FOLLOW US

World Travel Guide > Guides > Africa > São Tomé e Príncipe

São Tomé e Príncipe travel guide

About São Tomé e Príncipe

The little-known islands of São Tomé e Príncipe provide unspoiled beauty and isolation from the world, in a way that's now rarely found anywhere else. The islands lie on an alignment of once-active volcanoes, with rugged landscapes, dense forests and palm-fringed beaches, situated 250km (155 miles) off the coast of West Africa.

In São Tomé e Príncipe, exotic birds inhabit tropical jungles on what is one of Africa's smallest countries. The picturesque town of São Tomé lies exactly on the equator, with a smattering of colonial Portuguese architecture and attractive national parks. The history of the islands, meanwhile, is dominated by the slave trade and slave-worked plantations.

The main appeal of São Tomé is perhaps its unrivalled peace and quiet. Little more than a couple of specks adrift off the coast of Gabon, the pair of volcanic islands are laid-back to say the least. The compelling Portuguese-Creole culture here revolves around leve leve, which roughly means 'take it easy'. Within a few hours of landing, the thought of rushing anywhere will seem like a distant memory.

If you can muster the energy to do much beyond laying on the pristine beaches edged by swaying palm trees, you'll find the slopes of the volcanic peaks worthy of climbing for their dramatic vistas, as well as scintillating tracks through the otherworldly rainforest. There are multiple species of birds to be spotted, as well as endemic plants, and the exhilarating possibility to go whale watching. Aside from whales, turtles abound in the waters surrounding the islands.

A good wander will bring you to both timeless fishing villages and historic buildings from the colonial era. Of these, roças, or plantations, are the most iconic man-made sights.

The locals are keen to preserve the islands' natural wonders, and so the still burgeoning tourism industry is largely subservient to the ecological priorities of the inhabitants. None of your faceless resorts here. Expect family-run guesthouses and lodges perched on the edge of the jungle.

Key facts

Area:

1,001 sq km (386.5 sq miles).

Population:

194,390 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

193.8 per sq km.

Capital:

São Tomé.

Government:

Republic.

Head of state:

President Manuel Pinto da Costa since 2011.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada since 2014.

Travel Advice

Coronavirus travel health

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for São Tomé and Príncipe on the TravelHealthPro website

See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entry and borders

See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in São Tomé and Príncipe.

Returning to the UK

When you return, you must follow the rules for entering the UK.

You are responsible for organizing your own COVID-19 test, in line with UK government testing requirements. You should check that the test result can be provided in the correct format and language.

Be prepared for your plans to change

No travel is risk-free during COVID. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.

Plan ahead and make sure you:

  • can access money
  • understand what your insurance will cover
  • can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned

Travel in São Tomé and Príncipe

The government of São Tomé and Príncipe has declared a “State of Calamity”. This continues to impose a number of restrictions and public health measures to limit the spread of the virus.

Accommodation

Some hotels remain closed. Other hotels and private rentals continue to operate with some restrictions and coronavirus precautionary measures in place. You should contact your accommodation provider before booking to confirm whether your preferred accommodation is open and what restrictions are in place.

Public places and services

The majority of shops, banks and restaurants continue to operate, with some restrictions (e.g. reduced opening hours) and coronavirus precautionary measures in place.

  • People are advised to maintain hygiene standards, which includes regular hand washing, wearing face masks in public and maintaining social distancing.
  • Face masks are compulsory in all closed public areas and inside vehicles.
  • Public gatherings at market places and churches to continue operate at 50% capacity
  • Nightclubs and festivals continue to be banned.

Healthcare

If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should contact your nearest clinic or medical centre. Dial 115 for emergencies.

View Health for further details on healthcare in São Tomé and Príncipe.

COVID-19 vaccines if you live in São Tomé and Principe

Wherever possible British nationals should aim to be vaccinated in the country where they live. We will update this page when the Government of São Tomé and Príncipe announces new information on the national vaccination programme. You can sign up to get email notifications when this page is updated.

