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Sri Lanka to give UK tourists free visa on arrival for six months

UK visitors to Sri Lanka can get a free visa from 1 May 2019.

The South Asian country is rolling out free visas on arrival for citizens of 36 countries in total.

The scheme will initially run for six months, but could continue if the move significantly boosts tourist numbers.

A 30-day double-entry visa for British tourists currently costs £27.

Before the new rules come into play, visitors can only get a free “transit” visa if they pass through Sri Lanka and stay for no more than two days.

In addition to the UK, citizens from the 27 other EU countries, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea will also be eligible for a free visa upon arrival at Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.

Sri Lanka has already enjoyed a tourism boost over the last decade, with visitor numbers jumping from 448,000 in 2009 to more than 2.1 million in 2017. The Sri Lankan government aims to double this figure by next year.

However, there is an annual lull from May to August during Yala monsoon season – the hope is that the introduction of free visas may help to combat this.

“We will start granting a free visa period for six months from 1 May 2019 for some selected countries during our off-peak period,” said the Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism development, John Amaratunga.

“In the next phase of this programme, we plan to set up a permanent system at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) to issue visas on arrival, as is the practice in many countries.

“This will be a major step forward in attracting more visitors this year.”

He added that he hoped to extend the free visa scheme to Chinese tourists and citizens of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan.