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Sri Lanka Travel

Country Profile and Essential Information


unawatuna sri lanka

Unawatuna, a popular beach in Sri Lanka.

Photo by Greg Rodgers

General Information

  • Time: UTC + 5.5 hours (10.5 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time)
  • Country Phone Code: +94
  • Capital City: Colombo
  • Population: 21.4 million people
  • Primary Religion: Buddhism

Where is Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is an island situated in the Indian Ocean just off the southern tip of India.

Sri Lanka Visa and Entry Requirements

Sri Lanka changed from a Visa on Arrival system to the new Electronic Travel Authorization system in 2012. Now, people from all countries excluding Singapore and the Maldives must apply for a visa electronically before they enter the country.

The ETA visa for Sri Lanka costs US $20 and is valid for three months. The visa allows two entries, however, each stay cannot exceed 30 days in length. It is possible to extend your visa for an additional 90 days at the Department of Immigration in Colombo.

You can apply and pay for an ETA visa online at http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/. Once you receive a confirmation code, your visa is associated with your passport number and you will be stamped in upon arrival; no photo, printout, or paperwork is necessary.

Note: Like Singapore, Sri Lanka has strict customs laws. There is no allowance for tobacco products; you must pay a duty on all cigarettes brought into the country.

The People

  • Population: 21.4 million (July 2012 estimate)
  • Ethnic Groups: 74.5% Sinhalese; 11.9% Sri Lankan Tamils; 4.6% Indian Tamils; 8.4% Moors
  • Life Expectancy: 75.9 years
  • Religions: 69.1% Buddhist; 7.6% Muslim; 7.1% Hindu; 6.2% Christian

Sri Lanka has a literacy rate over 90% -- one of the highest in Asia.


The national languages in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and Tamil, however, English is spoken widely in Sri Lanka and is even used as a link language in their constitution.

Although English is sometimes spoken with a thick accent, you'll rarely encounter language difficulties in tourist areas. English is spoken far less in rural areas.


  • Currency: LKR -- Sri Lankan rupee.
  • Per-Capita GDP: US $5,700 (2011 estimate)

You'll end up with a wad of bewildering Sri Lankan rupee denominations while traveling; some of the denominations have changed size and color, only adding to the confusion. Coins are in circulation, however, you rarely encounter them.

Western-networked ATMs are found in Colombo and along major roads, however, you'll often need to take a tuk-tuk from tourist beaches to reach them.

Visa and Mastercard are accepted in some large hotels and restaurants, however, a surcharge is often added to your bill.

As with many countries in Asia, tipping is not expected in Sri Lanka. Sometimes a 10% service charge is added to restaurant bills, however, your server may or may not get it. You'll need to tip them directly in addition to the service charge to ensure that they are rewarded for excellent service.

When to Go to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka enjoys tropical weather throughout the year, but the island uniquely experiences two different monsoon seasons; at any time of the year, at least part of the country will be dry. The southwest beaches receive significant rain between May and July, while the northeast receives the most rain in December and January. All regions can experience rainy days at any time of year.

Peak season for Unawatuna and the other popular beaches in the southwest begins around December.

Getting to Sri Lanka

Unfortunately, no airlines currently offer direct flights between the US and Sri Lanka. You can score great deals on flights to Sri Lanka from Europe and Southeast Asia. Many people choose to break the long flight up in either Dubai, Europe, or Kuala Lumpur; the budget carrier Air Asia operates cheap flights between Malaysia and Colombo.

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