Sierra Leone

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Monday, 27 October 2014.   This advice contains new information in the Summary and under Local travel (food shortages and costs for basic commodities are increasing as a result of the Ebola virus disease outbreak). We advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Sierra Leone because of the Ebola virus disease outbreak and the possibility of criminal activity and civil unrest.

Sierra Leone overall

Summary

  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Sierra Leone because of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak and the possibility of criminal activity and civil unrest. Given the increasing restrictions on travel due to the EVD outbreak, and the extremely limited care options, we advise you to leave while limited commercial flights continue to operate.
  • Departure options from Sierra Leone are extremely limited. Only a small number of commercial airlines continue to operate flights out of Sierra Leone and further restrictions are likely. Additionally, many countries in Africa, including the major travel hubs of South Africa and Kenya, have now banned entry to travellers who have been in EVD affected countries. Australians who travel to Sierra Leone will find it increasingly difficult and costly to leave.
  • Sierra Leone has imposed a 60-90 day state of emergency which enables the military to enforce quarantine zones, restrict public movements and limit public gatherings. Health screenings have been introduced at border points and the security presence has increased. Travellers with fever or EVD-like symptoms are being subject to quarantine or denied entry or exit from the country.
  • Food shortages and costs for basic commodities are increasing.
  • The Australian Government has limited capacity to provide consular assistance in these circumstances. A medical evacuation would be extremely difficult to conduct. Australian High Commission personnel have deferred non-essential travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as a result of the EVD outbreak.
  • Sporadic demonstrations and local disturbances have been reported across Sierra Leone related to the EVD outbreak - be aware that these can turn violent. There have been violent incidents specifically targeting health care workers.
  • If, despite our advice, you choose to travel to or stay in Sierra Leone, we strongly recommend that you register your contact details, so we can keep you informed. You should also read and subscribe to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa travel bulletin.
  • If you choose to remain in Sierra Leone, you should also monitor local media for information on your safety and security.
  • Avoid protests, street rallies, political demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent.
  • Exercise particular caution in border areas with Liberia and Guinea because of the unsettled security situation in these areas.
  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Sierra Leone. You can contact the Australian High Commission in Ghana to enquire about consular assistance in Sierra Leone.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
click on image to expand

Entry and exit

Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak

Departure options from Sierra Leone are extremely limited. While Sierra Leone has not closed its borders, a number of neighbouring countries have closed their borders to people trying to leave Sierra Leone. Only a small number of commercial airlines continue to operate flights out of Sierra Leone and further restrictions are highly likely. Additionally, many countries in Africa, including the major travel hubs of South Africa and Kenya, have now banned entry to travellers who have been in EVD affected countries. Australians who travel to Sierra Leone will find it increasingly difficult and costly to leave.

In response to the EVD outbreak, health screenings have been introduced. Travellers with fever or EVD-like symptoms are being subject to quarantine or being denied approval to enter or depart the country. The security presence at borders has increased. Further changes to entry and exit requirements are likely at short notice.

Other entry and exit information

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Sierra Leone for the most up to date information.

Sierra Leone is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a serious and potentially fatal disease preventable by vaccination. A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for entry into the country. For more information about yellow fever, including Australian re-entry requirements, see the Department of Health website.

Dual Australian/Sierra Leonean nationals must provide proof of payment of taxes on money earned in Sierra Leone before being granted clearance to depart the country.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Civil unrest/political tension

We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Sierra Leone at this time. In addition to the outbreak of Ebola virus disease, there is a high level of crime in the country and the possibility of civil unrest.

Sporadic demonstrations and local disturbances have been reported across Sierra Leone related to the Ebola virus disease outbreak. There have been violent incidents specifically targeting health care workers. You should avoid all political demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent.

In 2012 a number of protests resulted in violent clashes between supporters of rival political factions. Police may respond with force to protests. The political and security environment remains fragile in Sierra Leone and violent incidents are likely to continue to occur.

