Is Sri Lanka Safe? Crime and Scams to Be Aware Of

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Don't let criminals and con artists ruin your trip to Sri Lanka. Find out how to avoid crime with these tips to stay safe.


The busy street of Pettah Market in Colombo Photo © iStock/efesenko

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.

Women's safety in Sri Lanka

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:

  • Try to relax, be confident and enjoy the place, most locals aren't out to get you. Embrace the local culture
  • Most people in the urban areas will speak some English but it's good to learn a few phrases in the local lingo to help you get by
  • Make some new friends! Connect with other solo travelers in your accommodation or that popular local spot travelers like to have a drink at. You'll soon find people to travel with
  • Dress modestly as Sri Lanka is a conservative, religious country. Keep the beach wear at the beach
  • If you are concerned about being harassed, wear a fake wedding ring
  • Like in any country, don't drink to excess which could compromise your safety
  • Don't walk or catch a tuk-tuk alone at night especially in poorly lit areas. Always book a taxi
  • Avoid traveling overnight by train and if traveling, try to sit with other women, families or those new friends you made.

Con-artists and touts in Sri Lanka

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:

  • Do not believe anyone who claims to be a professional (e.g. airline pilot), or in charge of a location (like a bus terminal) without proof. Most terminals do their best to scare or move these people on
  • Scams involving gemstones are common. Do not buy with the intention of selling them in your home country for a profit. They are usually fakes or stolen
  • Be on guard for anybody trying to help you by giving you unsolicited directions or travel advice. Take any advice from taxi and auto drivers with a grain of salt, especially if they tell you the place you want to go to is closed, dangerous, non-existent etc. If you are unsure, check a map or the map app on your phone
  • Don't engage in business with people who have to actively approach you for business. If people have to approach or make overtures to you for business without you seeking them on your own volition, then they shouldn't be considered for business dealings because you will likely be overcharged as you have been denied the option of shoppingaround
  • If you have been told your hotel is closed or full, give them a call. If you are a first time visitor to Sri Lanka, don't admit it as it will make you a target for the scam artists
  • Con artists frequent the Galle Face Road area surrounding the tourist hotels, Galle Face Hotel and the Holiday Inn.

Common scams in Sri Lanka

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.)

Visa scams

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.

Credit card scams

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.

Cigarette scam

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!).

Tea and personal ID scam

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.

Disability scam

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!).

Spice garden scam

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.

Safari scam

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.

Transport scams and crime

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.

  • Always haggle and agree on a price BEFORE you travel, especially if the price is for multiple people
  • Keep small change to pay for your journey and don’t expect to get change in return
  • Taxis often won’t drive with the meter so often you will have to try several taxis before one will travel with the meter switched on. Then they may drive the long way round. A good way to get around this is to download google maps or for the area so you can tell if they’re going the wrong way
  • When catching a bus, only buy from reputable ticket sellers at the window at the bus/train station and don’t let anyone carry your bags for you.

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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  • Tina said

    Not a bad investment...
    I once transferred 60000 AD to a pizza delivery assistant in Melbourne for opening a Restaurant, after all he´s been in the pizza business long enough to know all about it.
    I used Western Union.
    These deals are good chances to make a nice fortune.
    I am sure he will pay me back some day,
    and he is such a good person, he promised me I can eat for free in his Restaurant whenever I am in Melbourne. (Of course I will not take advantage!!)

  • Smart said

    Are you both morons. You two must be retarded. Just say good bye to your investments. Idiots.

  • What? said

    These two (top two) above me aren’t serious are they? They sound incredibly stupid... well, as the old saying goes... a fool and his money...

  • Venuja said

    Don't talk bad of my country siriously we live our lives happily than yours yes we are a 3rd world country but you don't know ay thing about our country it's not bad as you tell

  • Regina said

    My relatives just report that they were robbed in Sri lank!
    They took a "taxi" and the taxi had some engine troubles , including smoke emission. They helped to push the car and the car runaway with all their luggages and all things.
    Police and Ambassy are reported and the case under investigating (there are just 3 roads around!!!??) .
    It happened today close to Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka
    Asking myself if it is something previous arranged and if there are more ones around involved?
    If someone knows how to help , please let me know.

  • Antonio Rodriguez said

    We were robbed yesterday, travelling from Madiha (Polhena) to Colombo airport.
    We arranged a private transfer by car. The car was ok and the driver very friendly and polite. But ...
    He told us to stop for 10 minutes on resting area by the highway. We did not take our backpacks with us (big mistake!!!) , when we got back to the car we realised that someone ( driver probably) open the backpacks and took the money.
    So be very careful !!!!

  • Sudesh Liyanage said

    Oh come on..Sri Lanka?..Here no racism at all..Treat all foreigners like kings and queens..We respect the strangers and it is part of our rich culture..Unlike in many so called developed country we don't degrade people by looking at their skin color..But if a brown skinned goes to Europe or Australia..Oh talk about it..the so called posh whites would not give damn to them..In Sri Lanka we don't care whether you are black,white, yellow or brown..If you are in need we help you..Can an ordinary man travel in Europe in modern 2020 without the fear of being robbed, attacked for money or pick pocketing..?..has the governments established the safety for foreigners there..Answer is NOOOO...specially like in France, Germany? many pick pocketers?..My language was robbed France..But no body gave shit on me when I complained to Police in Bercy Seine?..whoa..The police officers !..Disappointing..i felt like they degraded me for my skin color...Morons..Just call us a 3rd world developing Country..But we are 100 times richer than you in Values..Humanity..Friendliness and not racists..Come on..Sri Lanka is way safer than any country in Europe including England..shame

  • Lohith said

    Sri Lanka is very safe to travel. There are hardly any serious crimes committed by average citizens.
    All the steeling and murdering is done by politicians.
    They have ruined the country since independence from the British in 1948.
    So, as long as you stay away from them its a good country.

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