Asia and Oceania

Sri Lanka Flag of Sri Lanka

Still current at: 11 June 2008
Updated: 06 June 2008


This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Terrorism section (explosion on 6 June). The overall level of the advice has not changed.

(see travel advice legal disclaimer)

Travel advice for this country


Travel Summary

  • There is a high threat from terrorism in Sri Lanka.  In 2008 fatal attacks have become more frequent.  They have occurred in Colombo and throughout Sri Lanka, including in places frequented by expatriate and foreign travellers.  Further attacks may occur at any time. There is an increasing risk of British nationals being caught up in an attack. See the Terrorism section of this advice for more details.

  • We advise against all travel to the north and east of Sri Lanka, and to Yala National Park and the areas around it.

  • For the purpose of this travel advice we consider the north to be all areas north of the A12 road (which runs from Puttalam in the west to Trincomalee in the east) including the Jaffna peninsula.  We consider the east to be the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, as well as coastal areas of Ampara district east of the A25 and A27 roads .  We define the areas around Yala National Park as those east of the A2 and south of the A4.  See the Terrorism and Local Travel sections of this advice for more details.

  • There is heightened security in Sri Lanka and you are advised to comply with government and security force instructions.  There have been detentions particularly of people of Tamil ethnicity.  You should ensure that you carry some form of official identification with you at all times.  If you are detained, you should ask the authorities to contact the British High Commission.

  • We strongly recommend that all British nationals who are resident and/or working in Sri Lanka, or visiting for over one month, should register with the British High Commission in Colombo.

  • About 90,000 British nationals visit Sri Lanka each year (source: Sri Lanka tourism board).  The main types of incident for which British nationals required consular assistance in Sri Lanka in 2007 were: replacing lost or stolen passports; deaths, mostly from natural causes; and arrests or detentions.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.   See the General (Insurance) section of this advice and Travel Insurance for more details.

Safety and security

Terrorism
 
There is a high threat from terrorism in Sri Lanka. Fatal attacks have become more frequent.  They have occurred in Colombo and throughout Sri Lanka, including places frequented by expatriate and foreign travellers.  Further attacks may occur at any time. There is an increasing risk of British nationals being caught up in an attack.  For further information see Terrorism Abroad.
 
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE “the Tamil Tigers”) are engaged in a long running armed insurgency against the Sri Lankan authorities.  You should avoid military, government and paramilitary locations, as these have been the most frequent targets of attacks.  However, recent attacks have specifically targeted civilians, including on public transport.

Since the beginning of 2008, at least 167 civilians have been killed and over 365 injured in attacks across Sri Lanka.  There have been regular terrorist attacks on public transport in Colombo and the surrounding area.  Between January and April 2008 there have been at least five attacks against civilians travelling on buses and trains resulting in over 75 deaths and many injuries.  

More recently significant attacks include:

  • On 6 June 2008 a roadside explosive device killed at least 21 people and injured over 50 more on a bus near Katubedda (a suburb of Colombo).  A further explosion on a bus at Polgolla on the Wellegama to Kandy road is reported to have killed at least 2 people and injured at least 20 more.
  • On 4 June 2008 a bomb attack on a train between Wellawata and Dehiwala railway stations is reported to have injured at least 24 people.  An earlier bomb attack on 26 May on a train near Dehiwela (a suburb of Colombo) caused fatalities and injuries.
  • On 16 May 2008, a bomb attack near the Hilton hotel in the Fort area of Central Colombo killed at least 10 people with 90 others reported to have been injured.
  • On 9 May 2008, an explosion at a cafe in the town of Ampara, (220km/130 miles) from Colombo killed at least 12 people and injured over 20 others.
  • On 6 April 2008, a bomb killed 10 people including a Sri Lankan government minister at a public event in a stadium near Gampaha, about 30km north-east of Colombo.
  • Between November 2007 and early January 2008 there were five significant bomb attacks in greater Colombo, two targeting government ministers, one targeting military personnel and two designed to cause loss of civilian life.  Over twenty five people were killed.  In March and April 2007, the LTTE used light aircraft to drop bombs on military area of Bandarapaike International Airport and targets in the Colombo.  

Crime

Violent crimes against foreigners are relatively infrequent, although there have been reports of sexual offences and muggings.  When travelling around Sri Lanka, you should make arrangements through reputable travel companies (such as those identified in your guidebook or local listings information) and exercise appropriate caution.  Women should take care when travelling alone.

