Travel money Sri Lanka 2021: How to pay & how much to bring

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Travel money guide: Sri Lanka

Take money to Sri Lanka and spend travel money for less on the ancient island.

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Sri Lanka is packed with beauty, adventure and history, and is overall affordable for US tourists. You can exchange 1 USD for around 156 Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). That means more rupees to ride a tri-shaws to explore the cities, personal tours of the mountains and of course, more to eat and drink. Let us help you figure out the right combination of cash and credit cards to bring on your trip to Sri Lanka.

Our picks for traveling to Sri Lanka

American Express® Gold Card logo

Our pick for travel credit card

American Express® Gold Card

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.6/5
Transferwise Multi-currency logo

Our pick for multi-currency debit card

Transferwise Multi-currency

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.5/5
SoFi Money logo

Our pick for 0% transaction fee debit card

SoFi Money

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.6/5

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

If you’re traveling to Sri Lanka, learn the pros and cons of your travel money options. Compare prepaid travel cards, credit cards and debit cards to help you determine which option is right for you.

These are your options for spending money in Sri Lanka

ATMs accepting Visa and Mastercard are widely available in cities and towns. Be sure to notify your bank that you’ll be traveling so they don’t flag any Sri Lankan purchases as suspicious. Because the Sri Lankan government tightly monitors money that is brought in and leave the country, keep all certificates you get when exchanging your money. You may be asked for it when you leave.

Using a credit card

You’ll find that Visa and Mastercard are accepted in the major cities and some towns. It’s best to reserve credit cards for purchases rather than cash withdrawals, as they come with hefty fees. Some credit cards charge 3% currency fees when you make purchases in rupees, so look at cards that waive those fee. Some cards offer rewards or frequent flyer programs and can be a good way to pay for flights for future vacations. Always notify your credit card company whenever you plan on using your card abroad.

  • Tip: Before you leave on your vacation check to see if your credit card offers any travel protection or insurance.
Pros
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Access to a line of credit
  • Accepted worldwide
  • No currency conversion/ transaction fees on some credit cards
  • Benefits including rewards points on spending, 0% purchases and frequent flyer perks
Cons
  • Can charge high withdrawal and cash advance fees
  • Easy to blow your budget

Using a debit card

Debit cards can be a good way to access your bank account overseas, making it easier to stick to a budget while on vacation. If you have a bank that offers no foreign transaction fees, like Charles Schwab, you can save on your withdrawals. You’ll find that most banks in Sri Lanka charge a withdrawal fee, so limit the amount of transactions you make. And unless your card is designed for overseas use, you’ll be charged a currency conversion fee if you use your card to make purchases.

Pros
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Best exchange rates
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
Cons
  • ATMs in Sri Lanka charge a service fee

Using a prepaid travel card

No travel cards support Sri Lanka rupee, so look for a card which waives the currency conversion fee, such as Travelex, if you’re set on taking a travel card when you visit Sri Lanka. These products won’t apply the additional charge for currency conversion when you spend in rupees, which can be higher than what you’d pay if you use your regular debit or credit card. The compromise is these cards will charge you to use an international ATM withdrawal in Sri Lanka, which is a couple of dollars for each withdrawal. You can load these cards with another currency to use at some merchants— but don’t count on it. And you won’t get the best exchange rate.

  • Tip: When you get a travel card, you’ll get two for the same account. This can come in handy if your first card is lost or stolen, so make sure to keep the second card in a safe place.
Pros
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Pre-load and secure your exchange rate in multiple foreign currencies
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
Cons
  • Local ATM and reloading fee
  • Does not hold LKR

Paying with cash in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is unique in that you are not allowed to bring more than 5,000 LKR, about $30, in or out of the countries without a exchange receipt. Exchange your US dollars at exchange bureaus at the airport or at a bank. There isn’t a commission and they offer fair exchange rates. Changing your money at a hotel is possible, but you won’t get the best rate.

Pros
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
Cons
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

Using traveler’s checks

Once upon a time travelers checks were a popular way to take foreign currency overseas. Today, this type of travel money has been replaced by plastic. travel cards, debit cards and credit cards offer the same security features and are more convenient. In Sri Lanka, traveler’s checks can be cashed at most banks, but be aware that you may wait in long lines and pay a commission.

