Applying for -or extending a visa is a hassle, every traveller knows this. And the fact that in most cases you have to do these things in busy capital cities doesn’t make it better. We didn’t hear good stories about Colombo and everyone advised us to get out of there as quickly as possible (we couldn’t have known how true this was since 2 days after we left Colombo, the Easter Attacks happened). But since we already knew we wanted to extend our visa at some point, we figured it would be a hassle having to travel all the way back to Colombo. So we decided to get it over with and do it right away.
The standard visa for Sri Lanka is 1 month, it’s easy to apply for it online through the official website, it will cost 20 or 35 dollars for most countries. Applying for a longer visa is possible, but you have to go to a Sri Lankan embassy or consulate in the country you are residing in at that time. We wanted to apply for a 3-month visa in Belgium (Brussels), but you can only apply maximum 1 month before you want to enter Sri Lanka. Since we would first travel in Europe for 3 weeks and the application process took 7 days we couldn’t pick up our visa in time so this option was not possible for us. I don’t know if this is the case everywhere, so it’s worth making a call to your consulate. Anyways, when you are backpacking and decide to go to Sri Lanka for a longer time, it will probably be easiest to apply for the online visa and immediately extend it when you arrive in Colombo so you don’t have to come back for it. Sri Lanka is not big, but depending on where you are in the country, the travelling and extension process will take you at least 2 days.
We decided to look for a hotel close to the immigration office, so we could sleep after our flight, extend our visa without having to cross the whole of Colombo and get out to explore the rest of Sri Lanka. We arrived at 5AM in the morning, lacking sleep and trying to acclimatize to the hot humidity of Colombo. There are express buses for about 100-150 rupees (the small buses might charge you double for your bags) which leave every half an hour to the city centre of Colombo (Colombo Fort). Although sleepy, we were not trapped by the tuktuk-drivers who tried to tell us that the bus was 4 hours late. Later we noticed that this is one of the most standard tuktuk-tricks the drivers use. I will sum up a short list with their sales tactics so you’re already aware of them (it’s so funny when you know…)
- ‘Bus is very late, 3 or 4 hours waiting!… ‘You want tuktuk?’
- ‘Bus is very, very full, no place to sit! … ‘You want tuktuk?’ (this is actually true sometimes, but definitely not every time.)
- ‘Bus takes 2 hours, tuktuk only 1 hour (if you know how reckless most bus drivers are, this is also not true)…. ‘You want tuktuk?’
- ‘Only 1000 rupees! Cheap price, why bus? (because it’s 50 rupees for the bus). ‘800 rupees!’ Very good price, local price, why no tuktuk? (because it’s still only 50 rupees for the bus). ‘Okay 700 last price! ….’ And so on 🙂
- When you actually take a tuktuk be careful for this less funny, nasty one: ‘You want tuktuk?’ ‘Yes, could you take us to …. (name hotel)?’ ‘Yesyesyes come in come in I know I know’. ‘How much?’ ‘300 rupees’. ‘You know where it is or you need the address?’ ‘Yes I know I know!’. When you get in it turns out they really have no clue (I always use maps.me to see where they’re going) and when they actually look up the adress (or call the hotel): ‘Very far, very far….’ And then they try to charge you more.
I have to say, Sri Lankans are fair sales men in general, really. One time we had to change buses somewhere and the tuktuk drivers were very nice, explaining where the toilet was and asking where we were from and where we were going and then of course offered us to take us to our destination with a tuktuk. They told us that the bus was coming in one hour on this side of the bus station and while we were waiting they slowly lowered their price until they really knew we were not going to take a tuktuk. Then they pointed to the other side and told us: ‘Okay, okay your bus is there, it leaves in 5 minutes!’
Back to Colombo. From Colombo Fort we took a tuktuk to the hotel room we booked on booking.com. But when we arrived a paper on the door stated ‘Closed 15, 16, 17th of April’ (it was the 17th of April). Apparently they were still celebrating the Sri Lankan New Year. Our first confrontation with the insanely large number of public holidays in this country. The neighbours helped us find a place not too far from the closed hotel and we ended up with the nicest homestay family (Nature’s Edge Holiday Resort and Villa on booking.com) we could’ve wished for. Our hosts were super helpful, the food was very good and we got a room on a rooftop terras, looking out over the Colombo skyline. We didn’t feel like we were in the capital at all, all we saw was green and a beautiful thunder sky. The rainy season had just started and we listened to the thunder and rain right above and on our roof. We even decided to stay an extra night, so we didn’t have to travel after the tiring visa extension process. If you decide to go there, please say hi from Hannah & Elias 😉
THE VISA EXTENSION PROCESS
The immigration office opens at 8AM and it’s recommended to go there as early as possible to avoid long waiting times. Make sure you take a passport photo, a pen, your passport (obviously), a book, a game, music or anything to kill time with and some snacks. We took a short ride in a tuktuk to go there, and since Elias still needed photos we stopped at one of the many ‘online photo’ shops around the (im)migration office. After they took the photos they asked for his passport and started filling in some forms. I saw these were the visa application forms and I read you can get them in the official immigration office, so I knew they were trying to do the whole application process for us, which of course would cost us extra. They told us it would only take us 1 hour to get our visa. But they asked us 10.000 rupees each (more than 50 euros) so no thanks, we would do it by ourselves. Even though this took almost 5 hours of waiting.
I made a photo of the process once we were in the office:
In between every step you have to wait a very long time. Your token number is the same over the whole process and at the end of it, you will be desperate to see it appear on the screens. In the mean time all the middlemen who are paid (bribed) by people who want to spend money to have their visa in 1 hour are skipping lines. Very frustrating, but hey, we saved the equivalent of at least 3 nights in a hostel.
Important notice! The prices for the visa extension vary: they are dependent on your nationality. For me (Dutch) it was 49 US dollars and for Elias (Belgian) only 20 US dollars… For an overview of the prices, click here. You can pay cash or by visa or mastercard. You can extend up to 2 months the first time and I heard it’s possible to extend it again for another 3 months after this. Make sure to check if this is the case for your country.
We got out of the immigration office around 13h30, hungry and quite exhausted, but happy we had our extensions and content that we would stay another night in our little heaven in Colombo, before travelling South.
I hope this article was useful! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions 😉