As with most West African countries, bargaining is a way of life in Sierra Leone and most prices, from souvenirs in the marketplace to taxi fares, are negotiable.
Sierra Leone has a tropical climate. Temperatures remain high throughout the year, with a dry season from November to May and a rainy season from June to October.
Dangers & Annoyances
Sierra Leone is generally safe, although the biggest dangers are the roads and the tides, both of which can claim travellers who aren't vigilant about safety. Read up on rip tides before you travel, and be sure to wear a seatbelt whenever possible: driving safety standards aren't always of the highest. Avoid walking on Freetown's beaches alone – you should be fine on the peninsula – and it's best to walk in a group at night. Motorbike taxis are not the safest way to travel, especially in Freetown and other places with smooth roads. Make sure that your driver has a spare helmet.
Current is 230V/50Hz. Plugs have three large pins, like the UK.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Sierra Leone's country code||232|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering and leaving the country is straightforward, with all customs fees included in the price of a ticket.
- All precious stones require an export license.
- Penalties for diamond smuggling are severe.
Everyone from outside Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States) countries needs a visa.
Prices and rules for visas vary widely by nationality of applicant and embassy of issuance, but generally you need a plane ticket, a yellow fever vaccination certificate and a letter of invitation (a hotel reservation should suffice), and your passport needs six months' validity. The regulations are generally more relaxed in embassies of neighbouring countries.
You can also apply for your visa online through Visit Sierra Leone. Your application is processed by the immigration office in Freetown, and a receipt and visa is then emailed back to you. Both these documents have to be presented to immigration officials when you arrive at the airport or border.
Visas can be easily extended for 30 days at the Immigration Department in Freetown.
Visas for Onward Travel
Three-month, multiple-entry visas for Guinea cost US$160 for most Westerners. Bring two photos, a yellow fever certificate and a photocopy of your passport. One-month, single-entry visas to Liberia cost US$70 and require one photo plus a passport photocopy.
- Greetings are important. A firm handshake and a "how are you?" should suffice.
- Use your right hand for public actions such as handshakes, passing food or accepting change.
- Hissing is the accepted way of getting someone's attention in public.
- Always ask permission before taking pictures of locals.
Homosexuality is illegal in Sierra Leone and most gay relationships are carried out in secrecy. Many hotels and guesthouses will refuse to let same-sex couples share a room.
Most of the good hotels, and some of the restaurants, offer free wi-fi. Most expats get by with USB pay-as-you-go internet sticks. You can also pick up internet-ready SIM cards for smartphones and tablets.
Penalties for drug possession and drug smuggling are heavy. If you need to file a police report, you'll be subject to a Le300,000 fee. The main police station is in central Freetown.
- Awoko The country's most popular newspaper
- Concord Times Another respected and popular newspaper
- Peep is a satirical newspaper
- BBC Focus On Africa Sold at most supermarkets.
- SLBS Government owned TV station.
- ABC Privately owned, and its' most popular programming is Nigerian soap operas.
- BBC World Service Heard on 94.3FM.
- Voice of America On 102.4FM.
- SKYY (106.6FM) Plays the most local music.
Prices in many midrange to top-end hotels are quoted in US dollars. ATMs and moneychangers are found throughout Freetown and all major towns have ATMs.
|La Francophonie||CFA 1||Le 9000|
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com
- Hotels Tipping is at your discretion. Staff at top end hotels are more likely to expect a tip.
- Restaurants Tips are not expected, but always welcome.
- Tours It is common practice to tip guides and drivers at the end of a trip or tour.
- Village visits When visiting a village it's polite to make a cash offering to the local chief.
Credit cards are not widely accepted in Sierra Leone – you can generally only use them at top end hotels – but some Rokel Commercial Bank branches give cash advances on Visa cards.
Ecobank and UBA ATMs in Freetown spit out up to Le400,000 per day for those with Visa credit and debit cards. Don't rely on them too heavily, however, as they sometimes don't work. If leaving Freetown (to head down to the peninsula, for example), it pays to take all the cash you think you'll need with you, and then some.
The most easily exchangeable currencies in Sierra Leone are US dollars, UK pounds and euros, in that order. Large denominations get the best rates. Forex bureaus (and street traders, though avoid them unless somebody you trust makes the introduction) invariably offer better rates than banks.
Banks Usually 8.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday, with a select few also open 9am to 1pm Saturday.
General shops and offices 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday, though some places close at 1pm on Saturday.
Sierra Leone's regular post is semi-reliable if you send something from Freetown.
Besides the Islamic and Christian holidays, Sierra Leone celebrates New Year's Day (1 January) and Independence Day (27 April).
- Smoking has yet to be outlawed in public spaces, but many establishments operate their own non-smoking policies, and the government plans to enact a tobacco control act in the near future.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added Tax (VAT) of 15% is levied on most goods and services and is included in hotel and restaurant prices.
Mobile phone service is good and so popular that landlines are disappearing. SIM cards cost Le20,000.
SIM and micro-SIM cards are widely available. Airtel and Africell offer 3G coverage and mobile broadband.
Sierra Leone uses GMT
In restaurants and bars in Freetown and other major towns, especially those frequented by Westerners, toilets are of the modern flush variety. In more rural areas you're likely to encounter squat toilets.
Travel with Children
Travel outside of Freetown and the Freetown peninsula involves rough roads, long journeys and scant medical facilities, so can be daunting with younger children. In Freetown, there are plenty of Western restaurants with child-friendly menus, and some of the more upmarket hotels, such as the Family Kingdom resort or Country Lodge, for example, have child friendly facilities such as high chairs, cots, play areas or children's swimming pools. Many top end hotels offer day access to their facilities for around Le50,000 per person. Freetown Aqua Sports Club also has a swimming pool and a playground. On the peninsula, River No 2 and Tokeh Beach are great for kids, with clean sand and calm water.
There are no facilities for travelers with disabilities in Sierra Leone. Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Both the Peace Corps (www.peacecorps.gov) and Voluntary Services Overseas (www.vso.org.uk) have projects in Sierra Leone.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Sierra Leone uses the metric system
Most ex-pats in Sierra Leone work for international NGOs, in the hospitality industry or as volunteers. You'll need a pre-arranged position in order to secure a work visa.