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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.

Key facts


71,740 sq km (27,699 sq miles).


7,929,199 (UN estimate 2020).

Population density:

106 per sq km.





Head of state:

President Julius Maada Bio since 2018.

Head of government:

President Julius Maada Bio since 2018.

Travel Advice

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: 

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated. 

Travel insurance 

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 Sierra Leone set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Sierra Leone High Commission in the UK.  

COVID-19 rules 

There are no COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers entering Sierra Leone. 

Passport validity requirements 

To enter Sierra Leone, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date of your visa application.  

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.  

Visa requirements 

You must have a visa to enter Sierra Leone. 

Applying for a visa 

You can get a visa to visit or for business travel either: 

  • when you arrive in Sierra Leone for 80 US dollars, paid in cash in US dollars
  • before you travel – apply online for an e-visa 

Single entry visas are valid for 90 days from date of issuing for visits up to a maximum of 30 days. 

Multiple entry visas are valid for 365 days from date of issuing and are valid for multiple separate trips for up to a maximum of 30 days for each visit. 

If you’re travelling for a purpose other than a visit or business, you must get a visa before you travel. Contact the Sierra Leone High Commission in the UK

Vaccine requirements  

To enter Sierra Leone, you must have a certificate to prove you’ve had a yellow fever vaccination.  

For more details about medical entry requirements and recommended vaccinations, see TravelHealthPro’s Sierra Leone guide

Airport security fee 

All passengers must pay a 25 US dollar airport security fee on arrival and departure. You must show proof of payment before immigration. You can pay: 

  • in advance online through Securipass 
  • on your mobile through Orange Money or Afrimoney 
  • at United Bank for Africa or Sierra Leone Commercial Bank  

Customs rules 

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Sierra Leone.

You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty. 

Export of precious stones  

You must have an export licence to leave Sierra Leone with precious stones. Check the quality of any gems or minerals you buy. Any deals that appear too good to be true probably are. 


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 Sierra Leone  

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Sierra Leone, attacks cannot be ruled out.  

Political situation  

Following the end of the civil war in 2002, the political situation in Sierra Leone has improved. There was a general election in June 2023. However, the political situation can change and protests can turn violent. Avoid any political gatherings or demonstrations and follow any curfews or restrictions. 

Security situation in Freetown 

Following an attack on Wilberforce Barracks in November 2023, the security and political situation in Freetown remains in a state of heightened tension. The security situation remains fluid and you may see additional security measures, including checkpoints in and around Freetown. Follow any security measures.  

Remain vigilant as the security situation could change quickly.  


In a small number of incidents, British nationals have been robbed, sometimes at knifepoint. Robberies have taken place in Congo Cross, Wilkinson Road, Lumley Beach, Aberdeen and at beach resorts along the Freetown peninsula and surrounding islands. 

The greatest risk to short-stay visitors is from pickpocketing and mugging in Freetown. If you’re staying for a longer period, make sure you secure your property and employ guards. 

To reduce your personal risk: 

  • avoid crowds and political demonstrations 
  • do not display or carry expensive items or large sums of money 
  • avoid walking alone after dark 
  • familiarise yourself with your surroundings and stay alert 
  • arrange your transport in advance 
  • check your hotel safe is secure 

Public transport drivers and passengers have robbed foreign visitors. Avoid travelling in taxis, minibuses (‘poda-podas’), motorised rickshaws (‘kekes’) or motorbikes (‘ocadas’). 

Reporting crime 

The Sierra Leone Police charge foreign nationals a fee for police reports. They will not issue a crime reference number, which is needed for most insurance claims, without a police report. Do not pay the police directly. Make your payment to the Sierra Leone Police Revenue Generation Fund account at the Bank of Sierra Leone and get a receipt.  

There is no charge if you want to report a crime and do not need a crime reference number.

Laws and cultural differences  

Sierra Leone has a tolerant, multi-religion culture. Always respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions and make sure your actions do not cause offence. 

Personal ID 

Always carry ID such as a passport or residence permit. The police will usually accept a copy of your passport’s photo page and visa stamp.  

Illegal drugs and prison sentences 

Do not become involved with drugs of any kind. There are heavy penalties for drug trafficking, including prison sentences. Prison conditions are hard. 

Diamond smuggling 

There are heavy penalties for diamond smuggling, including prison sentences. 

LGBT+ travellers 

Same-sex relations between men are illegal in Sierra Leone, even if they are consensual. Penalties can include imprisonment. While same-sex relations are not illegal between women but travellers should exercise caution given the much more conservative culture than UK. 

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers

Adoption in Sierra Leone  

The UK does not recognise adoption orders from Sierra Leone. If you are planning to adopt a child in Sierra Leone, make sure you comply with Sierra Leone’s adoption laws. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs is responsible for adoptions in Sierra Leone. 

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism  

Water sports and swimming safety  

There are strong ocean currents along the coast in Sierra Leone, and no lifeguards on any beaches. You go into the sea at your own risk.  

Get local advice about sea conditions before you swim or do any water sports. Health and safety standards for water sports operators are usually lower than the UK. Check safety credentials in advance and always ask for a life jacket.  

Beware of hospital waste, including needles, on Lumley Beach.  

See water safety on holiday from the Royal Life Saving Society.

Transport risks  

Road travel  

If you are planning to drive in Sierra Leone, see information on driving abroad

You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Sierra Leone for up to one month after you arrive. If you also get the 1949 version of the international driving permit (IDP), you can drive for the length of the IDP’s validity. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence.  

