Driving in Sri Lanka For Visiting Foreigners, Tourist & Expats

Do you want to experience attractions of Sri Lanka most tourists or expatriates to Sri Lanka will never see or hear? Then driving in Sri Lanka is one of them. For Visiting Foreigners, Tourist & Expats taking the wheel and doing a bit of self driving in Sri Lanka is a activity many try to engage in when they go to the island nation of Sri Lanka.

You should also expect lot of disorder while driving in Sri Lanka and also blaring vehicle horns that toot from every direction. Nightmarish slow moving traffic jams during office and school opening and closing times in cities like Colombo, Kandy, Dehiwala and Katunayake Airport road is a certainty and very poor and narrow roads and streets in rural Sri Lanka is the norm!

Some foreigners and expats are known to tell others about their driving in Sri Lanka saying you can drive really really slow on the fast lanes of Colombo like no where else in the world and at times park where ever they want and when ever you please, even next to a no parking sign! Sometimes you will encounter drivers on the roads who are audacious enough to reverse on to the main road! You are likely to encounter drives at night with out lights or drive with 6 sets of head lamps and cyclist in Sri Lanka don’t wear bicycle safety helmets. However you will find out if you go to Sri Lanka that motorcycle helmets are mandatory and very strictly enforced by the Police.

All these coupled with driving in very traffic clogged, poor maintained and mostly narrow Sri Lankan roads and even highways can be a very enjoyable or adventurous at times for some but a nightmare for most if you don’t know what about driving in this island country.

But before you take the wheel and try to rent or borrow a car or vehicle and drive in Sri Lanka you must have your driving license from your country of origin or an international driving license. Sri Lanka News Online is informed that Foreign driving license holding tourist and expatriates who wish to convert their license to a Sri Lankan driving license are advised to first contact the Deputy Commissioner of Motor Traffic Department in Sri Lanka.

Most road sign in Sri Lanka are international standard signs but it’s best to get a road sign booklet and refresh your memory. In many parts of this beautiful island country the speed limit is 40kmph, 60 kmph and 72 km/h per hour. (that’s right, don’t expect to drive more than 72 km/h not 172km/h)!

The International Driving Permit (IDP) maybe your passport to driving overseas and is recognized worldwide including in Sri Lanka as a valuable document identifying motorists as legally-licensed drivers. However this IDP may prevent or be an inconvenience when renting a car or when driving in a foreign country like Sri Lanka where English is not commonly spoken and understood. So as mentioned above contact your tourist or foreign agency or ticketing agent and make these arrangements if you plan to do lot of driving in Sri Lanka. The authorities may require you to present one of several documents to obtain driving permit or license to take the wheel in Sri Lankan roads.

10 thoughts on “Driving in Sri Lanka For Visiting Foreigners, Tourist & Expats

  1. mehul


    1. Sri Lanka News Online Post author

      Mehul I’m sorry I don’t know whether you can use a Indian driving licences in Sri Lanka. I think you can easily verify it by asking a travel agent in India who offers tours to Sri Lanka for Indians.

    1. Sri Lanka News Online Post author

      The most economical way to travel in Sri Lanka is using the public transport buses and trains. After the war, nowadays I see many foreigners traveling in public buses and trains and experiencing life in Sri Lanka as Sri Lankans experience it. That is the most economical way to travel. Bus conductors and passengers love to be seen speaking to foreigners so if you look and sound like a foreigner they usually bend backwards to help you by giving directions, offering you seats etc. However be vary and cautious when using public transport in Sri Lanka. Like any country you find unsavory characters and theives such as a pickpockets. So you need to be careful. If you are smart and confident it shouldn’t be any problem finding your way around Colombo and other tourist places using public buses and trains. You can also hire Bajaj three-wheeler taxis or trishaws to travel with towns or other small distances. They are also cheap but not cheap as buses. But by using three-wheeler taxis you get the privacy and freedom to go anywhere unlike overcrowded buses. So I’d advice you to use Buses and Trains to travel long distances such as from Colombo to Kandy, Galle etc. and use three-wheeler taxis to travel within the cities and towns. Thats the most economical way to travel in Sri Lanka for tourist.

  2. naseem

    hello, i would to know if Maldivian driving license is accepted in srilanka. im planing to travel Sri Lanka and i don’t have a sri lankan driving license. will it possible to use my Maldivian license in srilanka for my stay without converting it to srilankan license.

  3. vishnu.n

    i m a srilankan i m having a only motorcycle driving licience (D).but i m having indian LMV driving licience.now can i drive a car in srilanka? with out get a any change in my licience? ple

  4. Rohitha

    Driving standards in Sri Lanka is not even closer to standards expected by foreigners and you can find many articles on that. All tourist intended to drive in Sri Lanka for a longer time should be trained on Defensive Driving. I was handling road transport safety of Shell for over 16 years in 11 countries and has an institute – Institute of Professional and Safe Drivers -Sri Lanka (IPSD) with global accreditation (National Safety Council -USA and RoSPA-UK) for providing Defensive Driving Training (www.gisstservices.com) and can help any Tourists or any Operators to achieve safety while winning confidence of our valued tourists.

  5. gianni martinelli

    foreigners can only drive with an international licence,along with the dl of your country.additionally you have to get a sri lankan driving permitt issued(valid 1 y) available at sri lankan automobile club at galle face.the fee is 1600 LKR.


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