Caution
October 19, 2023

Worldwide Caution

Update
January 10, 2024

Information for U.S. Citizens in the Middle East

International Travel

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Learn About Your Destination

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to civil unrest, and terrorism.

Reissued after periodic review with updates to protest information. 

Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to civil unrest, and terrorism.

Country Summary: Protests over the economic and political situation in Sri Lanka could erupt at any time. In some instances, police have used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters. U.S. citizens are reminded to avoid all gatherings, even peaceful ones, that could turn violent with little or no warning.

Terrorist attacks have occurred in Sri Lanka, with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, hospitals, and other public areas.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in remote areas. 

 Read the country information page

 If you decide to travel to Sri Lanka: 

  • Be aware of your surroundings when traveling to tourist locations and crowded public venues. 
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities. 
  • Monitor local media for breaking events and adjust your plans based on new information. 
  • Avoid demonstrations and crowds. 
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. 
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter
  • Review the Crime and Safety Report for Sri Lanka. 
  • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist. 
  • Visit the CDC page for the latest Travel Health Information related to your travel. 
... [READ MORE]

Embassy Messages

Alerts

Quick Facts

PASSPORT VALIDITY:

Must be valid for six months from expected date of departure from Sri Lanka.

BLANK PASSPORT PAGES:

One page required for entry stamp. 

TOURIST VISA REQUIRED:

Yes

VACCINATIONS:

Yellow fever vaccine is required for individuals above nine months of age who are traveling to Sri Lanka from a country designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to have a risk of yellow fever transmission, including transit more than 12 hours in an airport located in such a country. For more information, please refer to WHO.

CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR ENTRY:

Foreign currency over USD 15,000 must be declared.

CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT:

If exiting with foreign currency over USD 5,000, the full amount brought in or acquired in Sri Lanka must be declared.

Embassies and Consulates

U.S. Embassy Colombo

210 Galle Road,
Colombo 03, Sri Lanka
Telephone: +(94) (11) 202-8500
Fax: +(94) (11) 202-7345
Email: ColomboACS@state.gov

Destination Description

See the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Sri Lanka for information on U.S.- Sri Lanka relations.

Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements

U.S. citizens visiting Sri Lanka must have either an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) or a visa to enter Sri Lanka. 

U.S. citizens intending to visit Sri Lanka for purposes of tourism or transit require an approval notice from Sri Lanka’s Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) System), onward/return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds. The ETA system is available online or at the port of entry; however, visitors are strongly urged to use the online system to avoid lengthy delays at the port of entry. This travel authorization allows entry for up to 30 days.  

U.S. citizens intending to visit Sri Lanka for short-term business activities such as participating in business meetings, engaging in business negotiations, or attending conferences and workshops are required to obtain a business ETA. Business ETAs are not available online. Business travelers must obtain travel authorization either from the nearest Sri Lankan Embassy or Consulate before arrival in Sri Lanka, or at the port of entry in Sri Lanka.

U.S. citizens intending to visit Sri Lanka for religious or volunteer work or for local employment must obtain entry visas from the nearest Sri Lankan Embassy or Consulate before arrival in Sri Lanka. These visas are not available at the port of entry or through the online system.

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.

Specific inquiries regarding entry and exit requirements should be addressed to the Embassy of Sri Lanka, 3025 Whitehaven Street NW, Washington DC 20008, telephone (202) 483-4025, fax (202) 232- 2329. Contact the Sri Lankan Embassy by e-mail; the Sri Lankan Consulate General in Los Angeles at 3250 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 2180, Los Angeles, CA 90010, telephone (213) 387-0210; or the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York City, 820 Second Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 986-7040, fax (212) 986 1838. 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. 

