Visas & Customs Formalities
Do I need a visa to enter in Sri Lanka?
Yes, you will need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. In addition, if you intend visiting Sri Lanka on a short visit, you will need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) prior to arrival.
What is an electronic travel authorization (ETA) ?
The Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) is an official authorization for a Short Visit to Sri Lanka and is issued through an on-line system. You need to obtain an ETA if you intend visiting Sri Lanka as a Tourist, on Business or on Transit. No passport copies, documents or photographs are required to obtain the ETA. ETA holders will be issued a 30 day Short Visit visa at the port of entry in Sri Lanka.
Am I required to obtain the an ETA?
Nationals of all countries with the exception of citizens of countries mentioned below are required to obtain an ETA to visit Sri Lanka. Nationals of following countries who visit Sri Lanka for a Short visit up to 30 days are exempt from obtaining an ETA;
- The Republic of Singapore
- The Republic of Maldives
- The Republic of Seychelles
How do I apply for the ETA?
You can submit the ETA application online through the ETA website. Select the language, click ‘Apply’ and follow the instructions. Other options for you to apply are;
- By the Third party
- Registered agents
- At Sri Lanka Overseas Missions
- At the head office of the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DI&E), Colombo
- On arrival at the port of entry in Sri Lanka
Answers to FAQ’s on the ETA can be found at the official web site,
My holiday is over 30 days, how can I obtain an extension to my visa?
You can either apply and obtain an extended visa from a Sri Lankan Embassy/ Consulate from your country of residence prior to arrival in Sri Lanka or get an extension from the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Colombo 10. This procedure will take about 2-3 hours, and you will have to give a bona fide reason for staying over 30 days. If you are staying in a resort for a long period, the staff will be able to help you with the application.
The language and communication
What language will people understand?
Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages in Sri Lanka. English is a ‘link’ language and generally understood by most people and is easy to get by. Off the beaten track knowledge of it thins. English is spoken at all hotels, major restaurants and shops. Dream Vacations provides guides in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese languages to foreign visitors requiring assistance. Road signs are written both in Sinhalese & English throughout the country, with few exceptions.
How are telephone facilities in the country?
Telephone facilities are available extensively throughout the country. There are many telephone booths which accept coins, but the clarity and talk times may be short. Telephone bureaus are quite common with most offering IDD and internet facilities. Some offer the cheaper net-to-phone facilities, but the quality is not always reliable. IDD facilities are available in most tourist hotels.
What is the country code and how do I dial area codes?
What mobile technology is supported in Sri Lanka
All mobile operators support the GSM technology on GSM 900/ 1800 bands. WAP & GPRS is widely supported. 3G and wireless broadband are available in Colombo. Wifi zones are available in selected spots in major towns.
Can I purchase a local mobile connection while on holiday?
Can I access the internet freely?
Health & Safety
Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
What safety precautions should I take when traveling?
According to accepted norms of travel you should deposit your valuables like money, passport, tickets, jewels etc in the hotel safe deposit locker. In accordance with international custom the Hotels in Sri Lanka are not responsible for objects lost in the room. You should also not leave your valuables unattended on the beach, the balconies or terraces.
Never leave your money or passport in your backpack or suitcase. Always keep a record of your Travellers Cheque numbers separately from the Travellers Cheques. It is wise to keep an amount of money (about US$ 200) stashed away separately from your money-belt or pouch.
What health issues must I be concerned with?
Sri Lanka has an effective health care system which is considered a model for most developing countries across the world. However, emergency medical facilities may not be found outside main cities. You may have to be brought to Colombo for treatment. We recommend you use the private sector hospitals, which are likely to offer better care. It is mandatory for those travelling to Sri Lanka from Africa or Latin America to have a valid certificate of vaccination for Yellow fever and Meningitis prior to arrival in Sri Lanka. You need up-to-date Hepatitis A, Polio and Tetanus shots. Mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya and malaria are common. It’s advised you take adequate protection against mosquitos. Take some Imodium tablets (just in case you get an upset stomach). Almost every town has a pharmacy selling common medicines. However, we advise you to carry any special medication as the availability of medical supplies may vary. You are strongly advised you take an adequate health insurance cover when travelling to Sri Lanka.
