Sri Lanka travel guide
About Sri Lanka
Southern India meets Buddhist Asia; Sri Lanka is a land of ancient ruins and religious relics, palm-fringed beaches and colourful reefs, balmy rainforests and local legends.
With memories of civil war receding, and a new government intent on healing the scars of the past, this sun-kissed island nation looks set to regain its position as the holiday capital of the Indian Ocean.
Life in Sri Lanka is dictated by the sea. Monsoon winds create the seasons, rainbow-coloured fishing boats deliver the bounty of the Indian Ocean to the nation’s tables and tropical surf washes endlessly against the island’s golden beaches. For many, this is the perfect introduction to the Indian Subcontinent.
While Hinduism holds sway in nearby India, Buddhism dominates Sri Lanka. Ancient temples and enigmatic dagobas (stupas) enshrine relics of Buddha, shaded by saplings taken from the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. At times, Sri Lanka’s Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minorities have struggled in the face of Buddhist domination, but it has shaped this island nation for millennia.
Across Sri Lanka, the ruins of ancient cities emerge from the jungle, while the remnants of Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and British settlements add to the delightful mishmash of historic architecture. Perhaps the most evocative monuments are Sri Lanka’s ancient monasteries, which are still major centres for pilgrimage and devotion, particularly during the island’s epic festivals.
In the Hill Country, the centre of the British occupation, colonial-era trains still wind their way through tea plantations and cascading paddy fields, but this highly populated little island is far from frozen in time: the coastline is peppered with modern resorts, beach bars, bronzed surfers and boutiques full of designer swimwear.
Elsewhere the forests of Yala, Udawalawe and other national parks teem with monkeys, leopards and wild elephants, while sea turtles, dolphins and blue whales can be spotted around the coast. Not bad for an island similar in size to South Carolina.
65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles).
20,995,130 (UN estimate 2018).
335 per sq km.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe since 2022.
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardene since 2022.
Before you travel, check the ‘Entry requirements’ section for Sri Lanka’s current entry restrictions and requirements. These may change with little warning. Monitor this advice for the latest updates and stay in contact with your travel provider.
If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting.
It is more important than ever to get travel insurance and check it provides sufficient cover. See the FCDO’s guidance on foreign travel insurance.
Around 90,000 British nationals visited Sri Lanka in 2022. Most visits are trouble-free.
Sri Lanka is experiencing shortages of some medical and food items and imported goods, due to the ongoing economic situation in country. However many hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and private hospitals have supplies. There is a restricted/limited supply of fuel (diesel, petrol and cooking gas), which is being rationed. Shortages of fuel may affect transport and businesses. Hospitals and other medical services may also be affected by fuel shortages. There may be occasional power cuts to electricity supplies, but many tourist facilities have backup generators.
In 2022, protests about the economic situation led to violence against peaceful protesters, resulting in injuries and loss of life. In recent months, tear gas and water cannons have been used to disperse protesters. Protests, demonstrations, roadblocks and violent unrest could occur at short notice. Curfews and emergency regulations may also be imposed. You should be vigilant, avoid large gatherings and keep up to date with developments via this travel advice and local media.
See ‘Shortages’ and ‘Political Situation’ for more details.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Sri Lanka. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. More than 250 people including tourists were killed on Easter Sunday in April 2019 in terrorist attacks that targeted churches and hotels. See Terrorism
Dengue fever occurs throughout the country. See Health
Sri Lanka can be affected by severe weather including tropical cyclones and monsoon rains. See Natural disasters
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Sri Lanka on the TravelHealthPro website
See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You should contact local authorities for information on testing facilities.
Guidance from the Sri Lankan authorities for foreign tourists visiting Sri Lanka is available on government websites, such as the Ministry of Health, Epidemiology Unit and Health Promotion Bureau websites.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Sri Lanka, including the rules for vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers.
Travelling from and returning to the UK
Check what you must do to travel abroad and return to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID-19. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.
If you test positive for COVID-19while in Sri Lanka, you will be expected to isolate for 7 days in line with this guidance from the Government of Sri Lanka.
