Credit card fraud is the most common type of crime affecting visitors. Use cash wherever possible and only use ATMs attached to banks or major hotels. Don’t lose sight of your credit card if you use it. Some travellers experience problems using their cards on arrival in Sri Lanka when their banks’ automated fraud protection system blocks transactions. It may be possible to avoid this by informing your bank in advance of your intended travel arrangements. There are plenty of money-changers in tourist areas if you want to change cash.
Violent crimes against foreigners are infrequent, although there have been an increasing number of reports of sexual offences including on minors. When travelling around Sri Lanka, you should make arrangements through reputable travel companies and take care.Women should take particular care when travelling alone or in small groups, and carry a personal alarm.
There have been reports of thefts from hotels and guesthouses. You should take precautions to safeguard your valuables, especially passports and money.
Organised and armed gangs are known to operate in Sri Lanka and have been responsible for targeted kidnappings and violence. While there is no evidence to suggest that British nationals are at particular risk, gangs have been known to operate in tourist areas. A British national was killed during a violent attack by a gang in a tourist resort in December 2011.
The Sri Lankan justice system can be slower than in the UK. There are currently a number of outstanding cases of crimes against British Nationals which have yet to reach trial.
Disputes between market traders and street hawkers can sometimes become violent. In 2010, an explosive device injured a number of people following a dispute in Pettah, Colombo.
There have been reports of drinks being spiked with drugs in bars and restaurants in southern beach resorts. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers at bars and restaurants, and don’t leave drinks unattended.
Local travel – North
The Government of Sri Lanka has announced that foreign nationals travelling to the northern districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaittivu, Mannar and Vavuniya no longer need to get permission from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence. However, foreign media crews will still need prior permission to travel to these districts. Travellers to the north may still encounter restrictions around military establishments and areas where demining operations continue. For more information about the accessibility of a particular area, contact the Sri Lankan Military Liaison Officer on +94 11 2430 860.
Local travel – Jaffna Peninsula
There is free movement everywhere outside High Security Zones with fewer checkpoints around the Peninsula. Operations to clear mines continue, particularly in the heavily mined area towards Elephant Pass.
Local travel – Kilinochchi, Mullaittivu, Mannar and Vavuniya
There is a continued heavy military presence. It’s generally possible to move around freely, although some checkpoints remain (notably Omanthai). There was severe war damage to property throughout the northern region so accommodation options and infrastructure are limited. Some areas were heavily mined and operations to clear minefields continue. There are signs warning of mined areas but you should take care.
Local travel – East
Demining, weapons and ordnance clearance and resettlement operations are ongoing in parts of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara Districts. Always obey orders from the security forces and look out for signs warning of landmines. Don’t leave the roads or cleared footpaths and, if in any doubt, contact the local security authorities for advice.
Local travel – South
Only ‘Block One’ of Yala National Park (also known as Ruhuna National Park) is accessible to the public. If you plan to visit the park, use a reputable tour company.
Many beaches in Sri Lanka have dangerous surf or rip tides at certain times of the year. Always take local advice before entering the sea. A number of foreign nationals have drowned.
You will need an International Driving Permit and a Sri Lankan recognition permit to drive in Sri Lanka. You can obtain a recognition permit at the AA in Colombo. A British driving licence on its own will not suffice. Always wear a seatbelt and make sure you’re insured.
Many roads, particularly outside the major towns are in a serious state of disrepair Driving is erratic and there are frequent road accidents, particularly at night. Pedestrians and animals often appear in the road without warning. Vehicles don’t stop at pedestrian crossings. Riding a motorbike is particularly dangerous. If you have a collision, stay at the site of the accident with your vehicle as long as it is safe to do so. If it is not safe or if you feel threatened, report to the local police station.
Security checkpoints and roadblocks still occur in parts of the country. Take care when passing through them, and always obey the instructions of the police or army on duty. There have been cases where security forces have opened fire on vehicles that don’t stop when asked. Roads around Government and military sites in Colombo are regularly closed for security reasons (e.g. VIP convoys).
Buses are notorious for driving fast and rarely giving way. They are often poorly maintained. A number of serious bus accidents have occurred in recent years.
Taxis are inexpensive. Motorised rickshaws (tuk-tuks) are available for hire in towns and villages. Agree a price before you set off or look for one with a working meter. Most travellers report no difficulties, although there have been reports of harassment, particularly of lone female travellers at night. Change to a different rickshaw if you have any concerns about the driver or standard of driving.
Entry into Sri Lankan waters, at any point, requires prior permission.
You should avoid the coastline and adjacent territorial sea of the Trincomalee, Mullaittivu, Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mannar administrative districts in the north and east, which have been declared restricted zones by the Sri Lankan authorities.
Although no acts of piracy have been reported in the Sri Lankan Economic Exclusive Zone, piracy is a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, especially for shipping which does not take appropriate precautions or follow agreed shipping industry best practice guidelines. See Piracy in the Indian Ocean.
See our Piracy in the Indian Ocean page.
Political rallies in Sri Lanka have on occasion turned violent. You should avoid any political gathering or rally and be wary of spontaneous large gatherings. Carry a form of official photographic identification with you at all times. You should follow local news closely in case a curfew or other restrictions are announced.
Since the end of the military conflict in May 2009, there has been an increase in nationalism including at times anti-western rhetoric. In the past, there have been protests against the British High Commission and other diplomatic premises. Although no protests have so far been directed at the British community more generally, you should be vigilant and avoid demonstrations.
Avoid military bases and buildings, which were the most frequent target of attacks and which now maintain high security in many districts in the north and east.