How about mosquitoes and other pests?
Most hotels will provide you with a plug-in mosquito repellent which will usually be switched on during turn down. You can buy the mats (small repellent tablet inserted into the plug-in unit), from most local supermarkets. Mosquito nets in hotels are a rarity. You can also buy the burning coils or citronella candles from the supermarket. It would be advisable to apply some repellent lotion if you plan to have dinner in an outdoor/ alfresco setting. The locally available ‘Siddhalepa balm’ is quite effective to take the itch out of mosquito bites.
Leeches – A good remedy is to apply soap and left to dry or apply lime to exposed areas. You can wear leech socks. Which are pulled over the trousers to prevent leeches from reaching the exposed skin of the legs.
If you find a leech sucking on your leg, do not pull it off, but wait for it to fall off after feeding. Else you can apply some salt; this will make the leech release its hold and fall off.
Food and Lodging
What kind of cuisine will I find?
Sri Lankan dishes are based on rice, with a large variety of vegetables, fish & fruits. The uniqueness of Sri Lankan food influenced by invaders and traders – Indians, Arabs, Malays, Moors, Portuguese, Dutch and English all whom have left a mark on the Sri Lankan diet, will surely make your trip a voyage of culinary discovery!
Sri Lankan food is good, perhaps a little too piquant for foreign palates, but worth trying. The Lankan food served in your hotel is toned down a little bit due to the sensitive stomach of most tourists, but nevertheless is delicious and you should try it.
International food of any kind is found in all major Sri Lankan Restaurants.
Most coastal towns have excellent seafood including prawns & delicious crab. Rates are quite inexpensive. Being a tropical country, Sri Lanka is blessed with a large variety of fruits. Some fruits like mangoes and Bananas (known an plantains here), come in over a dozen of sub varieties of shapes, sizes & tastes! Fruits such as Rambutan, Pineapple, Mangosteen, Papaya (Papaw), wood apple, melons, passion fruit, guavas, etc., are but a small sample of the amazing variety of fruits to be discovered and enjoyed.
Can I obtain vegetarian food?
Most large hotels and restaurants have a ‘vegetarian section’ in the menu. The smaller local ‘rice and curry’ restaurants may say the food is vegetarian but include a serving of fried fish or sprats (anchovies). The ‘South Indian’ vegetarian restaurants are 100% vegetarian.
Can I obtain "Halal" food?
‘Halal’ food is quite scarce in major hotels. The Galadari and Holiday Inn in Colombo serve halal food, as well a couple of hotels on the west coast. There are quite a few restaurants in Colombo and Kandy, but not much else. The best bet is to order seafood instead of meat to be on the safe side.
What sort of food can I expect from a Ayurvedic resort?
The food is exclusively based on Sri Lankan rice and curry menu. The curries are mostly Sri Lankan vegetables; Chicken and fish may be included.
How about drinks?
Sri Lanka is famous for it’s tea, and pride ourselves in producing ‘Ceylon Tea’, the finest tea in the world. There is a local version of coffee, which is a bit strong. But Colombo is the only place that you could get a really good espresso. Highly recommended are the fresh fruit juices. Popular international soft drinks are available even in little village boutiques.
Sri Lanka has it’s own variety of local beer. Sri Lanka also has two extremely popular local varieties of intoxicating beverage – Toddy and Arrack. Toddy is a natural drink, produced from one or other palm trees. Fermented and refined toddy becomes Arrack. Some varieties are real “rocket fuel”! Imported beer and foreign liquors cost almost the same as in most western countries.
