Sri Lanka Travel Information
February 14, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Sri Lanka is a presidential parliamentary democracy with a developing economy. Civil war and terrorism have seriously disrupted the country since 1983. Incidents of violence against military personnel and civilians have increased sharply in recent months. On January 16, 2008, the Government formally withdrew from the Ceasefire Agreement they signed with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2002. Despite the armed insurgency, Sri Lanka's beaches, hill country, and archeological sites continue to attract thousands of visitors each year from around the world. The Asian Tsunami on December 26, 2004 caused severe damage and loss of life to several coastal areas of eastern, southern, and southwestern Sri Lanka. Most affected resorts have completely recovered. The capital city of Colombo, the Cultural Triangle (Kandy, Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa), and many southern beach towns have good tourist facilities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Sri Lanka for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and onward/return ticket and proof of sufficient funds are required. A no-cost visitor visa, valid for 30 days, will be granted to tourists at the time of entry into Sri Lanka. Business travelers are required to have a visa prior to arrival. Individuals traveling to Sri Lanka for purposes other than tourism (i.e. volunteering or working) must obtain an entry visa from the nearest Sri Lankan Embassy or Consulate before their arrival in Sri Lanka. Visitors staying more than 30 days for any purpose must pay residency visa fees. Travelers need yellow fever and cholera immunizations if they are arriving from an infected area. Sri Lankan law requires all foreign guests in private households to register in person at the nearest local police station. Individuals who stay in private households without registering may be temporarily detained for questioning. This requirement does not apply to individuals staying in hotels or guesthouses.
Specific inquiries should be addressed to the Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 2148 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 483-4025 through 26, fax numbers (202) 232-7181, e-mail address:firstname.lastname@example.org, the Sri Lankan Consulate General in Los Angeles at 3250 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1405, Los Angeles, CA 90010, telephone (213) 387-0210, or the U.N. Mission in New York City, telephone (212) 986-7040. There are several honorary Sri Lankan consuls general and consuls in the United States. They can be located at the Sri Lankan Embassy web site. Visit the Embassy of Sri Lanka web site at http://www.slembassyusa.org for the most current visa information. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The Department of State urges American citizens to carefully evaluate the risks of travel to Sri Lanka and specifically warns Americans against travel to northern and eastern areas of Sri Lanka. Since fighting resumed in mid-2006, approximately 5,000 persons have been killed. Since 1997, the State Department has included the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Terrorist activities such as suicide bombings and targeted assassinations in the capital city of Colombo and other areas of the country remain a serious threat. The LTTE and other groups have targeted Sri Lankan security forces, government officials, and civilians. With military operations against the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka escalating, the U.S. Embassy expects that retaliation by the LTTE in the form of assassinations and bombings in the Colombo area and other parts of the country will continue and likely increase.
Throughout its history, the LTTE have engaged in numerous terrorist acts, including suicide bombings at political rallies, government buildings, and major economic targets. Civilians, in addition to military personnel and government officials, have been targeted. On February 3, 2008, 14 civilians were killed and approximately 100 were injured when a suicide attacker detonated an explosive device inside Colombo's main railway station. The same day, seven were injured when a grenade was detonated in the Dehiwala Zoo. On February 2, 2008, a bomb on a bus going from Kandy to Anuradhapura exploded in Dambulla, killing 20 civilians and injuring over 50. On January 16, 2008, a terrorist attack against civilians traveling on a bus in Uva Province killed at least 24 people, including many women and children, and more than 60 people were injured. On January 8, 2008 a fragmentation mine (claymore) explosion fatally wounded a government minister in the vicinity of Ja-Ela, on the main road between Colombo and Sri Lanka's International Airport. The blast claimed two lives and injured more than 10 security personnel and civilians. On January 1, 2008, a Tamil opposition Member of Parliament was shot dead while worshipping in a Hindu temple in Colombo. In November 2007, a bomb exploded in a clothing store at Nugegoda Junction, a busy suburb of Colombo, killing at least 17 and injuring more than 30 civilians. Although there is no indication that American citizens were targeted in these attacks, and none were injured, there is a heightened risk of American citizens being victims of violence by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The conflict has impacted economic facilities as well. Earlier in the year, Sri Lanka's International Airport briefly curtailed operations following an attack by LTTE fixed-wing aircraft on March 26, 2007 against the adjacent Katunayake Air Force Base. Subsequently, on April 29, 2007, LTTE aircraft attacked two oil facilities in the Colombo area. In response, Sri Lanka's International Airport was closed from 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. On July 1, 2007, the airport resumed 24-hour operations. LTTE activity has also taken place in the vicinity of Colombo's harbor and port. In February 2007, Sri Lankan forces reported sinking LTTE boats as they attempted to enter Colombo.
The Department of State strongly advises American tourists to avoid military bases and vehicles and VIP security convoys. In December 2006, the LTTE attacked the motorcade of Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in downtown Colombo. In April 2006, a female suicide bomber attacked the Commander of the Sri Lankan Army at army headquarters in Colombo, killing several members of his staff. Americans are also strongly advised to avoid political rallies and other mass gatherings, and to limit their exposure to government buildings if possible.
In light of attacks against civilian buses and trains, American citizens are strongly cautioned against traveling by bus or train in Sri Lanka. U.S. Government personnel are currently prohibited from using these modes of transportation.