Plan ahead and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Travel in Sri Lanka
Public guidelines and circulars are published on government websites, such as the Ministry of Health, Epidemiology Unit or Health Promotion Bureau websites. However this may not always be up to date. You should follow the media for updates, or speak to your hotel or travel agent for the latest information, and follow the instructions of the local authorities at all times.
Healthcare in Sri Lanka
The Health Promotion Bureau has set up a trilingual health hotline for those who have queries relating to coronavirus: 1999.
View Health for further details on healthcare in Sri Lanka.
For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.
Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.
There are shortages of basic goods including certain medical and food items and imported goods, due to the ongoing economic situation in the country. However, many hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and private hospitals have supplies. There is a restricted/limited supply of fuel (diesel, petrol and cooking gas), which is being rationed. Shortages of fuel may affect transport and businesses. Hospitals and other medical services may also be affected by fuel shortages. There may be occasional power cuts to electricity supplies. If you have a health condition, you should speak to your health care provider before travelling to Sri Lanka. Make sure you have adequate supplies of any medicines you need with you.
Fuel rationing is in place. There is now a QR code system in place for fuel purchases, however at times there have been long queues at fuel stations. Travellers should ensure transport plans are in place ahead of any journeys and have contingency plans.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has announced a fuel assistance programme for tourist service providers. More information is available from the SLTDA website.
Power cuts due to electricity rationing could impact services including at shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels. Many of these venues in popular tourist spots will have backup generators.
In 2022, large scale protests resulted in violence against peaceful protesters, injuries and loss of life. Protests have continued to take place in recent months, and security authorities have used tear gas and water cannons against protesters.
Protests, demonstrations, roadblocks and violent unrest may take place anywhere across the island at short notice. Restrictions, including curfews, may be imposed at short notice.
You should be vigilant and avoid demonstrations, political protests or large gatherings. Follow the advice of the local authorities, and keep up to date with developments via this travel advice and local media. You should carry your passport as official identification with you at all times.
There have been increased incidents of low level crime due to shortages of basic necessities and fuel.
There were outbreaks of mob violence following the Easter Sunday attacks. These could happen again with little or no warning. You should remain vigilant, keep up to date with developments and follow the advice of local authorities and hotel security staff.
There have been reports of thefts from hotels and guesthouses and of some street crime targeting tourists (e.g. bags and jewellery being snatched by criminals on mopeds/motorbikes). You should take precautions to safeguard your valuables, especially passports and money.
Violent crimes against foreigners are infrequent. When travelling around Sri Lanka, you should make arrangements through reputable travel companies and take care.
Gun crime is not uncommon, often involving disputes between different criminal groups.
Women continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by men. Harassment - ranging from sexually suggestive or lewd comments to physical advances and sexual assaults - most frequently happens in crowded areas such as market places, railway stations, buses and sporting events, but can happen anywhere. There have been reports of sexual assaults against women in tourist areas. Take particular care when travelling alone or in small groups, and for safety consider carrying a personal alarm.
There have been reports of drinks being spiked with drugs in bars and restaurants in southern beach resorts. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers at bars and restaurants, and don’t leave drinks unattended.
Scams and fraud
Credit card fraud is a risk for visitors. Use cash wherever possible and only use ATMs attached to banks or major hotels. Don’t lose sight of your credit card.
Air accidents are rare, but have happened, including in recent years.
The Sri Lankan Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates the safety of airlines in Sri Lanka, has also published a list of airlines it has certified for cargo and passenger services.
There is a visible military presence across the North. You should follow local advice and instructions from the security forces and take seriously signs warning of the danger from landmines.
There is free movement everywhere outside High Security Zones with fewer checkpoints around the Peninsula. Operations to clear mines continue, particularly in the heavily mined area towards Elephant Pass.
Kilinochchi, Mullaittivu, Mannar and Vavuniya
There is a visible military presence. There was severe war damage to property throughout the northern region so accommodation options and infrastructure are limited. There are signs warning of mined areas and you should follow any local advice.
Demining and weapons and ordnance clearance operations are ongoing in parts of the East. There are several areas, primarily former military and police locations that continue to be marked as minefields. Always follow the instructions of the local security forces and look out for signs warning of landmines. Don’t leave the roads or cleared footpaths and, if in any doubt, contact the local security authorities for advice.