Thambili or King Coconut is a sweet, clean and cheap natural drink that you’ll find by the wayside. It’s extremely cooling and refreshing!
We advice not to drink tap water unless it is purified. Bottled water is recommended. Only use water from containers with serrated seal- not tops or corks. Most hotel rooms have boiled water in thermos flasks, which is safe to drink.
Is it true that liquor is not served in the full Moon Poya Days?
True. Liquor is not served on Full Moon Days.
Full Moon days (known as Poya days), are of religious significance to Buddhists and devoted to prayer and meditation. In keeping with its significance as a religious day abstinence is practiced. As such places selling liquor (including hotel bars) and Meat shops closed. Places of entertainment such as cinemas, discos and casinos are closed as well.
Can I smoke in public places?
No. Smoking and consuming liquor in public areas is banned in Sri Lanka. The smoking ban includes enclosed public places such as restaurants and social clubs. Smoking is not allowed inside I Go To Srilanka vehicles while on tour; however, regular comfort stops will be provided.
What sort of accommodation can I expect?
Accommodation is usually in a shared twin-bed room with a supplementary charge for single occupancy. We offer a wide range of accommodation from private boutique hotels, villas, eco lodge and tents. Some of our nature & adventure trips include traveling to remote or undeveloped outstation destinations, hotel accommodation of International tourist standard may not exist & facilities are rudimentary. Sleeping huts & tents are simple & often lack Western-style toilets or bathing facilities. In such places, tour participants will be provided with the best available facilities.
The package price may include meals as specified in each tour program.
Money and Banking
What currency is used in Sri Lanka?
The Sri Lankan currency is the Rupee (Rs), divided into 100 cents. Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 & 2000. Breakdown larger notes when you change money – it can sometimes be a problem to breakdown a larger note (500, 1000 or 2000).
Hotels and other tourist establishments will quote you the price in US$ or Euro and collect in Rupees at the prevailing exchange rate.
Is rupee the only currency used? Or are the USD / EURO also widely used?
The Sri Lankan Rupee is used only for transactions within Sri Lanka.
US$/ Euro etc., is accepted in most large hotels, and tourist establishments, but not in outlets catering to locals. Advice to bring in US$/ Euro and change as and when needed.
If the rupee is used- what is the best currency to bring - USD / EURO/ STERLING POUND?
It depends on your primary account currency.
If your account is in Singapore Dollars, bring that (or you’ll lose on converting to a third currency).
You can change the currency to Rupees on arrival at the airport. However, if your currency is a non-freely convertible local currency (not freely traded in international foreign exchange markets) it’s better to bring a freely convertible currency like the US$/ Euro. There are many currency exchange counters at the arrival lounge (after passing baggage clearance and customs). Internationally accepted currencies and credit cards are easily accepted at most tourist establishments. Travelers cheques are also recommended. We recommend you change some of your money into local currency for tipping, shopping and other miscellaneous expenses.
The exchange of foreign currency is only permitted at banks, money changes and Hotels. You’ll have no problem changing Travelers Cheques at any major bank. Thomas Cook and Visa are the most widely accepted. Banks charge a 0.5% handling fee and generally a commission, which varies from bank to bank. Change only that amount of money you require for spending.
How much money can I bring in to / take out from the Sri Lanka?
There is no restriction in bringing money in foreign currencies into Sri Lanka. This sum could be in TCs, Bank drafts or currency notes. However, if the total exceeds US$ 15,000, that sum must be declared to the Sri Lanka Customs.
If you wish to take out from Sri Lanka a sum in excess of US$ 5000 in currency notes (out of the money brought in), you must declare the entirety of the sum brought in, even if it is less than US$ 15,000.
The foreign currency amounts indicated in US$ may be in equivalent amounts in other convertible foreign currencies.
