Thank you for your interest in coming to Liberia. Our projects in Liberia are making lasting improvements in people’s lives and we are sure your experience will do the same for you.
Please read this handbook carefully, as it covers important information that can help make your experience in Liberia a good one. The following factors will affect your experience in a positive manner: a willingness to put expectations on hold and “go with the flow”, a sense of humour and humility and an attitude of openness and curiosity.
Conversely, a sense of superiority, focusing on inconveniences—such as a lack of hot water— and confusing this trip with a vacation will not enhance your trip.
While in the country you represent an outpouring of care and concern for the Liberians whose lives are improved by our projects. Meeting you will help our Liberian friends understand the larger community that supports them in their quest to rebuild their country.
We hope your stay with us enriches your lives and touches your hearts as our time in Liberia has done for us. We look forward to seeing you here.
The UOF Team
Why Go To Liberia?
Liberia is a country on the mend. A civil war spanning 14 years brought the country to its knees and as Liberia regains its strength it needs a helping hand. For 15 years peace has reigned over Liberia and the people here have been working to rebuild their country. Universal Outreach has been contributing to the rebuilding of Liberia through its educational projects, skills training—with a focus on beekeeping—and economic development initiatives. By coming to Liberia, you’ll be able to contribute a skill you have to one of our projects or, if your particular skill isn’t required at the time of your visit, you will be able to experience Liberian culture and see what the running of a busy grassroots NGO is like.
Located on the west coast of Africa, between the countries of Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia is home to 4.7 million people. Liberia sits in the middle of West Africa’s remaining tropical forest and is considered an area of great importance for conservation. Liberia is also known for its beautiful beaches and costline.
Flights – $1900 – $2500 approximately. Brussels Airlines flies through Europe and Royal Air Morac has a transfer in Casablanca.
Accommodation on our compound – $40 per day which includes meals.
Hotel rooms in Monrovia – $100 per night and upwards
Meals when eating out – $50/day if you want to eat Western food, $6/day for Liberian food.
Visa (1-3 months) – $70 plus a fee if you use a visa expediting service (see below).
We recommend going through a company that can arrange the visa for you unless you are well versed in handling a cross border visa application yourself.
Vaccinations – $ depends on what you need
Malaria Medication – $5/day for Malarone (most expensive option)
There are some beautiful fabrics for sale in Liberia as well as carvings, paintings and jewellery. If you plan on taking gifts home please consider your financial needs for this. A mask can cost from $10 – $30, fabric $10 for 3 yards, paintings $25 – $100 US dollars.
It is strongly recommended that you contact your physician or travel clinic 8 -10 weeks prior to your planned departure. Be sure to have on hand all necessary prescription medications to cover your time away. Review your current health insurance regarding coverage for illnesses/accidents occurring outside of Canada or the US. Verify that your insurance will cover emergency medical evacuation by air ambulance. Bring with you the phone and fax number of your physician and health insurance company. If you have any drug or food allergies, bring medication and documentation as needed.
You MUST have your Yellow Fever vaccination to enter Liberia. It is also recommended that your tetanus and other boosters are current. Please consider the recommendations of your travel consultant. Physicians will recommend anti-malarial medication that begins before you leave the country. Although it is your choice as to whether or not you take it, we strongly encourage you to consider their advice.
Malaria is prevalent in Liberia. Malarone and Doxycycline seem to be the most recommended. Doxycycline is well known for causing heartburn. For those of you who live in Vancouver there is a travel clinic at L-5, 601 West Broadway, Vancouver (604-736-9244). There is also one located on the North Shore.
Links to resources:
• Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm
• Vancouver Community Health http://travelclinic.vch.ca/
1. Passports: Please be aware of the current requirements for passport expiration. At the moment, the requirement for Liberia is that the date of expiration must be at least 6 months after the date your trip begins. This could change, so please check as soon as you know when you will be travelling to Liberia.
2. Visas: Canadians require a Visa to travel to Liberia and are advised to look into and begin the process of obtaining a Visa very early – as soon as you know when you are travelling. We have experienced a lengthy (and potentially frustrating) process when dealing directly with the Liberian Embassy in the States.