Many beaches in Sri Lanka have dangerous surf or rip tides at certain times of the year. Always take local advice before entering the sea. A number of foreign nationals drown every year.
You will need an International Driving Permit and a Sri Lankan recognition permit to drive in Sri Lanka. You can obtain a recognition permit at the AA in Colombo. A British driving licence on its own will not suffice. Always wear a seatbelt and make sure you are properly insured.
Some roads, particularly in more remote areas, may be in a state of disrepair. Driving is erratic and there are frequent road accidents, particularly at night. Pedestrians and animals often appear in the road without warning. Vehicles may not stop at pedestrian crossings. Riding a motorbike can be particularly dangerous. If you have a collision, stay at the site of the accident with your vehicle as long as it is safe to do so. If it is not safe or if you feel threatened, report to the local police station.
Security checkpoints and roadblocks still occur in parts of the country. Take care when passing through them, and always obey the instructions of the police or army on duty. There have been a few cases where security forces have opened fire on vehicles that have not stopped when asked. Roads around government and military sites in Colombo are regularly closed for security reasons (e.g. VIP convoys).
Public buses are notorious for driving fast and rarely giving way. They are often poorly maintained. A number of serious bus accidents have occurred in recent years. Tourist buses tend to be driven more professionally and safely, but standards can vary.
Taxis are available via local and international taxi apps, particularly in Colombo (coverage can be patchy outside tourist areas). Motorised rickshaws (tuk-tuks) are available for hire in towns and villages. Agree a price before you set off or look for one with a working meter. Most travellers report no difficulties, although there have been reports of harassment, particularly of female travellers in the evening or at night. Change to a different tuk-tuk or taxi if you have any concerns about the driver or standard of driving.
There may be difficulties getting a taxi or tuk-tuk when fuel shortages occur, and there may be limited or no service during curfews.
There have been a number of fatal accidents when visitors have hung out of the open doorways or windows of trains. You should remember that there is a very real risk of death or serious injury if you do not stay within the train carriage while the train is moving. Visitors should also be aware that there are reports of theft of travellers’ personal belongings during train journeys, including theft of briefly unattended belongings, or pick pocketing. Take care of your possessions at all times.
Entry into Sri Lankan waters and security zones in coastal areas requires prior permission.
The threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.
Some wildlife can be dangerous. If in doubt, follow advice from authorised guides or local authorities. Wild elephants and crocodiles will attack humans on occasion. Though not common in populated areas, venomous insects and snakes are found in many parts of the country. Feral dogs are common and sometimes carry rabies.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Sri Lanka. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners such as hotels, tourist sites and places of worship. Avoid crowded public places, large gatherings and demonstrations, and follow the advice of local authorities.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism.
On Easter Sunday in April 2019, more than 250 people, including 8 British nationals, were killed in terrorist attacks against 3 churches and 3 hotels in Sri Lanka: in Colombo, Negombo and in Batticaloa.
Security was stepped up across the island. The Sri Lankan authorities made a number of arrests in relation to the attacks.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Travellers listed under the Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act could be subject to prolonged detention, in some circumstances without charge/trial. Read the revised list on the Financial Intelligence Unit of Sri Lanka website.
There are severe penalties for all drug offences and crimes related to the abuse of children. In some circumstances you can be held without charge indefinitely. Convicted offenders may face a lengthy jail sentence.
You must carry an official form of identification at all times. For foreign nationals, the acceptable form of identification is your passport. If you do not have it with you and you’re stopped by the authorities, you may be detained. If you’re detained, you should ask the authorities to contact the British High Commission.
Same-sex relations are illegal but the FCDO is not aware of any prosecutions. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Nude or topless sunbathing is not allowed.
Although Sri Lankan attitudes to informal styles of dress are generally relaxed, women travelling alone may feel uncomfortable if not dressed modestly. Cover your legs and shoulders, and take off shoes and hats if you are entering a Buddhist temple.
Disrespecting Buddhist images and artefacts is a serious offence and tourists have been convicted for this. British nationals have been refused entry to Sri Lanka or faced deportation for having visible tattoos of Buddha. Don’t pose for photographs standing in front of a statue of Buddha.
