April 2019 update
14 June 2019: Due to the April bombings in Sri Lanka, SafeTravel has updated its travel advice
From white sand beaches to lush rainforests and arid plains, Sri Lanka has in recent years established itself as one of the most popular tourist destinations of South East Asia. In 2015 alone, the country drew over 60,000 visitors from New Zealand and and well over a million from around the world.
However, travelling is never without its risks, and travellers are advised to get travel insurance before leaving New Zealand to help ensure their safety. This guide will outline some of the risks that you should be weary of when travelling in Sri Lanka and what to look for when comparing travel insurance options.
- Illness: Its tropical climate means visitors to Sri Lanka are at higher risk of certain diseases, particularly the mosquito-borne dengue fever. Use insect repellants, wear long sleeves, ensure you’re up to date on your immunisations.
- Civil unrest: Large demonstrations and public gatherings can occur in Sri Lanka and have been known to turn violent or become targets for politically motivated attacks. Avoid protests and demonstrations and monitor local media for information on curfews. Be aware that the legal liability cover included in your travel insurance will not necessarily cover legal fees incurred if you’re detained for being caught near a demonstration.
- Credit card fraud: Credit card fraud, particularly card skimming, is frequently reported in Sri Lanka. Use cash where possible and stick to the ATMs attached to banks and major hotels if you can. Check that your travel insurance policy provides credit card fraud cover so that you can shop with more confidence on your trip.
- Vehicle accidents: Intercity buses, three-wheeler taxis and many other vehicles on the road are not maintained or driven to the same standards as in New Zealand, and fatal accidents are frequent on Sri Lankan roads. Consider rental car excess insurance if you’ll be driving a hire car, overseas health cover in the event of an accident and death benefits for the worst case scenario.
- Natural disasters: In Sri Lanka’s north-east, monsoon season runs from December to March. In the south-west it’s from May to October. During these times there’s a much higher risk of flooding and landslides, while tectonic activity off the coast means there’s always a risk of tsunamis. Consider travel cancellation cover in the event of you being delayed or needing to reschedule due to blocked roads, poor weather or other circumstances beyond your control.
- Snorkeling and diving: A popular pastime for Sri Lankan visitors on account of the colour and diversity surrounding the island, you should make sure you are covered for watersports, including scuba diving or snorkeling.
- Mountain biking: Kitulgala is Sri Lanka’s adventure capital with the terrain to satisfy any adrenaline junkie. Mountain biking in particular is popular in Kitulgala, but not all travel insurance policies will cover it.
- Rainforest trekking: One of the best ways to experience Sri Lanka’s great outdoors is on foot and you can often find wildlife paths and trekking trails around elephant sanctuaries and other natural attractions. These paths aren’t always well maintained, however, and travellers have been known to twist ankles and break legs while traversing the landscape.
- Whitewater rafting: The rapids of Kelani River, near Kitulgala, are ideal for whitewater river kayaking and rafting, whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Whatever your skill level, remember to get cover.
- Surfing: Many people visit Sri Lanka for the surfing alone, in particular, the gems of Talalla on the south coast and Hikkaduwa, Midigama and Arugam Bay on the east. The surfing is at its best from April to October, but it’s still good all year round. Just make sure you read the terms and conditions of your travel insurance for surfing.
Sri Lankan healthcare punches above its weight, considering how relatively little has been invested in it, and the Sri Lankan government provides universal healthcare to all its citizens, although public hospitals can be crowded and waiting times long.
With the right overseas health cover, your travel insurance should allow you to access private hospitals in Sri Lanka in the event of a medical emergency. When looking for a travel insurance policy, consider:
- Medical expenses: This is what your policy will pay for general, necessary medical costs incurred overseas, such as if you get sick and have to go see a doctor, or if you have to pay for prescription medication. Because these aren’t emergencies you’ll typically have to pay up front yourself and then claim the costs back later.
- Emergency health care: This is the extent to which your policy can pay for emergency medical expenses including hospital accommodation and treatments. Most policies will pay up front for emergencies.
