ETA and Visa for Sri Lanka

 

A brief introduction and answers to most common questions

Maintained by the Sri Lanka Destination Experts

 

Introduction

 

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.

  • Where and how to apply?
    This is simple: the sole authorized site is http://www.eta.gov.lk/. Many other sites claim to deliver the ETA for you, are layouted similar to the official site, and pay Google etc. to end up higher on the search list than the official site. But invariably they ask (far) more than the legal USD 35 (20) for basically no extra value/service, and many of them even scam you worse than that by not at all delivering!
  • What if I applied at a scammers site?
    Well first check whether in the end you got a valid ETA, as applying for a new one is technically impossible as long as you possess one (albeit a quite overpriced one) already. This can be done at the Check Status tab of the official site. If you have a valid ETA, you’re into a slippery process if you try to dispute the charges at your credit card company as during the process you cannot apply for a new one. If you don’t got an ETA at all, apply for a good one and use full force to dispute the charges at the cc company.
  • How long before travel can I apply for the ETA and how long is it valid?
    You can apply upto 6 months before planned arrival in the island. After arrival it’s valid for 30 days; within that period you have a dual-entry visa (for e.g. a return trip to Male).
  • How long does the application process last, and can I check the outcome?
    You should get an e-mail for approval. Normally this happens within 1 hour, around weekend and public holidays it might last longer. But e-mails on the Internet are not a 100% secure mechanism and spamfilters with some people also create fun. Hence in case of waiting too long, use this same Check Status tab on the site and only try to contact Immigration Department if that gives no success after quite some time.
  • What to fill in for flight details and Lankan address?
    Use the incoming flight into Colombo (in case of transfers, e.g. from Dubai or Singapore) so that Immigration can make a rough passenger volume planning. For Lankan address, use name and address of your first (planned) accommodation after arrival. It's a minor detail, hence if no accomodation booking available yet you could even fill in an accomodation which you later might or might not use.
  • Is it better to use group ETA or individual ETA for a family or group?
    The outcome of a group application is still individual ETA’s. The main advantage of the group option is less data entry, as all passengers get the same dates and flight-accomodation details and also one pays a total fee by credit card (e.g. USD 105 for 3 Westerners).
  • It is needed to bring any proof of ETA when arriving?
  • Not really. Immigration checks your passport number and date of birth and generally then finds the ETA in their systems. But it's not a bad idea to bring a printout of your confirmation e-mail or status check screen just to be sure in case of any errors.
  • Part xxx of  the name was misspelled in the application.
    Well as written above, the main checks are passport number and DoB. Hence minor differences between the name in the ETA and in the passport should be fine. Major differences, like a totally different name, might still cause trouble. If you go ahead despite a minor mismatch, bring a copy of the ETA confirmation also in case of any disputes.
  • What to do for my kids?
  • They too need separate ETA, assuming they have their own passport. But for age 0-11 that is free.
  • Is an ETA possible and needed for my nationality, xxx?
  • Well the list of nationalities exempt from ETA in a positive way (free 30-day stay) remains quite stable: Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles. The reason is 'reciprocality': Lankans get free on-arrival visum for these countries too.
    The list of nationalities blocked from ETA in a negative way (not possible to apply for it through the standard methods) fluctuates a bit over time. Best is to simply check the eta.gov.lk site and start a dummy process selecting your nationality from the dropdown list; e.g. currently Nigeria when selecting tells 'not possible, apply at embassy'. But even then there are some gray areas: e.g. for Afghanistan we have regularly heard that ETA can be applied online yes but not on-arrival; hence airlines will, contrary to all other nationalities, require an ETA if someone with such a passport checks in for a flight. 'Check with your local travel agent where you book the ticket' is safest in a case like that. And also if possible check the website of the Lankan embassy in your country - for e.g. Pakistan this might contain quite different information than the ETA website gives, and that is reason for extra caution!

 

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!

Overstaying

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.

  • 'Best' were tourists that after long interrogations and discussions did not need to pay a fine, but some of them almost missed their flight due to the time needed for all of this.
  • However a major part of those not having to pay still got told that they are on a black list, and can't visit Lanka on a normal ETA for the next five years (they would need to ask for a special visum).
  • But the majority of cases is people who simply got fined - for a much higher amount than what they tried to save. Pennywise poundfoolish as we say...

 

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.