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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet

Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone - Consular Information Sheet
August 21, 2001


TRAVEL WARNING (ISSUED AUGUST 20, 2001): The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Sierra Leone. Although security in Freetown has improved over the past year and there are encouraging signs that the UN peacekeeping force is making progress in disarming and demobilizing the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel force and pro-government Civil Defense Force (CDF), the overall security situation remains tenuous and dangerous. Travel outside the capital is still somewhat dangerous in many areas due to the presence of rebel military groups and undisciplined pro-government militia that have not yet been disarmed or demobilized.

The U.S. Embassy in Freetown operates with a small staff. Because of the security situation, family members are not authorized to accompany U.S. government employees assigned to Sierra Leone. Currently only emergency consular services to U.S. citizens are available, and the Embassy's ability to provide these services is limited. U.S. citizens in Sierra Leone should review their own personal security situations in determining whether to visit or reside in the country. American citizens needing emergency assistance should contact the Embassy by calling (232)(22) 226-481.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required and the visa must be obtained in advance. Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Sierra Leone, 1701 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 939-9261. Overseas, inquiries should be made to the nearest Sierra Leonean embassy or consulate.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

DUAL NATIONALITY: U.S. citizens who are also Sierra Leonean nationals must provide proof of payment of taxes on revenues earned in Sierra Leone before being granted clearance for departure from Sierra Leone. The ability of the U.S. Embassy to assist dual U.S.-Sierra Leonean national is extremely limited because Sierra Leonean authorities do not recognize dual nationality and view such individuals as Sierra Leonean citizens.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: While UN peacekeeping forces control the capital city of Freetown and major cities in the southern areas of the country and have deployed in many other regions of the country, areas outside the cities remain dangerous due to the presence of still armed rebel combatants and pro-government milita. Travel outside Freetown is hazardous. While a ceasefire has essentially held since November 2000, rebel forces still remain a serious potential threat. Because many Sierra Leoneans do not speak English, it can be difficult for a foreigner to communicate his or her identity. Travelers may also encounter difficulties at unauthorized roadblocks and checkpoints outside Freetown. U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations, maintain security awareness at all times, and comply with Freetown's strictly-enforced curfew regulations.

In January 1999, at least 5,000 persons (including several foreign nationals) were killed when rebel forces attacked Freetown. Despite a July 1999 peace agreement between the government and rebel forces, and several subsequent agreements, much of the country is still not fully under government control. In May 2000, over 20 protesters and an unknown number of rebel guards were killed in an exchange of gunfire in Freetown near the home of the rebel leader.

CRIME: Petty crime and theft of wallets and passports are common. Requests for payments at military roadblocks are common. Armed robberies and burglaries of residences are frequent occurrences.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport abroad should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlets, A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa to provide useful information on promoting personal security while traveling abroad and on travel in the region in general. Both are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, .

MEDICAL FACLITIES: Medical facilities fall critically short of U.S. standards. Persons with medical conditions that may require treatment or medications are discouraged from traveling to Sierra Leone. Medicines are in short supply, sterility of equipment is questionable, and treatment is unreliable. Many primary health care workers, especially in rural areas, lack professional training. Instances of misdiagnosis, improper treatment and administration of improper drugs have been reported.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of 50,000 dollars (US). Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or by visiting the CDC Internet home page at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Sierra Leone is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Most main roads in Freetown are paved but have potholes; unpaved side streets are generally navigable. There is a major road resurfacing and repair program ongoing in Freetown that is improving the quality of roads in the city. Most roads outside Freetown are unpaved, but passable for a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Public transport (bus or group taxi) is erratic, sometimes unsafe, and generally not recommended.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Sierra Leone, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Sierra Leone's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Sierra Leone's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit FAA's Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air service. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

REGIONAL AIR SERVICE: No American or European air carriers fly to Lungi International Airport. Some regional airlines service the airport. Small planes and helicopters are available in connection with most major regional flights to fly passengers from the international airport to the capital and to the small airport near Freetown.

PHOTOGRAPHY RESTRICTIONS: Permission is required to photograph government buildings, airports, bridges, or official facilities. Areas prohibiting photography are not marked or defined. Individuals sometimes do not want to be photographed for religious reasons or may want to be paid for posing. Photographers should ask permission before taking pictures.

CRIME PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Sierra Leonean law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sierra Leone are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Sierra Leone, despite the Department's warning, are encouraged to register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Freetown at the corner of Walpole and Siaka Stevens Streets, and to obtain updated information on travel and security in Sierra Leone. The telephone number is (232)(22) 226-481, and the fax number is (232)(22) 225-471.

Consular services for U.S. citizens are limited to emergency services in Freetown only. The U.S. Embassy's consular section remains closed and will not be able to issue or replace U.S. passports.

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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 19, 2001 to include the updated Travel Warning of August 20, 2001 and to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, Safety and Security, Children's Issues, and Medical Insurance.



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