- Medical evacuation: Evacuation from an isolated spot can be cost-prohibitive without travel insurance. This inclusion covers you for necessary medical evacuations.
- Medical repatriation: If you are injured and doctors recommend you return home with special medical attention, then this is medical repatriation. It can cost tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in the event of particularly serious or complex health issues and depending on location.
You should have the contact details of three parties while travelling:
The local embassy or consulate: In Sri Lanka, this is the New Zealand Visa Application Center.
- The New Zealand embassy in Sri Lanka is located at 36 Temple Ln, Colombo 00300, Sri Lanka.
- Call +94 112 506 257 for general enquiries or help while in Sri Lanka.
Your insurer: When you take out a travel insurance policy, carry your insurer’s details with you. You need to be able to reach them quickly if you have to make a claim.
Friends and family: Share your travel plans with friends and family and try to make sure that someone knows where you’re going and what your schedule is like. Arrange regular check ins so that they can alert the embassy and other authorities if you go missing.
Short-stay visitors to Sri Lanka need to get an electronic travel authorisation (ETA) prior to arrival. This serves the same purpose as a visa. Once you have your ETA you must submit it for approval to be allowed into Sri Lanka.
- Apply for an ETA online. Be aware that fees may apply.
- Once your ETA is submitted and processed, you will receive an approval, which lets you enter Sri Lanka within 3 months of the date of issue.
- Currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR or Rs).
- Change currency after arrival, not before, if you want the best rates.
- Specify that you want some small bills when changing money, otherwise you might end up with a lot of 1000s and 2000s that are too big to spend easily. 20s, 50s, 100s and 500s are the most useful denominations, with the smaller ones in particular being useful for tipping.
- Tipping is widespread, and 10% is standard for meals and services. It’s customary to tip porters about 50 Rs per bag and temple shoe minders about 20 Rs. Guides at temples and parks may also expect tipping, but here you should settle on a price ahead of time to avoid potential arguments.
- Don’t count on being able to use traveller’s cheques. Many banks simply won’t exchange them. Use cash where you can and use your card with caution.
Read our guide to travel money for Sri Lanka
- Don’t measure travel times by distance. Bad weather, unmaintained roads and shifting traffic can make travel times unpredictable. As a general rule you should expect it to take longer than you’d think and shouldn’t assume that something’s quick to get to just because it’s nearby.
- Expect hot, humid and sticky weather all year round. Even in winter Sri Lanka doesn’t cool down much.
- Take the mosquitoes seriously. They are much more likely to be carrying diseases than the ones back in New Zealand. Apply and reapply insect repellants, wear loose fitting long sleeves and long pants and ensure your sleeping arrangements are protected if possible.
- Don’t expect a big party scene. Naturally you can still find it if you know where to look, but Sri Lanka is predominantly a family holiday spot.
- Expect locals to, on the whole, be welcoming and friendly. Do not, however, accept invitations of guided tours or anything else unless you’re certain of what exactly the arrangement is and what kind of payment your “guide” will want.
Watch out for certain exclusions in your travel insurance policy and make sure you’re covered for what you need.
- Failure to obey signs and warnings: While travelling in Sri Lanka, you may come across warning signs for hazardous spots, cliffs and dangerous animals, but also minefields and other extreme dangers. Failing to obey all clearly posted signs and warnings can be used as a reason not to pay benefits.
- Failure to obey local laws: Police in Sri Lanka do not need a warrant to arrest you and certain things like blasphemy and homosexual behaviour are illegal. Regardless of whether you feel the local laws are just, or properly applied, your insurer can refuse to pay a benefit if you’ve broken them.
- Reckless behaviour: If your own reckless behaviour puts yourself or others at risk, or if you experience loss because of demonstrably poor decision-making, then your insurer may refuse to pay out. The defining marker for this decision is usually whether or not reasonable care was taken.
- Under the influence of drugs or alcohol: If you fail to pay attention to your belongings or personal safety, behave irresponsibly or otherwise suffer loss while travelling and under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your insurer may not pay out.