Working in Sri Lanka
The job market
What are your chances of getting a job?
Most UK and European graduates in Sri Lanka are engaged in voluntary and relief work, teaching English to children and adults and undertaking other activities with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Paid employment may be difficult for foreign graduates to find, but certain areas of employment, such as the growing tourism industry, may provide suitable opportunities.
Sinhalese and Tamil are the official languages, so it may be useful to have some knowledge of them. However English is widely spoken, particularly in business, and is likely to be an essential requirement for graduate-level positions.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: rubber, tea, coconuts, clothing and textiles, tobacco, insurance and banking, IT, telecommunications, tourism, agricultural commodities, shipping, clothing, cement, petroleum refining and construction.
- Recent growth areas: tourism and infrastructure.
- Major companies: John Keels Holdings, Commercial Bank of Ceylon, Hatton National Bank, Ceylon Tobacco Company, Dialog Axiata, Sampath Bank, Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka, Lanka Orix Leasing Company, Nestle Lanka, Bukit Darah.
What’s it like working in Sri Lanka?
- Average working hours: people in Sri Lanka work a five-day week, from Monday to Friday. Office hours are typically 9am to 5pm for government and business, 9am to 3pm for banks and 10am to 7pm for shops. Tourist restaurants are typically open between the hours of 8am and 11pm.
- Holidays: annual leave varies with employers and is dependent on how long you have been employed by the company. Around 21 public holidays are available in Sri Lanka in addition to the leave granted by companies for employees.
- Tax rates: personal income tax is paid on a sliding scale in Sri Lanka at between 4% to 24% depending on your income.You are classed as resident for tax purposes if you live in Sri Lanka for more than 183 days in a tax year. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Applying for jobs
Due to visa restrictions you should secure a job before travelling to Sri Lanka. Applications should be made in writing with a CV and covering letter, the format of which is similar to that used in the UK.
CVs should cover qualifications, experience and key skills, as well as personal information which may include date of birth, marital status, number of children, nationality and citizenship. CVs may be up to four pages in length and attaching a head and shoulders photograph is becoming popular.
Interviews are generally formal. The interview process is similar to in the UK and usually involves at least two or three people on a panel. Psychometric testing is not common but is becoming more popular, especially if companies use their own European staff to conduct the interview.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
UK qualifications are generally well recognised around the world, but check with the employer or the relevant professional body prior to applying for work.
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment is a government body that provides a searchable database of employment agencies.
- Sunday Observer Sri Lanka - contains a few general job adverts.
- The Sunday Times – Sri Lanka - numerous job vacancies across a wide range of sectors.
The Sri Lankan online news resource Omlanka may also be useful.
Employers may target universities for all vacancies. Building contacts through networking may provide opportunities in some areas of work. Networking events are common in Sri Lanka, especially in the banking sector.
Getting work experience
Work placements and internships
- Various internships covering different projects, from developing tourism to improving the English language skills of school children, are available in Sri Lanka through AIESEC.
- Details of placements and internships in Sri Lanka are also available from Go Overseas.
- Large international companies with offices in Sri Lanka may offer internships which allow you to experience certain aspects of the country. See individual company websites for details.
- Course-related placements for students in science, engineering and technology are available with the co-operating institution, the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka through IAESTE (The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience). Placements usually last up to 12 weeks during the summer but longer-term placements at other times of the year may also be available.
Teaching English as a foreign language in Sri Lanka is popular and there are various organisations that can help you to find opportunities. See the Lanka TEFL Training Institute and UK-TEFL for details of TEFL courses and jobs.
Gap year and volunteering opportunities
Sri Lanka has many opportunities for volunteering and gap year work. Roles are available in areas such as teaching, conservation and health and social care, including opportunities to get involved in elephant and turtle conservation, working with orphans, and building and construction work in communities.
Organisations currently providing such opportunities in Sri Lanka include:
Do you need a visa?
UK citizens need a visa in order to enter Sri Lanka. The type of visa you'll need depends on the nature of your visit. If you're planning a short stay of 30–90 days you can get a tourist visit visa through the Electronic Travel Authorisation system. The ETA covers you for a stay of up to 30 days but can be extended up to 6 months.
If you are working in Sri Lanka you will need to apply for a residence visa which covers different categories including employment. This applies for either paid or voluntary work. You need to get this through the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Sri Lanka once you have secured work and before you travel.
You will need to have at least six months left on your passport from the date you arrive in the country and may have to prove you have sufficient funds to cover your stay. Residence visas are typically valid for one year and can be renewed annually.
If you are not a UK national, contact the Sri Lankan embassy in the country where you are currently living about how to obtain visas and work permits. If you are living in the UK, go to Sri Lanka High Commission London.
How do you become a permanent resident?
Details about gaining Sri Lankan citizenship can be obtained from the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Sri Lanka.
Living in Sri Lanka
- Cost of living: salaries tend to be lower than in the UK but the cost of living is also generally lower, although this varies depending on the area in which you stay.
- Internet domain: .lk
- Currency: Sri Lankan rupee (LKR)
- Health: various mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever, chikungunya and malaria are present in the country, as is rabies. It may not be easy to get emergency medical treatment outside of main cities and facilities are not always comparable to those in the UK. It's important to make sure you have good travel insurance as treatment in private hospitals can be expensive.
- Type of government: presidential republic
- Laws and customs: you need to carry photo ID at all times, as failure to provide it could lead to you being detained. Same-sex relations are against the law and nude or topless sunbathing is generally forbidden. Mistreating Buddhist images and artefacts is classed as a serious offence. For example, you shouldn't have your photo taken in front of a statue of Buddha. Smoking or drinking in certain public areas carries a fine.
- Emergency numbers: 110 – ambulance/fire and rescue, 118/119 – police. UK citizens in Sri Lanka who need assistance can get help from the British High Commission Colombo.
- People: Sinhalese 74.9%, Sri Lankan Tamil 11.2%, Sri Lankan Moors 9.2%, Indian Tamil 4.2%, other 0.5%.
- Major religions: Buddhist 70.2%, Hindu 12.6%, Muslim 9.7%, Roman Catholic 6.1%, Other Christian 1.3%, other 0.5%.