Sri Lanka is rapidly becoming one of the hottest new tourism destinations, thanks to its combination of gorgeous beaches, incredible temples and landscapes, lovely people and rock-bottom prices. Luckily, they make it simple to visit by issuing visas electronically before you travel at eta.gov.lk. I had my email confirmation within 12 hours of applying online, and my visa was good for 30 days from the date of entry into the country. That’s more than sufficient for your average vacation, but what if you want to stay longer? Since I’m a nomad and have no office to hurry back to, I wanted to spend a little more time exploring the island. A two month extension (giving you 90 total days) is available, but you can’t apply for this online. The extension will only be granted at the Department of Immigration in Colombo. I had read online that this was a quick and painless process and you can just stroll up to the visa counter, get a stamp, and be on your way.
LIES. SO MANY LIES.
I ended up wasting a boatload of time because all of the information I had read before my trip was either completely outdated or so inaccurate I assume the authors of those articles were actually talking about a different country altogether.
Because I don’t want you darling readers to suffer the same fate, I have documented the entire visa extension process here, so you can breeze through the process and get back to exploring Sri Lanka. Well, maybe “breeze through” is a bit optimistic; you’re still going to have to sacrifice four hours of your day here. There’s no way around that unless you use one of the many visa couriers around Colombo to take care of this for you. I spoke to several people who did that, and I’m sure they were all happy with the experience, but I was determined to sort it out myself, for several reasons:
- How hard can it be? I hate paying someone else to do something just because I can’t sort it out myself.
- It irks me to pay someone to do something that I should be able to do myself.
- I just can’t bring myself to hand over my passport to someone I just met and trust that they’re going to bring it back to me the next day. What if they lose it? What if they get in a tuktuk accident on the way to the passport office and it goes flying off a bridge? What if they’re mugged?
If you, too, are determined to sort out your visa extension yourself, read on for everything you need to know.
Before you go:
- Get visa pictures taken. Expect to pay 300-400 rupees and make sure you tell the photo shop operator that you need visa pictures, not passport pictures. There are tons of photo shops with aggressive touts lining the streets around the Department of Immigration office, but any mall photo booth can provide these for you if you’re out shopping.
- Bring your own pen! And a notebook to use as a lap desk. The office doesn’t provide pens and there are only two small, wall-mounted writing stations in the entire office since they remodeled and took out the long writing counter.
- Get there early. They stop processing applications at 1:30 p.m. and the place is a madhouse by 10 a.m. If you’re traveling to Colombo from elsewhere on the island just for a visa renewal, consider coming the day before and spending the night so you can get to the office soon after they open at 8:30 a.m.
- Bring a book, Kindle, etc., and don’t make any plans for the next few hours. There are signs up throughout the office telling you that the visa extension process will take approximately four hours, and they don’t lie.
- TAKE NOTE! The office has moved from the old centrally located spot referenced on some websites. The new building is in the suburb of Battaramulla, on Sri Subhuthipura Road. All the tuktuk drivers know where it is, just tell them you need to get to the passport office. For extra insurance, take a screenshot of the Google map listing showing the address and phone number (this is good advice for anywhere you need to go in Sri Lanka, actually!) If you’re coming by bus, the Department of Immigration website has a list of bus routes that will reach them.
While You’re There:
- When you arrive at the Department of Immigration, go into the main building, walk straight ahead and turn right (walking around all the rows of chairs that fill the center of the room). Go out the doors and across a walkway to the second building. The visa office is on the fourth floor. As you enter the building, turn to your left and pass a large staircase to reach the elevator bank. Look to your right: these are the elevators that go as far as the 9th floor; the ones on the left are for the 10th-19th floor only and won’t stop on any lower floors.
- Exit the elevator on the fourth floor and take a right out of the elevator bank. The visa office (Wing C) is straight ahead. You can pick up an “Application for Extension of VISIT Visa” at the token issuing counter as you walk in. Note: You can also download the application from the website before you arrive, assuming you have a printer where you’re staying. It’s really short, though, so it’s not worth going to a lot of extra effort to fill it out ahead of time.
- Fill out the application using that pen I told you to bring. There are a couple of wall-mounted writing stations to use, but if you listened to me and brought a notebook with you, you won’t have to wait for one of these. Notice the little canteen in the corner. This should tell you how long you’re going to be here. Avoid the coffee at all costs.
- Affix one of your pretty mug shots visa photos to the top right corner of the application. There are bottles of glue on the wall mounted writing stations. Yes, I know the bottles are labeled “baby cologne,” but trust me.
- Bring your completed application back to the Token Issuing Counter and hand it over along with your passport. The employee will enter a few details into the system and give you a false sense of hope that things are moving along nicely. A receipt (“token”) will print out and be handed to you along with your passport and application. The employee will smile kindly and motion you into the Wing C Waiting Area. You’ll go cheerfully, not realizing that you’ve just been sent to purgatory.
- Keep an eye on the two flat screen TVs at the front of the room. These will display the token numbers ready for processing. No verbal announcements are made; you have to keep watch.
- When your number appears on the screen, approach the counter under the televisions and hand your token/receipt to the queue master.
- FYI, while you’re waiting, you can consult the large poster on the wall detailing visa extension fees for various nationalities. All prices are listed in US dollars. If you’re from neighboring India, you’ll only pay $3 for the privilege of extending your stay, while citizens of Tanzania have to pay a whopping $200. My American passport will cost me $100 for my extension.
- The queue master will scan your ticket and direct you down the hall to the B Wing Waiting Area. You might get excited again, thinking that things are finally progressing. Don’t. Keep your book/iPad/knitting project out because you’ve only been sent to sit and wait in a different room. There are more flat screen TVs here for you to watch; once again, don’t get distracted and forget to watch for your number. No announcements will be made, and numbers don’t always appear on the screen in consecutive order.
- When your number appears, it will be accompanied by a letter to designate which of the four glass cubicles you are to enter for your “interview” with an immigration officer. Don’t be nervous, it’s not as intense as it sounds. My interview consisted of watching the young officer in a lovely red and orange sari finish filing some paperwork for a few minutes, and then nodding when she asked, “You want to stay another two months?” She gave a little Indian head wiggle, said, “OK!” and directed me to go wait in the payment area until they were ready to take my payment.
- The payment area (AKA Shroff Counters) is back down in the C Waiting Area, ahead and to your right as you enter. There is another screen where you will sit and wait for your number to appear before you will be allowed to go forward and pay.
- You used to have to bring cash to pay for your visa extension, but that is no longer the policy. They take Visa and Mastercard now, and there are no extra fees for paying by card.
- After you’ve paid, take your printed payment receipt across to the Dispatch Waiting Area (still in area C) to sit and watch one last monitor for your number. You’re in the home stretch!
- At some point, an employee will enter with a huge pile of passports and the staff at the counter will sort them and start calling out numbers. When your number is called, go forward and present your payment receipt, sign the logbook to confirm that you’ve received your passport, and you’re done!
So there you go. Step by step instructions on extending your Sri Lankan tourist visa. If you use these instructions on your next trip, please drop me a note in the comments and let me know if they were helpful to you! If you find anything has changed in the future and needs to be updated, please let me know so I can keep these instructions as current as possible. Happy adventuring!
Psst, before you go! If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this one!