Handling money, paying and currency exchange in Sri Lanka

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Quick Facts

  • Best is to make the payments in LKR. Widely used notes are 100, 500, 1000.
  • There are money exchange counters and banks available 24×7 in the airport and the rates are very reasonable.
  • Best options to obtain Sri Lankan rupees are, from authorized money changers and banks
  • If you are in Colombo, York Street is the place to get best rates.
  • Foreign credit and debit cards can be used to do ATM withdrawals and to make payments – but the rates are relatively low.
  • Most hotels accept major currencies, but the rates are low.

If you want to enjoy your stay without any hustle, it is best advisable to have Sri Lankan currency in your possession while you are on your vacation.

Sri Lanka’s official currency and the Code:

Sri Lankan Rupees (Rs.) or (LKR)

The national currency of the island is Sri Lankan Rupees. It is the currency people use in all the outlets, shops and shopping malls that cater the locals. However the large scale Hotels, tourist establishments and a few tourist attractions that target tourists accept and transact in foreign currency like, USD, EUR, JPY, INR, SAR, AED, QAR etc. Since it is the local currency that is being used widely inside the country, its more convenient if you could have Sri Lankan Rupees in your possession.

Coins and Notes

In Sri Lanka we use both coins and notes for transactions, the coins that we use are; Rs.1, Rs.2, Rs.5 and Rs.10, whereas the notes are; Rs.10, Rs.20, Rs.100, Rs.500, Rs.1000, Rs.2000 and Rs.5000. So if you are planning to travel in to the rural villages in the country and buy goods from local markets and/or shops it will be easier and much convenient for you to take along with you change, that is to say notes like Rs.50, Rs.100 Rs.500 and Rs.1000.

Sri Lankan Rupees – 500, 1000, 5000 notes

 

In which currency to make the payments?

The best option is to make the payments in LKR. Most of the hotels do accept USD, EUR, JPY, CAD, INR and middle-eastern currencies – but the rates are really high.

So it is better to make all the payments in LKR.

 

Changing money in Sri Lanka – From where to get Sri Lankan Rupees?

There are many authorized and licensed currency exchanging centers in the country therefore you don’t have to exchange your money or buy LKR beforehand. The Sri Lankan Rupee is not something that is considered as a currency that has a high exchange rate thus do not exchange your currency outside of Sri Lanka as it is highly unlikely for you to get a reasonable rate.

So following would be the most convenient and favorable methods for you to buy Sri Lankan Rupees;

  • At the Airport – the Bandaranayake International Airport of Katunayake has stalls of renowned banks of Sri Lanka that will offer you this service. To name a few, the Bank of Ceylon, Hatton National Bank, People’s Bank, Sampath Bank and Thomas Cook Lanka (private) Limited. Generally these are the places that will offer you the best rates. Thus the best you can do is to exchange your currency in to Sri Lankan Rupees in the airport itself to have a stress free vacation without running around to get your money exchanged.

All the money exchange counters/ banks in Colombo Airport, are open 24×7 and even on public holidays

Money exchange counters/ banks in Bandaranaike International Airport
  • Authorized money changers and banks – If you by any chance couldn’t buy LKR at the airport don’t worry, there are authorized and licensed centers around the country especially around tourist attractions that will do the needful. These include licensed commercial banks, finance companies, specialized leasing establishments and companies incorporated as limited companies. If you are staying in Colombo, the best option is to go to the York Street (click to see the exact location), which has plenty of authorized money exchanges and you can get the best rates from them.
  • Hotels – You could also exchange currency at your hotel if it was inconvenient for you to buy LKR at the airport or at the banks, but have in mind that the hotels will have very low rates. So only consider exchanging from hotels as the last alternative.
  • ATMs – If you are using Master or Visa debit or credit card, you can withdraw cash from any ATM of a renowned bank. But the rates are relatively low compared to changing money from a authorized money changer or a bank. There is a bank fee per transaction which is vary based on bank to bank. Generally the cash withdrawal limit is LKR 40,000 or LKR 60,000 per day; ATMs in major cities allow even LKR 80,000. We recommend you to inform your bank in advance, if you are planning to use your card in Sri Lanka.

 

This is the sign to identify authorized money changers in Sri Lanka

Generally, all the authorized money changers including banks, display this sign clearly visible to the visitors.

 

Renowned banks in Sri Lanka

Commercial Bank, Sampath Bank, Bank of Ceylon, Hatton National Bank (HNB), People’s Bank, Seylan Bank, DFCC Bank can be taken as the most renowned local banks in Sri Lanka. Commercial Bank, Sampath Bank, Bank of Ceylon have the widest ATM coverage across the Island.

International banks such as HSBC, City Bank, Standard Chartered Bank too have their branches all over the country, but mainly in Colombo.

Indian banks that have operations in Sri Lanka are ICICI Bank, Indian Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, State Bank of India. These banks have their operations mainly in Colombo.

Renowned banks in Sri Lanka

Banking Hours in Sri Lanka

The banking hours will differ from bank to bank, however in general the banking hours of the country would be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

 

Is declaration of cash compulsory?

You might be wondering whether you need to declare to the customs the cash that you bring in to the country. The answer is NO.

However the Sri Lankan Custom Department provides a foreign currency declaration limit i.e. the sum of monies that a person can bring into the country without declaring is US$ 15,000. It should also be taken in to notice that this limit is inclusive of Traveler’s Cheques and Bank Drafts.

Furthermore if you want to take back any cash from the notes that you brought into the country, you will have to declare it at the customs if it exceeds US$ 5,000 even though that sum is less than US$ 15,000

 

Foreign Credit cards and Debit cards

Card transactions are so popular among the locals of this country, so much so that every supermarket and all most all the smaller shops accept credit and or debit cards for payment.  The commonly used cards are the Master card and Visa whereas other types of cards are not being commonly used in the local shops. But you need keep in mind that the rates are comparatively low and it is always good to inform your bank in advance, if you are planning to use your card in Sri Lanka.

 

Travelers Cheques

This too is one of the most common methods that the tourists use to carry money as they travel. However given many reasons such as, they have rarely a good rate and most banks here do not accept them. It is best advisable for the tourists visiting Sri Lanka not to bring in TCs.

 

What to do with excess LKR?

You can re-exchange LKR to your preferred currency, at the departure section of the Airport, by providing the money exchange slip or ATM receipt.

 

Do not worry about handling money in Sri Lanka

it is very easy.