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arrival, departure, public transport

Arriving in Sri Lanka

To enter Sri Lanka you will need a valid passport; the expiry date of your passport must exceed the duration of your stay on the island by at least six months. You must also have sufficient funds for your stay in Sri Lanka and a return ticket or ticket to a third country.

Before entering Sri Lanka you must fill in an "Immigration Card". Some airlines distribute these cards in the aircraft; however, the cards are also available inside the airport. We recommend that you take a second card with you: you will need it at departure or if you have to extend your visa.

As an EU citizen you will receive a visa for 30 days free of charge, but you will have to apply for it prior to travelling on a special website operated by the Department of Immigration & Emigration. The "handling fee" is US $30. It does, however, mean that you are processed faster by immigration upon entering the country.
If you cannot apply for the visa online before setting out, then you can get one from a special counter at the airport which usually involves a long wait.

Thanks to computerization staff at the airport will immediately notice if you have overstayed your visa when you leave the country. If you want to stay longer you will have to extend your visa within this 30 day period. Obtaining a visa extension of up to six months is no problem, provided you have a return ticket or a ticket to a destination outside Sri Lanka and you have sufficient financial resources. Retain your currency exchange receipts, as you will have to present them if you extend your visa.

Your duty free allowance upon entering Sri Lanka is two bottles of wine or sparkling wine; 1.5 litres of spirits. The duty free allowance for cigarettes, cigars and tobacco was cancelled in 2006. The tax for 200 cigarettes is about US $20.

Valuable gifts for Sri Lankans and goods intended for sale in Sri Lanka must be declared to customs upon entry. You may have to pay customs duty and tax for these goods. Importing weapons - including knives, ammunition and explosives, all types of drugs, all kinds of pornographic and/or seditious literature is strictly prohibited.

If you bring any valuable jewellery which has come or could potentially have come from Sri Lanka into the country when you arrive then remember to declare this upon arrival in order to avoid any problems when you leave the country.

Under Sir Lankan law, importing and exporting drugs and drug trafficking is punishable by death.


You can take up to three kilos of tea out of the country duty-free; anything above this must be declared and is liable for duty. However, the duty is only a few rupees per kilo. The maximum quantity you can take with you is six kilos.

You can take any quantity of jewellery and gems; you may, however, be asked to prove that you exchanged sufficient foreign currency to make these purchases. Please ensure that you keep all currency exchange receipts, credit card slips and purchase receipts.

Antiques that are older than 50 years require an export permit. Bear in mind that you will not be granted an export permit for items of historic significance, e.g. palm leaf books.

What you cannot take out of the country

Animals and plants or parts of thereof that are subject to the "Endangered Species Act", and particularly turtles or tortoise-shell and ivory.

Additionally Sri Lanka prohibits the export of any kind of corals and sea fauna, e. g. sea snails. You will probably be offered large sea snails as souvenirs, and although the seller will tell you otherwise, these animals are killed specifically for the souvenir trade. Even attempting to export corals and sea fauna is punishable by a penalty of up to US$ 1,000.

You can take a maximum of 1000 Sri Lankan rupees out of the country. Unless you want to take the bills home as souvenirs, it makes no sense to keep them, even if you do intend to visit Sri Lanka again in the foreseeable future: the Sri Lankan rupee devalues against the US dollar by between 15 % and 25 % every year.
Any excess rupees you may have can be exchanged back into US dollars or Euros after your check-in at the airport without great loss.

Public transport


The railway network links all Sri Lanka's cities and larger towns. Travelling by train is reasonably comfortable and fast. Express trains travel at an average speed of 50 to 60km/h; this drops to 20 km/h in the hills. Travel time from Hikkaduwa to Colombo with the express train is around 2 hours. The morning and evening commuter trains are always full.

Rail services link the following towns:

  • south-west caost: Colombo - Kalutara - Galle - Matara
    (rail service will be extend up to Hambantota during the next years)
  • west coast: Colombo - Negombo - Chillaw - Puttalam
  • highlands:
    • Colombo - Peradeniya Junction - Kandy
    • Colombo - Avissawella - Ratnapura - Opanaike
      (rail services from Avissawella to Opanaike are out of operation since years)
    • Peradeniya Junction - Hatton - Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya) - Ella - Badulla
    • Kandy - Matale
  • east coast:
    • Colombo - Kurunegala - Maho Junction - Habarana - Galoya Junction - Polonnaruwa - Kalkudah - Batticaloa
    • Colombo - Galoya Junction - Trincomalee
  • in the north:
    • Colombo - Maho Junction - Anuradhapura - Vavuniya - Jaffna - Kankesanturai
    • Anuradhapura - Mihintale
    • Anuradhapura - Mannar - Talaimannar

Before you set off on a train journey to the north and east parts of the island you should enquire at the station whether the train will actually be going to its final destination.


