Travel money guide: Sri Lanka
Learn how to access your cash and exchange money like a pro on your holiday to Sri Lanka.
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Sri Lanka's currency, the Sri Lankan rupee, is a closed currency, meaning you can't get cash out before you depart Australia, so you'll need to go to an ATM or exchange your Aussie dollars on arrival. Never fear, though. We've done the research to help you find the best ways to pay for those local market trinkets and wildlife safaris on your next holiday.
We compare the options for travel-friendly credit cards, debit cards and prepaid money cards below. Learn about ATM withdrawal fees, load/reload fees and currency conversion fees to find the best option for you.
What should I know about money for Sri Lanka
Should it be a travel card, a credit card, or a debit card?
Are you travelling to Sri Lanka and looking to find the best way to take your travel money? Let's compare prepaid travel cards, credit cards and debit cards to help you determine which option is right for you.
A quick summary of your travel money options in Sri Lanka
|Travel money option||Pros||Considerations|
|Debit cards for travel|
|Prepaid travel money cards|
|Credit cards for travel|
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
So, what's the best way to take money to Sri Lanka?
Using credit cards
Credit cards are another option to consider when travelling in Sri Lanka. Like all travel money options, it has its benefits and drawbacks. Consider some of the following factors associated with using your credit card overseas:
- Currency conversion fees. Most Australian credit cards will charge a currency conversion fee of around 3% if you use your card to make purchases in a foreign currency. To reduce your expenses, look for a credit card designed for overseas use that doesn’t charge these fees.
- ATM withdrawals. Credit cards aren’t designed for cash withdrawals, so you’ll probably accrue a high cash advance fee if you use your card for ATM withdrawals in Australia or overseas. As you’re most likely to use cash in Sri Lanka, you may want to consider carrying a debit or prepaid card for cash withdrawals and leave your credit card for large EFTPOS or emergency purchases. Compare credit cards that don’t charge overseas ATM withdrawals here.
- Acceptance. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Sri Lanka, so you should have no problem using this type of card while you’re travelling.
- Rewards. Some credit cards are linked to a rewards or frequent flyer program, which could be a smart way to earn points on your holiday purchases. Some cards even offer bonus points for overseas transactions.
- Insurance. Credit cards designed for overseas use often come with complimentary travel insurance for you and the family members travelling with you. You may be required to pay for a percentage of your travel costs with the card to qualify, so make sure to read over the insurance policy.
Using prepaid travel cards in Sri Lanka
You can load Australian dollars onto a prepaid travel card, which can be transferred to multiple supported currencies. Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks you should consider:
- Supported currencies. Unfortunately, no Australian prepaid card currently supports LKR, so you’ll probably incur currency conversion or foreign transaction fees if you use a travel money card in Sri Lanka.
- ATM withdrawals. Travel cards charge different ATM fees depending on the currency you’re withdrawing. You can check the review page or product disclosure statement (PDS) relevant to your card to see how much ATM visits will cost you.
- Locked-in exchange rates. Prepaid travel cards lock in your exchange rate at the time of loading the funds, so your money is protected against negative exchange rate fluctuations while you’re travelling.
- Access to your own funds. Unlike a line of credit, a prepaid card carries preloaded funds from your savings account. This can help curb overspending and give you a more realistic understanding of your travel budget when you’re overseas.
Using travel money debit cards
Debit cards can be a good way to access your savings overseas, but there are some drawbacks you need to be aware of. Consider some of the benefits and restrictions below:
- ATM alliances. Some Australian debit cards belong to ATM alliances, so you can withdraw funds from specific ATMs overseas without incurring a withdrawal fee. Unlike a credit card, you can also enjoy withdrawing cash without the burden of a cash advance fee.
- Currency conversion. Unless your card is designed for overseas use, you’ll be charged a currency conversion fee if you use your card to make purchases in a foreign currency.
- Use your cash. Like a prepaid card, a debit card only has access to your savings. This can help you keep your travel budget in check and prevent you from overspending.
Taking cash to Sri Lanka
It’s prohibited to bring more than a small amount of LKR into and out of Sri Lanka. At some point, you will need to get money changed or make an ATM withdrawal.Back to top
The official and only currency of Sri Lanka is the rupee (LKR). The Sri Lankan Government has tight control over the national currency and there are strict limits on the amount of rupees you can bring in and out of the country (up to LKR 5,000). You’ll need to change Australian dollars to LKR or withdraw rupees from an ATM when you arrive.
Exchange rate history (AUD to LKR)
|Year||AUD to LKR*|
*Average annual exchange rate. Exchange rates are for 1 January of the years listed above.
You should wait until you arrive in Sri Lanka to get the bulk of your money changed. Money exchange offices in Sri Lanka can change Australian dollars to rupees. You can bring up to LKR5,000 to Sri Lanka from Australia, which is approximately AUD$50, or you can bring up to the Australian dollar equivalent of USD$5,000.
LKR is a minor international currency. Exchange offices in Australia charge a higher commission compared to getting your money changed when you arrive in Sri Lanka. Exchange offices at Colombo and Hambantota airports offer rates that compete with what you can get on the street, so don’t be afraid to get your cash changed as soon as you get off the plane. Exchange offices at Colombo airport are open 24/7.
Licensed money changers such as jewellers and designated exchange offices may offer a better rate than banks. The rate may change depending on the denominations you want to change. For example, you may be able to get a better rate exchanging AUD$100 notes compared to multiples of AUD$20.
Hotels and street money changers
If you can, avoid changing money at your hotel. Hotels usually offer a worse rate than banks and dedicated money changers, and a commission may also be applied to the transaction.
Street money changers may offer an attractive rate, but there’s a higher chance of being ripped off. These people are practised at sleight of hand and have been known to short-change tourists. It’s better to be safe than sorry and get your money changed at the airport or at a bank. Spend a few extra dollars to ensure you end up ahead.
- Tip: Be sure to keep your exchange slip when you get money changed so you can re-exchange cash when you leave the country.
Withdrawing cash from an ATM
The other option to get LKR is to withdraw cash from an ATM when you arrive. Cash withdrawals using your credit card (not recommended) or debit card are subject to the Visa or Mastercard foreign exchange rate. The Visa and Mastercard rate is close to the interbank rate. The downside is the charge for using an international ATM. A local ATM operator fee and international ATM fee will apply.
The banks to use to withdraw cash
Not all banks accept foreign cards. You can make cash withdrawals using your Australian card at these popular Sri Lankan banks:
- Commercial Bank
- National Bank
- Standard Chartered Bank
Make sure you check to see whether the ATM takes your card. The Visa and Mastercard logo should be displayed on the front of the machine.
$13 - $35 per night
|Double room in a nice place|
$40 - $110 per night
|5 star hotel|
$110 above - per night
Fish Curry and Mixed Rice
$1 - $4
|Meals at hotel/restaurant|
$12 - $23
|Meals at top-end places|
$3 per day
|Hire bikes, ride trains and use a car and driver some days|
$23 per day
|Daily use of car and driver|
$59 for a day
Get familiar with the Sri Lankan rupee
The Sri Lankan rupee comes in the following denominations. 1, 2, 5, 10, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000. 10 rupees is the lowest denomination banknote.Back to top
What else do I need to know about money for Sri Lanka?
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