Like most developing nations routine petty crime, especially thefts of personal property and pick-pocketing are not uncommon. Many people are trying to make ends meet, so don't begrudge anyone for trying. But keep your wits about you.
Street hustlers or "touts" are common around hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites. Key thing to remember: If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
Most violent crime occurs within the local community, with rare occasions of violent crime directed at foreigners.
The locals are generally friendly and welcoming, so by and large, most female travelers have a safe and fun time in Sri Lanka.
There have been occasional reports of women experiencing unwanted attention from local males including asking personal questions, being followed while alone or in an isolated place but don't let that put you off traveling the country, just be aware. Things you can do to keep safe include:
Con artists and touts are a serious problem throughout all tourist areas in Sri Lanka. There are numerous scams used on foreigners - our advice is, to pre-organise your tours and activites where possible.
Using the services of a tout for accommodation, local travel, etc. will most likely increase the price plus give you a dud experience.
First time travellers to Sri Lanka may find themselves the victim of scams such as:
Most developing nations have scammers/con artists, so these are obvious scams if you are a smart traveler.
Basic scams are usually just sayings forced upon you to make you hand over a few dollars e.g "I am a Buddhist and our religion teaches you to be a good person", "What goes around comes around" OR "I have many foreign friends" (presents a little pile of business cards many with home addresses on the back showing you an address book full of names from around the world.)
Visas for Sri Lanka are electronic now so you can apply for one before you travel saving you the drama when you arrive so you can breeze through immigration. Tourist visas are still available on arrival though if you have been unable to obtain one online beforehand.
Be aware when you arrive at Colombo International Airport of being overcharged for the Sri Lankan visa. Do your research before leaving home.
Always be careful whenever you use a credit card as there are times when people inflate the prices charged or they may duplicate your card information. Never let the machine or card out of your sight and be diligen about checking your account in case of shonky transactions. It's advisable to use cash wherever possible and if you need to use an ATM, make sure it's attached to a bank or major hotels. Try and avoid withdrawing money at night also. Let your bank know before departure where you are heading so their fraud protection doesn't get too overzealous and block you out as well.
Our advice is always to carry an amount of cash - split it up and hide it around your clothes and luggage. Never carry a lot of cash in one area of your luggage.
I am a ...... (some official - off duty today) but come to my office for tea or something, I will show you what I do for a living / help you understand the life here in Sri Lanka / show you some places that tourists don't normally go
The scammer will take you to an (expensive) hotel or restaurant - as their office is too far away to walk - and order drinks. After some convivial conversation and you (obviously) want to move on, you offer to pay for the drinks out of gratitude for the pleasant company and 'information'. When the bill is presented it's extraordinarily expensive, as the con artist has asked for some cigarettes to be added to the order. You don't want to make a fuss, so you let it ride after all it's only a packet of cigarettes (and they are such nice company!).
My family own a tea plantation in / near Kandy (because you have heard of Kandy - everyone has) you must come and stay at our tea plantation as a guest for free. I will get my (member of the family) to send you some Ceylon tea, so give me your address and he will send it for sure, as a gift, but we have to pay export tax on tea - to make it worthwhile we will send five kilos but you will pay the tax please ... it is 115 rupees per kilo (about $1.50) - he makes about $5 and gets your address to sell on.
Usually comes after a while in conversation. "See this photo" (shows you group of Sri Lankans - could be any group or team, even a band or orchestra). "See this man here, he was playing cricket and a ball hit him in the knee a couple of years ago, his knee didn't heal, he was diagnosed with bone cancer, they took his leg off here" (showing you where the leg was removed). "The guys at (some company) are sponsoring the charity that is helping him to get a false limb, would you care to help him? (The con man produces a sponsorship form with a list of names and invites you to 'sponsor' - of course you will have to give him the money; as you do!).
Lots of freebies are offered then they claim you are suffering from X and Y and need to purchase these medicinal herbs at expensive costs. The free tours are great but do your own research and buy from spice shops in the bigger cities where the quality is likely to be higher.
Book through only via official travel agents, hotel, or online. Don’t book through a taxi driver or a tuk-tuk driver as they will take commission off the top and the quality is likely to be lower.
If an overly friendly stranger on the street tells you there is a festival or a ceremony or a special temple open for one day only and it sounds too good to be true, then it is. They will hail a special tuk tuk who will say they are an official government tuk tuk but they will take you somewhere secluded and rob you, or take you to stores where they will get commission.
And as always on transport, be wary of bagsnatchers and pickpockets. Don’t show off valuables or keep your wallet or phone in your back pocket.
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Like any developing nation, Sri Lanka has its share of health issues. Find out how you can avoid traveler's diarrhea, dengue fever and more while traveling.