Sri Lanka

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 09 April 2014.   It contains new information under Civil unrest/political tension (the Prevention of Terrorism Act remains in place and permits prolonged detention without charge or trial). We advise you 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Foreign passport holders, including diplomats and international and local non-government organisation personnel, no longer require approval from the Ministry of Defence to travel to the north of Sri Lanka. However, individuals and groups intending to visit military establishments or High Security Zones or to meet military officials still require specific approval from the Ministry of Defence.
  • 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. Almost half of the cases in 2013 were reported in Western Province, where Colombo is located. See Health Issues below for more information.
  • Because of the prevailing security situation, we strongly recommend that you register your travel and contact details with us so we can contact you in an emergency.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Travellers intending to visit Sri Lanka should consult the nearest Sri Lankan Embassy or Consulate regarding visa requirements. When selecting the appropriate visa category note that travellers risk deportation if they engage in activities outside of their visa conditions.

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.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

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.

Civil unrest/political tension

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Sri Lanka at this time because of the unpredictable security environment. Australians could inadvertently become victims of violence directed at others. You should pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media and other local information sources for information about possible new safety or security risks.

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.

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.

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.

There have been incidents of violence against aid workers and political activists, including in Jaffna, Vavuniya and the Eastern Province. Journalists have been victims of violent assault and intimidation, including in Colombo.

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. 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. 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.

Local travel

Travellers are advised to limit travel in High Security Zones and near military and government installations. You should also maintain a high degree of awareness at roadblocks and checkpoints.

Transport conditions throughout Sri Lanka are hazardous. There is a high number of road deaths and injuries, 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.

Foreign passport holders, including diplomats and international and local non-government organisation personnel, no longer require approval from the Ministry of Defence to travel to the north of Sri Lanka. However, individuals and groups intending to visit military establishments or High Security Zones or to meet military officials still require specific approval from the Ministry of Defence.

For advice on the location of areas where approval to travel is still required, you can contact the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence on telephone number (+94 11) 243 3215.

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure and water sport activities, are not always met. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. You should use reputable companies when arranging travel and activities.

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.

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

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work overseas.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Australians are required to pay an additional fee to have their passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Laws

When you are in Sri Lanka, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

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 drug trafficking are severe and include the death penalty. The death penalty may also be applied for murder and rape.

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

Photography and video recording in High-Security Zones (HSZs) 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 of Buddha images should keep these covered at all times.

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.

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

All regions of Sri Lanka experience outbreaks of the mosquito-borne dengue fever. For the first 11 months of 2013, almost 29,000 suspected dengue cases were reported to authorities, almost half of which were in Western Province. 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.

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.

Where to get help

In Sri Lanka, you can obtain consular assistance from the:

Australian High Commission

21 R. G. Senanayaki 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

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.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

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.

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.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



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.