Sri Lanka has reopened to tourists: here's everything you need to know before visiting

Travellers visiting the Indian Ocean country must have a negative PCR test result, take another test upon arrival and stay in a government-approved hotel

Sri Lanka has reopened to tourists for the first time in almost a year.

The island nation, which is a favourite with holidaymakers from the UAE, closed to international travellers in March 2020, and has remained shut to tourists for almost 10 months owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

Following a pilot programme during which approved groups of tourists visited the country in December, operations at Sri Lanka's international airports have resumed and tourists can once again fly to the South Asian destination.

There are several new regulations in place designed to protect travellers and citizens during the pandemic. In a media briefing with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) on Tuesday, chairwoman Kimarli Fernando set out the new policies.

An elephant is seen behind an electric fence marking the boundary of a wildlife sanctuary in Udawalawe on January 16, 2021. / AFP / Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI

"Travellers are most welcome in Sri Lanka. If you are an independent traveller, please book whichever Level 1 hotel you would like to stay in, then ask them to arrange your transportation from the airport. What is different from pre-Covid-19, is that you cannot just walk out of the airport and use public transport."

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What is different from pre-Covid-19, is that you cannot just walk out of the airport and use public transport

All visitors travelling to Sri Lanka must show a negative Covid-19 PCR test result before flying, then take another test on arrival. Tourists must also stay in government-approved hotels for the first 14 days of any trip, although they can leave the premises for organised sightseeing purposes.

There's also a limit on the number of passengers who can fly to Sri Lanka. This is currently capped at 3,300 per day to help prevent crowding.

As one of the country's biggest industries, employing more than two million Sri Lankans, tourism is on course to restart in an effort to help boost the nation's economy.

If you are thinking of paying Sri Lanka a visit this year, here's what you need to know before you go.

Can anyone travel to Sri Lanka?

There are only a few limits on foreign travellers planning to visit Sri Lanka. The most notable exception is the UK, with travellers from the country currently not permitted and flights to Sri Lanka cancelled.

Before flying to Sri Lanka, all tourists must apply for an online visa. This can be done via the Immigration ETA portal. To complete the process, travellers first need to book and pay $40 for each PCR test they will require during their stay. For visits of up to seven days, two PCR tests are required. For stays of more than seven days, three tests will be needed.

Tourists must also take out compulsory insurance that covers treatment for Covid-19 before submitting their visa application. There is a mandatory policy that costs $12 per person. Finally, all travellers must have a reservation in a government-approved Level 1 "Safe and Secure" hotel before visa applications can be processed.

Do I need a PCR test before flying?

epa08945347 A Sri Lankan health worker packs a swab sample collected for COVID-19 tests in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 18 January 2021. Sri Lanka is in the midst of the new wave of COVID-19 coronavirus infections and the number of cases is increasing day after day.  EPA/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE

Yes, in addition to booking a PCR test on arrival and during their stay in Sri Lanka, travellers must also take a Covid-19 test before they fly. This includes children. Negative results must be received within 96 hours of arrival in Sri Lanka and will be requested by airlines before boarding is allowed.

What are the rules if I'm vaccinated?

At the moment, the rules are the same for all travellers, whether people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or not.

Which airlines are flying to Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan Airlines is flying in and out of the country to several destinations. From the UAE, Etihad is operating three times per week to Colombo, while Dubai's Emirates says it is operating four flights per week. Tickets for seats on these flights remain limited at this time.

A spokeswoman from flydubai told The National that "flights to Colombo have not resumed yet", however, tickets for this route are available to book on the low-cost airline's website from Sunday, March 28.

Do I need to stay in Sri Lanka for 14 days? 

"There is no mandatory minimum quarantine, meaning you can come for any number of days, whether it's one day, two days, five days … Sri Lanka has not indicated that you need to stay for a specific number of days, it's up to you," said Fernando.

However, for the first 14 days of any visit, travellers must stay only in Level 1 certified "Safe and Secure" hotels. If travellers have received their negative on-arrival PCR test result, they are allowed to change to other Level 1 certified hotels, and can stay in several different resorts located across the country. This means that travellers don't need to spend their entire trip in one region of Sri Lanka.

For those staying in the country for more than four days, another PCR test will be conducted at approved hotels on days five, six or seven. A third PCR test must be carried out for travellers staying longer, with tests conducted at hotels between days 10 and 14.

Can I leave my hotel?

Tourists will not be in strict quarantine in their hotel and will be able to use all the facilities, including pools, spas and restaurants with social-distancing in place. Shoreline hotels that have worked with the country's tourism development authority have to ensure there is no mingling between locals and tourists can also offer guests beach access.

Tourists can also leave their hotel to visit approved tourist sites under the safety of what authorities are calling a "bio-bubble".

Hotels are responsible for alerting medical officers at these tourist sites that guests will be visiting and should also arrange transportation and share itinerary details with local authorities. Staff accompanying tourists on these visits will have either quarantined for 14 days or will be wearing full PPE.

Which hotels can I book? 

There are currently nearly 50 hotels designated as Level 1 "Safe and Secure" by Sri Lankan authorities. These hotels are set up to ensure that tourists have a safe but enjoyable stay in the country.

Each has a dedicated medical officer on site, an isolation room and a specific QR code that tourists can scan to get more information on health services, restrictions and other information during their stay.

The hotels are dotted around the country and range from five-star hotels in Colombo to guesthouses in Tangalle and eco-safari camps in Yalla. The variety of accommodation on offer means that there's something for every budget – the complete list of approved accommodation can be found here.

What is there to do in Sri Lanka? 

There's an approved list of more than 15 tourism sites that travellers can visit which can be downloaded from this site. This includes some of Sri Lanka's most popular attractions such as The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sigiriya Fortress in the Central Province, whale-spotting in Mirissa and several national parks.

Restricted opening times are in place at these sites, as well as additional safety measures such as limited visitor numbers, social distancing and separate counters for foreign tourists.

Can I stay in Sri Lanka longer than 14 days? 

After the first 14 days in the country, tourists who have not had a positive PCR test result are free to stay at any hotel or guesthouse in Sri Lanka and can explore the country freely. Travellers must adhere to rules in place for all citizens and residents such as compulsory face masks, no public gatherings and social distancing.

Tourists are advised to refrain from using public transport in Sri Lanka, even when they have been in the country for longer than 14 days.

What happens if I test positive for Covid-19 in Sri Lanka?

A security officer wearing protective gear stands next to passenger temperature scanning machine where she is on duty as Sri Lanka's government scheduled to reopen the country's airports for tourists from January 21, 2021, as they were closed since March 2020 due to spread of  coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Travellers will be covered for any positive Covid-19 test result.

“You should not worry, because if you are positive, you will simply be asked to rest in your hotel room," said Fernando. "If you have symptoms and need medical assistance, you will be sent to a private hospital, and your Covid-19 insurance will cover everything including the ambulance journey, any care in the hospital, tests, X-rays etc."