News report | | 12-04-2024 | ±3 minutes reading time

At the end of 2023, Sri Lanka introduced a free visa for travellers from seven countries. Although different media reported in February that the temporary visa cost waiver was likely to be extended, the free visa has recently been discontinued. This means that all travellers who need a visa to travel to Sri Lanka will need to pay the normal visa costs.

Free Sri Lanka visa for travellers from seven countries

At the end of 2023, Sri Lanka announced that the visa costs would temporarily be waived for travellers from seven countries. This measure was in effect until 31 March 2024, allowing travellers from China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan to apply for an ETA for Sri Lanka online, without having to pay for it. Except for the price, the free ETA was identical to the standard ETA for Sri Lanka. The ETA allows travellers to stay up to 30 days in Sri Lanka. After arrival in Sri Lanka, travellers can extend their ETA to stay for a longer period of time.

Measure to support tourism

The free visa was a temporary measure to support tourism in Sri Lanka. Tourism is an important source of income for Sri Lanka, which has suffered heavily from the consequences of the covid pandemic, the political turmoil and the economic crisis that struck the country. With the free visa, the Sri Lankan government aimed to stimulate travellers from seven countries to visit the island nation. The seven countries included in this measure are seen as important countries of origin of the tourists visiting Sri Lanka.

Unclarity about an extension of the free visa

In February 2024, there were reports that the free visa was likely to be extended. The government set ambitious targets regarding the number of visitors the country wished to welcome in 2024. An extension of the successful and popular free visa would have been a logical consequence of those plans. At the same time, there were discussions about the introduction of the much-anticipated digital nomad visa. However, in March, the earlier reports were refuted. It was confirmed that the temporary measure surrounding the free visa would expire on 31 March 2024, as originally intended. Travellers could still profit from the measure by entering Sri Lanka with their free visas until 31 March. All travellers who arrive in Sri Lanka after this date have to pay the standard visa fees.

Special visa regime for Russians and Ukrainians discontinued

Russian tourists are an important source of income for the Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. After the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out, Sri Lanka offered free visa extensions to Russian and Ukrainian nationals. The official reason for this was that most flights to Russia and Ukraine were cancelled due to the war, meaning that Russians and Ukrainians were unable to leave the country. However, it is likely that economic reasons also played a role in offering the visa extension, since Sri Lanka’s suffering economy could profit from the additional income related to the presence of these people.

Over time, the resentment against the lengthy presence of Russians and Ukrainians in Sri Lanka has been growing. Growing numbers of enterprises, especially in the hospitality industry, which were owned by Russians were found to be operating without the necessary licences. The image of the Russian guests reached a low point at the end of February 2024, when a nightclub with a Russian owner organised a “whites only” party, where the skin colour of all visitors was said to be checked. In the end, the party never took place, but shortly after this incident, the Sri Lankan government announced that Russians and Ukrainians would not be eligible for free visa extensions any more. However, they can still apply for a new ETA online.

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