You can be fined if you ignore instructions not to smoke or drink in certain public areas.
Alcohol and meat are not usually available on religious holidays. Drinking in public on these days would be seen by many as culturally insensitive.
Using cameras and binoculars in secure areas
Don’t take photographs of military bases, government buildings or vehicles used by VIPs (this includes numerous sites in central Colombo).
This page has information on travelling to Sri Lanka.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Sri Lanka set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how Sri Lanka’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.
The Department of Immigration and Emmigration have introduced an online embarkation form which will replace the paper embarkation card. Foreign nationals can complete the online form three days prior to arrival in Sri Lanka. The service is free of charge.
All COVID-19 requirements have been lifted for entering Sri Lanka.
Entry requirements could change at short notice, and government websites are not always up to date. You should follow the instructions of the local authorities.
If you’re transiting through Sri Lanka
Transiting is when you pass through one country on the way to your final destination. Visas are not required for air-side transit via Sri Lanka, as long as the connecting flight is within 24 hours of arrival. Travellers should check with their airline on the transit times.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
If you are visiting Sri Lanka, your passport should be valid for 6 months from the date you arrive.
Check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
All visitors are advised to apply online for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) to enter Sri Lanka. Further information on eligibility is available on the Department of Immigration and Emigration website.
Visitors can apply for an ETA on the ETA website.
On arrival visa facilities are available, however applying for an ETA before travel is advised for ease of travel and to prevent delays on arrival.
All visitors need to comply with the guidelines imposed for tourists by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Tourist visas are normally valid for 30 days. If you overstay your visa you could be fined or detained by the police.
If your visa is expiring you will need to apply for an extension through the Department for Immigration and Emigration. You should ring the Department for Immigration and Emigration on +94 70 710 1050 to make an appointment or visit their website to apply for a visa extension online.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Sri Lanka.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
Looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
The Sri Lankan healthcare system is under strain due to the ongoing economic situation in the country. Public hospitals may face shortages of imported medicines and medical equipment. Private hospitals are likely to have better supplies . Hospitals and other medical services may be affected by fuel shortages and power cuts. See Coronavirus
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 011 2691111 and ask for an ambulance or dial 1990. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Emergency medical treatment isn’t easily available outside main cities, and you may have to be brought to Colombo for treatment. Fuel shortages may delay your ability to access emergency services. Medical facilities are not always of a standard expected in the UK, particularly outside Colombo. Treatment in private hospitals can be expensive and the options for repatriation to the UK or neighbouring countries in an emergency are limited and very expensive. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
All regions of Sri Lanka experience outbreaks of the mosquito-borne dengue fever. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
The Disaster Management Centre of Sri Lanka issues updates and advice about local travel conditions.
The Sri Lankan Department of Meteorology provides local weather forecasts.
Extreme weather episodes like tropical cyclones can occur. You can find updated weather warnings on the websites of the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Centre and the World Meteorological Organisation.
See our tropical cyclones page for advice about what to do if you’re caught up in a storm.
Monsoon rains can cause brief but swift flooding in many places in Sri Lanka. Floods can cause widespread displacement of people, injuries and occasionally deaths. Heavy rains and landslips can also lead to road closures and affect local transport links.
See Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre’s website for the latest updates on flooding and seek local advice about travelling conditions during the monsoons.
You can’t exchange Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes in Sri Lanka. Travellers’ cheques aren’t normally accepted. Most major banks will allow Visa and Mastercard cash withdrawals. There are ATMs in major towns and cities but not all of them accept international cards.
It’s relatively easy to send funds to Sri Lanka. However, money can’t be transferred out of the country without an exchange control permit issued by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. For further information and a contact point see this Central Bank of Sri Lanka guide.
Some travellers experience problems using their cards on arrival in Sri Lanka when their banks’ automated fraud protection system blocks transactions. It may be possible to avoid this by informing your bank in advance of your intended travel arrangements. There are plenty of money-changers in tourist areas if you want to change cash. Local currency is volatile and the exchange rate can fluctuate significantly day to day.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the FCDO in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCDO travel advice
If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice team a request.
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry, ), or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.