On the one hand, there are quite a few countries that require lots of documentation to apply for a tourist visa. Bank statements, self-declaration, proof of funds, travel insurance… Then the endless wait, trying to differentiate between calendar days and working days. And then there is the Sri Lankan ETA.
It is, by far, the easiest and fastest visa application process I’ve gone through. It doesn’t require you to upload a scan of your passport or photograph, or any other documents. All it requires is five minutes of your time, plus or minus a few minutes here and there, in case the kettle has come to a boil for your umpteenth cup of tea, or you need to reconfirm your credit card security code.
Applying for an ETA
Electronic Travel Authorisation – that is what it is. It’s an electronic approval that is sent to your registered email address, allowing you to land at any of the designated ports in Sri Lanka. Depending on your purpose of visit, you can opt for a tourist, business or transit visa. While tourist and business ETAs allow you double entry for a maximum of 30 days, a transit ETA allows you a stay of two days.
All you need to do is log on to the official website at eta.gov.lk and click on the apply tab. Once it opens in a new browser, fill in the relevant details correctly, agree to the terms and conditions, and then proceed to fill in the online form.
After you have reviewed the filled in form, click the confirmation tab, after which you pay the relevant fee. While it starts at USD 20, depending on your nationality and purpose of visit, I got lucky when I travelled in December 2019. Because of the unfortunate events during Easter, the government has proactively decided to forego the visa fees for most tourists. As an Indian passport holder, the visa fee was waived. However, depending on your nationality and period of travel, please confirm if the visa fee waiver is still active.
Once this is all done, and you have submitted your form, you will immediately get an email confirmation noting that your application has been received. I suggest you go get yourself a cup of tea and come back to your email box. Chances are you will have already received another email, this time, with your approved ETA. Seriously.
While I only saved a soft copy of the ETA on my mobile, you don’t need to stress too much about carrying a printout. That’s because, upon approval, the immigration authorities in Sri Lanka already have it in their system. How’s that for a seamless process.
So, you finally made it to Sri Lanka. Now, a few formalities before you get out and explore.
I landed at Bandaranaike International Airport. I’ll presume so are you.
Once inside the arrival section of the airport, just look around you. The reason I state this is that on two previous occasions, I have patiently stood in line, with other passengers who have arrived, only to be ushered to another separate line all together.
When you walk up the stairs, your immediate instinct is to follow the rest of the passengers and start lining up behind them. All fine, except that they are all Sri Lankans. For tourists, there is a separate line on the right-hand side, immediately after the stairs. That is the line you want. While the signage is clear, often, my brain is not at its best immediately after hopping off a flight.
Once your turn comes, hand your passport to the immigration officer, who, after scrutinizing it and asking a few questions, will print out a small visa sticker and affix it on the passport, after which it is stamped.
Now, all that is left is to head to the luggage carousel, pick up your luggage and you are set to discover and savour all that this beautiful island has to offer.
If all visa applications were as easy as this, the world would be far more welcoming to genuine travellers.
Note: While this article considers e-visas for Indian passport holders, please check whether your nationality is eligible for an e-visa. However, some nationalities may need to apply in their respective countries. I suggest you confirm the same before you make any plans.