Colombo, Sri Lanka Report of what it's like to live there - 09/23/12
Personal Experiences from Colombo, Sri Lanka
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
UK. 11 hours direct flight
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The writer owns a business in Colombo and has been living there for ten years, a second expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I live in a rented house in Colombo centre, 10 minutes to the office. Avoid school leaving time at 1.30pm Utter chaos!
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Imported items have a HUGE tax added, as they are "luxury" items. Cheese, washing powder, booze. Most electrical items are the same price as in the West - yet the average salary is just $3,500 a year.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Electrical items (for reliability and value), household cleaning goods.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many. Ignore the fast food ones. They are terrible. EVERYTHING has chilli in it. Many good restaurants are listed in the guides. All gay-friendly.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Dengue is rampant and VERY dangerous There is no vaccine for it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
A courier is relatively cheap to Europe and USA. Do NOT send money in an envelope (or what might be construed as money). It will not get there. Don't expect mail to arrive unopened here either.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and cheap. A live in domestic will be about $200 a month; a driver about $250.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but they are quite expensive, even for expats. Don't expect a "family ticket for you and the b/g/f.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
There are over 1,000 ATMs on the island.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. There is an English protestant church in Colombo.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, 3 English dailies and 4 on Sundays. Cable TV with US and international programmes. 70 channels for $18 a month.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not a lot in Colombo but it would be very beneficial outside. It's appreciated, too.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many, especially if chairbound.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All are affordable, but safety is an issue. I wouldn't travel on a bus if my life depended on it. Trains are dirty, erratic and crowded. No comfort whatsoever. Negotiate with tri-shaws before getting in - - - although many now are metered. There has been a huge influx of small mini-taxis ---all metered--- in main towns. Good value.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Japanese cars are your best bet, but expect 300%+ tax on importation.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but service is patchy. $10 a month for 125kb/sec.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Buy a local SIM asap! You will have to give your passport number. Check the IDD costs between the 5 suppliers.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
OK as far as i know.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Only with NGOs. Everyone has to have a Permanent Residence Visa, and that has to be either sponsored by a company you work for or requires an investment that now starts at $250,000.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Slacks, shirt and tie. Shorts outside
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not since the war ended. All checkpoints are now down.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is much improved. Health insurance is available. There are some very good private hospitals and doctors. Dentists are a bit thin on the ground.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Moderate to unhealthy due to poor exhaust control.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Humid! Two monsoons a year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Quite large but hidden. Nearly 5000 Brits, so the total is probably about 10,000.
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Limited, but Colombo hotels are very vibrant. Night clubs are mafia-controlled.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is probably better for families, but there arevery limited activities for all anyway.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Well, males can get up to 20 years at hard labour if prosecuted. But ... no-one can remember the last time anyone was.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes! There are heavy racial issues. Also economic racism: whites=foreigners=wealthy.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Building a house!
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beaches, mountains, gay parties (private and off the radar of many).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Clothes, clothes, and more clothes. Also: furniture, pictures, DVD's, and CD's.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather and the cost of living.
11. Can you save money?
Yes. The exchange rate is volatile but interest rates are currently %13.50 for a 3-month fixed deposit
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
winter kit and DVD/CD collection. ( The latter costsless than $1 here.)
3. But don't forget your:
personal care stuff, household products, suntan lotion, book collection
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?