The culture of Sri Lanka mixes modern elements with traditional aspects and is known for its regional diversity, taking its influences from both Indian and European culture. The country has two official languages however; many more are spoken in the country, with English being widely spoken. Religion plays a large part of everyday life and culture with over 70% of the country being Buddhist.
The people of Sri Lanka possess a warm and friendly nature. You’ll always find smiling faces and an eagerness to help others. Sri Lankans are very hospitable and take pride in inviting people to their homes, however modest they may be.
SRI LANKAN TIME ZONE
Sri Lanka is 5.5 hours ahead of UK time.
CURRENCY IN SRI LANKA
One Sri Lankan Rupee consists of 100 cents. You can only purchase Sri Lankan Rupees in Sri Lanka as it isn’t an International Currency. On arrival at Colombo Airport, it is best to change some Sterling at the Banks or exchange bureaus just before the Arrival Hall where there are 24hr facilities.
ATMs accepting Visa and MasterCard are widely available in cities and towns. If you wish to use Visa or MasterCard’s in ATMs, it is best to notify your Bank in the UK that you will be travelling to Sri Lanka, prior to your departure.
Keep any exchange receipts you are given, and do not forget to change your money back before leaving the country, as you will not be able to change it once you return home.
WEATHER IN SRI LANKA
With different dry and rainy seasons depending on the area of the country, and fairly constant temperatures (average 26-30°F), Sri Lanka is a great year round destination.
The best time to visit is December to April as this is dry season for the west coast, the south coast and the Hill Country. From April to September is best for the ancient cities area and the east coast. Low season is May to August when the Yala Monsoon brings heavy rain, but it’s still a reasonable time to visit the North and East.
COVER UP WHEN REQUIRED AND DRESS APPROPRIATELY
Sri Lankans are conservative people. Therefore, dress modestly to show respect and decency. Light and loose clothing is recommended. If you’re going to visit a place of worship, showing shoulders and legs (above the knee) is considered disrespectful. For women, it’s a good idea to keep a scarf in your bag to cover up your shoulders when sightseeing and visiting temples. Men should always wear a shirt or t-shirt in public areas, and will sometimes be required to wear long trousers. You may have to remove your shoes at certain sacred sites too.
Tattoos of Buddha or other religious significance are deemed as offensive, and could result in arrest or deportation. When visiting Sri Lanka, it is advised to cover up religious tattoos at all times. There are no issues with non-religious tattoos.
It is considered highly offensive in Sri Lanka to have a picture taken with your back facing towards Buddha. Please adhere to warning signs.
DRIVING IN SRI LANKA
We highly recommend that you use the services of a local driver in Sri Lanka as driving attitudes are very different from those you are used to in the UK. This allows you flexibility as to where you travel to and also allows you to sit back and enjoy the view out of the window, without having to navigate the chaotic roads.
If you are planning to self-drive in Sri Lanka then you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) and also an endorsement from the Automobile Association of Sri Lanka. You must arrange the IDP before you leave the UK and the endorsement can either be pre-arranged for you by the motorhome rental company prior to your arrival, or in person once you arrive in Colombo. There is a fee for the endorsement of approximately £18. A British driving licence on its own will not suffice.
Driving will require constant attention to the road. Country roads are often narrow, with continuous pedestrian, animal and bicycle traffic to be aware of. However, Sri Lanka is currently going through a country wide road improvement program.
Be aware of buses, cars and trucks overtaking you - to announce this, drivers will sound their horns as they overtake.
DRIVING TIMES AND DISTANCES IN SRI LANKA
Don’t underestimate the distance between the main attractions in Sri Lanka. Even though this country is quite small, it takes considerable time to commute between attractions.
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN SRI LANKA
Sri Lanka is generally a safe country with helpful and hospitable people. However in larger cities such as Colombo we would ask you to be vigilant as petty street crime can occur. When walking around in crowded areas we recommend you wear as few valuables as possible and make sure your spending money is kept in a secure place close to your body.
If travelling at night take a taxi rather than walking, and always carry an address card of where you are staying just in case you have communication issues. We also recommend you make photocopies of important documents such as your passport and driving license, keeping the originals in a safe place.
Sri Lanka is a tropical country with a hot and humid climate that attracts plenty of insects. Make sure you pack insect repellent, ideally DEET-based. We recommend you do not drink the tap water - stick to bottled water and double check the seal around the cap has not been tampered with prior to drinking. Western medical facilities are available in the major cities. General health and recommended vaccination information for Sri Lanka can be found on the NHS website.
The beach is one of Sri Lanka’s greatest attractions, but be careful of the undercurrent when swimming or participating in water activities. The surf can be unexpectedly strong, and it can pull unsuspecting swimmers out too far if they aren’t careful.
Depending on the areas you are planning to travel to during your trip to Sri Lanka, you are likely to encounter wild animals. We ask you to adhere to all safety signs and be vigilant at all times, especially in and around the National Parks.
PASSPORTS AND VISAS IN SRI LANKA
To travel to Sri Lanka from the UK you will need a full UK passport with at least six months validity after you return home. You will need an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) visa to enter Sri Lanka. You can get a short stay visa online allowing you to stay up to a maximum of 30 days. If your stay is over 30 days then a visa extension will be needed, and must be paid for locally. The visa extension cost is in addition to the ETA visa, so please make sure you still apply for this before travel.
Although it’s still possible to get a tourist visa on arrival, it’s better to get one before you travel. If you arrive in Sri Lanka without a visa, you could face delays. If you experience any difficulty with the ETA System, you should get a visa from the Sri Lankan High Commission before you travel.
SHOPPING IN SRI LANKA
Sri Lanka is well known for its variety of handicrafts and home-grown produce sold at its many markets and street side shops. For more interesting boutiques and stores visit Colombo and Galle. Unless you are making a purchase from a fixed-price store, then bargaining is normal and expected.
The Indonesian art of Batik is very popular in Sri Lanka. You’ll find some of the best and original on the west coast and in Kandy. Last but not least, Sri Lanka has the widest variety of precious stones among the world’s gem producing countries - blue sapphires, star sapphires and ruby’s to name but a few.
VAT of 15% is added to goods and services.
SRI LANKA PROHIBITED ITEMS
Do not attempt to bring meat or fresh fruit into the country. Other banned products include weapons, drugs, or anything religious that is deemed offensive. For more a more detailed list, please visit the Sri Lankan Customs website.
SRI LANKA IMPORT ALLOWANCES
Non-residents have the following duty free allowances when travelling to Sri Lanka.
- 1.5 litres of spirits
- Two bottles of wine
- 250ml of perfume/after shave
- Souvenirs and personal effects not intended for commercial use with a value not exceeding US $250.
BRINGING GOODS INTO THE UK
For limits on what you can bring back into the UK from abroad, please see the up to date information at www.hmrc.gov.uk/customs.
TIPPING IN SRI LANKA
Tipping is always at your discretion, and based on the service you have received. Suggested tipping amounts are as follows:
- Restaurants & Bars – up to 10% in cash
- Drivers – 10% of total fee
- Room Cleaners – approx. Rs100 per day
- Bag carriers/porters – Rs50 per bag