Exercise normal safety precautions in Sri Lanka. Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour as you would in Australia. Monitor the media and other sources for information on local travelling conditions.
- All regions of Sri Lanka experience outbreaks of the mosquito-borne dengue fever. Over 80,000 suspected cases of dengue fever were reported in the first six months of 2017, a sharp increase from previous years. See
Health for further details.
- Some security forces maintain a visible presence, particularly in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Military and police checkpoints can be established and road closures can occur without warning.
- Avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent or be a target for politically-motivated attacks. Police have used tear gas in response to protests.
- In both the Northern and Eastern Provinces, stay on main roads and pay close attention to signs warning of danger from landmines.
- Pay careful attention to the type of visa you apply for. Travellers risk deportation if they engage in activities outside their visa conditions.
Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.
Entry and exit
Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact the nearest
High Commission of Sri Lanka for up-to-date information.
Foreign nationals who intend to visit Sri Lanka must obtain an Electronic Travel Authority prior to arrival. More information on the ETA can be accessed online at
eta.gov.lk. There is a non-refundable processing fee for some categories of the ETA. When selecting the appropriate visa category note that travellers risk deportation if they engage in activities outside of their visa conditions. Large fines for overstaying a visa can occur in Sri Lanka.
Travellers must have yellow fever and cholera immunizations if they are arriving from an infected area. A yellow fever vaccination certificate must also be obtained by all travellers over the age of one who are arriving from, or have transited through affected African and Latin American countries within nine days immediately preceding entry to Sri Lanka. For more information, see the
Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of departure from Sri Lanka.
Safety and security
Civil unrest/political tension
Avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent or be a target for politically-motivated attacks. Police have used tear gas in response to protests. Curfews may also be imposed at short notice. Monitor the media and follow the advice of local authorities at all times.
Some security forces maintain a visible presence, particularly in the northern and eastern provinces. Military and police checkpoints can be established and road closures can occur without warning. The security forces have wide-ranging powers, including the authority to impose curfews, detain without charge for extended periods of time and to search individuals, vehicles, residences and commercial premises. Comply with instructions issued by security personnel and carry proof of identification, such as your passport, at all times.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act remains in place and permits prolonged detention without charge or trial. Non-Sri Lankan citizens of Sri Lankan heritage have been detained on occasion by Sri Lankan Police or security forces. Keep your passport with you at all times and ask to contact the Australian High Commission if detained.
Northern Province: There continues to be a presence of military and security forces in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, including Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Jaffna Districts. Travel restrictions for foreigners may be applied without notice. Marked and unmarked minefields and unexploded ordnance remain in some areas. Stay on main roads, pay close attention to signs warning of the dangers from landmines and seek the advice of local authorities concerning the location of unsafe areas.
Eastern Province: While most of the Eastern Province has been cleared of landmines and unexploded ordnance, some isolated areas are yet to be cleared. If travelling in the Eastern Province, stay on main roads and pay close attention to signs warning of danger from landmines. Travel restrictions for foreigners may be applied without notice. Communal and inter-ethnic tensions have been high in the east in the past, and isolated incidents of violence can occur with little warning.
Incidents of violent crime occur in Sri Lanka, including sexual assault and robbery. Petty crime such as pick-pocketing and bag snatching also occurs, particularly in large gatherings (e.g. marketplaces and sporting events) and on public transport. Thefts also occur in hotels and guesthouses. Take appropriate precautions to safeguard valuables and personal effects.
There have been an increasing number of reports of sexual harassment in Sri Lanka, particularly in areas frequented by foreign tourists. This includes verbal harassment, physical advances, drink spiking and sexual assaults. Female tourists, particularly those travelling alone, should exercise vigilance and consider organising their travels through reputable travel companies. The risk of sexual harassment increases when using public buses or three-wheeled vehicles (tuk tuks).
There have been frequent incidents of credit card fraud. This includes recent reports of credit card skimming activities. Travellers should seek advice from their credit card provider on how to best protect themselves against credit card fraud. To minimise exposure to fraud use cash wherever possible and only use ATMs attached to banks and major hotels.
Be alert to overcharging for goods or services and the sale of counterfeit goods, particularly when purchasing jewellery or gems.
Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our
Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin.
Conventional conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north of the country ended in May 2009 with the military defeat of the LTTE. No terrorist attacks have occurred since then.
Travel to High Security Zones
Individuals and groups intending to visit military establishments or High Security Zones or to meet military officials require specific approval from the Ministry of Defence. Limit travel in these areas and near military and government installations. Maintain a high degree of awareness if you encounter roadblocks or checkpoints.
Other local travel issues
Transport conditions throughout Sri Lanka are hazardous. There are a high number of road deaths and injuries, particularly on inter-city buses and tuk tuks. The standard of driving and vehicle maintenance is poor. There have also been a number of fatal accidents on Sri Lankan railways in recent years. For further advice, see our
road travel page.
The safety standards of transport and tour operators, including adventure and water sport activities, may not be of the same level as in Australia. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if others don't. If appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider.
