Sri Lanka - For DNs - For Digital Nomads

Sri Lanka is known for its beautiful nature, friendly people and is a perfect spot for both adventurous and low-key visitors. If you’re interested in working remotely from Sri Lanka — here’s all you need to know to make the transition.

Sri Lanka for Digital Nomads at a Glance

The Good:

  • Amazing beaches and scenery.
  • Most cities are very affordable.
  • A lot of fun outdoor activities.

The Bad:

  • Not the best internet connection.

An Introduction to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is located in the Indian Ocean and surrounded by the Laccadive Sea and Bay of Bengal. The country consists of the main island, and many smaller islands, and is also called “the pearl of the Indian ocean”.

It has always been one of the places to visit, but in recent years the country has also attracted a lot of ex-pats and digital nomads. The reason behind this is that Sri Lanka has a very healthy economy, and rates high on the HDI (Human Development Index). Moreover, its HDI and income per capita are the highest in all South Asian nations.

Connectivity in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, as well as most of its neighboring countries, tend to have a bad reputation when it comes to their connectivity. However, Sri Lanka has made some great moves in the last few years, as their internet speeds rapidly increase. Also, the internet packages tend to be quite affordable, for both WiFi and mobile.

WiFi in Sri Lanka

With average internet speeds of 5.4 Mbps, Sri Lanka globally ranks at the 115th (out of 167) with regards to the IDI (ICT Development Index). However, it comes in at 20th place regionally. So, while on a global stage it doesn’t offer the fastest internet connection, it is one of the better ones in Asia.

All that being said, larger places such as Kandy and Colombo have excellent WiFi services, so you can expect a fast and stable connection there. Also, if you stay in designated DN-friendly places(hostels, co-working offices, etc), you should be fine.

4G and Mobile in Sri Lanka

According to Opensignal, In 2020, Sri Lanka ranked 79th globally, with an average mobile internet speed of 10.2 Mbit/s. Again, this country isn’t exactly well-known for having a great internet connection overall, but they have been trying to remedy this.

Most notably, Sri Lanka has been investing in 5G greatly, as well as expanding the LTE and fiber networks. So, while there are some current speed and connectivity issues, the future seems bright.

Visas and Documentation for Sri Lanka

During the last couple of years, Sri Lanka has made some notable strides in attracting tourists, which you, as a digital nomad can take advantage of. Firstly, you can enter Sri Lanka and stay there as a tourist for a period of 30 days. However, you can also extend it twice, for periods of up to 90 days. However, the caveat is that you can only do this from Colombo.

Also, you’ll need to fill out an online Travel Authorization application before your arrival. You can do this from your home, while planning the trip, and even from the Sri Lankan airport upon arrival.

Pro-tip: In some cases, it may be cheaper to renew your visa locally, rather than going to a Sri Lankan embassy. So, ask around about prices before renewing your visa.

The RGS

Most digital nomads apply for visas under the Resident Guest Scheme (RGS). This program is open to all foreigners who wish to contribute to the Sri Lankan economy as an investor or worker. This visa is valid for five years, and you have to apply for it beforehand. However, keep in mind that you can’t convert a travel visa to an RGS visa. Under the RGS, there are two main categories you can apply for as a DN — investor and professional.

Investor Category

If you plan on investing in real estate or other types of business venture, you can apply under the RGS investor category. However, you will have to invest a minimum of $250,000. As this isn’t realistic for a lot of digital nomads, a professional visa may be your best bet.

Professional Category

Professional category RSG visa is the best option for digital nomads who plan on working and living in Sri Lanka for up to five years. You will have to make monthly deposits of $2,000 dollars into a Sri Lankan, and otherwise, work just as you would from anywhere else. For further information, you can check out the official Sri Lankan RSG visa page.

Where to Work as a Digital Nomad in Sri Lanka

Thanks to Sri Lanka’s gorgeous views and sandy beaches, there are plenty of spaces that allow you to work in a comfortable environment. Whether you want to sit by the beach and sip cocktails or enjoy a cup of coffee with the view of the Grand Indian garden — there’s something for everyone! So, let’s take a look at the best spaces to work as a digital nomad in Sri Lanka.

