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ETA and Visa for Sri Lanka
A brief introduction and answers to most common questions
Maintained by the Sri Lanka Destination Experts
Just like many other tourist countries, Sri Lanka welcomes tourists but with some caution; after all it wants to screen to prevent people coming to work locally, beg on the streets etc.. And it has decided to impose a ‘levy’ on most tourists even for shorter trips. This is done by giving a ‘free’ 30 day tourist visa, but only giving that to anyone who has first paid for an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation). Which is a bit of a confusing name as the ETA is generally not compulsory before boarding a flight to travel to Lanka, and can also be obtained (with extra cost and waiting time) at the Visa on Arrival desks at Katunyaka/Mattala airports.
Requirements before boarding a flight to Sri Lanka
But before telling about on the ETA, let’s first make clear what is needed before flying. Most important is some flight confirmation out of Sri Lanka again. For most people this is a return ticket (going in and returning later with same airline to starting point), but if you have e.g. a one-way flight or a return Colombo-Male-Colombo before leaving the island back home you might get lots of trouble at check-in for the inbound flight if you can’t prove the planned leaving (the later flight from Colombo). Note that it’s not compulsory that the return flight is within 30 days – one can arrive on the island with a tourist ETA and tell ‘plan to extend for a longer visa before this expires’. See later in this article about extensions. Secondly at rare cases people are asked at Immigration to prove they have sufficient funds, e.g. by showing hotel bookings and/or a credit card, but if you don’t look like a tramp in rags generally this inspection won’t happen. And thirdly, also quite important but that holds for almost all travel further ashorte: the passport should be valid for not less than 6 months from the date of arrival into the island. If needed get a new passport in time (and before getting the ETA as that is linked to a passport number!)
The ETA thingy
Only a few nationalities do not require an ETA, as they give Srilankans visa-free entry; the list is a.o. Singaporeans and Maldivians. All other do require it. Fee for Internet application for SAARC nationalities is USD 20 and for all other nationalities USD 35; this is for the 30-day tourist ETA. Visa on Arrival fees are USD 25 and USD 40 respectively, hence USD 5 extra. Hence if one has a credit card, it’s really best to pre-apply over the Internet. Next to the tourist ETA there exists a free ‘transit ETA’. This is valid for stays of maximum 48 hours, and does (contrary to some misleading texts on the ETA site) allow entry into the country. Next to the maximum duration one must prove that it’s for transit, generally meaning a different onward destination than the airport one arrives from; so it’s not meant for short (weekend) stays from e.g. India or Male!
Now a number of frequent questions about ETA and provisional answers to those.
Extending the stay
For e.g. ‘hibernation’ tourists or longer-stay backpackers longer tourist trips than 30 days are possible. Either you buy a 3-month visa (including the ETA for the first 30 days) from a Lankan embassy/consulate before flying, or you land with a 30-day tourist visa and then extend by spending a half day in Colombo (Battaramulla, an eastern suburb - changed Aug-2016 from the former location in Borella). All information about the process is at http://www.immigration.gov.lk/
Getting the extension from 1 to 3 months is relatively straightforward; you supply some extra snaps, pay the fees (which vary widely depending on your nationality) and fill in the form, and give some proof of funds to spend. Avoid locals in the waiting room offering help as generally they ask for (lots of) extra money for something you can very well do yourself. Just like at the rare checks at Immigration this "proof of funds" can consist of confirmed accommodation bookings, credit card, bank statement etc. Getting another 3 months (hence a total stay of 6 months) costs same fee plus an extra levy of Rs 10,000 and requires some more screening by the Immigration staff to make sure you’re a genuine tourist and not involved in business, study, volunteering etc. Because for these visa applies the same as for the ETA tourist visa: no work, not even unpaid (volunteer) work, is allowed!
The odd tourist comes in the situation that they are tempted to stay anything between 31 and 35 days on a normal tourist ETA/visa of 30 days and then asks the forum members 'how lenient is Emigration at airport, can I get away with it'? To discourage these who are either too pennywise/greedy to pay for the extension (see above how to do so) or too lazy to reserve the half day Colombo visit needed for it, the advises to what can happen based on some forum experiences.
Other types of visas
Just to make clear that there are other visitor types for which one cannot use a normal ETA but does need to preapply for a visa at a Lankan embassy/consulate before flying. E.g. ‘Business purpose visa’ (which also seems to apply to foreign people wanting to marry in Sri Lanka) and visa for more permanent residency. Volunteering, as mentioned above, is also a risky category. Tourists happening to do a not preplanned halfday stint teaching English at a local primary school generally would not get any problem doing this on the ETA. But those having a planned stint e.g. for one week/month at a school or animal shelter or even a religious institution definitely are safer off preapplying for a visa allowing this, most likely a business purpose visa.
Just like all other top questions: please feel free to post any additional corrections/questions in the forum, or edit the text yourself while informing the others in the forum about it.