Sierra Leone travel guide
About Sierra Leone
Like one of its rough diamonds, Sierra Leone is a destination of exquisite natural beauty. But despite its lush rainforests, palm-fringed beaches, fascinating history and vibrant culture, the country remains largely unexplored and undiscovered.
It’s hard to believe now, but Sierra Leone once attracted some 100,000 tourists a year. They were drawn to the country’s white sandy beaches, azure waters and swaying palms, until the horrors of civil war ravaged the country and knocked it off the tourism map.
Suffice to say Sierra Leone remains somewhat overshadowed by this bitter and bloody conflict, which raged between 1991 and 2002. Dramatised in the 2006 film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the war is still one of the first things most people think about when Sierra Leone is mentioned.
Happily, this negative reputation is gradually receding, and a new picture is emerging. Pioneering travellers are also trickling back to this corner of West Africa to rediscover the country’s many charms.
In some ways, nothing has changed. Known locally as ‘Sweet Salone’, Sierra Leone remains one of the friendliest countries on the continent. The smiling people and relaxed vibe are characteristic of this small nation. Wherever you go, and whomever you meet, you’ll be greeted as though you are part of the family.
Another thing you will notice in Sierra Leone is the abundance of wildlife. From hippos, forest elephants and chimpanzees, to bountiful birds and exotic insects, Salone is a dream ticket for nature enthusiasts. Pack your binoculars.
It’s also a paradise for sun-seekers. In fact, Sierra Leone’s gorgeous sandy beaches are considered by many to be the best in West Africa. Combine this with the country’s off-the-beaten-track feel, welcoming people, and awe-inspiring scenery, and it’s easy to see why ‘Sweet Salone’ is being vaunted as an up-and-coming destination for adventurous travellers.
71,740 sq km (27,699 sq miles).
7,929,199 (UN estimate 2020).
106 per sq km.
President Julius Maada Bio since 2018.
President Julius Maada Bio since 2018.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Sierra Leone 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.
You should contact local authorities for information on testing facilities. Tests can be booked through the Government of Sierra Leone’s travel portal.
Freetown International Airport is open.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Sierra Leone.
Returning to the UK
Travelling from and returning to the UK
Check what you must do to travel abroad and return to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting.
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 Sierra Leone
It is compulsory to wear a mask when in a vehicle.
Hotels are open.
Public spaces and services
Non-vaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals are required to wear a face mask in public/crowded places. Those individuals fully vaccinated are exempt from this requirement.
Healthcare in Sierra Leone
If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19 you should call the Government of Sierra Leone emergency line on 117 who will advise you further. Most cases will be able to self-isolate at home or in their hotel. If medical treatment is needed, it will be arranged by the Government of Sierra Leone for free at one of the COVID-19 designated facilities, most likely the Medical 34 hospital in Freetown. The Ministry of Health website has additional information.
Local medical care
Hospitals and medical facilities throughout Sierra Leone are limited. Medical supplies are unreliable and availability limited. There is no effective public or commercial accident and emergency or ambulance service in the country. You should carry basic medical supplies. Ensure you have adequate supplies of prescription medication, bearing in mind the risk of delays due to flight cancellations. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, medical evacuation and repatriation.
For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.
Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health
View Health for further details on healthcare in Sierra Leone
COVID-19 vaccines if you live in Sierra Leone
We will update this page when the Government of Sierra Leone announces new information on the national vaccination programme. You can sign up to get email notifications when this page is updated.
The Sierra Leone national vaccination programme started in March 2021 and is using the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Sinopharm vaccines. The programme is open to all over 18 years old. The Sierra Leonean authorities have advised that all residents in Sierra Leone including British nationals are eligible, if they choose to join the programme. The programme operates on a walk in basis at a number of vaccination centres throughout the country. Further information can be found on the DHSE – Directorate of Health Security and Emergencies Ministry of Health and Sanitation website.
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 Sierra Leone, 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.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.
Most visits to Sierra Leone are incident free, but a small number of incidents have been reported of British nationals being robbed, sometimes at knife-point. These incidents were reported in the areas of Congo Cross, Wilkinson Road, Lumley Beach and Aberdeen.
The greatest risk to short-stay travellers is from pick pocketing and mugging in Freetown. If you’re staying for a longer period, make sure your property is secured properly and employ guards.
You should take the following precautions against crime:
- avoid crowds and political demonstrations
- don’t display or carry expensive items or large sums of money
- avoid walking alone after dark
- plan your transport arrangements and minimise use of public transport, taxis, poda-podas (minibuses) and Ocadas (motorbikes). Some robberies have been carried out by associates of the drivers and other passengers.
- familiarise yourself with your surroundings and remain vigilant.