If you’re staying longer or living in Sierra Leone, you must get a Sierra Leone driving licence. 

Road conditions and safety 

Serious traffic accidents are common and road travel across the country comes with risks, including: 

  • poor standards of vehicle maintenance  
  • people driving erratically, particularly motorbike riders, and ignoring road regulations 
  • roads with little or no lighting  
  • vehicles with no lights, and pedestrians and animals on the road 
  • damage to roads during the rainy season 
  • high traffic levels, increasing the risk of collisions  

If you are travelling by road, particularly outside the Freetown peninsula, you should:  

  • plan your journey  
  • try to complete your travel during daylight hours as risks are higher at night 
  • travel in convoy if possible 
  • keep your employer, friends and family updated on your progress 
  • use well-maintained vehicles 
  • travel with your doors locked  
  • be alert to groups stopping your car under false pretences  

British High Commission staff avoid road travel outside the Freetown peninsula at night. They do not use local taxis, minibuses (‘poda-podas’), motorised riskshaw (‘kekes’) or motorbikes (‘ocadas’). 

The mobile network is unreliable, particularly in remote areas. If you do manage to communicate, the emergency response is unreliable. If you have an accident, mobs of people can form around your car. You need a plan for what to do in an emergency. 

Sierra Leone’s borders with Guinea and Liberia 

Sierra Leone is bordered to the north and east by Guinea, and to the south by Liberia. There will be security personnel at these borders. Make sure you have your paperwork ready if you are crossing by land. Stay calm and patient while you wait for your paperwork to be processed and be prepared for disruption and short-notice border closures. 

Checkpoints and unofficial roadblocks 

Officers in uniform control official checkpoints with marked barriers.  

Children sometimes put a rope across the road and ask for a small donation for mending the road. These unofficial roadblocks are most common at the weekend and on the roads to tourist beaches in the Western Area.  

Air travel 

The UK Air Safety List (ASL) lists all known airlines in Sierra Leone 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

Travel to and from Lungi airport  

Lungi airport is on the far side of a wide estuary across from Freetown. The journey time from Freetown to the airport is around 3 hours by road. There are no car hire facilities at the airport. Contact the British High Commission in Freetown for a list of car hire companies in Freetown.  

British High Commission staff do not travel by road after dark and rarely take this route in the daytime due to the risk of accidents. 

Let someone know your expected arrival time and what action they should take if you do not arrive at that time.  

Airport hotels rooms are extremely limited and in high demand. 

Airport water taxis and ferries 

The 2 main water taxi operators, Sierra Leone Sea Coach Express Africa and SeaBird Water Taxi, run a reliable service between Freetown and Lungi. It takes 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the boat.  

The one-hour ferry service between Lungi Tagrin and Kissy Town only runs when there is enough demand. 

Water taxis are scheduled to align with specific flight arrivals and departures, and also include a courtesy bus between Lungi airport and the beach departure or arrival point in Lungi.  

During the rainy season from May to October, rough sea conditions may cause delays or cancellations. Water taxis have navigational aids, night lights and life jackets for passengers. However they have limited rescue capability if you fall overboard. 

Avoid using the unregulated or privately operated boats such as wooden pirogues and canoes, which do not have lights or safety equipment. British High Commission staff do not travel on small boats.

Phone services and utilities 

There is no country-wide coverage from mobile network providers in Sierra Leone. Some areas have no mobile reception. There’s no public telephone system, and landline connections are mainly disused. Calls between Sierra Leone mobile phones and Sierra Leone landline phones are not possible. 

Mains water is limited. Mains power is unreliable and extended outages are common. Power surges, especially in the rainy season, are common – you may want to use power surge protectors. Hotels and rented villas have generators and private water supplies. 

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 117 and ask for an ambulance. 

Ambulance services are unreliable in Freetown and unavailable throughout most of the country. Staff are not usually trained paramedics and often have little or no medical equipment.  

Some private hospitals, particularly in Freetown, operate their own commercial ambulances. Injured or seriously ill travellers may need to take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for an ambulance. 

Contact your insurance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment. 

Go to TravelHealthPro to see what health risks you’ll face in Sierra Leone, including: 

  • cholera 
  • malaria 
  • rabies 

Water-borne diseases, including cholera, are 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 take normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. 

If you are in Sierra Leone for business, check what medical support your employer can provide if you fall ill.  

TravelHealthPro also lists the recommended vaccines that could apply to you. At least 8 weeks before you travel, check how to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page


Check with the Federal Office of Public Health that your medication is legal in Sierra Leone. 

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries. 

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.  

Healthcare facilities in Sierra Leone 

FCDO has a list of medical providers in Sierra Leone

Hospitals, medical facilities and services in Sierra Leone are severely limited. The standard of care is much lower than in the UK, including basic services such as blood screening. Many facilities, particularly outside of Freetown, only accept cash payments. 

Medical supplies are unreliable and limited. Carry basic medical supplies and adequate supplies of prescription medication. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging, along with your doctor’s prescription.  

Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, medical evacuation and repatriation.  

Travel and mental health 

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro

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 Sierra Leone  

Telephone: 117 (ambulance, fire, police) 

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: 

Contacting FCDO 

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated. 

You can also contact FCDO online.  

Help abroad in an emergency 

If you’re in Sierra Leone and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British High Commission in Freetown.  

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) 

Find out about call charges 

Risk information for British companies  

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating in Sierra Leone on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks. 

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