Practicalities: visas and permits

How to extend your Sri Lankan visa

You will need:

  • Passport
  • One passport photo
  • The fee in rupees. This was R5940 for UK passport holders when I applied, in June 2011.

I wasn’t asked for proof of an onward ticket, or visa card, but take them if you have them, just in case.

Go to the Immigration Department,41 Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha, 8.30am–3pm, Mon–Fri.

Bus no. 103, 144 or 171 from Fort and get off at the first stop after Kularatne Mawatha.

The visa office is on the ‘3rd floor,’ which is up several flights of stairs. If possible, arrive EARLY as it will make all the difference in how long you have to spend there. The office opens for business at 8.45am. I arrived at 8.40am and was the second person to hand in my form, but I still had to wait one and a half hours before I was called to pay the fee. By 9.30am the office was packed, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be at the end of the line.

Collect a form from the man at the desk beside the entrance and fill it in. The maximum you can ask for is 2 more months on top of the 30 days you were given on entry. You need to stick your passport photo to the form and the glue is in small pots in the central wells of the places where you stand to fill out the form. I mention this because it isn’t obvious! One French couple told me they didn’t stick their photos down and were then sent back to do so and had wait in the queue for a further 45 minutes.

Wait outside office 2, 3 or 4, whichever looks like it is staffed and in operation. When your turn comes you just go in, sit down and hand over the form. The man behind the desk looks it over and then gives you a number. This number will be called by someone from desk 6, when it’s time to pay. Pay the fee, then wait again for another ten minutes or so and your passport will be given back to you, with the extension stamped inside. At least you hope so!

How to apply for a permit to visit the North of Sri Lanka

First of all, check if you still need a permit. The situation is changing all the time. Contact +94(0)112430860/69

If so, you’ll have to go to the Ministry of Defence in Colombo (only) to apply for one. You’ll find the MoD at the northernmost tip of Galle Face Green, on the east side of the busy road, just south of Beira lake. The permit office is, at the moment, situated within the small gate post building at the entrance to the MoD. Go there in the morning, from about 9.30am, and join the group of others waiting for permits: Sri Lankans also need them.

Permits are free but you will need to take your passport and a letter of request. This can be hand-written on a blank sheet of A4 paper and it’s best to keep it simple: your name, your nationality, your passport number, where you want to go, why, and your dates of travel. Something like:

Dear Sir, My name is XX. I am a citizen of XY. I wish to travel to Jaffna from 1 – 20 May (for example), for reasons of tourism. Yours faithfully, XX Passport No. 8784687634.

I read that, in February 2011, permits were only taking 3 working days to process (and before this only 1 day), so I was dismayed to be told it would take 5 working days, which basically meant a week’s wait, since I applied on a Tuesday. More and more people want to visit Jaffna and the MoD is obviously starting to find it hard to keep up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation changes again.

I returned to the office the following Monday and picked up my permit at about 3pm. I was granted one month, although I’d only asked for 2 weeks.

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