Sri Lanka is Reopening to Tourists in August

Foreign visitors will be tested multiple times for Covid-19 and required to stay at least five nights.

A train crosses the Nine Arch Bridge near Ella, Sri Lanka. (Photo: Hendrik Cornelissen/Unsplash)

According to Sri Lanka’s tourism ministry, all nationalities and travelers who hold a valid tourist visa will be able to visit the country from August 1. The approved ports of entry are Bandaranaike International Airport, as well as two gateways primarily used for domestic flights, private jets, and charters: Colombo’s Ratmalana Airport and Mattala Rajapaksa Hambantota Airport.

Thirty-day visas can be procured online at eta.gov.lk, though the application process has recently gone through significant changes. Visa fees are now US$100 (compared to US$40 in the past), and prospective travelers must submit details of bookings at government-certified accommodation (soon to be listed on the official Sri Lanka tourism website), an itinerary of the trip, a return ticket, and proof of medical insurance. It will also be compulsory for arriving passengers to show a negative result for a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test taken less than 72 hours before departure.

Tourists will be required to stay a minimum of five nights in the country, and subject to rigorous testing for Covid-19 while on the island. On arrival at the airport, visitors will be tested for free and asked to wait four to six hours for the results. Should a 24-hour wait be necessary, guests can choose to bed down at any certified four- or five-star hotel in Colombo or Negombo for a night before continuing their trip. The Sri Lankan government has not yet clarified whether it will shoulder the cost of the stay.

Four to five days after arrival, a mobile testing unit will arrive at the hotel to conduct another PCR test. Those staying more than 10 days will need to undergo a third test as an extra precaution; the tourism ministry acknowledged it was inconvenient but “essential to safeguard everybody and provide peace of mind.” Should anyone develop Covid-19 symptoms during their sojourn, they will be placed in quarantine for 14 to 21 days in a designated hotel.

Attractions will be open to all with health and safety measures in place, however, foreign visitors will not be allowed to take public transport. Unfortunately, this means scenic train journeys will be off-limits for the foreseeable future. Instead, tourists are asked to arrange private transportation through their accommodation or travel agents before arrival.

Sri Lanka has fared better than many larger countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its government responded early to the growing crisis with travel bans starting in the middle of March and a strict lockdown that lasted more than two months. As of June 9, the country recorded only 1,835 confirmed cases of the virus, including 11 deaths.

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