For those like us who visit Sri Lanka and realise that 30 days is not enough time to see the sights, soak up the culture or enjoy the beaches, there is an option to extend your visa in person in Colombo for up to 6 months. We’ve gone through this process twice and it is a little confusing, so we’ve put together this article to share some tips on how to do it as smoothly as possible!
Most tourists visiting Sri Lanka apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization online and receive a standard 30 day visa to travel the country. You can apply for longer visas in person at a Sri Lankan embassy or consulate before you depart, but it is also possible to do so while you are in the country. This can be done in Colombo and we’ve heard horror stories of it taking up to 8 hours, but with these tips we were able to have ours processed in 2.5 hours both times.
- Get there on time. This is the number one tip – you get a ticket with a number on it which is your position in the queue. If you arrive when the office opens you will be within the first 30 people and will be processed relatively quickly. A couple of hours later and you will be number 200 and may not get your passport back until the next day.
- Be patient. At times the system might not seem like the most efficient way to do things – you can’t change it, so accept it and enjoy the down time reading your book or chatting to others.
- Don’t get angry. Both times we went we saw tourists raising their voices and trying to speed their visa up… this doesn’t achieve anything apart from embarrassing yourself and amusing the rest of us. Take it easy and you will sail through.
How to prepare and what to bring
- Completed “Application for Extension of Visit Visa” – you can download the form here. Filling this out before hand will save you valuable time in the morning.
- 1 x Passport Size Photo – this needs to glued to the form. There is a photo booth at the visa office, but again having this done prior to arrival will save time.
- Credit Card or Cash – we were able to pay by card both times we extended, but friends have been on days where the card machines were not working.
- Passport – they will give you a new visa stamp.
- Supporting Documentation – we printed flight details as proof of onward travel, and had screenshots of our bank accounts showing that we had enough money to stay in the country. We were not asked for these either time, but others have been quizzed and asked for proof.
- A good book – most of your time will be sent sitting and waiting for your number to be called out at one of the various stages, so make sure you take something to do!
- Food and drinks – you could be there for a few hours, so you might want to take some water and a snack. There is also a little kiosk selling short eats, coffee and soft drinks in the waiting room.
Where and when to go
The visa office is open from 8:30am – 4:30pm from Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays). They stop accepting new applications after 2:00pm and if you arrive after midday you may have to come all the way back the next day to pick up your passport. Best to arrive at or a little before 8:30 in order to move through quickly. Both times we arrived at 8:30 on the dot, were in the first 30 tickets and were out by 11:00am.
You need to go to the Department of Immigration and Emigration which is in the suburb of Battaramulla, Colombo. Double check the address as it is relatively new, and some maps will direct you to the old Department of Immigration near the fort, which is the wrong place!
You can get a metred tuk-tuk (150 to 300 LKR) but the journey takes about 30 minutes from Colombo 7 / the train station / fort so better to get an Uber (200 to 400 LKR for Uber Zip) so you’re not inhaling bus fumes all morning.
What to do when you get there
Walk in to the building named Department of Immigration and Emigration and take the lifts up to Level 4. It’s a bustling building and everyone is super friendly so just ask someone for help if you get confused. Turn right when you exit the lift and head through the doors marked ‘C’.
Walk straight to the desk in front of you as you come through the doors. This is where you can pick up the application form and ask questions, but if you’ve followed the steps and prepared you can hand your documents in and receive a little ticket with your number for the day (something like ‘NR5021’).
You can then proceed to the first waiting area, and this will be a theme for the day. You will sit and wait until your number is called, go to the counter, complete a step and then go to the next waiting area until your number is called again. There are quite a few stages to go through and sometimes the numbers aren’t all in order – don’t worry, they’ll get to you. There are helpful screens displaying the upcoming numbers so you know when you are getting close.
As an aside, both mornings we were there the Sri Lankan national anthem started playing just after 8:30. At this point everyone stops what they are doing, stands and listens politely. The first time we were still in the corridor and the man we were standing next to seemed to take it very seriously, so we did too. It turns out he was the officer doing our interview so we are glad we did!
The first stage is just to check that you’ve filled out the form correctly, have your photo and your passport. They also have glue for your photo in case you haven’t already pasted it on. After this stage you will be directed to waiting room ‘B’, where you will be seated in front of a row of enclosed offices. This is where the visa interviews are conducted.
When your number is called again, you head into the office and hand over your documents. Both times we were there we had the same officer, and he barely spoke to us – just took our passports and signed the forms before sending us on our way. We’ve heard stories of others being grilled with questions, but most people seem to get through without any issues.
Now you can head back to waiting room C, but now you will be waiting at the payment counter. This is the stage that took the longest for us, as I think they probably have to process your documents in the office before you are cleared to pay. We were able to pay by credit card both times, you can also pay in LKR or USD.
You are now onto the final waiting room, and this one doesn’t have a screen and seems to be a little more random (maybe by this stage the applications are a little jumbled up). Wait until your number is called by the visa officer at the front of the room, then go and pick up your passport and application form from the counter. You need to sign the release form next to your number and then you’ll have a new visa stamp and can get back to enjoying your adventure!
How much does it cost?
The cost of extending your visa varies depending on your country of origin. The fees are displayed in USD and for us were $30 (Australian) and $54 (United Kingdom). A full list of fees can be found here.
How do you extend for an extra three months (6 months total)?
After 30 days, you can extend your visa at the office for an extra two months, giving you three months in total. You can then return to the visa office and extend for another three months, giving you six months in total. The second time you extend you will need to pay an extra tax of 10,000 LKR ($65 USD at time of writing) on top of the visa fee for your country.
You may be subject to more scrutiny for the second extension to ensure that you aren’t working illegally, though we weren’t asked any questions at all.
If there is anything we haven’t covered, feel free to drop us a note in the comment section below and we will do our best to help you out!