Sri Lanka is a presidential parliamentary democracy with a developing economy. Sri Lanka's beaches, hill country, and archaeological sites attract visitors from around the world. Tourism continues to increase. 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 generally good and improving.
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. Visitors can travel to all provinces; former prohibitions on visiting some provinces no longer exist.
Please read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Sri Lanka for additional information.
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 System, onward/return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds. The Electronic Travel Authorization System is available online or at the port of entry. Visitors are strongly urged to use the online system to avoid lengthy delays at the port of entry. The online application, fees, and other relevant information are available here. This travel authorization allows entry for up 30 days.
Sri Lankan regulations define tourist travel as sightseeing, visiting friends and relatives, receiving medical treatment including Ayurvedic and yoga, and participating in sporting events, competitions, and cultural activities. Foreigners entering Sri Lanka on a tourist visa cannot convert their visa to a non-tourist one, and risk deportation if they engage in other activities without the appropriate visa.
Transit passengers are defined as foreigners who expect to enter Sri Lanka and remain for a period not exceeding 2 days while waiting for onward travel. Passengers who do not cross Sri Lankan immigration lines, but who transfer between flights inside the airport, are defined as transfer passengers and do not require an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) approval or a visa.
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.
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 who have traveled through the following African and Latin American countries within nine days immediately preceding entry to Sri Lanka:
African countries – Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, , Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda.
South American countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.
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 2180, Los Angeles, CA 90010, telephone (213) 387-0210, fax (213) 387-0216; or the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York City, #630 3rd Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 986-7040, fax (212) 986-1836. 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.
The Sri Lankan military continues to maintain a significant presence in the north. The system of military roadblocks and checkpoints has largely been dismantled except in the vicinity of military installations and assets known as “high security zones” (HSZ). 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 still found in parts of the Northern, Eastern, and North Central Provinces, particularly in Ampara, Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Polonnoruwa, Trincomalee and Vavuniya. As of April 2016, the government’s National Mine Action Center estimated 54 km2 remained to be surveyed and/or cleared in these ten districts. 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. Travelers should avoid political rallies, public demonstrations, military installations, and closed areas of HSZs.
Demonstrations in Colombo are a regular occurrence. Most demonstrations are peaceful, resulting only in traffic congestion; however, some have ended in violence between the protesters and police or opposition groups. While the majority of demonstrations are related to internal Sri Lankan politics, protests directed toward western embassies and international organizations are not uncommon. Demonstrations can occur with little or no advance notice. Even those intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Travelers should check the U.S. Embassy Colombo website for possible updates, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive e-mail messages or cellular phone short message service (SMS) texts about impending demonstrations and monitor media coverage of local events. Travelers should remain aware of their surroundings at all times, review their personal security plans, and follow the instructions of local authorities.
Sri Lanka occasionally experiences heavy rain fall due to depressions around the island. Heavy rainfall has resulted in flooding in low lying urban areas and near rivers. Landslides have occurred during and after heavy rains in Colombo, as well as Central, Western, Sabaragamuwa, and other Provinces depending upon prevailing weather conditions.
Crime: There is an elevated criminal threat in Sri Lanka. Most violent crime occurs within the local community. However, reports of violent crime, sexual assaults and harassment 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.
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.
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 consistently 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 have uncovered foreign rings of criminals using “false fronts’” and “pen camera devices” to clone bank cards and steal personal identification 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.
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 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.
Victims of Crime:
See our webpage on help for U.S. victims of crime overseas.
Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence may contact the Embassy for assistance.
For further information:
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 won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you travel.
In places like military checkpoints, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. When transiting Sri Lanka, ensure your luggage does not contain prohibited or restricted items, such as weapons, ammunition, explosives, gold, narcotics, and pornography, among other items. 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.
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.
Arrest Notification: If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately. See our webpage for further information.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: 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 still maintain several 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.
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:
Women Travelers: If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips for Women Travelers.
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.
We do not pay medical bills. Be aware that U.S. Medicare does not apply overseas.
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.
We strongly recommend supplemental insurance (our webpage) to cover medical evacuation.
Medical Facilities: There are six large hospitals in the Colombo area, including four facilities with emergency trauma service: Asiri Surgical Hospital; Lanka Hospital; Central Hospital; and the government-run National Hospital. Medical facilities outside Colombo are limited. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of private physicians available on the Embassy website. The availability of medical supplies is uneven; therefore, 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, 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. See the section on Entry/Exit Requirements (above) for information on communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
Vaccinations: Be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Further health information:
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 (“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.
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.