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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.

What currency can I use in Sri Lanka?

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.

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
Simple guesthouse
$5–$15 per night
Double bed in a nice hotel
$13–$25 per night
5 star hotel
$40 and higher
to-eat

Fish Curry and Mixed Rice

$1–$4

Meals at hotel or restaurant
$9–$15
Meals at top-end places
$26 above
carBus 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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Should I bring a travel card, credit card or a debit 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.

A quick summary of your travel money options in Sri Lanka

Not all banks accept foreign cards
Travel money optionProsCons
Debit cards
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Best exchange rates
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
  • ATMs in Sri Lanka charge a service fee
Prepaid travel money cards
  • 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
  • Local ATM and reloading fee
  • Does not hold LKR
Credit cards
  • 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
  • Can charge high withdrawal and cash advance fees
  • Easy to blow your budget
Traveler’s checks
  • Accepted at most banks and hotels
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept traveler’s checks
  • Takes a lot of time to cash them at banks
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

Travel money options 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 credit cards

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.

Using prepaid travel cards

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.

Using debit cards

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.

Taking cash to 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.

Travelers 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.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
This popular travel card's signup bonus is worth up to $750. Get even more value out of your travel, dining, and Lyft rewards by transferring them to miles.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
N/A
4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases
$0
Earn valuable cash back on everyday purchases at gas stations, restaurants and Costco as well as eligible travel with no foreign fees.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card
25,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 25,000 points after spending another $6,000 in the first 6 months
9x total points at Hyatt hotels as a World of Hyatt member, 2x on gyms, commuting, dining and airlines and 1x on all other purchases
$95
Earn 25,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 25,000 points after spending another $6,000 in the first 6 months.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

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.

sri lankan rupee

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.

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

You might also be interested in:
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.

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Cash pickup services in Sri Lanka

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
USD 0 2 days USD 9.99 185.542 LKR 183,688 No fee for transfers of $5,000 or more to 177 countries, backed by an International Payments Price Promise. Go to site Show details
USD 1 Within an hour USD 3.99 184.614 LKR 183,877 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
USD 0 1 - 2 days USD 1.99 181.831 LKR 181,469 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
USD 1 Same day USD 8.00 181.367 LKR 179,916 Easily transfer cash to more than 350,000 locations around the world. Show details
USD 1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 180.903 LKR 177,285 The biggest name in money transfers can get your funds to friends, family, or businesses in almost every corner of the globe. Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

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

Frequently asked questions

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4 Responses

  1. 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.

      Getting cash / reloading your forex card in India will depend on the card you have. Typically, your forex card provider can provide information on this. You can also refer to this page that talks about best ways to exchange your currency.

      A friendly reminder, exchange rates vary on a daily basis, the rate today may differ from the rate tomorrow. Observe the fluctuations of exchange rates more frequently days before you exchange your money.

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

      Best,
      Nikki

  2. 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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