What makes Liberia a unique country to travel to?
Liberia is a country in West Africa that suffered from years of instability and conflict from 1990-2003, with attendant destruction of buildings, roads, infrastructure, and public institutions. A comprehensive peace accord ended the conflict in August 2003 and a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNMIL) was deployed to facilitate disarmament and demobilization, help arrange democratic elections, and provide for security of the country. In late 2005, Liberians went to the polls and elected Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president. A new government was inaugurated in January 2006, and has made progress towards restoring security and stability to the country. President Sirleaf was re-elected in November 2011.
Despite ten years of peace and economic growth, Liberia is still one of the poorest countries in the world and many basic services (e.g., public power, water and sewage, landline phones) are either limited or unavailable. Facilities for foreign visitors are adequate in the capital, Monrovia, but virtually non-existent in the rest of the country. The official language of Liberia is English.
While incidence of crime in Liberia is high, most crimes that occur within the expat community are crimes of opportunity (which increase during the hours of darkness), to include residential burglary or armed robbery (with use of a knife or machete). Criminal activity has been reported in both urban and rural areas. The Liberian National Police have limited capacity to respond to crime events, thus, crime is much higher in Liberian communities where police are not visible. Driving in Monrovia presents a danger to residents and visitors, as traffic laws are either nonexistent or not enforced by police. Traffic accidents are frequent and often result in injury or loss of life. The police are poorly equipped and largely incapable of providing effective protection or investigation.
Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including U.S. citizens. Formerly associated with Nigeria, these fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Liberia, and pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. An increasing number of U.S. citizens have been the targets of such scams. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. U.S. citizens should carefully check any unsolicited business proposal originating in Liberia before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel, particularly if the proposal involves the mining or sale of gold and diamonds. There has also been an increase in the number of Liberian/American Internet relationships in which there are eventual requests for financial assistance under fraudulent pretenses.
Petty corruption is rampant; poorly paid government officials may ask for fees for doing their job. Travelers may be inconvenienced for not paying them.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods or engage in child pornography. While you are overseas, U.S. law may not apply. If you do something illegal overseas, your U.S. passport won’t shield you from local prosecution. It is very important to familiarize yourself with local laws, customs, and practices.
Persons violating Liberian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Liberia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Photographing military installations, air and sea ports, and important government buildings is prohibited. Visitors should not take photographs of sites or activities that might be considered sensitive, as police are liable to confiscate the camera.
If you are arrested in Liberia, you have the right to request authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Hospitals and medical facilities in Liberia are very poorly equipped and are incapable of providing many services. Emergency services comparable to those in the U.S. or Europe are non-existent, and the blood supply is unreliable and unsafe for transfusion. For serious medical problems, U.S. citizens in Liberia should consider traveling to the United States, Europe, or South Africa for treatment. Medicines are scarce, often beyond expiration dates, and generally unavailable in most areas. As there is neither an effective garbage removal service nor a functioning sewer system, sanitation throughout urban areas is very poor, which increases the potential for disease. Upper respiratory infections and diarrhea are common, as well as more serious diseases such as typhoid and malaria. All travelers to Liberia must be vaccinated against yellow fever and should carry a supply of all prescription medication, including anti-malaria medication, adequate for their entire stay. A typhoid vaccination is also recommended.
Safety and Security
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to plan proposed travel to Liberia carefully and to exercise caution when traveling in Liberia. Before traveling to Liberia, U.S. citizens are urged to make arrangements for transportation from the international airport into the city center. Taxis are available at the international airport, which is located 40 miles outside of Monrovia, but public transportation (such as buses) is not available. U.S. citizens traveling to Liberia are also urged to ensure that they have confirmed reservations at a reputable hotel, as rooms can be scarce and difficult to find without advance plans.
U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Liberia should realize that Liberia's police force has limited resources and is rebuilding. There is a UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), but its mandate is to ensure political stability. UN Police (UNPOL) officers serve as advisors to the Liberian National Police. They do not have the authority to arrest or detain, and they are unarmed. The Liberia National Police has a strong presence in Monrovia, but less of a presence outside of Monrovia. The police can be both a source of assistance as well as a source of problems for visitors. Concerns about police corruption continue, and travelers may be detained by police officers soliciting bribes. U.S citizens are encouraged to carry a photocopy of their passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and citizenship is readily available. If detained or arrested, U.S. citizens should ask to contact the U.S. Embassy.
U.S. citizens in Liberia should be aware of their surroundings at all times and use caution when moving around, especially at night. Travel outside of Monrovia after dark is strongly discouraged, as roads are in poor condition and there are few public street lights. U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations, and should maintain security awareness at all times.
Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs' website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.
You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Take some time before travel to consider your personal security – things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
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 Liberia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road travel in Liberia can be hazardous. Potholes and poor road surfaces are common, making safe driving extremely challenging. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, and taxis are often overloaded with people and goods and make frequent stops without signaling. Drivers overtake on the right as well as the left. Many vehicles operate with threadbare tires, and blowouts are frequent. Public taxis are poorly maintained and usually overloaded. Drivers should approach intersections with extreme caution. The widespread absence of public street lights makes it difficult to see pedestrians walking in city streets or on country roads. Drivers and pedestrians are cautioned that high-speed car convoys carrying governmentofficials require all other vehicles to pull off the road until they have passed.
Travelers should expect time-consuming detours around the many bridges and roads damaged by war, neglect, or the heavy annual rains occurring between May and November. Travelers can expect strict enforcement of border controls by Liberian, Ivorian, Sierra Leonean, and Guinean authorities. At times, border crossings to neighboring countries are closed.