The Sierra Leone Police levy a SLL300,000 fee for all foreign nationals who need a police report. They are unable to issue crime reference numbers without a police report. You should make your payment to the Sierra Leone Police Revenue Generation Fund Account at the Bank of Sierra Leone and get a receipt. Don’t pay the Sierra Leone Police direct.
If you wish to report a crime but do not need a crime reference number or a written report, there will be no charge.
If you travel outside the Freetown peninsula, try to complete your travel during the hours of daylight, inform your employers of your whereabouts and make sure they have copies of your itinerary.
Travel to Freetown from the airport
Lungi airport is situated on the far side of a wide estuary from Freetown. There are several transfer options, including by road, ferry, water taxi and local boats or pirogues. British High Commission staff operate a policy of informed choice and use all of the transport options available, with the exception of local boats (such as the local canoes and wooden pirogues).
The 2 main water taxi operators run reliable services between Freetown and Lungi. Services are scheduled to align with flight arrivals and departures, with a journey time of around 25 minutes on the water. Check the times before you travel. They can also be privately chartered if you miss your crossing, though this will be more expensive. Water taxis have navigational aids, night lights and provide life jackets for passengers. They have limited rescue capability.
There’s also a ferry that operates between Lungi Tagrin and Kissy Town (in the eastern end of Freetown). The journey time is around one hour on the water. The service operates on an ad hoc basis. You should pre-plan your onward journey from there, particularly if you’re arriving at night. The service offers a crossing for both foot passengers and vehicles. The ferry lacks basic safety equipment. Foreign foot passengers have reported being pick-pocketed.
Local boats/pirogues operate without lights and any safety equipment. You should avoid using these craft.
During the rainy season (May to October) rough sea conditions may lead to delays or cancellations. If you choose to cross the estuary, it’s good practice to notify a reliable contact of your departure and expected arrival times and agree what action they will take if you don’t arrive at the expected time.
The journey time by road is normally 3 hours. You should prearrange pick-up as there are no car hire facilities at the airport. You can contact the Consular section at the British High Commission Freetown for a list of Freetown-based car hire companies. British High Commission staff don’t use this option for travel after dark, and rarely use it in daytime due to the risk of road traffic accidents.
If you plan to stay at an airport hotel, book early as rooms are extremely limited and in high demand.
You can drive on your UK licence for up to one month, or with an International Driving Permit for the length of its validity. If you’re staying longer or living in Sierra Leone, you’ll need to get a Sierra Leone driving licence.
Plan your journeys outside Freetown, travel in convoy if possible and report your progress. Have a plan for what to do and where to go in case of emergencies.
Make sure you use well maintained vehicles. Erratic driving is common and motorbikes are a particular problem. Most roads have little or no lighting and have hazards like vehicles with no lights, wandering pedestrians and animals. Serious traffic accidents are common.
Children will sometimes put a rope across the road and ask for a small donation for mending the road. These incidents are most common at the weekend and on roads to tourist beaches in the Western Area. The rope will be lifted if you indicate that you don’t intend to stop. You can distinguish them from official police checkpoints, which are manned by uniformed officers with marked barriers.
British High Commission staff avoid road travel outside the Freetown peninsula during night hours.
British High Commission staff do not use local taxis, poda-podas (minibuses) or ocadas (motorbikes).
The FCDO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
A list of recent incidents and accidents in Sierra Leone can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has many attractive beaches, but strong currents exist at some. Seek local advice about conditions. There are no lifeguards. Swimming is at your own risk. Beware of hospital waste, including needles, on Lumley beach.
Sierra Leone has taken significant strides following 4 democratic elections since the end of its civil war in 2002 and the political situation is stable. However, you’re advised to avoid any political gatherings.
Services and utilities
No mobile network provides country-wide coverage. Some areas have no mobile reception. There’s no public telephone system and landline connections are poor. It is not possible to call a Sierra Leone mobile phone from a Sierra Leone landline and vice-versa.
Mains water is limited. Power is improving but remains unreliable. Rented accommodation and hotels rely on generators and private water supplies.
Although there is no recent history of terrorism in Sierra Leone, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Sierra Leone contributes to a number of UN peacekeeping missions, including the mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and may therefore be considered a legitimate target by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-M) and its associated groups.
Terrorist groups continue to mount attacks on beach resorts, hotels, cafés and restaurants visited by foreigners in the wider region. There may be heightened security in these places.
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.
Sierra Leone has a tolerant multi-religious culture. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs.
Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind.
All precious stones require an export licence. Check the quality of any gems and/or minerals you buy. Any deals that appear too good to be true probably are.
If you commit any criminal offences, including drug trafficking and diamond smuggling you can expect to be subjected to local law. There are heavy penalties and local prison conditions are harsh.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Sierra Leone. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
You should carry ID (passport or residence permit) at all times.