Co-working spaces

Because Sri Lanka is just at the cusp of transitioning to a DN-friendly country, co-working spaces are somewhat of a novelty. While they’re somewhat common in places such as Colombo or Nugegoda, but you may have issues finding them elsewhere. That being said, these co-working spaces often come equipped with better internet speeds than anywhere else, so they’re the best option for those who need a fast and steady connection.

Hotels

Sri Lanka is packed full of hotels with lounges that allow you to work from your laptop while enjoying a great atmosphere, and affordable beverages. The Verse Collective in Dikwella is a prime example of this.

The hotel and bar boast high-speed WiFi while providing you with free parking, as well as both an indoor and outdoor working space. There are also tons of fun activities you can enjoy while on-site, such as fishing, surfing, yoga — and even skateboarding!

Cafés

There are way too many cafes with amazing scenery and great inexpensive food and drinks to list. Moreover, whatever city you’re staying in, great or small, you’ll likely find a cafe that allows you to work in a calm, natural environment. Some of our favorite spots to do just that are the Grand Hotel Coffee Shop or the Black Cat Café.

Both are famous for their wonderful views and pristine nature. The only difference is that the Black Cat Café is located at the beach, while the Grand Hotel sits across the Grand Indian garden. So, depending on what you’re in the mood for, or where you’re located, we definitely recommend checking either of them out.

Tech Guide for Digital Nomads in Sri Lanka

As all digital nomads know, there’s nothing more infuriating than arriving at your destination and realizing you can’t power any of your devices. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, take a look at our tech guide for Sri Lanka.

Power Plugs and Sockets in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan connections mainly operate at 230V 50Hz frequency, which is pretty much the stand for this part of the world. So, you can use devices with voltages between 220 and 240 V, which are standard in most of Asia, Africa, and Europe. However, if the standard voltage of your appliances ranges between 120-127V, which is the case for most of the US and Canada, you’ll need a voltage converter.

Pro-tip: Consider buying a combo power plug adapter/voltage converter to ensure you can use and charge all of your devices and/or appliances.

Freedom on the Internet

Sadly, Sri Lanka still has ways to go in order to ensure internet freedom for all. While not all speech is limited,  a lot of it is monitored, and some people have even been punished for expressing themselves online.

All that being said, as long as you do your thing and stay out of politics, you have no reason to worry. So, if you’re a travel blogger, YouTuber, Instagrammer and focus on that aspect, or just do your own thing, you’ll be able to work freely.

What to Do if Your Computer Is Broken

Sri Lanka has a solid number of computer repair shops, especially in bigger cities. Whether you’re struggling with finding the right plug and adapter, need someone to resurrect your laptop, or buy a new one, you’ll surely be able to find some help. The downside is that larger chain shops only exist in bigger cities such as Colombo.

Cost of living in Sri Lanka

What Sri Lanka lacks in some areas, it more than makes up with the cheap cost of living. Moreover, the average estimated cost of living for a single person sits right around $1200.

To rent a two-bedroom apartment, you can expect to pay as little as $500 in smaller cities, and the utility costs are low as well. However, rental prices may increase significantly, depending on the location and amenities. The food and transportation are also quite cheap. The average meal at a local restaurant will cost you around $3, while the monthly bus fare costs around $15.

Travel basics for Sri Lanka

Language

Sri Lanka has two official languages, Tamil and Sinhala, but the people here also commonly use English. Sinhala is the most dominant language by far, with over 80% of the population using it. However, an estimated 20-30% of the population are fluent in English, and its widely used for commercial as well as official purposes.

When to Visit Sri Lanka

For such a small country, Sri Lanka has an incredibly complicated climate. However, this means that there’s always good weather on one side of the island — at any given point.

If you’re planning a trip to the south, west, or the hillside, you should plan your trip anywhere between December and March. Within this time range, it’s best to visit Kandy,  Unawatuna Bay, or Weligama.

On the other hand, if you’re thinking of heading up to the north or east coast, you should probably go there from April/May to September. With the south part of the island being quite humid at this time frame, you can enjoy other places such as Jaffna or the Cultural Triangle. Additionally, you could go to the Vesak Poya festival which is one of the best events in Sri Lanka.

