Bucking a general trend for soaring visa fees across South Asia, Sri Lanka is set to roll out free visas on arrival for citizens of more than 30 countries from 1 May 2019. The move will save the average tourist US$20-40 in visa fees, making it easier and cheaper than ever to visit this idyllic Indian Ocean island.
While visitors to neighbouring India currently pay between US$80 and US$100 for an electronic visa, from May, tourists from the UK, the EU, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea will be able to obtain a free visa for Sri Lanka on arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport. The scheme will initially run for six months, but there are plans to make the scheme permanent if it is successful in boosting tourism to the island.
Sri Lanka is currently enjoying a surge in visitor numbers, with rapidly improving infrastructure and a string of new resorts opening along its gorgeous coastline. Sri Lanka was picked as Lonely Planet’s top destination for travel in 2019, and annual arrivals have climbed from just 448,000 at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009 to more than 2.1 million in 2017 – a figure the government hopes to double by 2020.
Nevertheless, tourism dips during the Yala monsoon season from May to August, when heavy rain sweeps across the south and west coasts and the interior of the island. For travellers tempted to take advantage of the free visa scheme, the north and east of the country enjoy some of their driest weather at this time, with high temperatures and a string of lovely beaches where visitors can kick back and enjoy the tropical sunshine.