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Immigration Policy for Sri Lanka

Some people dream of being expatriates and others dream of living in a certain country. For many people in both categories, Sri Lanka is a great destination. Many expats love living there.
For those considering a move to Sri Lanka, here’s what they should know. Having the details means that they will be able to make an educated decision about moving and, if they decide to go, start the process right away.

Immigrating to Sri Lanka

Immigrating to Sri Lanka means moving there and building a new life there. It means leaving one’s old life behind, sometimes without the intention to ever return. Other immigrants do return home after a period of time living somewhere else.

Immigration is different from visiting - even from a long-term visit. People who are visiting a place for a long time may not invest themselves there as much as immigrants will, because they always know that they will eventually go home.

Immigrating means building a new home somewhere other than one’s home country. This means making new connections, building one’s career there, and doing practical things like opening bank accounts there, getting mobile phone service there, and more. 

Reasons to Immigrate to Sri Lanka

There are a lot of reasons to immigrate in general and to immigrate to Sri Lanka in particular. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Reuniting with family. People who have family members in Sri Lanka may want to get to know them better or introduce them to children born overseas. They may also need to care for aging or ill family members in the country.

  • Sri Lanka offers a number of educational opportunities, including study programs, internships, language programs, and more. Students accepted into these programs can move to Sri Lanka to complete them.

  • Some people experience extreme persecution or other problems in their home countries. They may choose to move to Sri Lanka to improve their lives.

  • People who get jobs in Sri Lanka or who want to start businesses there can get permission to move to the country so they can successfully fulfill their job-related tasks and requirements.

  • Beach living. Sri Lanka has naturally beautiful beaches and the infrastructure around them is developing. Many people who want to live and work in lush, coastal areas choose Sri Lanka because of its gorgeous beach opportunities.

How to Immigrate to Sri Lanka

The best way to immigrate to Sri Lanka begins with an entry visa. Everyone who enters the country must have one of these, regardless of where they are coming from or how long they plan to stay. The application process is different based on the person’s country of origin. 

Once inside the country, a person who wants to move to Sri Lanka will need to apply for a Residence Visa. They can get these applications from the Sri Lankan Department of Immigration and Emigration, or they can find it online.

They will need to submit their application, along with the following documentation, to the Department mentioned above. Applicants need: 

  • Their valid passport, with at least 6 months of validity beyond their date of entry into Sri Lanka

  • Two photographs of themselves. Standard passport photos usually work.

  • A copy of their airline ticket into the country

  • Their valid visa, or notice from the Department of Immigration and Emigration that they have an approved visa on file

  • The application fee

The Department will need to take this documentation to process it, and should have an approved visa ready in 1-2 business days, as long as all of the paperwork is in order. If it is not, the Department will contact the applicant to ask for more information.

People who have been hired by Sri Lankan companies can apply specifically for a Work Visa, which is a type of Residence Visa permitting them to work in the country. In addition to the information outlined above, these applicants will need to submit: 

  • A letter from their employer stating that they are employed and giving their starting date

  • A registration certificate from the company, proving that they are a legitimate Sri Lankan business

  • A Board of Investment certificate from the Sri Lankan company

  • If relevant, a letter of recommendation from an appropriate Ministry in Sri Lanka

Once an employee has their Residence Visa and their Work Visa, they will be able to officially work inside Sri Lanka.

What does it Mean to Be an Immigrant in Sri Lanka

Many people who move to Sri Lanka are so glad they did so. Here are just a few of the reasons why they love it there: 

  • People are friendly. Sri Lankans greet everyone with a head wobble that signifies their greeting. They smile and say something to nearly everyone they meet, even if they don’t know them. They are generally welcoming to foreigners and happy to help people understand the culture.

  • The lifestyle is laid back. Sri Lanka is a relaxed place to live. Being on time is not as important as enjoying life, connecting with people, and taking advantage of the happy accidents that occur when you aren’t on a schedule or a timetable.

  • Sri Lanka is generally safe. While crime occurs in every country, Sri Lankan’s generally respect visitors and want to make them feel welcome, which means not hurting them or damaging their goods. Some people may try to get money out of foreigners, but they will generally respect your, “No.”

  • It’s relatively inexpensive. The cost of living in Sri Lanka is going up, but it’s still less expensive to live there (even on the beach!) than it is in other places. Digital nomads who want to save money can live relatively well there for less money than they will spend elsewhere.

Long Term Visit Versus Moving Permanently

Most people who move to Sri Lanka apply for an entry visa first. The requirements for this vary based on the applicant’s nationality. Some people may be able to get an Electronic Travel Authorization online, while others will need to visit the nearest Sri Lankan embassy, go through an interview, submit documentation, and wait for visa approval.

These visas generally allow for stays of up to 30 days in Sri Lanka, though sometimes these can be extended and then can last up to 90 days.

These long-term visits allow foreigners to “try on” Sri Lanka to see if they want to live there. They also allow time for people to find a place to live, find a job, etc. Since they can apply for a Residence Visa from inside the country, there’s less pressure for people to know if they want to stay from the second they arrive.

The negative side of a long-term stay is that these visas do not usually permit people to work in Sri Lanka. For those who need to support themselves, this can make the situation difficult until they find work and get an approved work visa.

Sometimes, there is under-the-table work available in Sri Lanka. While this can tide a long-term visitor over until they get permission to live and work in the country, they face deportation if they are caught, and their employer can face consequences, too.

Refugees in Sri Lanka

Because Sri Lanka is an island nation, it does not have as many refugees as some countries do. Many refugees do not have the money or the means to cross the ocean to get to Sri Lanka.

However, there are some refugees in the country. While they are not offered any official status they are generally tolerated there until other solutions can be found to either relocate them or permit them to return home.

Refugee work in Sri Lanka is done by the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. They are working with the government and other powerful entities to find solutions for refugees and get them formal protection in the country.

Being a Resident in Sri Lanka

Foreigners who have a Residence Visa for Sri Lanka can stay there for up to a year, and can renew their visa before that year is up if they want to stay longer. This visa covers people who want to work, study, or run a business in the country.

Foreigners who get a Residence Visa are granted the same rights as Sri Lankan citizens, though they will not get a Sri Lankan passport and will not be able to vote in elections. They can own property, but they will be charged a property tax equal to 100% of the property’s value. 

After residing in Sri Lanka on a Residence Visa for at least 5 years, people become eligible for Sri Lankan citizenship. They will need to apply for this, pay the relevant fees, and may be asked to demonstrate their knowledge of the country, it’s history, language, and more.

Sri Lanka does recognize dual citizenship, so people from countries that allow that will not have to denounce their previous affiliations to become citizens of Sri Lanka.

Undocumented Immigrants in Sri Lanka

There are relatively few undocumented immigrants in Sri Lanka, once again because it is a island. Most undocumented people do not have a way to get to Sri Lanka because it involves crossing an ocean.

The few undocumented people who do make it to Sri Lanka can generally find work and shelter there. They should register with the UNHCR, so they can take advantage of any programs offered by that entity in the country.

Start the Process of Moving to Sri Lanka Today

People who want to move to Sri Lanka can get started today. They can try to find a job in the country, or plan a trip there to see if they would want to live there long term. The sooner they begin the process, the sooner they will be able to live the life they have dreamed of in Sri Lanka.

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