Travel tips for Sri Lanka



Sinhala, or Sinhalese, is the dominant language spoken across the island and among Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Sinhalese majority. It is one of the recognised official languages of the country alongside Tamil, the country’s minority ethnic group. English is commonly spoken within the business community, though this can be a challenge when navigating the streets of Colombo or more rural areas.


Business settings are formal with small cultural nuances, but leeway is given to foreigners in this respect. While men normally shake hands with other men, and women with women, some women may not wish to shake hands with a man outside of family circles. It is best to wait and see if a woman extends her hand. Titles are important, and business cards should be treated with respect, always held and received with two hands. Sri Lankans are very non-confrontational in their communication style, which often requires interpretation. The word “no” is frequently avoided, as it is seen as too blunt and puts one at risk of losing face. It is customary for tea to be offered during meetings.


Sri Lankan men dress in traditional Western apparel for business, including shirt and tie, though jackets are uncommon. During recreation, sarongs are often worn. The saree is the most common form of professional dress for Sri Lankan women, particularly for those who are working in the public sector.


The country has a 230-V, 50-Hz electrical system using three-pronged UK plugs, either square or rounded. Other plugs will require adaptors, which a majority of hotels provide. Nearly the entire island is electrified and blackouts are very rare.


A traveller intending to visit Sri Lanka for a short stay must obtain an electronic travel authorisation, which can be completed online in advance or applied for upon entry at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). This grants 30 days in the country, and is extendable. Fees at BIA are to be paid in US dollars.


Sri Lanka lacks a regularised domestic flight network, with the exception of Cinnamon Air, which carries a small fleet of propeller planes catering to tourists. Inland travel is most commonly conducted through an extensive rail network with different classes of cabins, or through private car hire. Within Colombo and across Sri Lanka, three-wheelers, or tuk-tuks, are the most common form of transport for Sri Lankans and travellers alike. A number of these are metered and can be flagged safely on the street. Additionally, taxi companies like Kangaroo Cabs have become popular in Colombo, which have call-in numbers and smartphone applications. Ride-hailing applications such as Uber or the local Pick Me are gaining steam.


The national currency is the rupee, shortened to LKR. As of February 2019 the exchange rate was LKR176:$1. Notes are available in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 5000. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs blanket the island. Cash is still recommended for more informal transactions such as paying for taxis and three-wheelers.


Health facilities in Colombo are generally at or near international standards; however, these can be a challenge to find in rural and remote areas. Travellers should always possess mosquito repellent as the dengue virus is present across the island. Sri Lanka also has one of the highest ratios of snakebite victims as a percentage of its population in the world, so travellers should exercise caution when moving both in and out of urban centres.


The country code for Sri Lanka is +94. SIM cards can be obtained with a passport upon arrival at BIA, along with any outlet for operators Dialog, Mobitel, Airtel or Hutch.


Sri Lankan cuisine is influenced by South India, foreign traders and its colonial history. Key ingredients include coconut, rice and spices. Curries can include fish, chicken, beef, vegetables and lentils.

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The Report: Sri Lanka 2019

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