Please retain whatever receipts of exchange (including ATM receipts) for monies declared. This will be helpful when re-exchanging to foreign currency and taking your money back out of the country. The Re-Exchange (purchase of foreign currency) can only take place on your departure at the Bank counters at the airport. Do note that they will only accept bank receipts (not Money Changer receipts).
Are credit cards widely accepted?
Credit Cards are widely used and accepted by local establishments (even in small towns). The most widely used card types are Visa and MasterCard, with Amex to a lesser extent. It would be a convenient option to use your Credit Card (valid for international use) whenever possible.
Due to currency regulations in Sri Lanka, credit card charges cannot be made in foreign currency Local tourist establishments (including Dream Vacations) will apply the daily exchange rate on the day of your payment and convert foreign exchange rate to Sri Lankan Rupees. Please use the exchange rate indicated in the currency converter only as a guideline as we will apply the prevailing bank exchange rate at time of transaction.
Are ATM machines widely available and do they issue cash against my Debit Card/ Credit Card?
ATM’s are available in most main cities. You can take cash against Visa / Mastercard in most ATM’S. However, as different banks accept different cards, we advise you ensure that your card is valid for use in Sri Lanka by contacting your bank. Watch out for the Maestro or Cirrus logo!
what are the business hours and Days?
|Banks||09:00 – 15:00||Mon – Fri (some open Sat morning) Sundays||Poya Days*|
|Government Offices||09:30 – 17:00||Mon – Fri (some open Sat morning) Sundays||Poya Days*|
|Shops||10:00 – 19:00||Mon – Fri (most open Sat morning) (Some open Sun morning)||Poya Days*|
|Post Offices||10:00 – 17:00||Mon – Fri (Sat morning) Sundays||Poya Days*|
*Poya days (Full moon days)
Why don't Sri Lankan banks have IBAN account numbers?
The International Bank Account Number (IBAN) is a bank account number structured according to the ECBS (European Committee for Banking Standards) standards. The IBAN was originally developed to facilitate payments within the European Union. Apart from most European countries, IBAN has now been adopted by a few other Middle Eastern countries as well. You can download the latest update of countries supporting IBAN from the SWIFT website.
Sri Lanka like most other Asian countries, USA and Australia use the current Bank Identifier Code system (BIC or SWIFT code) in conjunction with the BBAN (Basic Bank Account Number).
Travelling & Photography
Can I process my digital photos in Sri Lanka?
There are many franchised photo shops such as Kodak & Fuji with advanced digital imaging ser-vices in major towns. Almost all types of digital data storage devices are accepted. It’s always ad-visable to keep a backup of your pictures before handing over for processing.
It’s always advisable to bring a USB cord (camera to PC) so you transfer the pictures to a PC. The internet cafés are ideal for this (you’ll find them all around the country). Simply copy the pictures to the PC and then burn them into a CD. This is much cheaper than processing through a photog-raphy shop/ studio. It’s best to make two copies of the CD. One you keep with you, the other send it home in the post. That way you can always keep your memory cards empty to capture more pho-tos!
Digital camera accessories such as memory cards and batteries are available in Colombo, Kandy and a few major towns.
When is the best time to travel to Sri Lanka?
Climatically, the best & driest seasons are from December to March on the West & South Coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September in the East Coast. Sri Lanka is subject to two monsoons, the rainy season in the East coast is the dry season in the south-west coast & vice ver-sa. This means Sri Lanka is a year-round destination, and there is always a ‘right’ season somewhere on the island.
Out of season travel has its advantages, not only do the crowds go away, but many airfares & AC-commodation prices too go down, with many special offers thrown in. On the coast, the average temperature is about 27° C. The temperature rapidly falls with altitude. At Kandy (altitude 450m) the average temperature is 20° C and at Nuwara Eliya (altitude 1890m) it’s down to around 16°C.
Are there any areas where I can't travel to?
No, You may travel to anywhere in the island.
What are the do's and don't in local photography?