In addition to the state-operated buses there are also numerous privately-run buses. In truth, Sri Lanka's transportation system would probably collapse without the private buses. The state-owned buses are either short distance local or long distance express buses. The private buses are often express buses, partly with air conditioning; the drivers are paid according to the kilometres they have driven. When overtaking, the drivers place their trust in Lord Buddha and hope that all oncoming traffic will swerve to avoid a crash.

Travel time from Hikkaduwa to Colombo is around 2 1/2 to 4 hours, depending on the time of day and the weather. In the rush hours the buses are always full and absolutely overcrowded. If you intend to travel long distances you should treat yourself to the comparative luxury of a bus with a guaranteed seat and air conditioning.

Cars with and without drivers, motorbikes

The sight of the disciplined chaos - for Sri Lankans it is disciplined chaos, for Europeans it is simply chaos - on the roads around Colombo and along the west coast will probably be enough to put you off wanting to drive in Sri Lanka. Quite apart from the traffic situation, hiring a car with a driver is less expensive than hiring one without a driver: the likelihood of the car hire company getting the vehicle back undamaged is simply greater with a driver.

While the traffic is less dense off the main roads and to the south of Galle, the condition of the roads is so bad that you are probably faster walking. If you absolutely insist on driving yourself we recommend that you hire a motorbike for getting around the country roads. But please note: as a rule these bikes are not accident insured - in the event of damage to the bike and other vehicles, you are liable for the costs. Check the bike to see that everything is in working order. Good brakes, lights and a horn could save your life.

Wherever you go, please remember to drive with the utmost caution. In the Hikkaduwa area alone several western motorcyclists are killed or seriously injured in accidents every yearn.

Officially you need an international driver's license to drive in Sri Lanka. Additionally, residents of countries which drive on the right hand side of the road must sit a test in Colombo to prove that they can drive of the left side of the road. In reality, very few policemen will recognise an international driver's license, so unofficially you should be able to get by with your national driver's license. If push comes to shove, you would probably get by with any document that has your name and a photo on it because few policemen will be able to read a foreign language.

Speed limits. Unless stated otherwise on road signs the speed limit is 40 km/h within Colombo; 50 km/h in towns and villages; 70 km/h in the country and 100 km/h on the new motorway. There are speed cameras in Sri Lanka! If you are caught speeding you will have to pay a fine of between some hundred and some thousand rupees with a receipt; if you don't need a receipt it will be half that. Wearing a helmet is mandatory for motorcyclists and moped drivers; passengers are not required to wear one, but it is recommended. The fine for driving without a helmet is 500 to 1000 rupees (half without a receipt).

If you are involved in accident - regardless of whether it was your fault or the other motorist's fault:

  • Stop the next minibus and get it to take anyone who has been injured to the nearest hospital. Do not wait for an ambulance - you will just be wasting valuable time.
  • If Sri Lankans have been injured then proceed as above but also go along yourself and take at least two relatives of the injured person and, if possible, a witness with you. Do not use the vehicle that was involved in the accident. This must remain exactly where it is until the police arrive. The vehicle will be impounded until the accident investigation has been completed.
  • Get the minibus driver to drop you off at the nearest police station and take one of the injured person's relatives and the witness with you. At the police station ask to see the SOP (Superintendent of Police), who as a rule will speak better English than the desk sergeants, and report the accident.
  • If you live in the vicinity of where the accident happened, or are prepared to rent a room close by, then you will not be arrested, even if the accident was your fault. Your passport may be confiscated for the duration of the investigation. If your passport is confiscated then contact your embassy as quickly as possible.
  • In many cases, particularly if the injuries are minor, the police or the injured party will propose to settle the matter with a cash payment. It is wise to accept such an offer (speak to your embassy) in order to avoid a court case which could drag on for years and at which your presence would be mandatory.