Adoption orders from Sierra Leone are not recognised in the UK. The Government of Sierra Leone, together with UNICEF, are tackling issues related to the trafficking of children. If you are planning to adopt a child make sure you comply with Sierra Leone’s adoption laws. The government office responsible for adoptions in Sierra Leone is the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (Telephone: +232 76 624 597).
This page has information on travelling to Sierra Leone. Check what you must do to return to the UK.
This page 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 Sierra Leone set and enforce entry rules.
All travellers should register on the Government of Sierra Leone travel portal before travel.
If you’re fully vaccinated
Vaccinated passengers do not require a pre-departure or on arrival PCR test.
Proof of vaccination status
Sierra Leone will accept the UK’s proof of COVID-19 recovery and vaccination record and proof of COVID-19 vaccination issued in the Crown Dependencies. Your final vaccine dose must have been administered at least 14 days prior to travel. Your NHS appointment card from vaccination centres is not designed to be used as proof of vaccination and should not be used to demonstrate your vaccine status.
To be considered fully-vaccinated you must:
- have had both doses of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine and the second dose must have been received at least two weeks prior to arriving in Sierra Leone, or
- have had one-dose of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to arriving in Sierra Leone.
If you’re not fully vaccinated
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated passengers do not require a pre-departure PCR test. They do however require an on arrival PCR test that should be booked and paid for in advance of departure through the Government of Sierra Leone travel portal.
If you’ve had COVID-19 in the past year
Entry requirements for Sierra Leone are the same for all travellers, regardless of whether you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past year.
Children and young people
There are no specific requirements for children and young people.
If you’re transiting through Sierra Leone
There are no specific requirements for transiting through Sierra Leone.
There are no exemptions to Sierra Leone’s entry requirements.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
If you are visiting Sierra Leone, your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the time of your visa application.
You will need a visa to enter Sierra Leone.
Visitors from the UK can get a visa on arrival in Sierra Leone for US$80, which must be paid in cash in US dollars. However, if you’re travelling to Sierra Leone for a purpose other than tourism, a visit or business, you will need to get a visa before you travel. Contact the Sierra Leonean High Commission in London for details.
The Sierra Leone High Commission in London sometimes issues Emergency Travel Certificates to Sierra Leoneans resident in the UK and those with dual British/Sierra Leone nationality. These documents are not valid for return travel to the UK. Sierra Leone nationals require a visa for the UK, which can only be issued in a full passport.
Before travelling Sierra Leone, you must get authorisation from the Government of Sierra Leone through the online portal.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Sierra Leone. ETDs are accepted for airside transit and exit from Sierra Leone.
Returning to the UK
Before departure from Sierra Leone, all passengers need to pay for and take a PCR COVID-19 test through the portal within 48 hours of your departure. Certificates confirming the test result will be emailed to you. You’ll need to provide this certificate confirming your test result at check-in. If you test positive, you’ll not be allowed to travel and you’ll need to follow public health protocols for isolation and contact tracing.
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Sierra Leone 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 Sierra Leone.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
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).
The World Health Organisation declared Sierra Leone Ebola transmission free in March 2016.
If you’re concerned that you might have been exposed to Ebola, or are showing symptoms, you should seek immediate medical advice. If you’re in the UK call NHS on 111. You should also follow the health advice on the NHS Choices website.
If you travel to Sierra Leone, especially whilst on business, you should stay in contact with your employer or host organisation about the support that they can provide to you while you’re in the country, and if you should wish to leave.
Rabies, Lassa fever, water-borne diseases, malaria and other tropical diseases are common to Sierra Leone. In November 2019, an outbreak of Lassa fever was reported in Tonkolili region of Sierra Leone. As of March 2022, a total of 20 cases of Lassa fever, with 11 deaths, have been reported since January 2022. Check the TravelHealthPro website for more information. If you are concerned that you might have been exposed to, or are showing symptoms of Lassa fever, you should seek immediate medical advice.
Cholera is endemic in Sierra Leone with outbreaks, particularly during the rainy season, in areas where there is poor sanitation. You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.
In the 2016 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 67,000 people in Sierra Leone were living with HIV. You should exercise precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.
Sierra Leone has a cash-based society and bank or credit cards are only accepted in a few hotels in Freetown. There are a few ATMs in the capital, but they are often out of cash. You should be vigilant when using them because of high levels of fraud. Outside the capital bank and credit cards are not accepted and you should assume that ATMs will not be available.
Opportunities to exchange travellers’ cheques are limited. All foreign exchange transactions must be handled through banks and official exchange offices. A small number of banks in central Freetown may be prepared to accept credit cards to buy local currency.
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.
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.
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.