Pros
  • Accepted at most banks and hotels
  • Security
Cons
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept traveler’s checks
  • Takes a lot of time to cash them at banks

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months
4x at restaurants including delivery and Uber Eats; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points) and 3x points on directly-booked flights
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $750 through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Plus up to $50 statement credit towards groceries.
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on up to $1,000 on groceries until April 30, 2021, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
Earn a signup bonus worth $750 plus up to $50 statement credit towards groceries with this popular travel card.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
75,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on directly-booked flights on up to $500,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on other purchases
$550
One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $4,500, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Terms apply, see rates & fees
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Get familiar with the Sri Lankan rupee

Sri Lankan rupees are exotic currency and you may find it difficult to find a bank or exchange office that can sell you LKR. You’ll get a far better deal if you wait till you arrive in Sri Lanka to purchase rupees. The Sri Lankan rupee comes in the following denominations: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000.

The official currency of Sri Lanka is the rupee (LKR). The Sri Lankan government has tight control over the national currency and there are strict limits on the amount of rupees you can bring in and out of the country (up to 5,000 LKR). Because the Sri Lankan rupee isn’t an international currency, you’ll need to change your US dollars or withdraw rupees from an ATM when you arrive.

10 Sri Lankan rupee20 Sri Lankan rupee50 Sri Lankan rupee
100 Sri Lankan rupee200 Sri Lankan rupee

The main banks in Sri Lanka are:

  • Commercial Bank of Ceylon
  • Sampath Bank Plc
  • National Savings Bank
  • People’s Bank
  • Hatton National Bank
  • Seylan Bank Plc
  • National Development Bank Plc
  • Amana Bank
  • Nations Trust Bank Plc
  • DFCC Bank

Exchanging money

Exchange offices at Colombo and Hambantota airports offer competitive rates, so don’t be afraid to get your cash changed as soon as you get off the plane. Exchange offices at Colombo airport are open 24/7.

Licensed money changers such as jewelers and designated exchange offices may offer a better rate than banks. And sometimes the rates depend on the denominations you want to change. For example, you may be able to get a better rate exchanging $100 bills compared to lots of $20 bills.

Live Rate

= Rs 196.0666

Refreshing in: 60s | Mon, Mar 08, 09:45AM GMT

Hotels and street money changers

If you can, avoid changing money at your hotel, as they usually offer a worse rate than banks and dedicated money changers, and charge a commission.

Street money changers may offer an attractive rate, but there’s a higher chance of being ripped off. We’ve been told that tourists have a good chance of being short changed. So get to know the exchange rate and what the rupee notes look like and count your money before you leave the transaction.

  • Tip: Be sure to keep your exchange slip when you get money changed so you can re-exchange cash when you leave the country.

Withdrawing cash from an ATM

Getting your LKR from an ATM is the best option. If you make large withdrawals each time you use the ATM, you’ll save on fees charged by the ATM and your bank. You can save even more if you find a debit card that waives the international fee and withdrawal fee like a Charles Schwab account.

The banks to use to withdraw cash

Not all banks accept foreign cards. You can make cash withdrawals using your US card at these popular Sri Lankan banks:

  • Sampath
  • Commercial Bank
  • Hatton
  • National Bank
  • HSBC
  • Standard Chartered Bank

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Make sure you check to see whether the ATM takes your card. The Visa and Mastercard logo should be displayed on the front of the machine.

Cash pickup services in Sri Lanka

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 195.086 LKR 194,308 WorldRemit sends money to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposits, cash pick-ups or mobile top-ups. Go to site Show details
$10 Within an hour USD 1.99 192.145 LKR 191,763 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Remitly has quick, affordable transfers around the world, with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 Within an hour USD 8.00 191.655 LKR 190,122 MoneyGram has fast cash pick-up transfers to more than 350,000 agent locations worldwide. Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 191.165 LKR 187,342 Western Union sends money online to friends and family in 200+ countries around the world. Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

How much rupee should you bring on your trip?

You’ll get a lot for your dollar in Sri Lanka. Though, expect to pay upwards of 10 times more than the locals for sight seeing tours and excursions. If you’re traveling on a budget you can spend as little at $15 a day, midrange travelers can expect to spend around $35 a day, and for high end traveling plan to spend around $100 a day.

ColomboBudgetMidrangeExpensive
AccommodationSimple guesthouse
$5–$15 per night
Double bed in a nice hotel
$13–$25 per night
5 star hotel
$40 and higher
MealsFish Curry and Mixed Rice
$1–$4
Meals at hotel or restaurant
$9–$15
Meals at top-end places
$26 above
TransportationBus fares
$2 per day
Tri-shaw, bike rentals and ride trains
$.50–$5 per day
Daily use of car and driver
$59 for a day

Based on the exchange rate of 1USD = 153.65 LKR

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