Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel.
Business customs tend to follow the western customs. Suits and local traditional attire are appropriate all through the year. It is courteous to greet people when you meet with them and address them by their professional titles. Business appointments can be made through personal calls, emails, cell phone conversations, text messages, or even hand-delivered notes. Sierra Leoneans are not always punctual at meetings and events do not always start on time. It is also advisable to confirm appointments well before attendance.
English is the official administrative language in Sierra Leone. All correspondences are prepared in English. Business cards are welcome.
An umbrella is necessary during the rainy season, which typically lasts from May to October. A current yellow fever vaccination record is required for entry.
Travelers are encouraged to check the information provided by the State Department at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/sierra-leone-travel-advisory.html, and https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/SierraLeone.html.
All visitors entering Sierra Leone should possess a valid passport. A visa is required for everyone except citizens of ECOWAS member states. It is advisable for United States citizen travelers to make visa inquiries at Sierra Leonean embassies and consulates prior to travel, but visas can be obtained on arrival at either the airport or land borders from the immigration department. Visas on arrival are only available to people traveling to Sierra Leone for tourism, business, or religious activities. They are single entry and only valid for one month (but can be extended after arrival). People traveling to Sierra Leone for work, education, or as diplomats cannot obtain visas on arrival.
U.S. travelers can obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Sierra Leone at 1701 19th Street, NW Washington, DC 20009, USA or via their website at https://embassyofsierraleone.net/. Other overseas inquiries should be made to the nearest Sierra Leonean embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of Sierra Leone website for the most current visa information.
The local currency of Sierra Leone is the Sierra Leonean Leone (SLL or Le). The notes come in denominations of Le10,000, Le5,000, Le2,000, and Le 1,000, and coins in Le500, Le100 and Le50. Sierra Leone is generally a cash economy and operates a floating exchange rate system. The U.S. dollar can be exchanged for local currency relatively easily at local banks and numerous licensed foreign exchange bureaus in the country. Travelers are however advised to avoid non-licensed bureaus, and individuals selling on the “black market” who change currencies on the roadside. There are thirteen commercial banks with several branches operating in various parts of the country. A number of these banks offer credit/debit and ATM facilities. However, these cards and traveler’s checks are not usually accepted by some hotels. Those that do accept traveler’s checks, often have unfavorable rates. Travelers are therefore advised to carry some amount of U.S. dollar denominations though large sums must be transmitted via bank or other financial instruments. In August 2019, the Bank of Sierra Leone restricted individuals and entities from traveling with more than $10,000 or its equivalent in cash or outside the banking system.
On August 11, 2021, the GoSL announced the redenomination of the country’s currency by eliminating three zeros, retaining the same features but will remove three zeroes from each denomination. The new Leone will include Le1.00, Le2.00, Le5.00, Le10.00 and Le20 notes, and will be equivalent to Le1,000.00, Le2,000.00, Le5,000.00, Le10,000.00 and Le20,000.00 respectively of the old Leones. Coins will consist of the following denominations: one cent (Le0.01), five cents (Le0.05), ten Cents (Le0.10), twenty-five Cents (Le0.25), and fifty cents (Le0.50). The old and new Leones will run concurrently as legal tender until a time to be specified by the central Bank of Sierra Leone when the old Leone shall cease to be legal tender.
The International direct country code for Sierra Leone is + 232 or 00 232. Fixed-line telecommunications services are provided by Sierratel but are not widely in use. Mobile penetration rate is high with four major mobile phone operators: Orange, Africell, Sierratel, and QCell. Mobile phones are generally preferred over landlines and many Sierra Leoneans carry two or three mobile phones at a time. Direct international telephone calls can be made on all phone lines. Internet penetration is low but continues to improve. The country is connected by an undersea fiber optic cable, which has significantly improved internet connection speed. All the major mobile phone companies provide data services (3G and 4G) that allow reasonably good internet connectivity. High-speed internet connections and Wi-Fi are available at hotels. Facebook and WhatsApp Mobile social media platforms are important communication tools. Several data transfer companies have established networks and are serving banks and other institutions. Sierra Leone’s electrical standard is 220 volts, a three-pronged British-style plug is used almost exclusively, and adaptors are available at local electronic stores.
Despite the improvements made in the road network within the capital and connecting key district headquarter towns, more roads still require upgrading to allow easy and safe access to major towns and villages. Passenger transportation options include buses, vans, taxis, motorcycles, ferries, outboard-powered boats, and self-propelled local boats. Taxis are common in Freetown and major cities, though some are inadequately maintained. Privately operated public transport vans referred to as “poda poda” are often risky and overloaded and must be avoided. Cars with drivers are also available for hire through hotels and car rental agencies and use of those services is a recommended alternative to taxis. For ease of movement in the city and to the provinces, it is advisable to hire a car and driver for reasons of safety, security, and reliability. Four-wheel-drive vehicles with drivers for in-country travel are available at some hotels for hire. Fares should be negotiated before boarding, particularly to and from the airport. Travelers should always carry copies of their passports while traveling within the country. Driving after dark outside of Freetown or other major cities is not recommended due to the lack of adequate street lighting, the number of disabled vehicles blocking the roadside, the presence of animals and pedestrians, and the proportion of local drivers who do not habitually make use of their headlights.
