COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Sri Lanka is a presidential parliamentary democracy with a developing economy. On May 18, 2009, more than 26 years of conflict ended with the Sri Lankan government defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). During the war, the LTTE had a history of attacks against civilians, though none were directed against U.S. citizens. There have been no terrorist attacks since the end of the conflict, and the government has authority throughout the island. The LTTE remains on the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations.
Sri Lanka's beaches, hill country, and archeological sites attract visitors from around the world. Tourism increased in 2012 and is expected to rise further in the coming years. The capital city of Colombo, the Cultural Triangle (Dambulla, Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa), the cities of Kandy and Galle, and many southern beach towns have good tourist facilities, and the roads connecting many of those destinations are improving. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Sri Lanka for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Sri Lanka, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You can also download our free Smart Traveler App available through iTunes and Google Play to have travel information at your fingertips.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy Colombo
210 Galle Road
Telephone: 94 11 249 8500
Emergency after-hours telephone: 94 77 725 6307
Facsimile: 94 11 249 8590
Email for American Citizens Services issues: ColomboACS@state.gov
Please note that the U.S. Embassy’s normal business hours in Colombo are Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon. The Embassy in Colombo also covers the Republic of Maldives.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: U.S. citizens visiting Sri Lanka must have either an Electronic Travel Authorization or a visa to enter Sri Lanka.
U.S. citizens intending to visit Sri Lanka for purposes of tourism, short-term business or transit require an approval notice from Sri Lanka’s Electronic Travel Authorization System, passport, onward/return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds. The Electronic Travel Authorization System is available online. The online application, fees, and other relevant information are available here. Sri Lankan regulations define short-term business as participation in business meetings, engaging in business negotiations, attending conferences and workshops, attending short-term training programs, and participating in dance or cultural events. Sri Lankan regulations define transit passengers as foreigners who expect to enter Sri Lanka and remain for a period not exceeding 10 days while waiting for onward travel. Passengers who do not cross Sri Lankan immigration lines, but who merely transfer between flights inside the airport, are defined as transfer passengers and do not require an Electronic Travel Authorization approval or a visa.
U.S. citizens intending to visit Sri Lanka for purposes of employment, business, and religious or volunteer work must obtain entry visas from the nearest Sri Lankan Embassy or Consulate before arrival in Sri Lanka. Foreigners entering Sri Lanka on a tourist, short-term business, or transit visa cannot convert their visa to a non-tourist one, and risk deportation if they engage in other activities without the appropriate visa.
All visitors staying beyond the expiration date of their visa must obtain a visa extension from the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Colombo and pay the relevant visa fees. Travelers must have yellow fever and cholera immunizations if they are arriving from an infected area. A yellow fever vaccination certificate must also be obtained by all passengers over the age of one year old who have traveled through the following African and Latin American countries within nine days immediately preceding entry to Sri Lanka:
Specific inquiries regarding entry and exit requirements should be addressed to the Embassy of Sri Lanka, 2148 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 483-4025, fax (202) 232-7181. Contact the Sri Lankan Embassy by e-mail; the Sri Lankan Consulate General in Los Angeles at 3250 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1405, Los Angeles, CA 90010, telephone (213) 387-0210; or the UN Mission in New York City, #630 3rd Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 986-7040. There are several honorary Sri Lankan consuls general and consuls in the United States. Visit the Embassy of Sri Lanka website for current visa information.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan law allows immigration officials to refer visitors and foreign residents to a physician for examination if a public health risk is suspected. In practice this is a rare occurrence, but travelers should be aware that Sri Lankan law allows for the denial of entry to any foreigner who, upon referral from an immigration officer, is certified by a physician as posing a public health risk. Travelers who refuse a medical examination under these circumstances may be refused entry. Please verify this information with the Embassy of Sri Lanka before traveling.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Newspapers and other sources report ongoing criminal activity around the country, including murder and kidnapping. Most violent crime occurs within the local community, although reports of violent crime and sexual assaults directed at foreigners have been increasing.
The Sri Lankan military continues to maintain a heavy presence in the north, and military roadblocks and checkpoints are commonly encountered when traveling in this region.
Although the government and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continue operations to locate and dispose of landmines in the north, a number of areas are still mined. Landmines and unexploded ordnance are found in parts of northern and eastern Sri Lanka, especially in the areas north of Vavuniya, including the areas of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaittivu, Mannar and Puthukudiyiruppu (PTK). A map of the affected areas is available. Travelers in these areas should stay on main, heavily traveled roads, and never walk in forested or agricultural areas or in abandoned properties. Travelers should make themselves aware of, and able to recognize and avoid, any area cordoned off for landmine clearance. Travelers should not touch anything that resembles a landmine or unexploded ordnance and should notify local police if they see something that resembles a landmine.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in Sri Lanka should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow prudent security practices. You should avoid political rallies, military bases, military or police convoys, and closed areas of high security zones.
Demonstrations at or near Western embassies and international organizations are not uncommon. There have been recent demonstrations against the United States and United Nations. While some have been large, they remained mostly peaceful. Given the unpredictability of demonstrations, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise caution when demonstrations are announced or reported, and avoid areas where demonstrations are occurring or crowds are forming. Demonstrations can occur with little or no advance notice. U.S. citizens are urged to consult media sources and the U.S. Embassy website for current security information and to enroll with the Embassy to receive e-mail messages or cellular phone short message service (SMS) texts about impending demonstrations in Colombo.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to always carry their U.S. passports while in Sri Lanka. U.S. citizens of Sri Lankan origin may be subject to additional scrutiny upon arrival and while in the country. The activities of visiting journalists, researchers, aid workers, and volunteers may also receive particular attention.
