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Inspiration and travel tips
Find out why Sri Lanka is the ideal destination for travel with childrenread more
Top reasons for renting a car with a personal driver in Sri Lankaread more
Insider tips from our local expert Sanjeewaniread more
Read what our travellers have to sayread more
Know Before You Go
General Information and Insider Tips
Residents of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand do need a visa for travel to Sri Lanka. For other countries, check visa requirements here. The 30-day Short Visit visa is issued in the form of an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) that can be applied for online. Your 35USD payment must be made online and processing takes 3-5 business days. For other countries, check visa requirements here.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months prior to arrival in Sri Lanka. It is your own responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of valid and correct travel documentation.
Insider Tip: Beware of third-parties that may process your visa payment for you. All payments should go directly through the ETA website and obtain a receipt for your records.
There are no particular requirements for Sri Lanka, but make sure all routine vaccinations are up to date (MMR, polio, tetanus, etc.). Hepatitis A and typhoid are recommended. There has also been an increase in Dengue Fever cases, so precautions should be taken. We recommend all vaccines be completed at least six weeks prior to travel.
The best medical treatment will be found in Colombo with some clinics catering to foreigners. Tap water in Sri Lanka is NOT safe to drink. If using your refillable water bottle, we recommend combining with a Steripen.
The safety of our clients is of the utmost importance to us, and our local experts are always well-informed about the current situation in Sri Lanka. For up-to-date information about safety, security and travel warnings, please refer to the US State Department, UK Foreign Travel Advice, or your local government resource.
Insider Tip: Renting a car requires an international driver’s license. Instead, opt for a private tour guide to drive you around.
Most sockets use the Indian-style three-pronged round (Type D) or UK-style three-pronged flat (Type G). Power can be inconsistent, so pack a torch or flashlight. Many hotels also stock candles and oil lamps, so check your room for supplies before you end up needing them.
The official national language is Sinhala (Tamil is also an official language, spoken by about 20-25% of the population).
Hello = Hallo/ Ayubowan
Goodbye = Gihin ennam
Please = Karunakerara
Thank you = Istuti
Yes = Ow
No = Naa
Insider Tip: Sri Lankan English (SLE) is pretty widely spoken, but it differs somewhat from British or American English with its heavy use of colloquialisms.
The local currency is Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). Sri Lankan Rupees can only be bought and sold within Sri Lanka, so you will not be able to buy currency in advance of your trip, or exchange them when you get home. Your best bet is to use a currency exchange or ATM at the Colombo airport.
ATMs are prevalent, but some foreigners have reported issues with machines for unknown reasons. If you encounter a problem, try another bank. 50,000 LKR is usually the maximum transaction withdrawal, although some banks have a higher limit. Credit cards are accepted at higher-end hotels and restaurants, although the Sri Lankan economy is largely cash-based. Make sure you have ample rupees on-hand, and break larger bills when you can as tuk tuks and small vendors may not have change (or might be reluctant to give it). US dollars are also accepted some places and easily exchangeable, so it is advisable to carry some with you.
Insider Tip: Exchange rates at the Colombo airport are the same as in town (surprisingly not inflated), so don’t be afraid of exchanging a large amount of cash upon arrival.
While locals don’t always follow a tipping practice, it is expected from tourists if you are happy with the service.
- Restaurants – a 10% service charge is usually added to higher-end restaurants, but that usually goes to the restaurant or is split by all staff, not directly to your server. Handing a small tip directly to your server for exceptional service is much appreciated. Smaller restaurants don’t include a service charge, so 10% is standard.
- Cabs – A small tip is appreciated for a courteous driver, but don’t tip tuk tuk drivers as you will likely be charged a higher “tourist” rate, even if you haggle.
- Hotels – Tip bellmen 50-100 Rupees, and housekeeping 50-100 Rupees per day.
When to go?
Sri Lanka is hit by two different monsoons, bringing rain to the island at different times. The west coast is hit between May and September while the east coast gets its share of rain November to March. Due to its location near the equator, temperatures are hot and humid year round. Winter (January-March) is generally the best time to visit if you’ll be traveling around the entire island as the north-east monsoon is milder, bringing less rain and slightly cooler temperatures. April is dry, but it’s generally the hottest month.
Sri Lankan locals are very polite and courteous, known for their exceptional customer service. They also dress conservatively and couples don’t display much affection in public. Haggling is part of their culture, even when it comes to private transportation. As a tourist you will likely pay a higher rate, so it is up to your discretion how much you want to haggle—in some cases it may only be the difference of a dollar or two. Due to the recent civil war, it is advisable to steer clear of political conversations as it is a delicate subject for some.
Begging children are not uncommon, and often the money collected is enough incentive for parents to keep them out of school. If you want to give, consider donating money or goods to reputable organizations rather than handing out to individuals.
Insider Tip: National parks, reserves and government-run sites operate on a two-tier price system, meaning there is an entrance fee for locals and another (much higher) fee for foreigners. Frustration over this system doesn’t do much good, and travelers should keep in mind that wages in Sri Lanka are quite low. Instead of looking at it as gouging foreigners, see it as a subsidy for locals.
Thin, light-colored cotton clothes are best in this tropical climate. While shorts and t-shirts are acceptable in most places, you’ll fit in more with the locals if you cover your shoulders and knees. This must always be done when visiting temples. Swimsuits are not appropriate outside of tourist beaches, so be mindful of where you are. Sunscreen, insect repellent and tampons are particularly scarce (and/or expensive), so bring enough for the duration of your trip. Remember that imported goods are particularly expensive; plan accordingly.
- Comfortable sandals for walking
- Umbrella and/or lightweight rain jacket—it will undoubtedly rain during your visit
- Mosquito repellent
- Sunglasses and hat
- Microfiber towel or sarong for beach-going
- Swimsuit cover-up
- Scarf or wrap (women) for throwing over bare shoulders
- Light sweater or jacket for hilly region
- Simple medical kit with over-the-counter drugs and first aid (including anti-diarrheal and stomach meds for potential food contamination)
- Hand sanitizer or wet wipes
- All prescriptions
- Flashlight/torch for possible power outages
- Tissues in case toilet paper is unavailable
- Feminine hygiene products
Insider Tip: Local SIM cards are cheap and can be purchased at the airport or at numerous kiosks in larger cities. Note your cell phone MUST be unlocked in order to use a local SIM. If you are under contract with your current phone, use an older phone and call your cell phone company to obtain an unlock code. Not only will you be able to make calls while travelling, you’ll have access to data when wifi is unavailable.
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