Food

To better imagine Sri Lankan food, think of it as being kind of similar to Indian — but with a twist. It features a lot of sweet and sour combinations, as well as rice as a staple of every meal. In a typical meal, you can expect to get rice, curry with a thin broth, as well as some high protein meat(fish, pork, beef, or goat). Additionally, there are often a lot of side dishes, as well as snacks with every meal.

So, suffice it to say, Sri Lankan cuisine is perfect for both the venturesome and the not-so-adventurous visitors.

Where Digital Nomads Live in Sri Lanka

At this point, it’s probably safe to assume you’re hooked on the idea of living in Sri Lanka as a DN or are at least seriously considering it. After all, what’s not to love? The 830-mile coastline, beautiful hotels and beach cafes, and mountain views that will take your breath away. So, if you’ve got a piece of your heart invested in this idea, here are some places you can move to.

Colombo

In this article, we mentioned Colombo quite a bit — and for a good reason. The city has positioned itself as the ultimate getaway/DN paradise. You can relax sitting in cafes on gorgeous beaches, all while enjoying great food and a steady WiFi connection. Also, as we briefly mentioned, Colombo has a lot of co-working spaces, which are relatively inexpensive and often come with some great perks. We recommend checking out the Java Lounge- Jawatta, as it comes with great views, delicious food, as well as one of the best internet connections we’ve seen.

Marissa

Marissa is also loved by many digital nomads, and the quiet city offers a great work-life balance. There are plenty of hostels and cafes with a solid internet connection, as well as fun activities, perfect for all types. If you’re more adventurous, you can go surfing on Weligama beach, hang out with the turtles on Polhena Beach, or visit the snake farm. However, if you’re more low-key, you can visit the Sea Turtle Hatchery, or just sit back and relax at any beach lounge or cafe.

Kaduwela

Kaduwela Municipality is a Colorado suburb located around 10 miles from Colombo city center. It’s a very diverse urban area, that offers great fun in the sun, as well as fun nightlife. So it’s perfect for digital nomads who want to have the best of both worlds, a quiet, mostly tourist-free life, as well as plenty of entertainment options.

Ella

Ella is one of the most touristy places in Sri Lanka, which has its advantages and disadvantages. This province is probably the most westernized in Sri Lanka, so you’ll be able to enjoy the food and amenities you’re familiar with.

However, during the peak season (typically June), Ella’s cafes, beaches, and restaurants can get quite busy, making it less than ideal for digital nomads. That being said, you should plan to go to Ella between March and June, as this is the best time to visit it. Also, know that the Monsoon season lasts from July to November, so you may want to steer clear.

Accommodation for Digital Nomads in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is still not as popular with tourists as it should be, so most of the time accommodations are pretty easy to come by — and very inexpensive. Whether you’re looking for an apartment in Ella with breathtaking views of the mountain or wanting to rent an entire villa, you’ll surely find an option that suits you with these tools.

Airbnb

There are thousands upon thousands of amazing Sri Lankan rentals on Airbnb. Ranging from inexpensive to luxurious, you can spend as little as $10 for rentals in Ella, or Weligama, and $20 in Colombo. Believe it or not, you can even rent a whole 6-bedroom villa for $250 in Cassia Hill. So, Airbnb is a great place to search for your digital nomad home.

Booking.com

There are so many hotels in Sri Lanka, that renting a room in a lot of them has become affordable for most. You can rent a room near the beach in Weligama for $10, and even a twin room in Colombo for less than $30. Also, we love that the vast majority of these rentals offer free cancellation and no prepayment.

More Info on the Main Cities

Colombo

  • 6.7 Mbps average download speed
  • 1.5 Mbps average upload speed
  • 4G covered
  • Cost of living at ~$914 per month
  • Tropical monsoon climate
  • English friendly

Galle

  • 26.4 Mbps average download speed
  • 4.3 Mbps average upload speed
  • 4G partially covered
  • Cost of living at ~$1,266 per month
  • Tropical rainforest climate
  • English friendly

Kandy

  • 5.9 Mbps average download speed
  • 1.6 Mbps average upload speed
  • 4G covered
  • Cost of living at ~$1,002 per month
  • Tropical rainforest climate
  • English friendly

Matara