Easy in to Sri Lanka-5172

Easy in to Sri Lanka

We’re in Jaffna, North Province, Sri Lanka as I write this. It’s been something of a marathon journey since we left Thailand.


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We decided on Sunday that we’d go to Sri Lanka rather than India (as getting a visa for India in Thailand wasn’t turning out to be the breeze that we hoped it would be..) OK, so it might have been a breeze to get a three month visa, but we hoped for six months…so we’re here. Sri Lanka. And so far it’s been pretty easy.

Applying for a Visa to Sri Lanka
We applied for an online visa with Sri Lanka on Sunday night and by Monday lunchtime there it was waiting for us in email. One JetAirways US$140 flight with nearly 9 hours at Mumbai airport – and that was how we spent our wedding anniversary – and we landed in Colombo. At 5am on December 4th.

The Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for Sri Lanka is very simple. US$30 each, an online application that doesn’t ask anything too taxing – other really than who you are and why you’re going and you’re there.

When you get to Sri Lanka..
What is recommended is to take with you (for the immigration folks in Sri Lanka).

1. A print out of your ETA
2. A print out of your flight out of the country (we were asked for this on check in for the flight in Bangkok, but not at immigration – we just showed an electronic booking)
3. Proof of funds while you are in Sri Lanka (apparently around US$15 a day) – we took a bank statement that we’d printed, while in Thailand.

We were asked for none of it. But you will need the address of a hotel in Sri Lanka for your landing card.

The Northern Province.. You Need to Ask Permission
We check the UK Foreign Office website while we’re travelling, to make sure that the British Foreign office isn’t saying we should stay away from anywhere.

(As the election is happening 8 January 2015, they are advising caution and to stay away from political rallies though.)

No problems with Sri Lanka while we were there, But the UK FCO advised on Twitter when asked that to travel to the Northern Province you now needed military approval. You should fax the appropriate folks.

” You should send a written request to the following address/fax: Secretary Ministry of Defence & Urban Development (Attn: Military Liaison Officer) 15/5 Baladaksha Mawatha Colombo 3 Fax: +94 11 2328109″

Here’s the link to the UK Foreign Office advice on Sri Lanka.

Seeing as I don’t have a portable fax machine tucked in my 40 litre Osprey backpack (indeed, I can’t remember the last time I used one..) I signed up to a 30 day free offer from the folks at efax and fired off a polite note asking for permission to visit (include name, passport number, details of ETA and why you want to visit – e.g. for tourism purposes)

Here’s what we used:


Dear Sirs

Requesting Permission to Travel to Jaffna

I will be arriving in Sri Lanka on XXXXXXX. and hereby request permission for myself and my spouse to travel to Jaffna in the Northern Province. We intend to spend 30 days in Sri Lanka and would like very much to visit the north also.

Our information details are as follows:

Arrival: XXXXX from XXXXXX

Citizen: XXXXXXX
Passport: XXXXXX

We may be contacted via the fax number XXXXXXXXX or via email XXXXXXX and we look forward to hearing from you.

Regards. XXXXXXX

And it worked. Less than 18 hours later I had my approval from a Brigadier no less! We were set to go!

Although efax numbers allow you to receive faxes via email, I asked for any replies to be emailed. And it was!

James, an Australian we met in both Jaffna and Kandy told us that he’d gone into the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development offices in Colombo in person to get his permission – his came signed only by a Wing Commander, but he did get to buy lunch in the canteen there and he highly recommends that.

It would be easier to print this permission but just having it on the laptop and phone did for us. We were only asked for it once and that was on the train on the way north to Jaffna. The military boarded the train north of Anuradhapura and zoomed in on us as the only Westerners on the train, jotted down all our details (twice) and then left us and the train in peace.

Arriving in Sri Lanka
Immigration is a piece of cake. And they even give you a free tourist SIM card. Hang onto it! The internet access at hotels and guesthouses has on the whole been pitiful in Sri Lanka. Our activated SIM’s cost us 1497 LKR for our month in the country and we didn’t use all the International Direct Dial money but had a 38 minute call to the UK! Bargain!

(We activated two, one in the iPad on the Dialog 499 LKR Tourist Package – which gave us 1Gb of data. The second we put two 499 LKR packages on, so used 2Gb of data in the iPhone, plus a few local calls and two international calls to the UK).

Need a Fridge Freezer?
Leaving immigration you’ll walk through duty free. It’s more like walking into an electrical store.

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We saw two giant fridge freezers being acquired, but didn’t have room in the Ospreys, so passed on the opportunity.

Heading into Colombo
We left the terminal building, turned left and skirted the coach park….

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found a bus with a sign for “Airport-Colombo Fort” hopped on it, paid our 120 LKR each (GBP 0.60, US$ 0.91) and were heading for the nations capital.

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10 minutes wandering in circles at the bus depot and we found the Colombo Fort Railway Station and 1100 LKR each later we had tickets for the observation car all the way to Jaffna.

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A 360 kilometer journey that would take most of the day.

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A 7am departure got us rolling into the newly rebuilt Jaffna Railway station at 5pm, just two hours late. Backwards – but more on that when we get to talk about trains in Sri Lanka.

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The Observation Car to Jaffna
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And that’s how we got to Jaffna!

Travel Tips for Exploring Sri Lanka

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