Safety and Security

Terrorism: Terrorist groups and those inspired by such organizations are intent on attacking U.S. citizens abroad. Terrorists are increasingly using less sophisticated methods of attack – including knives, firearms, and vehicles – to target crowds more effectively. Frequently, their aim is unprotected or vulnerable targets, such as:

  • High-profile public events (sporting contests, political rallies, demonstrations, holiday events, celebratory gatherings, etc.)
  • Hotels, clubs, and restaurants frequented by tourists
  • Places of worship
  • Schools
  • Parks
  • Shopping malls and markets
  • Public transportation systems (including subways, buses, trains, and scheduled commercial flights)

The last terrorist attack in Sri Lanka occurred on April 19, 2019, when terrorists carried out coordinated bombings of hotels and churches in Colombo and Batticaloa, killing more than 250 people and injuring more than 500 more. The terrorists were Sri Lankan nationals associated with the Islamic groups National Thowheeth Jama’ath Millathu Ibraheem. Authorities believe the perpetrators of the attack are dead or have been captured. Many hotels and shopping areas increased their physical security presence in response to the bombings and security screenings of guests and bags has become standard in many locations.

For more information, see our Terrorism page.

Crime:

Most crimes against U.S. citizens continue to be petty crime and crimes of opportunity (e.g., pickpocketing, hotel room thefts, and fraud). There is some organized criminal activity, which can involve drug-related crimes and gang-on-gang violence, but these events do not tend to involve foreign travelers.

There are occasional reports of credit card fraud. Authorities have arrested foreign nationals and organized groups for complicity in financial crimes. Avoid situations where your card is removed from your view. There have been reports of employees at reputable businesses (e.g., restaurants or chain grocery stores) wearing data skimming devices in their clothing and scanning a victim’s credit card or using other methods to steal credit card information. ATM skimming is also a threat. If you use an ATM, be on the lookout for skimming devices. Cover keypads with your hand.

Street hustlers are common around popular hotels, shopping areas, and other tourist sites. There are occasional reports of snatch and grab theft of purses or jewelry owned by tourists, but no recent reports of armed robberies.  Beware of tuk-tuk or taxi drivers offering “special” tours or access to festivals or gem shops. This common scam often results in tourists being heavily pressured to buy “gems” that are either cut glass or are worth much less than the price being asked.

Likely due to Sri Lanka’s economic situation, there is a scam in which a tuk-tuk driver charges your ride using an app on their phone, claiming the meter is broken. When you get close to the destination, the phone either slips down or the app closes, and they charge a much higher amount than the routine cost. If a tuk-tuk does not have a meter, agree on a price before beginning the ride, and try to have the correct amount of cash so you do not need change.

Surf schools are known to run scams where they claim renters damaged their boards and demand exorbitant prices to repair the damage. Examine and take pictures of your surfboard before taking it into the water.

Sexual harassment is pervasive. Both foreigners and locals, more commonly women, report instances of cat calls and physical harassment (grabbing of body parts) while in crowded areas and/or public transportation.

Demonstrations occur frequently. They may take place in response to political or economic issues, on politically significant holidays, and during international events. 

  • Demonstrations can be unpredictable, avoid areas around protests and demonstrations. 
  • Past demonstrations have turned violent. Police may deploy water cannons and/or tear gas in response to violent protests.
  • Check local media for updates and traffic advisories.

In general, demonstrations in Sri Lanka are peaceful, resulting only in traffic congestion. However, some have ended in violence between the protestors and police or opposition groups. Demonstrations can involve confrontations with police, resulting in the use of water cannons and tear gas to disperse crowds. Large political rallies are common. These rallies are generally peaceful but can disrupt traffic.

International Financial Scams: See the Department of State and the FBI pages for information.

Internet romance and financial scams occasionally occur in Sri Lanka. Scams are often initiated through Internet postings/profiles or by unsolicited text messages and WhatsApp messages. Common scams include:

  • Romance/Online dating 
  • Contracts with promises of large commissions 
  • Work permits/job offers

Tips to avoid scammers:

  • Look for red flags like their location is far away, their profile was recently created or seems too good to be true, the pace of the relationship is moving too quickly, or they ask for money.
  • Set up a phone call/video chat in the initial stages.
  • Do a reverse image search on the profile picture.
  • If they ask for help, you should refer them to the closest U.S embassy or consulate so we can assist them.

Be cautious of using dating apps/online dating websites abroad as U.S. citizens can be targeted by scammers. Make sure to inform your friends and family of your whereabouts, meet at a well-known public location, and do not consume suspicious food or drinks. Avoid traveling alone to bars or nightclubs.

