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 Gotabaya Rajapakse since 2019.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe since 2018.
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.
Commercial airlines are operating flights to and from Sri Lanka. Some airlines require evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours before the start of travel. You should check with your airline before travelling.
Due to a prevalence of COVID-19 cases in the community, there is a high risk of changes to flights and airport operations at short notice. If you wish to travel, you should consult your travel operator.
Further guidance from the Sri Lankan authorities for foreign tourists visiting Sri Lanka is available from Sri Lanka Tourism.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Sri Lanka.
Returning to the UK
When you return, you must follow the rules for entering the UK.
You are responsible for organising your own COVID-19 test, in line with UK government testing requirements. You should contact local authorities for information on testing facilities.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID. 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-19 whilst staying at a Level 1 Safe and Secure hotel and are symptomatic, you will be admitted to a private quarantine facility approved by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health. The mandatory COVID-19 insurance cover will reimburse quarantine charges up to $50,000 USD for a month. If you test positive for COVID-19 and are non-symptomatic, you will be required to quarantine in an isolated area of the same hotel under supervision of the hotel doctor/local health authorities. Close contacts of the COVID-19 positive person will also be required to quarantine in an isolated area of the hotel.
If you have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 whilst not staying in a Level 1 Safe and Secure hotel, you should contact the Health Promotion Bureau who will advise on what to do next. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be expected to quarantine in a government or private quarantine facility for 2 weeks. Test results will be shared with the Sri Lankan authorities, and the local health authorities will arrange government or private quarantine facilities. Mandatory insurance for all tourist visits should cover the costs. Minors will not be treated any differently and the same process applies. If a parent is tested positive, then any minor children will also need to quarantine.
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
Further to the island-wide travel restriction, the Government of Sri Lanka have announced guidelines, and further guidelines on permitted activities. Further restrictions may be imposed at short notice. Those not adhering to restrictions and local guidelines risk arrest. You should follow the advice of local authorities.
A 24-hour hotline number 1965 has been introduced for the public to make enquiries about essential services in operation while travel restrictions are in place.
The Ministry of Health has categorised Sri Lanka under Covid-19 Risk Alert Level 3.
Public gatherings such as exhibitions, conferences, parties, events, carnivals, outdoor musical shows and processions have been banned.
Regulations are in place to enforce social distancing and the wearing of a face mask in public areas.
Further restrictions and guidelines are being imposed at short notice. Public guidelines and circulars are sometimes published on government websites, such as the Ministry of Health, Epidemiology Unit or Health Promotion Bureau websites. However this is not always 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.
COVID-19 vaccines if you live in Sri Lanka
We will update this page when the Government of Sri Lanka announces new information on the national vaccination programme. You can sign up to get email notifications when this page is updated.
The Sri Lankan national vaccination programme started in February 2021 and is using the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Covishield, Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines. The Government of Sri Lanka has stated that British nationals resident in Sri Lanka who are able to demonstrate proof of residency on a permanent or temporary basis are eligible for vaccination if they choose to join the programme. This will be delivered by local authorities. Further information about the programme can be found on Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health website.
Find out more, including about vaccines that are authorised in the UK or approved by the World Health Organisation, on the COVID-19 vaccines if you live abroad.
If you’re a British national living in Sri Lanka, you should seek medical advice from your local healthcare provider. Information about COVID-19 vaccines used in the national programme where you live, including regulatory status, should be available from local authorities.
Some hotels and guesthouses are open to foreign nationals. But there have been reports of late-notice cancelations of room bookings, so you should check with your travel agent or accommodation provider. Social distancing and other public health measures (such as temperature checks) may be in place. Some hotels may require evidence of a negative PCR test on arrival.
Public places and services
Restaurants and cafés remain open in areas which are not under quarantine curfew, but this could change at short notice. You should expect some reduced services and social distancing measures to be in place.
Public gatherings such as exhibitions, conferences, parties, indoor and outdoor events, carnivals, musical shows and processions have been banned.
Healthcare in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan healthcare system is under strain due to the impact of the pandemic. Access to routine and emergency healthcare may be limited. If you are tested positive for coronavirus, you may be transferred to a specific hospital or quarantine centre for treatment. 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 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.
Violent crimes against foreigners are infrequent, although there have been an increasing number of reports of sexual offences including on minors. When travelling around Sri Lanka, you should make arrangements through reputable travel companies and take care.
