Sierra Leone

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 04 June 2014.   This advice contains new information in the Summary and under Health (further outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone in late May 2014). We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Sierra Leone because of the risk of criminal activity and civil unrest.

Sierra Leone overall

Border areas with Liberia and Guinea

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Sierra Leone because of the risk of criminal activity and civil unrest.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • There has been a serious outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, resulting in over 500 deaths (WHO Disease Outbreak News). Monitor closely the health advice issued by local authorities and avoid travel to affected areas. For more information, see the Ebola outbreak in West Africa travel bulletin.
  • You should avoid political demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent.
  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the border areas with Liberia and Guinea at this time because of the unsettled security situation in these areas.
  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Sierra Leone. The Australian High Commission in Ghana provides consular assistance to Australians in Sierra Leone.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. 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. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/political tension

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Sierra Leone because of the high level of crime and risk of civil unrest. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

You should avoid political demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent.

In 2012 a number of protests turned violent including 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 reconsider your need to travel to 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.

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.

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

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas. The economy in Sierra Leone is predominately cash-based. Credit cards and opportunities to use travellers' cheques are limited. There are limited numbers of ATMs in Freetown. Consult with your bank to find out whether your ATM card will work in Sierra Leone. All foreign exchange transactions should be done through banks and official exchange offices. Euros and US dollars are the easiest foreign currencies to exchange.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

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.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

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.

None of the 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

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

Laws

When you are in 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.

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

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.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed a serious outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone, resulting in over 127 deaths. A number of deaths have been reported in Kailahun, Kenema, Koinadugu, Bo and Moyamba districts. Monitor closely the health advice issued by local authorities, maintain strict standards of hygiene and avoid travel to affected areas. For further information see the Ebola outbreak in West Africa travel bulletin.

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.

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.

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

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Sierra Leone. You can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian High Commission which is in Ghana:

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

If you are travelling to 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.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

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.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children page.



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.