Technology Usage Abroad: Mobile devices are vulnerable to compromise, theft, and physical damage anywhere in the world. Best practices prior to traveling abroad are keeping all software (operating system and apps) updated, and use virtual private network and encrypted voice over IP (VoIP) applications if possible. Make sure that all VPN/VoIP are reputable, and U.S. based. Do not connect to unknown open Wi-Fi.

Victims of Crime: U.S. citizen victims of sexual assault are encouraged to contact both the tourist police (hotline: 1912 or 011-242-1451) and the U.S. Embassy (011-202-8500) for assistance. Report crimes to both the tourist police and the U.S. Embassy. Remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crime.

See our webpage on help for U.S. victims of crime overseas.

We can:

  • Help you find appropriate medical care;
  • Assist you in reporting a crime to the police;
  • Contact relatives or friends with your written consent;
  • Provide general information regarding the victim’s role during the local investigation  and following its conclusion;
  • Provide a list of local attorneys;
  • Provide our information on victim’s compensation programs in the U.S.;
  • Provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution;
  • Help arrange flights home; and
  • Replace a stolen or lost passport.

Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence are encouraged to contact the Embassy for assistance.

Tourism: The tourism industry is unevenly regulated, and safety inspections for equipment and facilities do not commonly occur. Hazardous areas/activities are not always identified with appropriate signage, and staff may not be trained or certified either by the host government or by recognized authorities in the field. In the event of an injury, appropriate medical treatment is typically available only in/near major cities. First responders are generally unable to access areas outside of major cities and to provide urgent medical treatment. U.S. citizens are encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage.

Local Laws & Special Circumstances

Criminal Penalties: You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. If you break local laws in Sri Lanka, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what is legal and what is not where you travel. 

In places like military checkpoints, you may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. When arriving in Sri Lanka, ensure your luggage does not contain prohibited or restricted items, such as weapons, ammunition, explosives, gold, narcotics, and pornography. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings.

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.

Furthermore, some laws are also prosecutable in the U.S., regardless of local law. For examples, see our website on crimes against minors abroad and the Department of Justice website.

Arrest Notification: If you are arrested or detained, ask the police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately. See our webpage for further information.

Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: Counterfeit and pirated goods are prevalent in many countries and they may be illegal according to the local laws. Counterfeit and pirated goods may pose significant risks to consumer health and safety. You may be subject to fines and/or have to give up counterfeit and pirated goods if you bring them back to the United States. See the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website and U.S. Department of Justice website for more information.

Special Circumstance: Sri Lanka recognizes limited 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 police and military maintain several checkpoints throughout the country. U.S. citizens are advised to always carry identification such as their passports with them 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. 

Religious Laws: Tourists should be mindful of restrictions and observances when planning to visit any religious establishment, whether Buddhist or Hindu temples, mosques, churches, or other locations considered sacred by the local population. Posing for a photograph with your back 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.

Faith-Based Travelers: See our following webpages for details:

International Volunteers:

Women Travelers: If you find yourself in a life-threatening situation, you are encouraged to call the tourist police immediately (hotline: 1912 or 011-242-1451) and follow up with a call to the U.S. Embassy (011-202-8500). We can sometimes connect you with a non-governmental organization in Sri Lanka that may be able to provide assistance. 

If you are victimized overseas, you may be entitled to receive compensation for counseling and/or other services such as relocation back to the United States. For further information, visit the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women.

Remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes committed in Sri Lanka.

See our tips for Women Travelers.

Students: See our Students Abroad page and FBI travel tips.

LGBTQI+ Travelers: See our LGBTQI+ Travel Information page and section 6 of our Human Rights Report for further details.

Travelers Who Require Accessibility Assistance: 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, lack of wheelchair access in most buildings limits access for people with disabilities. Potholes and sidewalks in poor repair can make movement very difficult. The road network in Sri Lanka is improving, but many roads remain in medium to poor condition. Sidewalks and road crossings in most major towns tend to be congested with vendors, stray dogs, and groups of people loitering on street corners. 

Health

Ambulance Services: For ambulance services in the Sri Lanka, dial 1990.

Ambulance services are widely available, but response times vary, and training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards. Ambulances are typically not staffed with trained paramedics and often have little medical equipment. Injured or seriously ill travelers may prefer to take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for an ambulance.