Embassy of the Republic of Liberia in the United States:
5201 16th. Street, NW
Washington DC, 20011
Tel: (202) 723-0437
Fax: (202) 723-0436
There are companies that will manage your visa application for you and these services can be very helpful.
a. Valid Passport.
b. Two (2) passport size photographs – American size (full-face view on a white background).
c. Medical Certificate from a recognized physician indicating that the applicant is in good health and free from all communicable diseases.
d. Application for Visa to be completed in duplicate.
e. Evidence of financial support.
f. Letter requesting a Visa, indicating the place of accommodation in Liberia.
g. Letter of invitation from Universal Outreach Foundation
Our place of residence in Liberia is:
Universal Outreach Compound, Cooper Beach, Paynesville, Montserrado County, Liberia
To fly to Monrovia, the best major centres from which to embark are New York, Montreal, London, Amsterdam and Brussels.
We have a guest suite in our compound in Paynesville. Please check with us to ensure it’s available.
There are various comfortable and secure hotels to stay at in Liberia. Trip advisor has some helpful reviews on all of the top hotels at www.tripadvisor.com.
In Country Transportation
If you choose to venture out on your own these are your options. Rental vehicles with drivers are available for $50 to $175 USD per day plus fuel. There are affordable taxis at a negotiated price. Taxis stop frequently, are very crowded and usually don’t have seat belts.
Telecommunications in Liberia
There are two main cellular service companies currently servicing Liberia. If staying in phone communication is important to you, you may want to consider ensuring your phone is “open” so you can purchase a local SIM card while in here. It costs $30/month for 30 GB data, texting, calls and 20 minutes of calling to Canada. There isn’t a guarantee that your cellular provider from home will work in Liberia, but in recent years this has improved.
Alternatively, you may wish to purchase a cell phone for your visit to Liberia, as it is the best current means of communication. The cost would include; cell phone US$15; SIM Card US$5; and a Scratch Card US$5, for a total of US$25.00 plus long distance calls. The $5 scratch card will give the average user approx. 4 days of local use.
Money and Acceptable Forms of Payment
Until recently Liberia was a cash-only country. The currencies used are USD and Liberian dollars. Liberian dollars can only be purchased in country. ATMs are available in the country, but are not reliable. If you are coming for a short stay we recommend bring enough cash to accommodate your stay. Credit cards are accepted at finer establishments such as hotels in Monrovia.
A wide variety of styles are acceptable in Liberia. Women and men will dress in traditional Liberian attire one day and switch to western attire the next day. Liberians take great pride in their appearance and although it is a poor country, you will many well-dressed people here. You’ll tend to only see adults wearing shorts in very casual settings. Liberia is a hot and humid country with an average daily high being about 34 degrees in the dry season with about 85% humidity. Keep this in mind when packing. Out compound and office is a casual dress environment.
For women, we recommend packing on the conservative side with skirt lengths close to the knee, capris and lightweight pants. If staying close to our compound longer shorts are suitable. On casual beach days shorts and short skirts are fine. If you feel comfortable wearing jeans in warm climates they are standard dress here. Be sure to bring something to wear in case we are required to attend an event while you are here. A simple dress works well.
As for men, foreigners seem to be able to get away with wearing shorts, although locals may consider this undignified. We recommend lightweight pants and shorts and we will let you know when it’s appropriate to wear shorts or pants. Bring at least one nice pair of pants and a button up shirt in case we need to attend an event.
This is a difficult subject to explain in a few paragraphs. Basically, expect things to be different from home and be prepared to roll with the new experiences. The following are a few things we want to mention.
In general, Liberians are very interactive people. It is considered normal here to yell at someone who is walking down the street or offer advice to strangers. Caucasian visitors will often be called white man or white lady and women will be referred to as mommy, aunty or missy. There is no need to take offence at this.
The effects of the war can be seen everywhere from the buildings to the people. There are a great number of amputees here. Some of them are functioning very well in Liberian society due to retraining programs while others choose to beg for a living. It is up to you whether you want to give or not.