Freetown International Airport in Lungi is Sierra Leone’s main airport. The airport is separated from the capital, Freetown, by an estuary, the Rokel River. Water taxis have agents at the airport to take passengers across to the capital. Ferries are also available but require a taxi to the terminal to board. Alternatively, one can hire a vehicle from the airport to drive to Freetown, which takes approximately three hours and traverses a toll road.
English is the official language of Sierra Leone, and the second language for many Sierra Leoneans who also speak Krio, the lingua franca, and/or several indigenous languages including Temne, Mende, Limba, and Loko. There are 16 tribes, each with its own tribal dialect that is spoken mainly amongst family members, kinsmen, or tribal groups. Business travelers will find that most government officials and businesspeople speak English well.
Many infectious tropical diseases are prevalent in Sierra Leone. Malaria, typhoid, and diarrhea are common. Malaria, the major tropical infection, is spread by the anopheles mosquito. Visitors should protect against its bite by using mosquito repellants, mosquito nets, and wearing long-sleeved clothing and pants at night. Regular use of anti-malarial drugs is strongly recommended, and dosing should begin prior to arrival in Sierra Leone. There are infrequent outbreaks of cholera. Visitors should consult their physician about the appropriate measures to take to maintain their health and the current vaccinations recommended before a visit to Sierra Leone. Vaccinations for malaria, cholera, typhoid, tetanus, meningitis, and protection against hepatitis are also strongly suggested. A vaccination certificate for yellow fever is required to enter Sierra Leone. Covid-19 protocols are available at https://travelbans.org/africa/sierra-leone/ .
Pharmacies are mostly stocked with medications manufactured primarily in India and China. Prices are generally cheaper than in the United States. However, supplies sometimes vary and counterfeits are pervasive. It is therefore strongly recommended to bring a good supply of any needed medications. Visitors with chronic medical conditions must bring supplies and medications sufficient for their length of stay.
Medical facilities are available in Sierra Leone, but outside Freetown, there are fewer opportunities for health care, particularly in remote regions. Foreign business visitors normally restrict themselves to private clinics which are mostly available in large urban areas. Many common household medicines and some prescription drugs are locally available, but the business traveler is encouraged to carry an ample supply of any special medications required and only use reputable pharmacies when purchasing medicines. Generally, medical facilities are limited and are not up to U.S. or European standards. Doctors and hospitals will expect immediate cash payments for medical care.
The climate in the dry season (October to April), is hot and humid and excessive sun exposure should be avoided to prevent excessive fluid loss and dehydration from perspiration. There can be water shortages in the Freetown area, especially during the dry season. Bottled water (Grafton and Megram are the most popular locally bottled brands) is widely available and safe to drink. Sanitary conditions are generally poor so always ensure uncooked and non-peelable vegetables, salads, and fruits are washed and disinfected, fresh fish and seafood are properly sanitized, and meat thoroughly cooked before eating. Swimming in the ocean is safe, but swimming in rivers and in non-moving fresh water is not.
Sierra Leone was one of the affected countries in the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The epidemic severely overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system. Many medical facilities became dysfunctional and have not fully recovered. The WHO declared Sierra Leone Ebola-free in November 2015. Sierra Leone, currently confronting COVID-19, has in place a raft of measures to contain its spread and swift actions have been taken by the government to combat the crisis.
5Local Time, Business Hours, & Holidays
The time zone is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Business institutions and government offices usually operate from 0800 to 1700 Monday through Friday and closed 1300 to1400 for lunch. Some businesses are open on Saturday. Some offices close Friday afternoons in observance of mosque attendance. It is usual for many government offices and businesses to hold staff meetings on Monday and Friday mornings. The executive arm of government often holds meetings on Wednesdays. Holidays falling on Saturdays and Sundays are observed on Mondays. Muslim holidays do not have specified dates but are observed as announced by the government.
The following are holidays for 2022:
January 1 New Year’s Day
February 18 Armed Forces Day
March 8 International Women’s Day
April 15 Good Friday
April 18 Easter day
April 27 Sierra Leone Independence Day
May 1 International Workers Day
May 3 Eid al-Fitr*
July 10 Eid al-Adha*
October 8 Mawlid al-Nabi*
December 25 Christmas Day
December 26 Boxing Day
* Muslim holidays are to be announced as the dates are subject to change.
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
Sierra Leone allows the temporary entry of traveler’s personal belongings subject to customs inspection. The personal baggage of a visitor is admitted duty-free. Duty is not charged on items for personal use, including clothing, household items, and electrical goods, and instruments/tools meant for professional use. No customs duty is required for visitors carrying portable computers/laptops and cellular telephones for their own use. However, customs will levy duty on non-allowable personal effects and on those that are in excess of the allowable quantity. Unaccompanied personal and household effects must be declared as such and are subject to duties at the time of their arrival. Illicit drugs, ammunition, and pornographic materials, etc. are prohibited. Currency declaration is required upon arrival.