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Travel money guide: Sri Lanka

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

Sri Lanka is packed with beauty, adventure and history, and is overall affordable for US tourists. Cash, credit cards and debit cards are all accepted, and you can exchange 1 USD for around 156 Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). That means more rupees to ride tri-shaws to explore the cities, personal tours of the mountains and of course, more to eat and drink.

With credit cards doing a lot of the heavy lifting for purchases, it pays to choose a card that waives foreign transaction fees. Let us help you figure out the right combination of cash and credit cards to bring on your trip to Sri Lanka.

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Travel card, debit card or credit card?

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 leaves 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 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 foreign transaction fees when you make purchases abroad, so look at cards that waive those fees, like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card (Terms apply, see rates & fees).
Some cards also offer rewards or frequent flyer programs and can be a good way to pay for flights for future vacations. Review your travel habits and compare travel cards to find one that offers the best value for your needs. And to prevent unintentional card locks, 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 international ATM fees, like Betterment Checking, you can save on your withdrawals. You’ll find that most banks in Sri Lanka charge a withdrawal fee, so limit the number 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 an 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, traveler’s 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
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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 number 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 299.8961

Refreshing in: 60s | Tue, Apr 23, 12:08PM 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 Betterment Checking 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.

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 sightseeing 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

Frequently asked questions

How can I send money to Sri Lanka from the US?

Money transfer services are the best ways to send money to Sri Lanka.

When are banks open in Sri Lanka?

Most banks are open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Banks in the city may stay open until 3 p.m. You may even find some money exchangers that are open 24 hours a day.

How much can I withdraw from an ATM in Sri Lanka?

ATM limits in Sri Lanka depend on the ATM. Most dispense between 40,000 to 80,000 LKR at a time. Be aware of what your bank’s daily limits on withdrawals are.

What do I do with my leftover LKR?

There are restrictions on the amount of LKR you can take out of Sri Lanka, so visit the exchange counter at the airport to exchange any leftover rupees. You should have an exchange slip from when you first changed your USD to LKR. Show this slip to get your money changed back before you leave the country.

How much should I tip when I’m in Sri Lanka?

A tip can be a great way to show your appreciation for a job well done. Though tips aren’t required, they are expected in Sri Lanka for services like room cleaning, carrying bags, drink and food service and guided tours. You’ll notice a service charge is included when you dine out and settle your hotel bill.

Tip restaurant and bar staff and drivers 10% of the total bill, 100 rupees a day for cleaners and 50 rupees (per bag) for porters. If you’re visiting a temple or shrine, tip shoe minders 20 rupees. Island car tours will expect a little more, but it’s ultimately your decision.

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4 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    CfNovember 11, 2019

    Hi..I am travelling to srilanka from India..I have a forex card loaded with USD ..what would be the best option to get SLR in cash using the card..At the
    Airport, jewellers or from the ATM..

      Default Gravatar
      nikkiangcoNovember 11, 2019

      Hi CF,

      Thanks for your comment and I hope you are doing well.

      Generally, the best place to exchange your currency depends on your specific situation, your destination and what you’re willing to pay for convenience.

      However, if you are taking a prepaid travel money card when you visit Sri Lanka, it won’t be necessary to use exchanges or jewelers because you can use it to withdraw at any local ATMs in Sri Lank if you need cash in rupees(SLR). Although, you may be charged an international withdrawal fee which can be a couple of dollars for each withdrawal.

      Using a prepaid travel card is also a convenient way to pay for your spending in rupees especially if the card you have waives the currency conversion fee. And even if they do charge, it’s usually still cheaper than using a credit or debit cards.

      Hope this helps and feel free to reach out to us again for further assistance.

      Best,
      Nikki

    Default Gravatar
    VickiOctober 29, 2018

    Will a taxi driver accept U.S. dollars for a short ride?

      Default Gravatar
      joelmarceloOctober 29, 2018

      Hi Vicki,

      Thanks for leaving a question on finder.

      Generally, taxis could be payed with dollars but it would be convenient for you to have some extra Sri Lankan currency on hand too. You can have your USD exchanged in the airport as soon as you arrive.

      Please send me a message if you need anything else. :)

      Cheers,
      Joel

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