Ask permission before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse. Minori-ty groups in particular are often unhappy to have their photo taken. Travellers should avoid paying for the right to take a photo as this has been found to encourage a begging mentality in the locals. If photos are taken please send back copies (through our tour leaders or direct to the village) so that the people receive copies. The locals gain a great buzz from seeing themselves in photos and it encourages a ‘sharing’ rather than ‘taking’ attitude towards photography. Our tour leaders will make every effort to distribute them the next time they are in the area.
While we welcome travellers to pack their video cameras, there are some places where we do not allow you to film. In small villages, at home-stays or trekking, we do not permit the use of videos as local people have requested this and we ask for courtesy and discretion with still cameras.
Ask permission before taking pictures either of people or inside temples or other sacred places. For example, it is forbidden to take photographs inside the cave temple complex of Dambulla. Never use flash on murals inside temples and other places; it can damage them. You are not allowed to use flash at the frescoes at Sigiriya, but where there is no ban, please behave responsibly.
Never pose beside or in front of a Buddha statue (i.e. with your back to the statue). Such conduct is considered extremely disrespectful. Never take a photo of a monk without asking permission. Tourists are sometimes asked for money for taking photos. Always ask before you shoot whether payment is expected. Our accompanying representatives will be able to guide you on this. Never take photos of dams, airports, roadblocks or anything to do with the military. Don’t tote the camera around Colombo Fort.
Power and Energy
What is the voltage type in Sri Lanka?
The voltage is Sri Lanka is 220/ 240 volts
What type of plug s can I use?
|Plug type||Pins||Amps||Plug base compatibility|
|UK (Type G)||3 rectangular pins||13 Amps||Accepts Type C (by tricking Earth socket). Need an adapter to accept Type D|
|Euro plug (Type C)||2 round pins||5 Amps||Compatible with Type G and Type D (by tricking Earth socket)|
|India (Type D)||3 round pins*||5 Amps||Accepts Type C (by tricking Earth socket). Need an adapter to accept Type G|
*Do not confuse with the larger 15 Amp plug which is used for ‘heavy duty’ appliances like air-conditioners, and microwave ovens.
If you have a rectangular plug (UK – Type G) and the hotel base is round pin (India – Type D) or vice versa, just ask the reception to send you an adapter, which will solve the problem. Alternately, adapters are freely available in supermarkets/ hardware shops.
If you have a Euro plug (Type C), you can stick a pen into the Earth socket (either UK Type G or India Type D) to open the shutters and insert the plug; Do not forget to switch off the power before you do this!
The Type I plug (two slanted pins) used in countries such as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and parts of China is not compatible with Sri Lankan plug base and need an adapter. Its better you bring a ‘Universal Adapter’ if you have this type of plug, as it will be difficult to find adapters for Type I plugs in the local hardware shops.
A word of caution; do not insert a 110V – 120V appliance (E.g. hairdryer) into a Sri Lankan 240V plug base, you might find it catching fire in your hands!
Shopping and Entertainments
Any advice on shopping?
Sri Lanka has a wide variety of very attractive handicrafts on sale. Sri Lankan masks are a very popular collector’s item. Other recommendations are batiks, wood carvings, gemstones, semi- pre-cious stones, lacquer-ware, hand made Silver- and Brass objects and don’t forget the famous ‘Ceylon Tea’. Please avoid ornaments made from tortoise shells & ivory. Never buy turtle shell, we even suggest you not to purchase any woodcarving made from ebony, in order to preserve this scarce hardwood.
Sri Lanka is a major garment manufacturer and exporter of all kinds of clothing. There is an excel-lent selection of children’s and casual clothing for men & women, beach wear and even warm pad-ded jackets at extremely attractive prices. Colombo is fast becoming an attraction for garment hunters.
How is the night life in Sri Lanka?