Western women continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by groups of 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 has been an increase in sexual assaults against women in tourist areas. 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. Women should take particular care when travelling alone or in small groups, and carry a personal alarm.
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 if you use it. Some travelers 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.
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.
Gun crime is not uncommon, often involving disputes between different criminal groups.
The Sri Lankan justice system can be very slow.
A number of airlines usually operate domestic routes within Sri Lanka. Accidents are rare, but have happened, including in recent years. Domestic flights may be disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.
The FCDO can’t offer advice on the safety of every individual airline, but the International Air Transport Association (IATA) publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
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. Parts of the region remain heavily mined, though the work to clear the minefields continues. 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. Some areas were heavily mined and operations to clear minefields continue. 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’re insured.
Main roads in most areas are in a good condition, but 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 don’t stop at pedestrian crossings. Riding a motorbike is 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 don’t stop 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 inexpensive and many are now 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 rickshaw if you have any concerns about the driver or standard of driving.
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 not stopped at a station. 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, at any point, requires prior permission.
You should avoid the coastline and adjacent territorial sea of the Trincomalee, Mullaittivu, Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mannar administrative districts in the north and east, which have been declared restricted zones by the Sri Lankan authorities.
While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. 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.
You should be aware that some wildlife can be dangerous. If in doubt follow advice from authorised guides or local authorities. Wild elephants and crocodiles in particular are generally treated with respect and caution by Sri Lankans, for good reason, as both 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.
Political rallies and electoral periods in Sri Lanka have seen isolated incidents of violence in the past. You should avoid any political gathering or rally and be wary of spontaneous large gatherings. You should carry your passport as official identification with you at all times. You should follow local news for information on any security measures.
Nationalist rhetoric has in the past led to anti-western protests against the British High Commission and other diplomatic premises. Although no protests have so far been directed at the British community more generally, you should be vigilant and avoid demonstrations.
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.
On 21 April 2019, bombs were used to attack 3 churches and 3 hotels in Sri Lanka: in central Colombo; in the northern suburb of Colombo Kochchikade; and in Negombo roughly twenty miles north of Colombo; and in the east of the country in Batticaloa. More than 250 people were killed, including 8 British nationals.
Security has been stepped up across the island. The Sri Lankan authorities have 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.
Following the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, the Sri Lankan authorities announced emergency regulations that ban the wearing of clothing or objects that conceal the face in such a way that prevents the wearer’s identification.
The Sri Lankan government published a revised list of organisations and individuals proscribed under Sri Lankan law in March 2021. Any travellers to Sri Lanka who have been designated under this legislation could be subject to Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act who allows for prolonged detention, in some circumstances without charge/trial.
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.
It’s Sri Lankan law that 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.
The mistreatment of 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.
Don’t take photographs of military bases, government buildings or vehicles used by VIPs (this includes numerous sites in central Colombo).
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.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Entry rules in response to coronavirus (COVID-19)
Entry to Sri Lanka
Entry to Sri Lanka is subject to quarantine and PCR tests determined by the Health Authorities. On 15 July 2021, the government of Sri Lanka issued new quarantine measures for overseas arrivals to Sri Lanka. The Tourism Ministry also publish health protocols for arrivals to Sri Lanka, which can be downloaded from their website. 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.
Cruise ship passengers will not be allowed to disembark in the country, including for temporary shore visits.
Transiting Sri Lanka
Transit via Sri Lanka is permitted, as long as the connecting flight is within 10 hours of arrival. Travellers should check with their airline on the transit times. There are limited airside refreshment facilities available due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Entry to Sri Lanka is subject to arrangements for quarantine and PCR testing. This is set out in a notice from the Ministry of Health.
You should not use the NHS testing service to get a test in order to facilitate your travel to another country. You should arrange to take a private test.
All visitors who have permission to travel to Sri Lanka must 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.
All visitors need to comply with the guidelines imposed for tourists by the Government of Sri Lanka.
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 or visit their website to make an appointment.
Regular entry requirements
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry to Sri Lanka.
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.
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Sri Lanka on the TravelHealthPro website
See the healthcare information in the Coronavirus section for information on what to do if you think you have coronavirus while in Sri Lanka.
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.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so 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 impact of the pandemic. Access to routine and emergency healthcare may be limited. See Coronavirus
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 011 2691111 and ask for an ambulance. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.