Business settings remain 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, seen as too blunt and making one at risk of losing face. It is customary for tea to be offered during meetings.
Sinhala, or Sinhalese, is the dominant language spoken across the island and amongst 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. Within the business community English is commonly spoken at ease, though this can be a challenge when navigating the streets of Colombo or in more rural areas.
A traveller intending to visit Sri Lanka for a short stay must obtain an electronic travel authorisation (ETA), which can be completed online in advance or applied for upon entry at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). This grants 30 days in country, and is extendable. Fees at BIA are to be paid in US dollars.
The national currency of Sri Lanka is the Rupee, shortened to LKR. Notes are available in 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.
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.
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 class cabins, or through private car hire. Within Colombo and across Sri Lanka, three-wheelers, or tuk-tuks, remain 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 come up in Colombo, which have call-in numbers and smartphone applications. Ride-sharing applications such as Uber or the local Pick Me are gaining steam.
Sri Lankan cuisine takes influence from South India, foreign traders, as well as its rich colonial history. Key ingredients include coconut, rice and spices. Rice curries can include fish, chicken, beef, mutton vegetables, and lentils.
Tipping is voluntary in Sri Lanka. Most restaurants and hotels add a service charge to the bill.
Health facilities in Colombo are generally at or near international standards, however it can remain a challenge to find in rural areas. Travellers should always possess mosquito repellent, with Dengue Virus 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, and 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 your passport upon arrival at BIA, along with any outlet for Dialog, Mobitel, Airtel, Etisalat, or Hutch. Sri Lanka enjoys some of the lowest mobile tariffs in the world.
Sri Lanka runs on a 230-V 50-HZ electrical system using three-pronged British plugs, either square or rounded. Other plugs will require adaptors, which a majority of hotels provide. As of 2017, nearly the entire island is electrified and blackouts very rare.