There has been an increase in the number of reported thefts from hotels and guesthouses.  You should take sensible precautions to safeguard your valuables, especially passports and money.

Credit card fraud is an increasing problem.  You should seek advice on using your credit and/or debit cards in Sri Lanka from your credit card company or bank.
 
For more general information see Victims of Crime Abroad.
 
Political Situation

Sri Lanka Country Profile.

You should follow local developments closely, be aware of your surroundings and alert to changing situations.
 
There is heightened security, throughout the country.  The security forces are a visible presence and road checkpoints are common.  The government of Sri Lanka's security legislation provides wide-ranging discretionary powers.  There have been detentions, particularly of people of Tamil ethnicity, including foreign nationals.  You should avoid wearing or carrying clothing or goods which are military or camouflaged in appearance.  You should ensure that you carry some form of official identification with you at all times.  If you are detained, you should ask the authorities to contact the British High Commission.  You are strongly advised to comply with government and security force instructions.
 
There have been a number of “hartals” (widely-enforced general strikes) and curfews in the north and east.
 
You should avoid political gatherings or demonstrations. You should also avoid military bases and buildings, which have been the most frequent target of attacks.

Foreign nationals have been detained by the police after taking photographs of buildings or vehicles used by VIPs.  Use of video and/or photography is prohibited near military bases and government buildings.
 
Local Travel

We advise against all travel to the north or east of Sri Lanka.  For the purposes of this travel advice we consider the north to be, all areas north of the A12 road (which runs from Puttalam in the west to Trincomalee in the east), including the Jaffna peninsula.  We consider the east to be the districts of Trincomalee Batticaloa, as well as coastal areas of Ampara district east of the A25 and A27 roads.  We do not advise against travel to the city of Anuradhupura, that straddles the A12 road, but you should exercise caution and seek the advice of your tour operator or the local authorities before travelling there.

We advise against all travel to Yala National Park and the areas around it following a number of serious security incidents in the park in October and November 2007 and attacks in January 2008 close to the park.  We consider areas around Yala National Park to be those east of the A2 (from Hambantota to Wellawaya) and south of A4 (from Wellawaya to Pottuvil).  The park, which the Sri Lankan authorities closed in 2007 due to security concerns, was re-opened on 1 January 2008.

There is fighting throughout the north and east.  This routinely includes the use of ground forces, artillery fire, landmines, air and naval attacks.  Fighting can errupt with little or no warning.

Much of the north and east of Sri Lanka remains heavily land-mined, particularly around the A9 road from Vavuniya to Jaffna.  Travel off main roads should be avoided.  Always take notice of signs warning about the danger from landmines and do not step off metalled roads.
 
There has been civil unrest in the east, including in Pottuvil, Batticaloa and Trincomalee. The possibility of further unrest remains.
 
Commercial flights in and out of Jaffna are not suitable for tourist travel due to intense security and frequent cancellations of flights leaving the city.  The A9 road, which runs east from Jaffna, is closed and there is currently no overland route from Jaffna to the south of the island.
 
Much of the north and east of Sri Lanka remains heavily land-mined, particularly around the A9 road from Vavuniya to Jaffna. Travel off main roads should be avoided. Always take notice of signs warning about the danger from land-mines and do not step off metalled roads.

Road Travel
 
See also the Terrorism section of this advice for detailed information about a number of recent fatal terrorist attacks against civilian buses. Alternative forms of transport should be used where possible.
 
Road users should be prepared for the unexpected.  Erratic driving and bad road conditions contribute to frequent traffic accidents, often involving pedestrians.
 
Buses are generally badly maintained and bus drivers often have little or no training.  Bus crashes are a regular occurrence.  In April 2005, 35 bus passengers were killed when a train hit a bus after the bus driver ignored a level crossing signal.
 
Taxis and hire cars are inexpensive in Colombo and tourist areas.  Motorised rickshaws are readily available for hire in towns and villages, and most drivers are reliable.  However, you should exercise caution, for example by changing to a different rickshaw if you have any concerns about the driver or standard of driving.  Women, in particular, should be wary of travelling on their own in a rickshaw at night.
 
You should comply with instructions at all roadblocks and security checks.
 
For further information see Driving Abroad.
 
Rail Travel

See also the Terrorism section of this advice for information about a recent fatal terrorist attack at one of the main railway stations in Colombo.
 