Non-Sri Lankan citizens of Tamil heritage have occasionally been detained during security operations. U.S. citizens of any ethnic heritage are encouraged to keep their passports with them at all times. In the event of a terrorist attack, Americans should monitor local radio and television, seek cover away from windows, and return to their homes or hotels when it is safe to do so. In the event of LTTE air attacks, Americans are advised to remain in their homes or hotels away from windows during air attacks to avoid falling shrapnel or bullets. If traveling, individuals should find a safe location in a building as soon as possible. The Government of Sri Lanka has periodically imposed curfews in Colombo; Americans should strictly observe curfew regulations and monitor local radio and television. As security forces increase their vigilance, travelers in Colombo are often the subject of searches by the police. U.S. citizens should expect frequent delays in travel due to the deteriorating security situation in Sri Lanka. American citizens should comply with instructions from the security forces. Americans are strongly advised against taking photographs of Sri Lankan military bases, foreign missions in Sri Lanka and government buildings, which could be a violation of the law under current security restrictions in the country.
Tourists should be aware that the LTTE has the capability to operate in several national parks in the North and East of Sri Lanka. In October 2007, the LTTE attacked a Sri Lankan army camp in Yala National Wildlife Sanctuary, located in southeastern Sri Lanka, killing six soldiers and wounding three others. The incident took place in a tourist area of the wildlife park, but foreigners were not the object of the attack and none were injured. However, the incident highlights the prevailing risk to non-combatants of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
American citizens are warned against travel to northern and eastern areas of Sri Lanka. Americans are strongly advised not to travel north or east of a line from Puttalam on the west coast through Anaradhupura in the central north to Polonnuruwa, Bibile, and Pottuvil on the east coast. While the government has effectively controlled the eastern part of the country since July 2007, security there is not yet assured. Some LTTE members and larger numbers of armed paramilitary members are active in the area, leading to instability and incidents of violence. Americans are particularly warned against travel to LTTE-controlled areas in the north, where ongoing conflict between government and LTTE forces poses severe hazards. Roads are substandard and areas recently affected by the conflict may contain both marked and unmarked mine fields, making travel there very dangerous. Police, medical and other emergency help is severely limited or unavailable. Communications within the eastern areas are also limited, with limited cell phone accessibility and very limited landline telephone access. The U.S. Embassy may not be able to provide consular services in a timely manner to American citizens who travel to the North and East. Official travel by U.S. Government personnel in the North and East is restricted, and unofficial travel is prohibited. Americans should consider their personal security foremost before considering traveling or working in northern or eastern Sri Lanka.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affair's web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: While Sri Lanka has a high crime rate, relatively few incidents have been directed against the American community residing in Colombo. Most of the violent crimes occur within the local community and involve people who know each other, although violent crime directed at foreigners is not unheard of. Routine petty crime, especially theft of personal property and pick pocketing, is not uncommon if the traveler does not take appropriate safeguards. Street hustlers or "touts" are common around hotels, shopping centers and tourist sites. Incidents of credit card fraud are increasing, and travelers should consider paying in cash, whenever possible, and should carefully review billing statements to ensure that purchases displayed on the statements are accurate. Brawls in nightclubs and bars are not uncommon and sometimes involve foreigners.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities outside Colombo are limited. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of private physicians who may be consulted. Medical supplies are uneven; travelers should carry any special medications with them. There are six large hospitals in the Colombo area, including three with emergency trauma service-- Asiri Hospital, Apollo Hospital, and the government-run General Hospital. Serious medical problems may require evacuation to the United States or to the nearest country where adequate medical facilities or treatment is available, usually Thailand or Singapore. Neither Thailand nor Singapore requires American citizens to have an entry visa.
Several mosquito-borne diseases, including chikungunya, dengue fever,Japanese encephalitis and malaria, are present in Sri Lanka. Adequate mosquito protection is strongly advised.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Sri Lanka is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Vehicular traffic moves on the left (British style). Traffic in Colombo is very congested. Narrow two-lane highways, overloaded trucks, dangerously-driven buses and a variety of conveyances on the road, ranging from ox carts and bicycles to new four-wheel-drive jeeps, make driving a challenge and dangerous. Unexpected road blocks and one-way streets are common and may not be clearly marked. Many visitors hire cars and drivers for long trips through the country. Individuals choosing to hire three-wheeled vehicles should negotiate prices beforehand to avoid confrontations. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of Sri Lanka's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.lanka.net.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Sri Lanka, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Sri Lanka's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Sri Lanka recognizes dual nationality in some cases. For further information, please contact the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington DC, the Consulate General in Los Angeles, or the U.N. Mission in New York City. Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Sri Lanka's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sri Lanka are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children's Issues web pages on inter-country adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Sri Lanka are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Sri Lanka.
The U.S. Embassy in located at 210 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka. The Embassy's telephone number during normal business hours Monday through Friday is (94) (11) 249 8500. The after-hours emergency telephone number is (94) (11) 249 8888. The Consular Section fax number is (94) (11)-249 8590. The Embassy's Internet address is http://colombo.usembassy.gov/. The Consular Section has a specific email address dedicated to American Citizens Services at ColomboACS@state.gov. The general email address for the consular section is email@example.com. The Embassy in Colombo also covers the Republic of Maldives.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Sri Lanka dated October 11, 2007, to update the sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.
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