Swimming conditions at some beaches are unsafe and there are often strong rips. Lifesaving services are rare and not to the same standard as those in Australia. Appropriate precautions should be taken.
Piracy occurs in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka. See our
piracy page for more information. The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports on its
A number of air services operate between Colombo and the north, including commercial services run by the Sri Lankan Air Force. Safety and maintenance standards may not be certified in accordance with international commercial airline standards. When using the Air Force-run domestic airline, Helitours, Australian officials are advised to only use the scheduled flights which operate with MA60 aircraft.
The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the
Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Sri Lanka.
Please refer to our
air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.
Travellers to Sri Lanka may experience difficulty utilising travellers cheques (issuance and encashment) through local banks due to their limited usage. Most major banks will allow Visa and MasterCard cash withdrawals. There are ATMs in major towns and cities; some ATM machines do not accept international cards.
You are subject to the local laws of Sri Lanka, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our
Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.
You must carry a form of official photographic identification with you at all times otherwise you may be detained.
Sri Lankan law includes provisions permitting arrest without warrant, provisions permitting extended detention without charge or trial for certain offences and a reversal of the onus of proof in certain circumstances.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe and include the death penalty. See our
The death penalty may be applied for murder and rape.
Smoking and alcohol consumption in most public places are prohibited. You can be fined if you ignore instructions not to smoke or drink in certain public areas.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Sri Lanka. See our
LGBTI travellers page.
Photography and video recording in High-Security Zones (HSZ) is prohibited. All military establishments and some government buildings, including official residences, have been declared as HSZs. Some HSZs may not be signposted.
Respect should be shown for religious traditions and artefacts. Posing for a photograph next to the statue of Buddha is a serious offence, as is the mistreatment of Buddhist images; both are punishable by fine or arrest. Travellers with tattoos, jewellery and clothing associated with Buddhism are considered offensive and may lead to fines, arrest or deportation.
Sri Lanka has strict laws concerning the export of certain items including cultural antiquities. Penalties can include fines as well as detention. Travellers should check the
Sri Lankan Department of Archaeology website and the
Sri Lankan Customs website for more information.
Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography and child sex tourism, apply to Australian overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.
There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Sri Lanka and you should take care not to offend.
Visitors to Sri Lanka should respect local restrictions and observances around religious holidays. Full moon Poya Days are celebrated once a month and the sale and purchase of alcohol or fresh meat is banned on these days.
Seek local advice regarding customs and photography when visiting places of worship.
Information for dual nationals
Australian citizens of Sri Lankan origin are entitled to apply to have their dual nationality status recognised by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.
Take out comprehensive
travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.
Consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. Get vaccinated before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The
World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our
health pages also provide useful information for travellers on staying healthy.
The standard of medical and ancillary treatment in Colombo is below that of Australia. Medical facilities outside of Colombo are limited, especially in relation to emergency services. Private hospitals will require payment of a deposit or confirmation of insurance cover prior to admission. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a destination with appropriate facilities is recommended. Medical evacuation costs could be considerable.
Mosquito-borne illnesses: All regions of Sri Lanka experience outbreaks of the mosquito-borne dengue fever. Over 80,000 suspected cases of dengue fever were reported in the first six months of 2017, a sharp increase from previous years. For further information on dengue fever, see the World Health Organization's
Outbreaks of other mosquito-borne diseases (including chikungunya fever, Japanese encephalitis and filariasis) occur frequently. Take prophylaxis where necessary; ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof; and take measures to avoid insect bites, including using an insect repellent at all times and wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing.
The mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis is found throughout many regions of Asia, including in some rural areas of Sri Lanka. A Japanese encephalitis vaccine is registered for use and is currently available in Australia. For further details consult your travel health doctor.
Other infectious diseases: Food-borne, water-borne and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, leptospirosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.
A decompression chamber is located at the Sri Lanka Navy Base in Trincomalee.
Where to get help
Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour provider, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.
If the matter relates to criminal issues, contact the police in Sri Lanka on their emergency services number (119). For an ambulance, contact (+94 11) 269 1111.
To complain about tourism services, contact the service provider directly or the Sri Lankan tourist police on (+94 11) 242 1451.
Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can't do to assist Australians overseas. For consular assistance, see contact details below:
Australian High Commission
21, Srimath R. G. Senanayake Mawatha (formerly Gregory's Road)
Colombo 7, Sri Lanka
Telephone: (+94 11) 246 3200
Facsimile: (+94 11) 268 6453
High Commission website for information about opening hours.
In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the High Commission you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.
Natural disasters, severe weather and climate
The monsoon season is December to March in the northeast and May to October in the southwest. Flooding and landslides often occur. Travellers should contact their tour operator for information on any disruptions to infrastructure and tourist facilities. Following heavy rain, follow the updates from
Sri Lankan Disaster Management Centre and follow the instructions of local authorities in flood-affected areas.
All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches.
Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the
Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System. If a natural disaster occurs or a tsunami warning is issued, monitor local media and follow the advice of authorities.
For other useful information to assist travelling in this country, see the following links: