Sri Lanka Travel Advice
Security travel advice for Sri Lanka
Threat level: Medium-High
The general threat to Sri Lanka remains quite high due to the recent series of bombings carried out by the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a local militant radical Islamist group. The group is said to have international support in funding, training and logistics. Historically, the country had terrorism issues with the ‘the Tamil Tigers’, but this group has not been officially active since 2009.
There is some inter-communal and religious tensions amongst citizens of Sri Lanka which can sometimes lead to demonstrations or political unrest. Travellers are advised to remain clear of any situation that could turn into a protest.
Recent Security Risk Events
Easter Sunday 2019 saw a coordinated attack, including a number of failed attacks on various locations in Sri Lanka. Three Churches were bombed in Colombo Batticaloa and Negombo, as well as three other sites: a hotel, a housing complex and boarding house. A number of bombs were placed in a van that was discovered and defused near St. Anthony's Shrine. An IED was also discovered near the airport in Colombo and unconfirmed devices at the bus station in Colombo. Almost 360 deaths have been reported with over 500 people injured.
It is believed that in 2014, Sri Lanka's military shot dead three individuals who were trying to revive the terrorist group 'the Tamil Tigers'. The armed suspects tried to confront the soldiers who were patrolling the northern part of the country, which led to violence to break out between the individuals. Two of the three suspects were thought to have escaped from the area a month before the killings.
Even after the end of terrorist conflict in Sri Lanka, there is still a relatively heavy presence of security forces such as armed military, particularly in the north and eastern provinces. If you are planning on travelling to this region, you should be aware that you may encounter a number of roadblocks and check points. Ensure that you have photographic ID such as a driving licence or passport on you at all times as you can be asked to produce it at checkpoints.
Western women may experience some harassment in the streets of Sri Lanka both verbally and physically. Most frequently this is experienced in busy markets, on public transport and at sports events or stadiums. If at all possible, women should avoid travelling alone or in female-only groups to reduce the harassment experienced. All travellers should also be wary of accepting drinks from strangers as there have been a few reported cases of drink spiking in the country.
There is some risk of kidnapping from organised gangs. Visitors should take care at all time when in Sri Lanka and not draw attention to yourself or your party.
In the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka there remains a small amount of landmines which are in the process of being located and disposed of. Areas that are particularly affected include Vavuniya in the north and within this the areas of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Puthukudiyiruppu. It is highly advised that you stick only to heavily used roads and avoid walking in forested areas.
Sri Lanka’s relations with other countries seeks to promote its principle of friendship towards all. The country’s aim is to have no disputes and this is reflected in it being a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement which is a group of states that do not formally adhere to or revolt against any major power bloc.
The country is in the process of strengthening relations with countries such as Bangladesh, the United States and Japan amongst others, as it looks to work on their diplomatic, economic and military ties.
Should you wish to hire a car or drive your own vehicle in Sri Lanka, you will have to apply for an International Driving Permit along with a Sri Lankan recognition permit, with the latter being available at the AA in Colombo.
Travel outside of the main cities should be well planned and organised. There are regular security check-points around the country and many no-go areas including areas that are being demined. Roads outside of cities are in poor condition and are often the cause of serious road accidents. You should drive with extreme caution throughout your trip but particularly if you are travelling beyond the cities.
It is advised that you do not use public transport such as buses as the driving can be erratic and vehicles often poorly maintained and overcrowded. Bus accidents are common and often cause devastating effects. Where possible you should use official taxis and agree on a fare before departing.
With its climate, Sri Lanka experiences extreme weather conditions. Check the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Centre for updates on regional weather forecasts.
The Monsoon seasons occurs from December to March in the northeast and June to October in the southwest. Rainstorms can cause flooding and landslides that can result in widespread displacement of people, injuries and sometimes death.
Sri Lanka is prone to tropical storms between April and December that can lead to loss of lives, injuries and damages to infrastructure.
Earthquakes and tsunamis
Located in an active seismic zone, Sri Lanka can be the scene of earthquake and tsunamis.
Religion: Buddhism 69%, Hinduism 15%, Christianity 8% & Islam 7%
Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee
Time now in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte:
Most visitors to Sri Lanka will have to apply for a tourist visa in order to gain entry into the country. Whilst this is available at the entry upon arrival, it is recommended that it is arranged before departure to reduce waiting time.
Visas can be applied for online through the Electronic Travel Authorisation system and are usually granted for a period of 30 days. You should contact your local Sri Lankan Embassy for further information.
It is advised that visitors to Sri Lanka are up-to-date with primary boosters such as MMR. It is recommended for most travellers to also get a Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations.
Although there is no risk of Yellow Fever across Sri Lanka, if you are coming from a country where there is a risk of Yellow Fever, or transiting for longer than 12 hours in an at risk country, you will have to provide a certificate vaccination. You should check with your local health professional prior to travel if you are unsure.
Other health risks
Medical facilities and the quality of treatment available outside of the main cities, particularly Colombo is variable and often a poor standard. If you are seriously ill or injured, it is likely you will have to be brought back to Colombo or a neighbouring country for treatment.
You should ensure that you purchase comprehensive travel and medical insurance that will be able to cover the costs of any necessary treatment. Private medical facilities are generally a better standard but can prove extremely costly.
Dengue fever is present in the country, particularly in the Western Province which is where the capital city is. The disease is spread through infected mosquitoes and you should take necessary precautions to prevent bites. This includes actions such as wearing appropriate clothing to cover up exposed skin and sleeping with mosquito nets.
More information on Dengue Fever can be found here: Dengue Fever facts
U.S. Embassy Colombo
210 Galle Road
Telephone: +94 11 2 498500
British High Commission Colombo
389, Bauddhaloka Mawatha,
Telephone: +94 11 5390639
Other useful info
Police emergency: 118 or 119 or 011-2433333
Tourist Police: (Hotline) 011-2421052
Police - Report Crimes: 011-2691500
Police Emergency - Mobile Squad: 011-2691500
Fire emergency: 110 or 011-2422222
Medical emergency: 110 or 011-2422222