Sri Lanka

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Friday, 24 July 2015.   This advice has been reviewed and updated. It contains new information, including on the upcoming Parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka on 17 August 2015 (see Safety and security) and recent safety concerns regarding air travel with Helitours (see Local travel). The level of the advice has not changed. We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Sri Lanka at this time because of the unpredictable security environment.

Sri Lanka overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Sri Lanka at this time because of the unpredictable security environment.
  • Security forces maintain a visible presence throughout the country. Military and police checkpoints are present along some roads and road closures can occur without warning.
  • Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka on 17 August 2015. We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution at this time due to the potential for demonstrations and civil unrest in the period surrounding the elections.
  • You should avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent or be a target for politically-motivated attacks. Police have used tear gas in response to protests.
  • Due to recent safety concerns, air travel with the Sri Lankan Air Force civil aviation company ‘Helitours’ is not recommended.
  • In the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, which includes Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochichi and Jaffna Districts, post-conflict security force activity is ongoing.
  • In both the Northern and Eastern Provinces you should stay on main roads and pay close attention to signs warning of danger from landmines.
  • Pay careful attention to the type of visa you apply for. Travellers risk deportation if they engage in activities outside their visa conditions.
  • All regions of Sri Lanka experience outbreaks of the mosquito-borne dengue fever. During the first six months of 2015, 15,639 suspected cases of dengue fever were reported throughout Sri Lanka. Approximately 47% of these cases occurred in Western Province, where Colombo is located. See Health for further details.
  • See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

As visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice, you should contact the nearest High Commission of Sri Lanka for the most up to date information.

Foreign nationals who intend to visit Sri Lanka must obtain an Electronic Travel Authority prior to arrival. More information on the ETA can be accessed online at www.eta.gov.lk. There is a non-refundable processing fee for some categories of the ETA. When selecting the appropriate visa category note that travellers risk deportation if they engage in activities outside of their visa conditions.

Travellers must have yellow fever and cholera immunizations if they are arriving from an infected area. A yellow fever vaccination certificate must also be obtained by all travellers over the age of one who are arriving from, or have transited through affected African and Latin American countries within nine days immediately preceding entry to Sri Lanka. For more information, see the Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia.

Safety and security

Civil unrest/political tension

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka on 17 August 2015. We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution at this time due to the potential for demonstrations and civil unrest in the period surrounding the elections.

You should avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent or be a target for politically-motivated attacks. Police have used tear gas in response to protests. Curfews may also be imposed at short notice. Monitor the media and follow the advice of local authorities at all times.

Military and police checkpoints are established along some main roads and armed security forces have a visible presence throughout the country. Road blocks may be established without warning. The security forces have wide-ranging powers, including the authority to impose curfews, detain without charge for extended periods of time and to search individuals, vehicles, residences and commercial premises. You should comply with instructions issued by security personnel and carry proof of identification, such as your passport, at all times.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act remains in place and permits prolonged detention without charge or trial. Non-Sri Lankan citizens of Sri Lankan heritage have been detained on occasion by Sri Lankan Police or security forces. Australians are encouraged to keep their passports with them at all times and to ask to contact the Australian High Commission if detained.

Northern Province: There continues to be a presence of military and security forces in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, including Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Jaffna Districts. Travel restrictions for foreigners may be applied without notice. Marked and unmarked minefields and unexploded ordnance remain in some areas. You should stay on main roads, pay close attention to signs warning of the dangers from landmines and seek the advice of local authorities concerning the location of unsafe areas.

Eastern Province: While most of the Eastern Province has been cleared of landmines and unexploded ordnance, some isolated areas are yet to be cleared. If travelling in the Eastern Province you should stay on main roads and pay close attention to signs warning of danger from landmines. Travel restrictions for foreigners may be applied without notice. Communal and inter-ethnic tensions have been high in the east in the past and isolated incidents of violence can occur with little warning.

Crime

Incidents of violent crime occur in Sri Lanka, including sexual assault and robbery. Petty crime such as pick-pocketing and bag snatching also occurs, particularly in large gatherings (e.g. marketplaces and sporting events) and on public transport. Thefts also occur in hotels and guesthouses. Travellers should take appropriate precautions to safeguard valuables and personal effects.

There have been frequent incidents of credit card fraud. This includes recent reports of credit card skimming activities. Travellers should seek advice from their credit card provider on how to best protect themselves against credit card fraud. To minimise exposure to fraud use cash wherever possible and only use ATMs attached to banks and major hotels.

There have been an increasing number of reports of sexual harassment in Sri Lanka, particularly in areas frequented by foreign tourists. This includes verbal harassment, physical advances and sexual assaults. Female tourists, particularly those travelling alone, should exercise vigilance and consider organising their travels through reputable travel companies.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin.

Conventional conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north of the country ended in May 2009 with the military defeat of the LTTE. No terrorist attacks have occurred since then.

Local travel

Travel to High Security Zones

Individuals and groups intending to visit military establishments or High Security Zones or to meet military officials require specific approval from the Ministry of Defence. Travellers are advised to limit travel in these areas and near military and government installations. You should also maintain a high degree of awareness at roadblocks and checkpoints.

Other local travel issues

Transport conditions throughout Sri Lanka are hazardous. A high number of road deaths and injuries occur, particularly on inter-city buses and three-wheeler taxis. The standard of driving and vehicle maintenance is poor. There have also been a number of fatal accidents on Sri Lankan railways in recent years. For further advice, see our road travel page.