The São Tomé and Príncipe national vaccination programme started in March 2021 and is using the AstraZeneca vaccine. British nationals resident in São Tomé and Príncipe are eligible for vaccination. Further information on the vaccination programme is available on the Ministry of Health website (only in Portuguese).

Find out more, including about vaccines that are authorised in the UK or approved by the World Health Organisation, on the COVID-19 vaccines if you live abroad.

If you’re a British national living in São Tomé and Príncipe, you should seek medical advice from your local healthcare provider. Information about COVID-19 vaccines used in the national programme where you live, including regulatory status, should be available from local authorities.

Finance

For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.

Further information

If you need urgent consular assistance, you should contact the British Embassy in Luanda, Angola.

Crime

Crime rates are generally low, but burglaries and armed robberies do occur. Safeguard valuables and cash, particularly at the beach. Use a hotel safe where practical, and keep copies of important documents, including your passport.  

Road travel

You should bring a valid International Driving Permit if you wish to hire a car. Traffic is light but the majority of roads are in poor condition, particularly outside the capital. Most roads are unlit. You should avoid being on the road at night (there are animals on the roads) and during periods of heavy rainfall (landslips and mudslides can occur).

Taxis and motorbike taxis (known as “motoqueiros”) are the only forms of public transport. You should note that it is common practice for taxis to be shared. You should take the same safety precautions as in the UK and check your travel insurance.

Air travel

The EU has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the community.

Seats on the small aircrafts used to fly between the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe should be booked a week or two in advance as seats may be limited.

Political Situation

São Tomé and Príncipe is generally peaceful. Economic difficulties and political rows over the handling of investments in the islands’ development occasionally lead to civil unrest. 

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in São Tomé and Príncipe, attacks can’t be ruled out.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism.

There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Drug-smuggling and taking are offences. Punishments can be severe.

Homosexual acts are not illegal in São Tomé and Príncipe; however, public attitudes towards homosexuality are less tolerant than in the UK and public displays of affection may attract negative attention. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Entry rules in response to coronavirus

Entry to São Tomé and Principe

There are currently no restrictions on UK nationals entering São Tomé and Principe, provided you comply with the entry requirements outlined below.

Testing prior to arrival

All air passengers arriving in São Tomé and Principe are required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken in the 72 hours prior to their arrival.

Regular entry requirements

Visas

You can obtain a visa on arrival in São Tomé and Principe. A tourist visa will cost €20 and a business visa will cost €60. Visas issued on arrival are valid for 30 days only. For longer stays, you should apply for a visa from the nearest São Tomé and Principe Consulate before travelling (see details below). You will need to show proof of accommodation.

For more information and advice, contact the São Tomé and Príncipe Diplomatic Mission in Brussels: Square Montgomery, 175 Avenue de Tervuren, 1150 Brussels; tel: +32 2 734 89 66; e-mail: Ambassade@saotomeeprincipe.be.

Or alternatively, the São Tomé and Príncipe Diplomatic Mission in Lisbon: 5 October Avenue 35, 4th floor, 1050-047 Lisbon; tel: +351 21 846 1917 ; e-mail: embaixada@emb-saotomeprincipe.pt.

Specialist travel agents dealing with São Tomé and Príncipe may also be able to arrange visas.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.  

UK emergency travel documents

A UK emergency travel document will be accepted on entry to and departure from São Tomé and Príncipe.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for São Tomé and Principe on the TravelHealthPro website

See the healthcare information in the Coronavirus section for information on what to do if you think you have coronavirus while in São Tomé and Principe.

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures.

Check the latest country-specific information and advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website or from NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Medical facilities on São Tomé and Príncipe are limited and many health conditions require evacuation to Europe, South Africa, Ghana or Gabon for treatment. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

Credit cards are accepted in a very limited number of places. You should confirm with the hotel, restaurant, etc. on arrival that they will accept your card. There are no ATMs. Cash is available from the main bank in São Tomé using a Visa card. Travellers cheques are not accepted in São Tomé and Príncipe

In an emergency it may be possible to remit funds via a money transfer service like Western Union. You are strongly advised to check the latest position with your travel agent/tour company prior to travel, and to carry sufficient cash.

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCDO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice team a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.

Book a Hotel