Foreign travel advice

Sri Lanka

Important COVID-19 travel guidance

Under current UK COVID-19 restrictions, you must stay at home. You must not leave home or travel, including internationally, unless you have a legally permitted reason to do so. Check the rules that apply to you in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you intend to travel to England, Scotland, or Wales from abroad, including UK nationals returning home, you must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result taken up to 3 days before departure. If you do not comply (and you do not have a valid exemption) your airline or carrier may refuse you boarding and/or you may be fined on arrival.

Before you return to the UK you must provide your journey and contact details. You must self-isolate when you enter the UK from any foreign country except Ireland, unless you have a valid exemption.

If you are legally permitted to travel abroad, check our advice on your country of destination. Some other countries have closed borders, and may further restrict movement or bring in new rules including testing requirements with little warning.

Safety and security

Crime

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 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.

Air travel

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.

Local travel

North

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.

Jaffna Peninsula

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.

East

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.

Swimming

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.

Road travel

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.

Rail travel

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.

Sea travel

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.

Wildlife

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 situation

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, but these have become less common in recent years. Although no protests have so far been directed at the British community more generally, you should be vigilant and avoid demonstrations.