Plenty of people on foreign postings will get a car – perhaps even a driver – as part of their package, so won’t need to worry too much.
If, like us, you’ve to sort it out yourself then you’ll probably want wheels as going on foot isn’t a great option in the heat. Freetown also nestles at the bottom of mountain slopes, so any walk is likely to take in the kind of hill even Sheffield folk would think twice about tackling while laden with shopping bags.
If you’re a braver man than I, then motorbikes can take you a long way.
Costing Le1,000-15,000 depending on length of journey within the Freetown area, these bikes – known as ocadas – are among the more expensive forms of transport and the riders are prone to being hassled by police, not to mention occasionally shedding their load at bends.
Taxis act like buses and follow set routes. For about 2,000 Leones you can hop in and take your trip in as many stages as necessary, although this is likely to involve a walk at either end. Poda-podas are cramped minibuses, or often goods vans converted with bench seats.
Sharpen your elbows for the fight to squeeze aboard and you’ll get a cheap ride at 1,000Le, provided you can understand the hollering of the driver’s mate as he shouts its destinations. The journey takes a while, with much shuffling of seats as they pick up and drop off, and although accidents are rare enough, in such a packed environment the consequences can be horrific.
Your own car
In all likelihood, you’ll want a car. Buying a truly new one here will probably eat up your annual salary in one go. What Sierra Leoneans call “new”, meanwhile, means newly imported. Japanese cars seem to be favoured but they can come from anywhere. My Toyota Rav4 is from the States but you see European oval nationality stickers everywhere, as drivers seem keen to leave them on.
As a price indicator, my 11-year-old car cost me $8,500 and arrived fresh with dodgy brake pads, a punctured spare and an interior full of dog hair. It was imported by a garage via Guinea (presumably to avoid extortionate customs costs) and so I paid about £100 for a new Sierra Leonean registration, plus the equivalent of an MOT, ownership transfer fees, basic insurance etc.
If you’d rather not deal with a car salesman (and who would) then other expats are willing to sell motors. The Freetown Announcements Yahoo group is a good place to start looking. I’ve not looked into importing a car but can only imagine a world of pain. And if you want to drive one here through Mali etc, then good luck to you.
You can drive for three months on your foreign national’s licence but it’s probably best to get a Sierra Leonean permit to avoid police attention over and above the routine inspection. You must also carry a warning triangle – buy them at the side of the road for six quid – jack and have reflective stickers on your bumper. The latter is presumably aimed at compensating for the fact that few vehicles here have properly functioning lights.