Over 20 African languages are spoken in Liberia, but English is the official language. Having said that, the local version of English they speak can take some ti to understand. Liberian English is quite distinct from British or American usage. It has some expressions held over from the “pioneers” of the 1800s (like “vexed” for angry), but it also has some British and other diverse expressions.
Pronunciation tends to drop the final consonant of words ending in consonants so that “Kent” sounds just like “Ken”. “Th” is often pronounced like a “T”, and so “think” becomes “tink”, and “Thank You” becomes “tank you”. At the end of a word, “th” is often pronounced as an “F” (i.e., “Ruth” becomes “roof”). Word order is often quite different as well, so that question sentences are phrased differently than in Standard English. For example, the question “When did you take the exam?” becomes “What time you took the exam?”.
Spiritual Life in Liberia
Almost half of the population in Liberia is Christian, close to 20% Muslim and the remainder follows traditional religions. Spirituality is very important to Liberians and statements about God and Jesus will be found everywhere from the local church banner to the back of a taxicab. Regardless of your personal beliefs, we ask you to respect their approach to their religion of choice.
After your plane lands, you will disembark on the runway and be directed to customs. Once inside, look for the booth labelled “other passports”, unless you are travelling under an African passport. They may ask you how long you are staying, where you are staying and what you are doing here. Please give them your hotel name or our address at UOF Compound, Cooper Beach, Paynesville,
Once through customs, you will enter into the baggage claims area. People may offer to help you and if you take them up on it expect to hand over a dollar for their services. If you don’t want help, a polite “No thank you” is all you need to say. Your baggage tags will be checked to ensure you have the correct luggage —make sure you have these. Either a family member of Universal Outreach will be there to meet you or else a predetermined representative. This person will be waiting right outside the door exiting the airport. It will take an hour to travel to Monrovia from the airport.
Security in Liberia
In spite of the past warnings against travelling to Liberia, we chose to come here. There are many expatriates here from around the world working for various NGOs. Besides the many Liberians we know, there are many expat couples here raising young families, retired people, and single people working in remote areas. We are comfortable being in Liberia, but you need to weigh the risks for yourself. Please check out www.voyage.gc.ca for the Government of Canada’s most recent information on travelling to Liberia. Other web sites we recommend looking at for information on Africa are:
♣ Work clothes, if you are doing some sort of a project (lightweight work pants, possibly shorts and some T-shirts)
♣ 2-3 pairs casual lightweight pants/skirts and shirts for non-working times. Jeans are fine if you can manage them in the heat.
♣ An outfit of nicer clothes to be worn to church or out to dinner – casual. In the city of Monrovia any style of fashion works.
♣ Socks and underwear.
♣ One light sweater or jacket for air-conditioned rooms
♣ Shoes and sandals
♣ Hat and/or bandana for sweat
♣ Bathing suit, shorts, towel for beach trips
♣ Water bottle
♣ Purell – small, pocket-size
♣ Ear plugs, if desired
♣ Personal toiletries and medications
♣ Insect repellant with high Deet content
♣ Anti-diarrhea medicine
♣Towel for showering or beach time (two work best)
♣ Flip flops
♣ Journal to write in, pens, etc.
♣ Book to read
♣ Headlamp for getting around at night or reading, battery operated
♣ Camera, not expensive is recommended unless you really want high-quality photos. Comments on photo taking: when taking pictures of the children, staff or Liberians in general, we ask that you always ask permission. It is good to have some sort of relationship with those of whom you are taking pictures so that you can match pictures with names upon your return. You will get a varied response from strangers ranging from “yes” to “no”, to “give me $5” or to outright yelling.
♣ Internet-accessible email account for sending and receiving messages from home
♣ Airline ticket, itinerary, passport, ID, yellow travel clinic booklet if you have one. Make two copies of your passport to bring with you.
♣ Cash (you can leave extra money in our safe)
Things to leave at home
♣ Expensive jewellery
♣ Anything valuable
We have a washing machine here and a drying rack.