A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Sierra Leone

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  • Giovanni Gallo

    Tips from other Freetown expats and locals opened my eyes to Sierra Leone's many facets, from town masquerades to national parks.

Life in Sierra Leone

Healthcare in Sierra Leone

For those living in Sierra Leone, healthcare is managed by a mixture of government departments, private companies, and NGOs. In 2010, the government launched a system of free healthcare for pregnant women, new mothers, and children under five years old. Apart from that, all healthcare services are charged.

Due to this, expats living in Sierra Leone are encouraged to obtain comprehensive medical insurance cover before they move to the country. It is also a good idea to carry basic medical supplies with you where appropriate, and to stick to bottled water.

Healthcare standards vary around the country with the best care available within Freetown; in the provinces, access to healthcare is limited, especially in the very remote regions. There are five hospitals in Sierra Leone, including the St John of God Hospital in Mabasseneh, Masanga Hospital and the Connaught and Princess Christian Maternity Hospitals in Freetown. The emergency number for the ambulance service is 999.

Before moving to Sierra Leone, expats are required to have a vaccination certificate for yellow fever, and should also take anti-malaria tablets. Consult your doctor as far as possible in advance of your move to find out more.

Transportation in Sierra Leone

When expats move to Sierra Leone, the chances are that they will arrive via Lungi International Airport, which is situated on a peninsula across the bay from Freetown. The most common ways of getting across to Freetown are by ferry, Pelican water-taxi, speedboat, or helicopter. It’s possible to travel by road (bus or taxi), but this takes much longer — up to five hours — and must be prearranged. There are no car-hire facilities at the airport.

Once you’re living in Sierra Leone you are likely to need a car if you are traveling outside of Freetown. New arrivals can at first drive using International Driving License; after a month, though, it’s necessary to obtain a Sierra Leone Driving License. Driving is on the right side of the road. There has been a program of road improvements, partly funded by the larger mining companies, but roads are still in need of attention in some rural areas.

Living in Sierra Leone, you will become accustomed to seeing poda podas, passenger mini-buses. In bigger cities, there are also taxis available. If you jump in a taxi in Freetown, don’t be surprised if the driver stops to allow other passengers to climb in too — shared taxis are not unusual. At Freetown Harbor, there are also boats and ships mooring and setting sail frequently.

Safety and Security in Sierra Leone

The Lonely Planet Guide referred to Sierra Leone as “the safest country in West Africa” and anecdotal reports suggest that the country is relatively safe for expatriates, as most visits to Sierra Leone are incident-free.

However, Freetown is a busy, bustling city and expats should be careful to take all the usual precautions that they would take in any big city; for example, avoid carrying expensive possessions or walking alone after dark, and stick to well-lit areas.

When traveling within Sierra Leone, diplomatic staff reportedly often avoid road travel outside the Freetown peninsula during night hours, mainly because many roads do not have lights. It is recommended that expats do the same. If traveling alone, expatriates should make sure that another person is aware of where they are heading and when they expect to arrive. Also always make sure your vehicle is well-maintained before embarking on any cross-country journeys.

Note that some areas have no mobile reception, and that landlines can be unreliable. The emergency number for the police service is 019, and for fire and ambulance services is 999.

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  • Giovanni Gallo

    Tips from other Freetown expats and locals opened my eyes to Sierra Leone's many facets, from town masquerades to national parks.

  • Claudine Duret

    My expat contacts in the NGO circles of Freetown supported me a lot in getting adjusted to daily life in this country.

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