We highly recommend that all travelers review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers’ Health webpage and general Traveler Advice for Sri Lanka. 

  • Select your destination on the right side of the Travelers’ Health webpage.  
    • Review all sub-sections including the Travel Health Notices, Vaccines and Medicines, Non-Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, Stay Healthy and Safe, Healthy Travel Packing List, and After Your Trip.  
  • Review the Traveler Advice webpage that provide advice on medical considerations including:  
    • Reasons for Travel (for example: Adventure Travel, Spring Break Travel)  
    • Travelers with Special Considerations (for example: Allergies, Long-Term Travelers and Expatriates)  
    • General Tips (for example: Traveling with Medications, Travel Vaccines)  

The Department of State, U.S. embassies, and U.S. consulates do not pay medical bills. Be aware that U.S. Medicare/Medicaid does not apply overseas. Most hospitals and doctors overseas do not accept U.S. health insurance.

Medical Insurance: Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage. Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on type of insurance you should consider before you travel overseas.

The Department of State strongly recommends supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.

Medical Facilities: There are six large hospitals in the Colombo area, including four facilities with emergency medical and trauma service: Asiri Surgical Hospital; Lanka Hospital; Asiri Central Hospital; and the government-run National Hospital of Sri Lanka. Medical facilities outside Colombo are limited. Hospitals and doctors typically require payment “up front” prior to service or admission. The availability of medical supplies is uneven; therefore, travelers should always carry any prescription medications with them. Serious medical conditions can 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 require U.S. citizens to have entry visas.

The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of doctors and hospitals. We do not endorse or recommend any specific medical provider or clinic.

Pharmaceuticals: Exercise caution when purchasing medication overseas. Pharmaceuticals, both over the counter and requiring prescriptions in the United States, are often readily available for purchase with little controls. Counterfeit medication is common and may prove to be ineffective, the wrong strength, or contain dangerous ingredients. Medication should be purchased in consultation with a medical professional and from reputable establishments. Please visit U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information.

Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging, along with your doctor’s prescription. Check with Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health to ensure the medication is legal in Sri Lanka.

Air Quality: Visit AirNow Department of State for information on air quality at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.

Water Quality: In many areas, tap water is not potable. Bottled water and beverages are generally safe, although you should be aware that many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless bottled water is specifically requested. Be aware that ice for drinks may be made using tap water.

Infectious Diseases: Several mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever, Chikungunya, and Japanese encephalitis are present in Sri Lanka. Dengue fever, in particular, is widespread in Sri Lanka’s Western Province, where the capital Colombo is located. Adequate mosquito protection is strongly advised to prevent this serious illness.

Vaccinations: Be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended vaccines that are specific to this region include Japanese encephalitis and typhoid (and rabies pre-exposure prophylaxis for some travelers).

For additional health information about Sri Lanka, please visit:

Travel and Transportation

Road Conditions and Safety: 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 with 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 roadblocks 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 (“tuks” or “three wheelers”) should use metered vehicles or negotiate prices beforehand to avoid confrontations upon arrival. If you are renting a vehicle, you should specifically request one with working seatbelts.

Heavy rains sometimes cause flooding which can make roads inaccessible for several days and bring with them the risk of landslides.

GPS Navigation Apps are helpful in getting U.S. citizens around in a foreign country. Prior to using the GPS app make sure you research the route to make sure it is safe. The GPS navigation app may give you the shortest route without safety considerations.

Public Transportation: While public buses are readily available, the U.S. Embassy does not recommend using them due to safety concerns.

See our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Sri Lanka’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.

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.

Maritime Travel: Mariners planning travel to Sri Lanka should also check for U.S. maritime advisories and alerts. Information may also be posted to the U.S. Coast Guard homeport website, and the NGA broadcast warnings.

For Additional Travel Information

International Parental Child Abduction

For additional IPCA-related information, please see the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (ICAPRA) report.

Last Updated: February 28, 2024

Travel Advisory Levels

Assistance for U.S. Citizens

U.S. Embassy Colombo
210 Galle Road,
Colombo 03,
Sri Lanka
Telephone
+(94)(11) 202-8500
Emergency
+(94)(11) 202-8500
Fax
+(94) (11) 243-7345

Sri Lanka Map