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.
1,001 sq km (386.5 sq miles).
194,390 (UN estimate 2016).
193.8 per sq km.
President Carlos Vila Nova since 2021.
Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada since 2022.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in São Tomé and Príncipe set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the São Tomé and Príncipe Embassy in Brussels, or email the São Tomé and Príncipe authorities.
There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering São Tomé and Príncipe.
Passport validity requirements
Your passport must be valid for the duration of your stay.
Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.
You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.
You can visit São Tomé and Príncipe for tourism for a period of up to 15 days without a visa.
To stay longer (to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons), you must meet the São Tomé and Príncipe government’s entry requirements.
You must pay a 20-euro entry fee when you arrive in the country. You can also pay in US dollars or local currency.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s São Tomé and Príncipe guide.
Depending on your circumstances, this may include a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of São Tomé and Príncipe. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.
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 how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
Terrorism in São Tomé and Príncipe
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in São Tomé and Príncipe, attacks cannot be ruled out.
Economic difficulties and political rows over the handling of investments in São Tomé and Príncipe’s development can occasionally lead to civil unrest.
The crime rate in São Tomé and Príncipe is generally low, but burglaries and armed robberies can happen. You can take steps to reduce your risk and help protect your belongings, including:
- not wearing expensive jewellery or carrying large amounts of cash
- not taking valuables to the beach
- keeping valuable documents somewhere secure, such as a hotel safe
Laws and cultural differences
Illegal drugs and prison sentences
There are severe penalties for all drug offences. Pack all luggage yourself and do not carry anything through customs for anyone else.
Same-sex sexual activity is legal in São Tomé and Príncipe. Attitudes towards same-sex relationships are less tolerant than in the UK and showing affection in public may attract unwanted and negative attention.
Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.
Credit cards are not widely accepted in São Tomé and Príncipe. Check if your hotel or restaurant accepts credit cards. There are only a small number of ATMs. You can withdraw cash from the main bank in the capital city, São Tomé.
If you are planning to drive in São Tomé and Príncipe, see information on driving abroad.
You’ll need to have both the correct version of the international driving permit (IDP) and your UK driving licence with you in the car.
Many roads are in poor condition and unlit, particularly outside the capital. Animals often walk on roads at night. Landslides after heavy rain can block roads.
Taxis and motorbike taxis (‘motoqueiros’) are the only forms of public transport. They are often unsafe and in poor condition. It’s common for people to share taxis.
The UK Air Safety List (ASL) lists all known airlines in São Tomé and Príncipe that do not meet international safety standards and are banned from operating commercial air services to, from, and within the UK. Check the UK Air Safety List when considering which airlines to fly with. The list is maintained by the Department for Transport, based on advice from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
Before you travel check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Call 222 22 22 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check:
- the latest information on vaccination recommendations and health risks in TravelHealthPro’s São Tomé and Príncipe guide
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
Healthcare facilities in São Tomé and Príncipe
Medical facilities on São Tomé and Príncipe are limited and many health conditions need 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.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in São Tomé and Príncipe
Ambulance: 222 22 22
Police: 113 or 222 22 22
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- dealing with a death abroad
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you’re affected by a crisis, such as a terrorist attack
You can also contact FCDO online.
Help abroad in an emergency
If you are in São Tomé and Príncipe and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Luanda, Angola who provide consular assistance for São Tomé and Príncipe.
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)