Everything you need to know about visa and visa extension in Sri Lanka! (update 2021)
We are getting a lot of questions about visa’s for Sri Lanka; how to apply for a Sri Lankan tourist visa, where to get apply for your visa, how to get a longer visa for Sri Lanka, and of course how to extend your already obtained visa for Sri Lanka when you are in the country. Below we will explain in detail the best and safest way to get all your visa matters in Sri Lanka sorted!
Visa Free for Sri Lanka
Since the 1st of August 2019, the one-month ETA/visa is free for nationals from Australia, Canada, European Union member countries, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand! You can either get the visa online or on arrival and save yourself $35/$40.
Update 02.01.2020 – The free visa scheme has been extended to the 30th of April 2020. Pro tip: If you’re travelling up to a max of 3 months after the free visa scheme ends, you can still apply for the visa up to max of 3 months prior! Example: you are travelling on the 30th of July, apply for the free visa on the 30th of April. The application is valid for 3 months! Update 01.02.2020 – although various news agencies have mentioned an extension of the free visa scheme, this, unfortunately, has been discontinued and from the 1st of February 2020, you will have to pay for your visa once more. Update 26.02.2020 – finally the free visa scheme that was extended has been put into practice. Citizens of the countries listed here can get a free visa/eta for Sri Lanka till the 30th of April 2020.
Update 2021 – the free visa scheme has ended.
1. How to apply for a visa for Sri Lanka
Like in a lot of other countries, you need to obtain a visa prior to entering the island nation of Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka is dependant on tourism, they have made this process very easy, at least for most nationalities.
Actually, Sri Lanka is a visa-free country. Yes, you read that correct, visa-free! However there is a catch, they do charge for your ETA or Electronic Travel Authorisation. Which is basically the same but different. Most nationalities can also get this on arrival, but this costs $5 more.
With an ETA, you will receive a 30-day double-entry VISA once you arrive in Sri Lanka.
HOW TO GET YOUR ETA / VISA FOR SRI LANKA
1. Online in advance through the official website of Sri Lanka.
Fill in all required details on the official website and wait for the confirmation to come in. This generally takes about 2 hours. First, you will receive an email that your online application has been received, a little bit later that you will receive an email confirming your ETA. This could take a bit longer in weekends or public holidays and also make sure you check your email spam box.
When asked to fill a flight number and an address in Sri Lanka, fill in your flight into Colombo and the address of your first accommodation. If you do not have anything booked yet, just fill something random in as we have never heard that they actually check this.
Your ETA/visa is linked to your passport and in the system. But just in case, do bring a printout or have the email ready on your phone.
2. Visa on arrival.
This process takes a little bit longer because there is an extra queue at the airport you will have to wait in and they aren’t as efficient. Also, this option is more expensive, thus we recommend everyone to apply for their ETA/visa online in advance.
You can get a visa on arrival at the following ports:
- Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake (near Negombo)
- Colombo International Airport, Ratmalana (15km south of Colombo)
- Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, Hambantota
- Cruise Terminal, Colombo
COSTS OF ETA / VISA
Online: $20 (for SAARC countries ) and $35 (all other countries).
On arrival: $25 (for SAARC countries ) and $40 (all other countries).
PROOF ON ONWARD FLIGHT
Before travelling to Sri Lanka, make sure you have (proof of) an onward flight stating that you are going to leave the country again. For most travellers, this will be a return ticket with the same airline back to your home country. But for long term travellers with no fixed plans, this can be an issue. They could ask for this document at the Sri Lankan border or sometimes even before check-in from your departure airport and refuse you on the flight if you do not have this, this is always the case when travelling from India for instance.
For travellers with no fixed plans there are some options:
- Or just be creative and make your own ticket or change an old one. Again we have never heard they actually check this, just be sure not to use Sri Lankan Airlines or the one you are flying with as they could check this.
Make sure your passport is valid for a minimum of 6-months from the date of arrival in Sri Lanka. If your passport is too old, apply for a new one before expiry as your ETA/visa is linked to your passport number!
WHEN TO APPLY
You can apply for your ETA/visa for Sri Lanka up to 90 days before your intended arrival in Sri Lanka.
2. Extending your visa for Sri Lanka
There are a few ways in which you can stay in Sri Lanka longer than the standard 30-day visa.
SRI LANKA VISA FROM EMBASSY IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY
You can apply for a 3-month visa at the Sri Lankan Embassy in your home country (if you have one). This is a pretty straightforward procedure and we recommend calling the Sri Lankan mission abroad closest to you beforehand for more information.
EXTEND YOUR VISA AT THE DEPARTMENT FOR IMMIGRATION AND EMIGRATION
When in the country, you can extend for an additional 2 months to a total of 3 months. After this, you extend again for 3 months giving you a total of 6 months. So for the 6 months in total, you will have to visit the office of the Department of Immigration and Emigration twice or arrange this through a visa processing agency. In some cases, we have heard you van even extend your Sri Lankan Tourist Visa to 9 months!
If you want to extend your visa yourself you will have to make your way to the office of the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Battaramulla, Colombo. This is the official government office where you can get your visa extended in Sri Lanka. The office is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm with an hour-long break for lunch in the middle.
How to get there:
The easiest way to get to the office is using a tuktuk from Tuktuk Rental! But otherwise, a taxi service like Uber or PickMe will work too. If you are thinking of going by bus, check out the app Colombo Bus Routes or ask around the bus station for the bus to Battaramulla or Passport Office. Depending on traffic and where you are coming from in Colombo, this will take from 30min to an hour. Remember if you are asking locals to use your best Sri Lankan accent when saying “passport office”.
