Sierra Leone Basics

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The Basics


Time: Local time is GMT.

Electricity: Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz, but supplies are erratic and power failures common. Round three-pin plugs or rectangular three-blade plugs are used.

Money: The official currency is the Leone (SLL), which is divided into 100 cents. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, foreign exchange bureaux or hotels. Banks are open on weekdays only. The use of credit cards is very limited, although a few top hotels and restaurants in Freetown might accept them for payment. Not all ATMs accept foreign cards, but some major banks, such as Ecobank and Access Bank, accept foreign cards.

Note: These rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Language: English is the official language, although each ethnic group has its own tribal language, used more widely in the interior of the country. Krio is a form of Pidgin English that is widely spoken in Freetown.

Entry requirements for Americans: US nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: UK nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians require a visa and a valid passport.

Entry requirements for Australians: Australians require a visa and a valid passport.

Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans require a visa and a valid passport.

Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

Passport/Visa Note: A Landing Permit (visa) can be obtained on arrival by some countries if there is no diplomatic representation at point of origin and if a letter of invitation is provided. This can be organised by a sponsor or host with the Principal Immigration Officer in Freetown. The Freetown office of the visitor's airline must also receive a list stating flight number, date of arrival, name, nationality and passport number of each passenger 48 hours in advance. Visas must otherwise be obtained prior to arrival in country of origin. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Getting around: Main towns are connected by public and private bus services. Minibuses (poda poda) are the most common way to travel around Freetown. Car hire is expensive and not common. There are no domestic flights within Sierra Leone. Generally travel outside of the Freetown area is difficult and slow because of unreliable transport and bad roads.

Travel Health: Sierra Leone is one of three countries that has been at the heart of the Ebola outbreak in previous years, causing serious alarm in West Africa. The WHO officially declared Sierra Leone Ebola transmission free on 17 March 2016, and the FCO no longer advise against all but essential travel to Sierra Leone. However, travellers are advised to familiarise themselves with the disease and current health and travel advice for the country before travelling to Sierra Leone. Some travel restrictions may be in place due to the Ebola outbreak. Health policies require that all travellers arriving from a yellow fever area have a vaccination certificate, but yellow fever is a risk throughout the country and immunisation is recommended for all visitors. Other recommended vaccinations include Hepatitis A, typhoid, rabies, and polio. Malaria and dengue fever are high risks and precautions against mosquito bites are advised, as well as prophylaxis for malaria, which occurs throughout the year. Outbreaks of Lassa fever is endemic in the east. HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Diarrhoea and dysentery are common complaints and water should be treated before drinking. Cholera is also a concern. Travellers should bring adequate supplies of personal medication to the country, as supplies are often not available in pharmacies. Medical care is limited in Freetown and almost non-existent elsewhere. An emergency hospital is located near Freetown, but the bad road makes it difficult to get there; there is no ambulance service in the country. Comprehensive travel insurance is advised, which includes emergency evacuation.

Tipping: A service charge of about 10 percent is included in restaurant and hotel bills, but otherwise tipping is optional.

Safety Information: Since the end of the 10-year civil war, the security situation has improved to a large degree, although it is still fragile. Political demonstrations and large gatherings should be avoided as these have the potential to turn violent. Travellers are advised to avoid the areas bordering Liberia and Guinea. There are incidences of violent crime in Freetown, including armed theft and assault. Petty crime is more common with pick-pocketing and other opportunistic crimes prevalent throughout the country and visitors should take care not to flash valuables or cash. A number of violent incidents have taken place around the bars and nightclubs at Lumley Beach and visitors are advised to be cautious in the area after dark. Travel outside of the Western Area that includes Freetown can be difficult as roads are poor and transport unreliable. All road or sea transfers from the airport to Freetown should be done in daylight hours due to safety concerns.

Local Customs: Homosexuality is illegal. There is a strong Muslim culture and visitors should be sensitive to religious customs, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking, and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. Visitors should be aware it is illegal to buy or export diamonds, gold, or ivory without the necessary licenses.

Business: Business etiquette in Sierra Leone varies according to individual sectors, however it is always advisable to make appointments in advance and arrive on time for all meetings. Have everything set up before meetings, as it is percieved as impolite to ask your hosts for anything. For more formal dealings, lightweight suits are to be worn. Shaking hands for men and women is the most common form of introduction and business cards are exchanged. Business hours are generally 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Communications: The international dialling code for Sierra Leone is +232. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). The city code for Freetown is (0)22; other areas do not require a code. Africell and SierraTel provide national and international telephone services. Wifi can be found in some top hotels, and free international calls can be made using the internet. International roaming is available and the use of mobile phones is high due to the unreliability of landlines.

Duty Free: Travellers may bring 200 cigarettes or 225g tobacco, and 1 litre of wine or spirits into the country without paying customs duty. Narcotics are strictly forbidden.