Borders with Liberia and Guinea: We advise you to exercise particular caution in border areas with Liberia and Guinea because of the unsettled security situation in these areas. Refugees and internally displaced persons cross the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea, in both directions. This may limit local supplies of food, water and shelter and has led to violent clashes. The poorly patrolled border areas in both Sierra Leone and Guinea are home to criminal gangs and smugglers whose activities are unpredictable. The government of Sierra Leone has imposed restrictions on internal movement. Additionally, travel restrictions are in place in areas bordering Guinea and Liberia. See the local travel section.

Crime

There are high levels of crime in Sierra Leone including in the capital, Freetown. Armed theft and violent assault are prevalent. Petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is common and residential burglaries continue to increase. Security risks are heightened at night. Tourists and expatriates have been targeted by criminals. When driving, keep windows closed and car doors locked, particularly in slow moving traffic.

Commercial and internet fraud is prevalent and often originates in West African countries. Victims have been defrauded and those who travel to the originating country have had their lives endangered. Some victims have been killed. Criminals have been known to seek details of 'safe' bank accounts overseas in which to transfer large sums of money (as a donation or for a percentage of the amount involved). They may also provide fake cashier cheques for 'urgent' shipments of large quantities of goods, request sizeable fees for a fake government contract and extort money from individuals they have convinced to travel to Africa for a business opportunity. If you are a victim of a financial scam, we advise you to obtain legal advice and not to travel to Africa to seek restitution as there is a risk of physical assault from the perpetrators. Our international scams page provides more detail on these types of scams.

Bogus internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes are operating from some African countries. These scams typically result from connections made through internet dating schemes or chat rooms. Once a virtual friendship develops, the Australian citizen may be asked by their friend or prospective marriage partner to send money to enable travel to Australia. In some cases the relationship is terminated with very little chance that any funds can be recovered. In other cases, foreigners may be lured to Africa to meet their friend or prospective marriage partner and can become victims of crime including kidnapping, assault and robbery.

Money and valuables

The economy in Sierra Leone is predominately cash-based. Opportunities to use credit cards and travellers' cheques are limited. There is a limited number of ATMs in Freetown.

All foreign exchange transactions should be done through banks and official exchange offices. Euros and US dollars are the easiest foreign currencies to exchange.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Review the general advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe and prepared abroad.

Local travel

Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak

Australian High Commission personnel have deferred non-essential travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as a result of the EVD outbreak. We strongly recommend you do the same.

Sierra Leone has imposed a 60-90 day state of emergency, which enables the military to enforce quarantine zones, restrict public movements and limit public gatherings. The government of Sierra Leone has imposed restrictions on internal movement. Additionally, travel restrictions are in place in areas bordering Guinea and Liberia.

While Sierra Leone has not closed its borders, a number of neighbouring countries have closed their borders to people trying to leave Sierra Leone. Health screenings have been introduced at border points and the security presence has increased. Travellers with fever or EVD-like symptoms are being subject to quarantine or being denied approval to enter or depart the country.

Departure options from Sierra Leone are extremely limited. Only a small number of commercial airlines continue to operate flights out of Sierra Leone and further restrictions are likely. Additionally, many countries in Africa, including the major travel hubs of South Africa and Kenya, have now banned entry to travellers who have been in EVD affected countries. Australians who travel to Sierra Leone will find it increasingly difficult and costly to leave.

As a result of measures imposed to combat the spread of EVD, serious food shortages have emerged in the West African region. The UN World Food Program has declared a level three food emergency, its highest threat. Food shortages and costs for basic commodities are increasing.

Other local travel information

For safety reasons, we recommend that travellers arriving at Lungi airport in the evening and who will be continuing by road or sea, spend the night at Lungi before transferring to Freetown the next morning. Accommodation for travellers arriving at night at Lungi is extremely limited. Travellers should ensure that accommodation or transfers are arranged prior to arrival in Sierra Leone.

