transactions cannot be assured. Travellers are advised to bring an adequate supply of cash – US dollars are the most commonly accepted foreign currency although notes issued before 2006 may not be accepted. It is currently illegal to bring sums in excess of US $10,000 into the country; this amount may vary therefore travellers intending to carry large sums are advised to contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Sierra Leone for verification prior to travel.