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure and water sport activities, may not be of the same level as in Australia. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if others don’t. If appropriate safety equipment is not available, you should use another provider.

Swimming conditions at some beaches are unsafe and there are often strong rips. Lifesaving services are rare. Appropriate precautions should be taken.

Piracy occurs in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka. See our piracy bulletin for more information. The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports on its website.

Airline safety

A number of air services operate between Colombo and the north, including services run by the Sri Lankan Air Force. Safety and maintenance standards may not be certified in accordance with international commercial airline standards. Due to recent safety concerns, travel with the Sri Lankan Air Force civil aviation company ‘Helitours’ is not recommended.

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Sri Lanka.

Please refer to our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

Money

Travellers to Sri Lanka may experience difficulty utilising travellers’ cheques (issuance and encashment) through local banks due to their limited usage.

Laws

You are subject to the local laws of Sri Lanka, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards. If you’re arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.
You must carry a form of official photographic identification with you at all times otherwise you may be detained.

Sri Lankan law includes provisions permitting arrest without warrant, provisions permitting extended detention without charge or trial for certain offences and a reversal of the onus of proof in certain circumstances.

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe and include the death penalty. See our Drugs page.

The death penalty may be applied for murder and rape.

Smoking and alcohol consumption in most public places are prohibited. You can be fined if you ignore instructions not to smoke or drink in certain public areas.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Sri Lanka. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Photography and video recording in High-Security Zones is prohibited. All military establishments and some government buildings, including official residences, have been declared as HSZs. Some HSZs may not be signposted.

The Sri Lankan government collects passport data from foreign tourists through registrations at hotels and guesthouses. This information is used by local law enforcement agencies.

Respect should be shown for religious traditions and artefacts. Posing for a photograph next to the statue of Buddha is a serious offence, as is the mistreatment of Buddhist images; both are punishable by fine or arrest. Travellers with tattoos, jewellery and clothing associated with Buddhism are considered offensive and may lead to fines, arrest or deportation.

Sri Lanka has strict laws concerning the export of certain items including cultural antiquities. Penalties can include fines as well as detention. Travellers should check the Sri Lankan Department of Archaeology website and the Sri Lankan Customs website for more information.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australian overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties for up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Sri Lanka and you should take care not to offend.

Visitors to Sri Lanka should respect local restrictions and observances around religious holidays. Full moon Poya Days are celebrated once a month and the purchase of alcohol or fresh meat is banned on these days.

You should seek local advice regarding customs and photography when visiting places of worship.

Information for dual nationals

Australian citizens of Sri Lankan origin are entitled to apply to have their dual nationality status recognised by the Government of Sri Lanka.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical and ancillary treatment in Colombo is below that of Australia. Medical facilities outside of Colombo are limited, especially in relation to emergency services. Private hospitals will require payment of a deposit or confirmation of insurance cover prior to admission. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a destination with appropriate facilities is recommended. Medical evacuation costs could be considerable.

Mosquito-borne illnesses: All regions of Sri Lanka experience outbreaks of the mosquito-borne dengue fever. During the first six months of 2015, 15,639 suspected cases of dengue fever were reported. Approximately 47% of these cases occurred in Western Province, where Colombo is located. There is no vaccination or specific treatment available for dengue. For further information on dengue fever, see the World Health Organization’s factsheet.

Malaria occurs in all areas of Sri Lanka except for the districts of Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Gampaha, Kegalle, Kalutara and Nuwara Eliya. Outbreaks of other mosquito-borne diseases (including chikungunya fever, Japanese encephalitis and filariasis) also occur frequently. We encourage you to take prophylaxis against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases where necessary; ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof; and take measures to avoid insect bites, including using an insect repellent at all times and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing.

The mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis is found throughout many regions of North, South and South-East Asia and Papua New Guinea, including in some rural areas of Sri Lanka. A Japanese encephalitis vaccine is registered for use and is currently available in Australia. For further details please consult your travel health doctor.

Other infectious diseases: Food-borne, water-borne and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, leptospirosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We recommend you boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

A decompression chamber is located at the Sri Lanka Navy Base in Trincomalee.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour provider, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24 hour emergency number.

If the matter relates to criminal issues, contact the police in Sri Lanka on their emergency services number (119). For an ambulance, contact 011 269 1111.

To complain about tourism services, contact the service provider directly or the Sri Lankan tourist police on (+94 11) 242 1451.

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can’t do to assist Australians overseas. For consular assistance, see contact details below:

Australian High Commission

21, Srimath R. G. Senanayake Mawatha (formerly Gregory's Road)
Colombo 7, Sri Lanka
Telephone: (+94 11) 246 3200
Facsimile: (+94 11) 268 6453
Email: austcom@sltnet.lk
Website: www. srilanka.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AustraliainSriLankaandMaldives

See the High Commission website for information about opening hours.

If you are travelling to Sri Lanka, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the High Commission you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The monsoon season is December to March in the northeast and May to October in the southwest. Flooding and landslides often occur. Travellers should contact their tour operator for information on any disruptions to infrastructure and tourist facilities. Following heavy rain, you should follow the updates from Sri Lankan Disaster Management Centre and comply with the instructions of local authorities in flood-affected areas.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs or a tsunami warning is issued, you should monitor local media and follow the advice of authorities.

Additional Resources

For other useful information to assist travelling in this country, see the following links:



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.