Colombo, Sri Lanka Report of what it's like to live there - 09/28/13
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?
No: Dhaka, Bangladesh; Tokyo, Japan; Libreville, Gabon.
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?
Home base: Dallas, TX.
Colomobo to Frankfurt or London (9-11 hours), Europe to Texas (7-9 hours).
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government--U.S Department of State.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Within the embassy, singles and couples generally get assigned apartments within walking distance to the Embassy. Houses are large and usually given to families with more than one child. Commute to Embassy can range from a few minutes to 1/2 hour. All houses/apartments are far from the Overseas School of Colombo.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It can be expensive if the item is imported. The Embassy has a small commissary that is open to some of the other overseas missions as well.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Stain remover, paper towel/toilet paper, bug repellent, and sun screen.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino Pizza (cheaper than the U.S).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes--dengue is a problem here.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Have not used the local post but I hear it very reliable in sending things to other countries. Receiving things is hit or miss. The Embassy has pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available for approximately Rs. 1000/day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small one but some apartment buildings include them. Yoga and workout classes are readily available.
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?
Bank machines are available but not always reliable. Credit card information can be stolen. We always use cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Buddhist country, English mass and Protestant services, several mosques, no synagogues that I know of, but there was a rabbi at one point (although I think he left).
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. We have Dialog Cable TV and Internet service. I am not sure of cost but it's nothing that surprises us.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many difficulties. There are only a few streets that are stroller accessible, so getting around with wheelchairs would be an issue.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains/taxi's/tuk tuks are safe and affordable. Buses are dangerous and I'm not sure the bus drivers are even qualified to drive. It seems like a deadly race between the drivers most days. Everyone must yield to the buses to stay safe!
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?
An SUV is best, especially if leaving Colombo.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's fairly reliable, and reasonably fast. Crews will come out in a day or two if there are issues. It's not particularly expensive but I am not sure of exact cost
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Locally available and 'pay as you go' options are cheap.
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?
Not really although teachers can find jobs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Light summer clothes. Professional for work, modest for public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. It's much safer since the civil war ended in 2009.
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 developing, but not horrible. There are a handful of local doctors trained abroad (pediatricians, gynecologists, eye doctors, dentists) that expats use.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, humid, rainy seasons.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The Overseas School of Colombo offers an IB program--most embassy families are happy with the school. Other schools for expats include the British School and the Colombo International School.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
First Step preschool will accept some children with disabilities, which is not common in Sri Lanka. OSC does not accept students with severe learning disabilities as there are no adequate resources available.
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?
There are three preschools that the expat community uses: First Step (where I send my daughter, the director is from California), The American Preschool, and the International Children's House. All have their benefits and families seem happy with all of them.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
OSC offers some; swimming lessons are available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium, great international expat community.
2. Morale among expats:
Depends. We're happy here and find it fairly easy but those who have not served real "hardships" tend not to be happy here and find a lot to complain about. It can be difficult for first time expats as well.
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?
Mostly expat groups or private parties. Clubs/discos are here as are many restaurants.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes! Although can be considered a boring and quiet post (which we like). There is not much for singles looking for an active social life.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is still some conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese, but expats are generally safe.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Beach getaways, regional trips to Maldives.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Go to the beach, museums, see temples, bowling, swimming, parks...
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
GEMS (specifically the blue sapphire that Sri Lanka is known for), cane furniture, antique furniture, local paintings, sarees, posh resorts in Sri Lanka, and travel to Maldives.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great beaches, wonderful local people, relatively safe, great international expat community, and easy to function in English.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, but be prepared to be a little shocked at the prices at first. You'll get used to it!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
YES! And we'd stay longer!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
First world expectations, warm clothes.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, bug spray, sandals, and positive attitude.