Sri Lanka is still predominately a cash economy. Most transactions are in cash. Larger tourist establishments and banks will usually have currency, traveler's check and card facilities. It is probably best to convert your foreign currency to local currency for you day to day needs.
The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs). There are 100 cents in a rupee.
Pricing in cents is hardly used these days. So most prices will be in rupees only.
(For example Rs 354/=).
Notes: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000 rupees.
Coins: 1, 2, 5,10, 20, 50 cents and 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupees.
Converting Foreign Currency to Rupees
Converting you money to Sri Lankan rupees and bring it with you is not recommended. The rates you will receive overseas through your bank or travel agent will most certainly be terrible.
There are also exchange control regulations that restrict the amount of rupees you can take in and out of the country to Rs5000. That's less than U$40! This regulation, in general, is not strictly enforced.
Converting Once you Arrive in Sri Lanka
It is best to convert your money once you arrive in Sri Lanka. All major foreign currencies are accepted. Keep your receipts, it will make it easier to convert any unused rupees back into other currencies before you depart.
Travelers Checks, Cash or Card?
Travelers checks are not often accepted. Only banks and hotels will usually cash these and there is a lot of red tape involved. The rate you get will not be as good as for cash as there may be fees and charges. It is best to only bring travelers checks denominated in US Dollars, UK Pounds or Euros.
Cash gets you the best exchange rate. The downside is that it could get lost or stolen. Remember, it's what you feel comfortable carrying.
Debit and Credit Cards
Credit/Debit cards such as Mastercard and Visa are accepted by most establishments, hotels, banks and ATMs. The rates are usually good but keep in mind there could be various transaction fees. American Express and Diners are less frequently accepted.
Tips: It is advised that you only use your cards at reputable establishments as this seems to be the area where most fraud occur. Also consider notifying your card issuer before you travel that you will be using your card overseas so that they don't block your card.
Where to Convert your Money
There are a number of registered money changers in the airport arrival lounge. They are reputable and the exchange rates offered are good. They all offer the same rate - that offered by banks outside, so there is no need to shop around. They are open 24/7.
Tip: the first kiosk (Bank of Ceylon) is the most crowded so try some of the others.
All banks convert currency over the counter. Their rates are good and better than at hotels. The service provided is very very slow with a lot of red tape. You are better off avoiding them. Normal banking hours are Mon-Sat 9:00AM-1:00PM. Some city banks have longer hours.
There are ATMs in most major cities and at the airport. Most, but not all, accept major credit and debit card. The maximum amount they dispense varies from between Rs20,000 to Rs 60,000 per transaction. Withdrawal fees may apply.
Most hotels will accept and convert major foreign currencies such as the U$, Euro, Pound, C$, A$, Yen, etc. The rates you get will be not be the best.
Only shops catering for tourists will convert foreign currency. Jewelers give the best rates.
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