No transport options (helicopter, airline, ferry service, private boat service, hovercraft/road travel) for transferring between Lungi airport and Freetown are without risk because of overcrowding, poor maintenance, lack of basic safety equipment, and risk of criminal activity. Travellers should consider all options carefully.

Land travel outside Freetown Peninsula is hazardous, especially at night, as driving standards are poor and roads and vehicles are inadequately maintained. Traffic accidents are common. Public transport is limited and safety and maintenance standards are unreliable. For further advice, see our road travel page.

You may encounter difficulties at roadblocks and checkpoints, including requests for payment. You are required to carry personal identity and vehicle registration and ownership papers at all times.

Strong coastal currents are common, you should seek advice from locals before swimming. There are no life guards/emergency services available to rescue swimmers.

Airline safety

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Sierra Leone.

Please refer to our air travel page for more information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

If you choose to travel to Sierra Leone, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research local laws before travelling.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include mandatory prison sentences.

Homosexual acts between men are illegal, with penalties including imprisonment. Homosexual acts between women have not been criminalised. See our LGBTI travellers page.

A licence issued by the Ministry of Mines and Resources is required to export precious minerals from Sierra Leone. Failure to comply with the relevant legislation attracts serious criminal penalties including imprisonment.

It is prohibited to photograph government buildings, airports and bridges. Areas where photography is prohibited may not be clearly marked or defined.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Sierra Leone, particularly for women.

Information for dual nationals

Sierra Leone does not recognise dual nationality. Australian citizens entering Sierra Leone with a Sierra Leonean passport will be treated as Sierra Leonean citizens by local authorities. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/Sierra Leonean dual nationals who are arrested or detained.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Health

Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continues to worsen and has led to an unprecedented number of deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared this outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The EVD outbreak has overwhelmed many local healthcare facilities and options for obtaining routine or emergency medical care may be severely limited.

The Australian Government has limited capacity to provide consular assistance in these circumstances. A medical evacuation would be extremely difficult to conduct. Australian High Commission personnel have deferred non-essential travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as a result of the EVD outbreak.

While EVD is a very serious disease, it is not highly contagious to the general population, as transmission requires direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal. However, frontline healthcare workers face a higher risk of infection. For further information see the Ebola outbreak in West Africa travel bulletin and information on the virus from the Department of Health.

Other health information

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Medical facilities are very limited in Sierra Leone. Doctors and hospitals often request immediate cash payment for medical treatment. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a destination with the appropriate facilities would be necessary. Costs for a medical evacuation could exceed $A100,000.

Sierra Leone is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that you are vaccinated against yellow fever before travelling to Sierra Leone. See the Entry and Exit section for important information about vaccination certificate requirements. For more information about yellow fever, see the Department of Health website.

Malaria and other tropical diseases are common in West African countries, including Sierra Leone. We encourage you to taking prophylaxis against malaria, and to take precautions again insect bites including using an insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, lassa fever, hepatitis, bilharzia, and tuberculosis) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. The World Health Organisation reported thousands of cases of cholera in Sierra Leone in 2012. The affected region included the area around the capital, Freetown.

We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water with intact seals, avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can’t do to assist Australians overseas. Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Sierra Leone. You can contact the Australian Government at the Australian High Commission in Ghana for consular assistance:

Australian High Commission, Accra

2, Second Rangoon Close
(cnr. Josef Broz Tito Ave)
Cantonments
Accra, Ghana
Telephone: (+233) 302 216 400
Facsimile: (+233) 302 216 410
Email: AccraHC.Enquiries@dfat.gov.au
Web: www.ghana.highcommission.gov.au

See the High Commission website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If , despite our advice, you choose to travel to or stay in Sierra Leone, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the above mission, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The rainy season is May to November when flooding may occur and roads may become impassable. In the past, flooding has resulted in deaths and the displacement of large numbers of people. You should monitor the media and local sources of information closely and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Additional Resources

For additional general and economic information to assist travelling in this country, see the following links:



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.