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Sri Lanka

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Summary

  • 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 changes to local conditions.
  • All regions of Sri Lanka experience outbreaks of dengue fever. Over 185,000 suspected cases of dengue fever were reported in 2017. Protect yourself from mosquitos. See Health.
  • Some security forces maintain a visible presence, particularly in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Military and police checkpoints are sometimes established and roads closed without warning. See Safety and security.
  • 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 and water cannons in response to protests. See Safety and security.
  • In the Northern and Eastern Provinces, stay on main roads and pay close attention to signs warning of landmines. See Safety and security.
  • Pay careful attention to your visa type. You could be detained or deported if you don’t comply with your visa conditions.

Entry and exit

Visas

You'll need a visa, in the form of an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), to visit Sri Lanka. There is a non-refundable processing fee for some categories of the ETA. Make sure you select the correct visa category for your circumstances. If you engage in activities that breach your visa conditions, you could be detained or deported.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact the High Commission of Sri Lanka for up-to-date information.

Pay close attention to the date your visa expires – you could receive a large fine if you overstay your visa.

Other formalities

If you're travelling from a country with yellow fever or cholera, you'll need to present evidence that you've received the relevant immunisation(s). You'll also need a yellow fever vaccination certificate if you're arriving from, or have transited through, affected African and Latin American countries within nine days of entry to Sri Lanka. Babies under one year old are exempt.

More information:

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception.  If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Embassy for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). You can exchange Australian dollars for LKR at the airport and commercial banks in major centres.

There are ATMs in major towns and cities but some ATMs do not accept international cards. Most major banks will allow Visa and MasterCard cash withdrawals. Credit cards are accepted in hotels and major shops. Contact your bank to make sure that your cards will work. Check your statements as credit card fraud occurs.

Safety and security

Civil unrest and political tension

Demonstrations and large public gatherings can turn violent or be a target for politically-motivated attacks. Police have used tear gas and water cannons in response to protests. Curfews can be imposed at short notice.

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 and to search individuals, vehicles, residences and commercial premises. Non-Sri Lankan citizens of Sri Lankan heritage have been detained on occasion by police or security forces. 

There is a significant 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.

Most of the Eastern Province has been cleared of landmines and unexploded ordnance but some isolated areas are yet to be cleared. Travel restrictions for foreigners may be applied without notice. Communal and inter-ethnic tensions have been high in the east in the past. Isolated incidents of violence can occur with little warning.

  • Carry proof of identification, such as your passport, at all times.
  • Avoid all demonstrations, protests and large public gatherings.
  • Monitor the media and local sources for news of planned and possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • If a curfew is imposed, adhere to it and seek local advice on safety and security issues.
  • Comply with instructions issued by security personnel.
  • If you are detained, ask to contact the Australian High Commission – see Where to get help.

If you travel to Northern Province or Eastern Province, also:

  • stay on main roads
  • pay close attention to landmine warning signs
  • seek advice from local authorities on the location of unsafe areas
  • be ready to adjust your travel plans, if travel restrictions are imposed or security issues arise.

Crime

You could encounter violent crime in Sri Lanka, including sexual assault and robbery. Pick-pocketing, bag snatching and other petty crime occurs, particularly in crowded places such as markets, sporting events and on public transport. Thefts also occur in hotels and guesthouses.

Sexual harassment and assault are risks, particularly in areas frequented by foreigners and when using public buses or three-wheeled vehicles (tuk tuks). Verbal harassment, physical advances, drink spiking and sexual assaults have been reported.

Credit card fraud, including skimming, occurs frequently. Some traders overcharge foreigners for goods or services. Some tourists unwittingly buy counterfeit goods, particularly jewellery and gems.

  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure location.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing expensive watches, jewellery and cameras.
  • Avoid carrying bags that are easy to snatch.
  • Pay close attention to your personal belongings, particularly in crowded areas.
  • Never accept food, drinks, gum or cigarettes from strangers. Never leave drinks unattended.
  • If you aren't sure if a drink is safe, leave it.
  • Stick with people you trust at parties and in bars, nightclubs and taxis.
  • If you're female and travelling alone, be alert and organise your travels only through reputable travel companies. More information: Female travellers
  • Seek advice from your credit card provider on how to best protect against credit card fraud.
  • Only use ATMs attached to banks and major hotels.

Terrorism

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.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world.

More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

High Security Zones

If you plan to meet military officials or to visit military establishments or High Security Zones, you'll first need to get approval from the Ministry of Defence. 

  • Limit travel in High Security Zones and near military and government installations.
  • Be ready to present your approval documents at roadblocks and checkpoints.

Tours and adventure activities

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including for adventure and water sport activities, are not always met. Recommended safety precautions and maintenance standards may not be followed. Safety equipment such as lifejackets and seatbelts may not be provided.

If you plan to participate in adventure activities, first talk to your travel insurer to check if the activity is covered by your insurance policy. Check operators' credentials and safety equipment before booking. Don't be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal safety requirements. Always use available safety equipment, 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. Take appropriate precautions.

