Sri Lanka opens its borders with certain restrictions

by Juan José Herranz | May 1, 2021
Sigiriya Fortress in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an Asian country whose tourism has been growing exponentially over the last few years, especially among the Europeans. The reasons are not surprising if we consider the breathtaking beauty of its nature and the singularity of its islands.

However, like many other countries, the Covid-19 situation has spoiled the booming tourist statistics. Fortunately, with the scientific advancements and the development of the vaccine against Covid-19, on January 21, 2021 Sri Lanka joined other countries in allowing tourists to enter their country under certain conditions.

Restrictions upon entry into Sri Lanka

To allow tourists to travel to Sri Lanka, the Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga made an official announcement issuing the following entry requirements for Sri Lanka:

  • Everyone arriving in the country must hold a negative coronavirus test taken at least 96 hours prior arriving to the country.
  • You must stay in a government-approved hotel.
  • There are some entertainment restrictions, which means that some tourist attractions may be closed or will only be open at certain times of the day.
  • You must travel with a very small, closed group of tourists, and never leave this tour group or interact with the Sri Lankan population.
  • All travellers must apply for a Sri Lanka ETA and download the Visit Sri Lanka app. The app will be used for contact tracing, as well as for storing information on test results and hotel bookings.
  • You will have to take frequent Covid-19 tests during and after your visit to the country to be payed with your own money.

beach in Sri Lanka

Covid-19 tests to travel to Sri Lanka

Travellers entering Sri Lanka must take a minimum of two Covid tests or more depending on the length of their stay.

The first Covid test is required 96 hours before embarkation, and another one upon landing in Sri Lanka. Those staying for more than five days must take a third test, and those staying for more than two weeks must take four tests. Children under the age of 12 are exempt from testing unless they are symptomatic or are in close contact with an infected traveller.

Travellers must also apply for a visa before departure. Before doing so, tourists must make hotel reservations, purchase a Covid-19 insurance policy and pay for Covid-19 testing in advance.

Hotels permitted by the Sri Lankan government

Although there is no minimum time a visitor must spend in the country, anyone coming from abroad must stay in a government-approved hotel or resort for a maximum of two weeks upon arrival.

Hotels must operate at 75% of their capacity. The remaining rooms are left open to isolate guests who test positive for Covid-19. This option is only available for those without symptoms, as infected travellers showing Covid-19 symptoms should be isolated in a private hospital.

Unlike other countries where people who are quarantined on arrival must stay in their hotel rooms for the entire time, Sri Lankan regulations are a little more flexible, so they can use facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, lounges and restaurants.

Travellers may also leave the hotel during quarantine for sightseeing, as long as they do so carefully. A dozen tourist sites and attractions are open to foreign visitors, although some restrictions may apply.

Currently, 124 hotels and resorts are under "security level one" guidelines and they cannot accept any local guests or host any events as long as they are part of this programme.

Sri Thirukoneswaram Kovil in Sri Lanka

Places allowed to visit in Sri Lanka

Travellers may leave the hotel during quarantine for sightseeing, provided they do so with care. More than a dozen tourist sites and attractions are open to foreign visitors, but some restrictions may apply. 

The places to visit in Sri Lanka include some of the most famous attractions, such as the Sigiriya Fortress and the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The Yala National Park and the whale watching tours near the town of Mirissa are also on the list.

Has tourism in Sri Lanka increased?

Sri Lanka's Minister of Tourism has told CNBC that almost 4,000 people had arrived since the country reopened on 21 January, surpassing last year's July statistics.

The main travellers have come from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and expatriates living in the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.   

After the successful measures taken, Sri Lanka is awaiting an agreement to start flights with India as well.