- Reviewed: 12 September 2023, 08:47 NZST
- Still current at: 4 December 2023
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If you are planning international travel at this time, please read our COVID-19 related travel advice here, alongside our destination specific travel advice below.
Exercise increased caution
Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to the impacts of the economic crisis, the potential for civil unrest and the risk of terrorism (level 2 of 4).View Larger Map Close/Open map
The security and economic situation in Sri Lanka has stabilised since the widespread shortages and associated large protests and consequent changes in political leadership in mid-2022. There are still some sporadic shortages (e.g. of some medicines and imported foods), economic position of the country remains fragile, and living conditions of Sri Lankans have significantly deteriorated since early 2022.
While there were large protests throughout the country from March to July 2022, clashes between security forces and anti-government actors have been smaller and less frequent during 2023. Police routinely used tear gas and water cannons to disperse anti-government demonstrations. In the past, authorities have imposed states of emergency and curfews at short notice. Further such incidents cannot be ruled out.
We advise New Zealanders in Sri Lanka to avoid protests, demonstrations, political rallies and events, large crowds and queues. Comply with any instructions issued by the local authorities, including any curfews. Monitor local and international media, review personal security plans and be aware of your surroundings. If unexpectedly in the vicinity of a protest, demonstration, large crowd or violent clashes, exercise caution and leave the area quickly. Demonstrations may disrupt local public services and transport.
Religion is a very sensitive topic in Sri Lanka. Communal, inter-ethnic and religious tensions exist throughout the country and have on occasion turned violent. Further violent incidents could occur with little warning. Public comments about religion can be controversial and even result in arrest and imprisonment. New Zealanders are advised to be extremely careful in how they talk about religion while in Sri Lanka. Respect religious and social traditions. Posing for a photograph next to a statue of Buddha is illegal in Sri Lanka, as can be displaying jewellery, tattoos or clothing associated with Buddhism.
New Zealanders should be aware that curfews (typically restricting movement in the evening) can be imposed at short notice. New Zealanders are advised to follow instructions and restrictions issued by the local authorities including the regulations currently banning any clothing that conceals the face to the extent that a person’s identification is hidden.
Like in many parts of South Asia, there is a risk of terrorism in Sri Lanka. Terrorist attacks in public places, including in places targeting foreigners, have occurred in the past. On 21 April 2019, multiple bomb blasts occurred at churches and hotels in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka causing more than 250 deaths and 500 injuries.
New Zealanders throughout Sri Lanka are advised to exercise a high degree of personal security awareness at all times and remain alert during religious or national festivals. We also advise avoiding large public gatherings and exercising caution in areas with large crowds. Further attacks, including low-scale or opportunistic attacks, cannot be ruled out.
Opportunistic criminality as a result of the economic crisis has increased since the start of 2022 but is rarely violent or targeted at foreigners.
Rare incidents of violent crime against foreigners have been reported in Sri Lanka, including sexual offences, harassment and theft. Female travellers should take particular care and avoid travelling alone, especially at night or to isolated areas (places away from crowds), as women often experience unwanted attention and harassment.
There have been incidents of drink spiking followed by robbery and assault reported in Sri Lanka. Extra care should be taken to ensure your food and drink is never left unattended. We recommend against accepting drinks from strangers or recent acquaintances.
Petty crime such as bag snatching, passport theft and pickpocketing occurs in Sri Lanka and occurs occasionally in tourist areas, in larger cities and on public transport. There have also been reports of thefts from hotels and guesthouses. We advise New Zealanders to be alert to their surroundings at all times and take steps to safeguard and secure their personal belongings.
Credit card fraud, including credit card skimming, occurs in Sri Lanka. New Zealanders are advised to use cash wherever possible and take extra care when paying with credit cards or withdrawing money from ATMs. We advise covering PIN numbers when entering them, keeping cards safe and carefully checking credit card statements to ensure no fraudulent charges are present.
A large security presence remains in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Military and police checkpoints are sometimes established and roads can be closed without warning. While most demining operations since the civil war are completed, landmines may still be present in more remote areas of the northern and eastern provinces. If you are travelling to these areas it is advisable to remain on well-used roads and paths and look out for any signs warning of landmines.
Severe Weather Events
There are two main monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka, December to March in the north-east and June to October in the south-west. Severe rainfall can result in flooding and landslides which in turn can lead to the displacement of people, transport issues, and significant property damage. Tsunami’s are rare but can occur, the most recent being in 2004. If there is a severe weather event, or natural disaster, follow the advice of the local authorities and update your family and friends in New Zealand about your situation.
General Travel Advice
New Zealanders are advised to carry with them at all times photo identification and/or a photocopy of their passport biodata page and visa, and produce this if asked by authorities.
New Zealanders travelling or living in Sri Lanka should have a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place that includes provision for medical evacuation by air.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe and can include the death penalty.
New Zealanders in Sri Lanka are encouraged to register their details with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The New Zealand High Commission Colombo, Sri Lanka
Street Address Unit 2401−2402, Level 24 One Galle Face Tower 1A Centre Road, Galle Face 00200 Colombo Sri Lanka Postal Address Unit 2401−2402, Level 24 One Galle Face Tower 1A Centre Road, Galle Face 00200 Colombo Sri Lanka Telephone +94 11 217 4717 Email NZHCColombo@gmail.com Web Site https://www.mfat.govt.nz/sri-lanka/
See our regional advice for South Asia
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New Zealand High Commission Sri Lanka
Unit 2401−2402, Level 24 One Galle Face Tower 1A Centre Road, Galle Face 00200 Colombo Sri Lanka
Telephone: +94 11 217 4717