If you’re doing anything other than volunteering, you’d best get used to carrying around enormous wads of cash.
The currency, the Leone, comes in denominations of 10,000 (about £1.20), 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. You might also come across the odd 500 Leone coins.
As a rule the smaller the note, the stinkier and more tatty it is. That’s a legacy of rainy season damp and reportedly being stuffed in traders’ underwear for safe keeping.
Getting hold of it is invariably more complicated than it ought to be.
Cashpoints dotted around town, outside banks, the occasional supermarket or petrol station, will dole out up to Le400,000 to foreign cardholders. But when you eventually find one, there’s probably only a 50/50 chance it’ll be working and – in any case – using them means losing heck of a lot in fees.
Dollars are always useful. Some businesses – hotels and supermarkets among them – will accept payment in them, provided they’re post-2006 notes.
For everyday transactions you’ll need Leones, however. If you’re carrying a wad of greenbacks then you’ll find numerous moneychangers on the street (Lumley roundabout is a prime area, as is Siaka Stevens Street downtown).
The street rate is often better than that offered by banks but while the process is performed in full view of police, it’s strictly speaking illegal.
It also involves the slightly intimidating scenario of inviting a supremely confident – and usually pretty damn fly – bloke you’ve never met before into your car to watch you ham-fistedly count through the bundle of notes he’s given you.
Beware of quirks too. Pre-2006 dollar denominations are refused by most traders, while smaller bills receive a worse rate than $50s or $100s. Sterling and euros can be changed, although less easily.
An easier option for large sums involves using transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, where you can arrange the transfer from the comfort of your home. Even that can be frustrating though, as websites often crash. And don’t forget to let your bank know you’ll be moving out here, too, otherwise you might find a stop on your account.
It can be slow going at the bank, too, as there’s often a clamour for the little forms where you have to write details of the transaction. Once you’ve handed this over – with your passport as proof of ID – it’ll take a little while for them to photocopy the ID and process the form.
Depending on how much you’ve transferred, you’ll then likely be handed a wad of banknotes the size of a brick. It’s in a sealed plastic bag so (perhaps naively) I trust the sum to be right, and you just have to count the loose ones (or keep an eye on the cashier when she does it with her more practiced fingers).
The lot will be shoved into a black plastic bag, as though it’s half a pound of cherries, and you can scurry back to your car feeling paranoid about muggers all the way.
One way of avoiding all this entirely might be to get a cash advance from your employer. I’ve heard of several who offer them, although they don’t tend to trumpet the fact so be sure to ask.