There have been a number of derailments affecting both tourist trains and commuter trains.

Sea Travel

There have been attacks against ships in and around Sri Lankan waters.

Mariners are advised to take appropriate precautions.  The coastline and adjacent territorial sea of the Trincomalee, Mullaittivu, Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mannar administrative districts in the north and east have been declared restricted zones by the Sri Lankan authorities and should be avoided.  The Sri Lankan navy has fired on unauthorised ships in these areas.  Entry into Sri Lankan waters, at any point, requires prior permission.
 
For more general information see River and Sea Safety

Local laws and customs

You are subject to local laws in Sri Lanka and violating them may result in a jail sentence.
 
There are severe penalties for all drug offences and crimes related to the abuse of children.  Convicted offenders may face lengthy jail sentences.
 
Same sex relations are illegal.
 
Nude or topless sunbathing is generally not allowed.
 
Although Sri Lankan attitudes to informal European styles of dress are generally relaxed, you should consider religious and other sensibilities.  Do not enter a Buddhist temple wearing headgear or with bare legs or shoulders and always remove footwear.  You should avoid posing for photographs standing in front of a statue of Buddha.
 
You can be fined if you ignore instructions not to smoke or drink in certain public areas.
 
For more general information for different types of travellers see Travel Advice Relevant to You.

Entry requirements

Visas

Visas are required for Sri Lanka.  If you are a British national visiting for tourism for 30 days or less, you can obtain a visa on arrival, but this cannot be extended. If you stay longer than your visa allows, you are liable to a fine and possible detention. All other visas, including for those undertaking voluntary activity and paid or unpaid work, should be obtained at a Sri Lankan High Commission or Embassy before you travel.  You should contact your nearest Sri Lankan diplomatic representation for the full details.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond the end of your intended stay.

Health

Emergency medical treatment in Sri Lanka is not easily available outside main cities, and you may have to be brought to Colombo for treatment.  Medical facilities are not always of a standard expected in the UK, particularly outside Colombo.  Treatment in private hospitals can be expensive and the options for repatriation to the UK or neighbouring countries in an emergency are limited and very expensive.

Dengue fever, chikungunya and malaria are common to Sri Lanka.

In the 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 5,000 adults aged 15 or over in Sri Lanka were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at less than 0.1% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%.  You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. For more general information on how to do this see HIV and AIDS.

You should seek medical advice before travelling to Sri Lanka and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
 
For more general health information see Travel Health

Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

There have been no reported cases of Avian Influenza (also known as Bird Flu) in Sri Lanka during the current series of outbreaks.  But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed cases elsewhere in the region.
 
You should read this advice in conjunction with Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which gives more detailed advice and information.

Natural Disasters

Monsoon rains have cause brief but swift flooding in many places in Sri Lanka. Five people were killed during these floods in May 2007. In the hill country landslides have closed roads and destroyed some buildings. You should seek advice about travelling conditions during the monsoons.

General

Insurance

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.  See Travel Insurance for more details.
 
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then this is how we can help.
 
Consular Registration

Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.  More information about registering with LOCATE can be found here.

ID

You must be able to show some form of official identification if requested by the Sri Lankan authorities, for example the police.

Sea bathing

You should follow local advice e.g. from your hotel before bathing in the sea as in many areas there are dangerous undercurrents and strong riptides.

Money

You cannot change Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes in Sri Lanka.  Most major banks will change US dollar travellers’ cheques as well as allow Visa and Mastercard cash withdrawals.  There are ATMs in major cities but some do not accept international cards.  (See also information above about credit card fraud.) 

Travel advice for this country

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contacts

Sri Lanka, Colombo, British High Commission

Address:

190 Galle Road
Kollupitiya
(PO Box 1433)
Colombo 3

Telephone:

(94) (11) 2437336-43

Fax:

(94) (11) 2430308
(94) (11) 2335803 (Consular/Visa)

Email: bhctrade@slt.lk

Email: Colombo.General@fco.gov.uk

Email: Consular.EnquiriesColombo@fco.gov.uk

Office hours:

GMT:
Mon-Thurs: 0230-1100; Fri: 0230-0730
Local Time:
Mon-Thurs: 0800-1630; Fri: 0800-1300

Consular Section
GMT:
Mon-Fri: 0230-0730
Local Time:
Mon-Fri: 0800-1300

Website: http://www.britishhighcommission.gov.uk/srilanka