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CRIME: Most violent crime occurs within the local community. However, reports of violent crime and sexual assaults directed at foreigners have been increasing in recent months. Police response to assist victims can vary from a few minutes to hours, even in the tourist areas, and particularly in remote areas. In response to this rise in crime, the Sri Lankan government now requires that all foreign tourists provide their passport information to hotel staff when registering at local hotels and guest houses so that this data can be used by local law enforcement for the monitoring of foreign tourists.
Organized and armed gangs are known to operate in Sri Lanka and have been responsible for targeted kidnappings and violence, although there is no evidence to suggest that U.S. citizens are at particular risk. A British national was killed and a Russian national sexually assaulted and beaten during a violent attack by a gang in a tourist resort in the southern beach town of Tangalle in December 2011. The Sri Lankan justice system can be slower than in the United States and there are a number of outstanding cases of crimes against foreign nationals, including the murder of the British national noted above, which have yet to be prosecuted.
U.S. citizens are advised against travel on public buses in Sri Lanka, as passengers can be targets of criminal activity and bus drivers do not all obey driving regulations.
Travelers, especially women, should consider travelling with other people when possible. Western women continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men. Such harassment can occur anytime or anywhere, but most frequently has taken place in crowded areas such as marketplaces, train stations, buses, public streets and sporting events. The harassment ranges from sexually suggestive or lewd comments to physical advances, and sexual assaults have occurred as well. While most victims of sexual assault have been local residents, an upswing in sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas in the southern beaches underlines the fact that foreign women should exercise vigilance.
Routine petty crime, especially thefts of personal property and pick-pocketing, is not uncommon if the traveler does not take appropriate safeguards. Street hustlers or “touts” are common around hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites. Credit card fraud is frequent and can happen in any establishment, or when paying online. Sri Lankan law enforcement personnel recently uncovered a foreign ring of criminals who were using “false fronts’” and “pen camera devices” to clone bank cards and steal PIN numbers at ATM machines in Sri Lanka. Travelers should consider paying in cash whenever possible, and should carefully review billing statements to ensure that purchases displayed on their credit card statements are accurate. Consultation with personal credit card security advisors is encouraged for travelers to develop a protection plan that is best for your travel to Sri Lanka.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Sri Lanka is 119. This number only contacts the police and does not provide access to emergency medical services. Although the number is answered 24 hours a day, police responsiveness may vary.
Please see our information for victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Sri Lanka, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In places like military checkpoints, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Sri Lanka, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Persons violating Sri Lankan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sri Lanka are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Under the Cultural Prosperity Act and the Antiques Ordinance, the unlicensed export of antiques from the country is considered a criminal act.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Sri Lanka recognizes dual nationality. For further information, please contact the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Consulate General in Los Angeles, or the Sri Lankan Mission to the United Nations in New York City.
The Sri Lankan military and police personnel still maintain numerous checkpoints throughout the country. U.S. citizens are advised to carry identification such as their passports with them at all times while in Sri Lanka. Photography is prohibited in designated high security zones and near many government facilities such as offices and military installations. U.S. citizens who arrive by yacht or private boat should be aware that all marine harbors are high security zones. Travelers arriving by sea should be prepared for Sri Lankan Navy officials to inspect their vessels and should always wait for radio clearance before coming into port.
Tourists should be mindful of restrictions and observances when planning to visit any religious establishment, whether Hindu temples, mosques, churches, or other locations considered sacred by the local population. Posing for a photograph next to a statue of Buddha is a serious offense in Sri Lanka, punishable by a fine or arrest. Travelers should also be cognizant of displaying religious imagery, including tattoos of Buddha, while traveling to and transiting within the country, as foreign nationals have been arrested or denied entry to Sri Lanka due to such tattoos.
Accessibility: While in Sri Lanka, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court has directed that steps be taken to provide easy access for persons with disabilities to public buildings. Although there are regulations on accessibility in place, in practice accommodation for access to buildings is rare and movement on sidewalks, streets, and other thoroughfares can be very difficult. The road network in Sri Lanka is improving, but many roads are still in medium to poor condition, and sidewalks and road crossings in most major towns are congested with vendors, stray dogs, and groups of people loitering on street corners. Potholes, sidewalks in poor repair, and lack of wheelchair access in most buildings limit access and movement for people with disabilities.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: There are six large hospitals in the Colombo area, including three facilities with emergency trauma service: Asiri Surgical Hospital, Lanka Hospital, and the government-run National Hospital. Medical facilities outside Colombo are limited. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of private physicians that may be obtained upon request. The availability of medical supplies is uneven; as a result, travelers should carry any special medications with them. Serious medical conditions do require evacuation to the United States or to a nearby country with more advanced medical facilities, such as Thailand or Singapore. Neither Thailand nor Singapore requires U.S. citizens to have entry visas.
Several mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, and malaria are present in Sri Lanka. Adequate mosquito protection is strongly advised. See the section on Entry/Exit Requirements (above) for information on communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another policy for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Sri Lanka, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Vehicular traffic in Sri Lanka moves on the left (British style). Traffic in Colombo can be congested. Narrow two-lane highways, overloaded trucks, poorly driven buses, and a variety of conveyances on the road, ranging from ox carts and bicycles to new four-wheel-drive vehicles, make driving dangerous. Unexpected road blocks and one-way streets are common and may not be clearly marked. Many visitors hire cars and drivers for long trips through the country. Individuals who choose to hire three-wheeled vehicles (“trishaws”) should negotiate prices beforehand to avoid confrontations upon arrival. If you are renting a vehicle, you should specifically request one with working seatbelts.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Sri Lanka, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Sri Lanka dated November 1, 2012 to update the sections on Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, and Special Circumstances.