The places with some active night life are Colombo, Negombo and Hikkaduwa. Colombo has some decent pubs, night clubs, karaoke lounges and bars. There is a growing pub-culture among the young crowd in Colombo. Friday and Saturday nights are the days for all night partying. The casinos offer a good combination of live entertainment, food and games of chance.
Negombo and Hikkaduwa have some good beach restaurants and bars. Negombo doesn’t have much of a party scene, but you will find regular beach parties in Hikkaduwa.
Is tipping accepted and how do I tip?
Tipping is widely accepted and generally expected. tipping is a customary way of showing your appreciation for services rendered. A general rule of thumb for tipping;
Tour Guide – Your chauffeur-guide will expect something between US$ 10 to 15 a day (depending on your level of satisfaction with his service). If you are in a tour group of more than 7 people (and tour of more than 6 days), you can pool the tip and pay the guide $65 – $ 80, Driver $55 – $75, Driver’s assistant $35 – $45 for the tour.
Restaurant Staff – A 10% service charge is usually included in bills for food in more established restaurants. However the waiter/ waitress will expect a small tip. If a 10% service charge is includ-ed in the bill, a tip of $1 or $2 will be sufficient. If you receive exceptional service, add another 5% – 10%. If you are staying at a high-end hotel with a personal butler, tip him about $10 per day.
Housekeeping, bell desk & maintenance staff – A tip of $0.50 cents or $2 for the porter/ bell boy per bag (depending on distance to your room). Airport porters usually have the rate marked on their vests – about Rs. 50 per bag – this is not really a tip but more like a ‘service charge’. The room boy/ maid & pool boy will expect about $4 – $5 per week.
Temples & places of interest – The man who looks after your shoes at temples will require a small tip. The resident monks in some smaller temples will show you around and expect a ‘donation’ – in such cases you can buy a ‘ticket’ from a layperson or place the tip in the ‘donation box’. If you visit Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage and want to take photo or bottle feed a baby elephant – you’ll need to cough up a ‘tip’. Always check with your guide before snapping a picture.
Transport – taxi cabs & tuk-tuks run on a fixed price, so tipping is not required.
A 1 US$ bill is roughly equal to Rs. 130, so giving this as a tip is also well received by the locals. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the tipping advice, after all, it’s purely discretionary.
Local Customs and Etiquette
What are the dos and don't when interacting with locals?
The Right-Hand rule – Always gives and receives and eats with your right hand. It is extremely bad mannered to use your left hand for eating.
Respect cultural differences – Things are done differently in Asia, and Sri Lanka is no exception. This is why we love it! Please make sure in your dealings with local people you accept these differences and not try to change them for your own benefit or comfort. The traveller who wishes to have a happy and successful trip to Sri Lanka should keep as calm, cheerful and friendly as humanly possible. Patience and courtesy are virtues that open many doors. Demanding tourists do not get smiles, service or respect.
Environmental responsibility – Pollution and waste management is a huge problem throughout the world. Unfortunately, in many parts of Asia, disposal systems are inadequate and recycling of plastics is limited. We suggest avoiding plastic packaging where possible and take along your own bag when shopping. Plastic bags will be offered for everything! Collect and dispose of in the next town.
The law protects certain endangered species of flora & fauna. Export & in even possession of these species as well as of wild animals, birds, reptiles etc., is illegal. The production and sale of items made from wild animals and reptiles, e.g.: Leopard skins, crocodile skins, elephant tusks etc., is also illegal.
Never break coral, or brush against it. Coral is basically a colony of living organisms and damaging them, might kill them. If you go out in a Glass-bottom Boat, encourage the pilot to steer well clear from the coral itself. Boats scraping over the top of the reef are doing damage, especially at Hikkaduwa. Never buy coral if it’s offered for sale. Similarly, don’t buy sea shells or turtle shells (or eggs). All of Sri Lanka’s five species of Turtle are endangered. If you happen to spot a turtle, when taking out on a boat, discourage the driver from circling it; this sort of harassment is very stressful to the turtle