Before you go, make sure you have all the necessary documentation filled out and ready. This will save you time at the visa extension office!
What you need to bring:
- Print out the visa extension form and have it ready.
- If you do not have access to a printer, you can get one at the small shops outside the office for Rs. 50 or get the document from the counter inside the office.
- Make sure you have a passport-size photograph pasted on the visa extension form.
- If you don’t have a photo, you can have one made. You can do this outside the office or inside of the office (on the first floor) for about Rs. 250.
- If you don’t have any glue to paste the photo on the visa extension document, there is some inside the office on level C (where you will need to go to pick up the forms, which is also the waiting room).
- Cash/credit card for visa extension fee, please check this website for the fee per country.
- An official requirement is to have a ‘proof of onward flight‘ and ‘sufficient funds’, however in our experience they never really ask for this. Definitely when getting the first 2 extra months (to a total of 3) extension, just make sure you don’t look like a beggar when you are at the office.
- If you want to play it safe, check out the ‘proof of onward flight’ section above and print out a bank statement
- Snacks/drinks, something to do like read a book or like too many photos on social media. Of course, you will need some patience 😉
- Last but not least: YOUR PASSPORT, with of course more than 6 months of validity!
NOTE: In the street where the office is located, there are a lot of shops which can help you with this process. The same shops where you can get a passport-size photograph and a print-out of the visa extension document. The people outside these shops will try to convince you that they can do the visa extension for you faster and that it takes a very long time, however they are just trying to make an extra buck and it takes just as long as you would do it yourself but is more expensive.
Steps to take:
- Make sure you have all the documents ready like mentioned above.
- Get over to the office of the Department of Immigration and Emigration.
- The actual office where you can extend your visa is not the one you enter. You walk through the busy waiting area to the opposite left side, cross a small road and then enter the office in the back. That’s where you take the elevator to the 4th floor and turn right towards the first counter.
- Try to get here by 8 AM, the first of the 5 counters are already open so you can start the process.
- On the 4th floor turn right towards a room with a C on it and a sign that says Welcome To The Visa Division. Hand in your completed application and passport to the person sitting at the desk right after you enter this area. They will hand you a number token and ask you to sit in Wing C nearby and wait for that number to be called.
- Take a seat at Wing C and keep an eye out at the screen for your number to be shown. At the bottom of the screen are the numbers that are due to be called so you can see how far back in line you are.
- Once your number is called, hand over your token to the clerk behind this desk who will scan it and then tell you to proceed to Area B. Which is located in another area, head outside the doors and walk straight along the hallway to a door labelled B called Visa Application Acceptance Unit and walk-in.
- This area opens at 8.30 AM, be prepared to stand up when the Sri Lankan National Anthem is being played!
- In this room, again there will be screens on the wall where you will see your number appear. Take a seat and wait for your number to be called. When you see your number, head into one of the four small offices (labelled A – D) indicated for your number.
- Go into the office and hand over your documents and passport to the visa officer who will inspect them.
- Head back to Area C, where you started, and wait at the Payment Counters which are located behind the desk that issues number tokens in step 3, on the right side. Again wait for your number to appear on the screen or to be called.
- Once called, hand over your token number. The person behind the desk is going to quote you a price of Rupees after conversion from USD. You can either pay in cash in Rupees or hand them a Visa or MasterCard and be charged in USD.
- After you make the payment, get your receipt and head over to the waiting area behind Wing C in step 4. Which is located to the left of the payment counters.
- Once your number is called, head to the counters at the front and hand over your number, sign the sheet, and get your passport back. Always check whether the visa extension sticker is in your passport with a new expiry date.
The record by following these steps for your visa extension is currently set at 1 hour and 50 minutes, arriving at 8 AM and leaving at 9.50 AM!
3. Other options for getting the Visa Extension
If you have money or are short of time, you can go to one of the Extension Agencies which are certified, legal entities, that can arrange your visa with less hassle (they do all the leg work for you). You just need to hand in your passport and fill out some forms at the start of the day, and then you can collect it again at 5 pm usually on the same day. The one we would recommend and which our customers have used before is Immigration Services Centre, another option is Island Visa Services.
4. Overstaying your visa in Sri Lanka
Currently, the penalty for overstaying your visa in Sri Lanka is $500! We have not heard of anyone who really got fined this.
There is no official information to be found on overstaying your visa in Sri Lanka. However, from travellers and reports on various online portals, we can conclude there is a very small chance you will not have to pay a fine.
There is a 7-day grace period for overstaying, an agent like Immigration Services Center can help you obtain your visa when still in this grace period.
When your Sri Lanka Tourist Visa is expired, you have 24 hours to leave the country without being fined.
If you overstay, you can be escorted into the interrogation room where you will need to explain yourself. This will cost some time which results in people missing flights. We have heard of other people that they have been placed on a 5-year blacklist and only could enter Sri Lanka with a special visa (source: TripAdvisor).
The majority of overstayers leave the office losing more money than they want to.
Experiences from people overstaying their visa in Sri Lanka
We have heard of someone who was hospitalized because of dengue and then overstayed for 21 days. Finally ended up paying just $25 to immigration and had a small talk with the officer before leaving the country.
Another person we spoke to had overstayed 1,5 weeks, they ended up paying 14,000LKR to the immigration officer.
8 days overstay
An elderly couple overstayed their visa in Sri Lanka by 8 days, ended up having a serious conversation with the immigration officer and paid $67 in extension charges. Their excuse was that they thought they had applied for a 3-month visa but only had 1-month.