Road travel

Transport conditions throughout Sri Lanka are hazardous. Deaths and injuries from road accidents are common. You’re over three times more likely to be killed in a motor accident in Sri Lanka than in Australia. Driving and vehicle maintenance standards are poor.

  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Drive defensively and legally.
  • Don't drink and drive.

More information: Road safety and driving

Driver's licence 

You'll need a valid international driving permit (IDP) along with your current Australian driver's licence to drive a vehicle in Sri Lanka. After three months, you'll need to get a local licence. Driving without an IDP could void your travel and vehicle insurance.

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when riding a motorcycle. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Taxis

On arrival at the airport, use the taxi services from within the arrivals terminal or taxi services arranged through your hotel. If you have a local SIM card, ride-sharing apps, such as Uber, are available in major cities, but the vehicle standard is variable.

Public transport

Safety standards on buses and trains may be lower than in Australia. There are a high number of road deaths and injuries, particularly on inter-city buses and tuk tuks. There have also been a number of fatal accidents on Sri Lankan railways in recent years. Take care of your possessions as petty crime occurs.

Sea travel

Piracy occurs in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka. The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports.

More information: Piracy

Air travel

Commercial air services run by the Sri Lankan Air Force may not meet international commercial airline standards for safety and maintenance. When using the Air Force-run domestic airline, Helitours, Australian officials only use the MA60 aircraft on scheduled flights. 

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.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

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.

Drug laws

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe and include the death penalty.

More information: Carrying or using drugs

Other laws

The death penalty may be applied for murder and rape.

In certain circumstances, Sri Lankan law permits:

  • arrest without warrant
  • extended detention without charge or trial, and
  • reversal of the onus of proof.

You must carry a form of official photo identification with you at all times. If you don't, you could be detained.

The following activities are illegal in Sri Lanka:

  • smoking in (most) public places
  • consuming alcohol in (most) public places
  • homosexual acts – more information: LGBTI travellers
  • photography or video recording in a High-Security Zones (HSZ) -  all military establishments and some government buildings, including official residences, are HSZs; some HSZs may not be signposted
  • posing for a photograph next to a statue of Buddha
  • mistreatment of Buddhist images, which can include the wearing of tattoos, jewellery or clothing associated with Buddhism
  • exporting certain items such as cultural antiquities without authorisation – more information: Sri Lankan Department of Archaeology and Sri Lankan Customs

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

The Government of Sri Lanka recognises dual nationality.

More information: Dual nationals

Local customs

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Sri Lanka. Respect religious traditions and artefacts. Take care not to offend.

Respect local restrictions and observances around religious holidays. Full moon Poya Days are celebrated once a month, when the sale and purchase of alcohol or fresh meat is banned.

Photography of or near certain places of worship could offend. Seek local advice.

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government won't pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and aren't covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you'll be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take legal prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Carry copies of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Mosquito-borne diseases

All regions of Sri Lanka experience outbreaks of dengue fever. Over 185,000 suspected cases of dengue fever were reported in 2017, a sharp increase from previous years. Approximately 30% of dengue cases were reported from the Western province. If you have a fever, seek medical attention.

Outbreaks of other mosquito-borne diseases (including chikungunya fever, Japanese encephalitis and filariasis) occur frequently. 

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including always using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • get vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis.

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.

  • Maintain good personal hygiene, including regular and thorough handwashing.
  • Boil drinking water or drink bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid uncooked and undercooked food.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

The standard of medical and ancillary treatment in Colombo is below that of Australia. Medical facilities outside of Colombo are limited, especially for emergency services.

Private hospitals require payment of a deposit or confirmation of insurance cover before they treat you.

A decompression chamber is located at the Sri Lanka Navy Base in Trincomalee.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to a destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation can be very expensive.

Natural disasters

Sri Lanka experiences severe weather and occasional tsunamis. The monsoon season is December to March in the northeast and May to October in the southwest. Flooding and landslides often occur.

If a natural disaster occurs:

If you're travelling during the monsoon season or after a natural disaster, contact your tour operator to check whether infrastructure or services at your planned destination are affected.

More information: Severe weather

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, 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.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire and rescue: 110
  • Medical emergencies: 110 nationwide; in Colombo dial (+94 11) 269 1111
  • Criminal issues: 118/119 or go to your local police station
  • Tourist police: (+94 11) 242 1052 and (+94 11) 238 2209

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

To complain about tourism services, contact your service provider directly. You can also contact the Sri Lankan tourist police on (+94 11) 242 1451.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas. For consular assistance, contact the Australian High Commission in Colombo.  

Australian High Commission

21, Srimath R. G. Senanayake Mawatha (formerly Gregory's Road)
Colombo 7, Sri Lanka
Phone: (+94 11) 246 3200
Fax: (+94 11) 268 6453
Email: consular.colombo@dfat.gov.au
Website: srilanka.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: Australia in Sri Lanka and Maldives

Check the Australian High Commission website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you're unable to contact the High Commission in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources