Sri Lanka

Doing Business In Sri Lanka

  1. Sri Lanka is ranked 81st out of 185 economies in Doing Business 2013. Its overall score increased by 15 points compared to last year, largely reflecting a 38 point increase in the Starting a Business indicator and a 21 point increase in the Registering Property indicator.
  2. According to the latest Enterprise Surveys (2011), Practices of the Informal Sector, Access to Finance, and Tax Rates are the top 3 obstacles that firms face in Sri Lanka. 47.4% of firms face competition from unregistered or informal firms, compared to the regional average of 36.9%.
  3. Within the South Asia region, Sri Lanka imposes more stringent restrictions on foreign equity ownership than most other countries measured by the Investing Across Borders indicators. Select strategic sectors, such as railway freight transportation and electricity transmission and distribution are closed to foreign capital participation. Foreign ownership in the primary sector (mining, oil and gas) is limited to a maximum of 40%. Foreign equity participation in the retail distribution sector is only allowed if it exceeds $1,000,000. It takes 6 procedures and 65 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) in Sri Lanka (Colombo), slower than both the regional IAB average for South Asia and the global average of IAB countries.
  4. Sri Lanka’s economic freedom score is 60.7, making its economy the 81st freest in the 2013 Index. Its score is 2.4 points higher than last year, reflecting improvements in half of the 10 economic freedoms including fiscal freedom, investment freedom, and the control of government spending. Sri Lanka is ranked 13th out of 41 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, and its score is above the world and regional averages.

Source: World Bank


Visa Information

Beginning in 2012, Sri Lanka did away with its free visas, which had been issued on arrival. To nearly universal criticism, an online visa system was introduced. At time of research, this system was still being refined (e.g. after the number of people doing a short stopover plummeted, the visa fees were waived for certain 48-hour visits).
Obtaining a Visa
Before visiting Sri Lanka you should do the following to obtain a 30-day visa:
» Visit the Sri Lanka Electronic Travel Authorization System ( several days before arriving. 
» Follow the online application process and pay with a credit or debit card.
» Once approved, print out the visa confirmation.
You can still obtain visas at Sri Lankan embassies abroad and there is a counter at Bandaranaike International Airport for people who arrive without a visa, although you’ll have to wait with the other visa-less masses and pay a small penalty.
Visa Fees
Transit visa good for 48 hours » Free
Tourist visa good for 3-7 days » US$10
Standard 30-day tourist visa » US$20
Visas secured at Bandaranaike International Airport cost US$5 more. You can pay in rupiah, euros, UK pounds and Australian dollars in addition to US dollars.
Visa Extensions
For stays in Sri Lanka beyond the usual 30-day visa, contact the Department of Immigration and Emigration ( They are not hard to get but require jumping through some bureaucratic hoops.

Business Etiquette

Meeting and Greeting

Sri Lankan business etiquette can be rather formal. Always remember that as a guest you will be given some leeway in terms of appreciating all the cultural nuances, but it is still best to try and adhere to some of the local customs.
Shaking hands is the most common form of greeting. 
Handshakes are firm. 
Greetings are given upon meeting and leaving. 
Men may shake hands with other men and women may shake hands with other women. 
Many Sri Lankan women may not want to shake hands with men. Wait for a woman to extend her hand. 
As with most hierarchical cultures, Sri Lankans use titles. 
If someone does not have a professional title, use the honorific title "Sir" or "Madam". 
Titles are used with the person's name or the surname. 
Wait to be invited before using someone's first name.

Business Card Etiquette

Business cards are usually exchanged after an initial handshake and greeting. 
Titles and qualifications are important so be sure to add them to your card.  
Having  one side of your business card translated into Sinhala or Tamil is a nice touch but not crucial. 
Always present your business card with two hands. 
Treat people's business cards with respect - so keep don't put them into pockets, draw on them or use them in any manner that may be disrespectful.


Maintaining face is important for all communication.
Do not put people in awkward positions or under pressure. Never openly criticise people.
Sri Lankans are very non-confrontational in their communication style and it is important to try and read between the lines. They may say one thing but mean another and it is up to the listener to work out the message.
Watch for long pauses, avoidance of eye contact or blatant tactics of evasion.

Business Meetings

As relationships are so important for business it is always wise to invest time in relationship-building conversations at the start of any meetings. 

The Sri Lankans will want to feel at ease with you and at least have a small bit of background about you before they will feel comfortable doing business or discussing business with you.
In fact a first meeting with a company should be approached as purely a relationship building exercise.
Prior to a meeting it may be worth while sending some background information on your company, the attendees and an agenda for the meeting.
Meetings may be interrupted by other business but this should not be interpreted as rude in any way.  
Initial meetings will usually take place with middle ranking personnel who gather information to present to the decision maker. Getting to the decision maker through them is based on establishing good rapport and having a solid proposal. 
Remember only the top level person at a company will usually make decisions so be patient and do your best to meet the person face-to-face.

General Business Hours

The working week in offices, including post offices, is usually from 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Some businesses also open until about 1pm on Saturday. Shops normally open from 10am to about 7pm weekdays, and until 3pm on Saturday. Businesses run by Muslims may take an extended lunch break on Friday so staff can attend Friday prayers. Banks are generally open from 9am to 3pm on weekdays, although some banks are open on Saturday. Tourist restaurants are generally open between 8am and 11pm. Bars usually close by midnight and last call is often a sobering 11pm. All exceptions to these opening hours are noted in relevant reviews.
Sri Lanka’s time, being 30 minutes off the top of the hour used in much of the world, bedevils many a traveller. Sri Lanka is 5 and a half hours ahead of GMT (the same as India), 4and a half hours behind Australian EST and 10 and a half hours ahead of American EST.