Colombo, Sri Lanka Report of what it's like to live there - 09/07/08
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?
Hong Kong, Bangkok.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
24 hours from Honolulu via Narita and Singapore, probably the same from U.S. West Coast via Singapore or Dubai.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
US Embassy personnel have single family homes, Long term TDY generally stay at Hilton apartments or Crescat Towers.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expect Western food to be just as expensive as at home. Cargill's supermarket is dependable but don't expect to find good beef and seafood is subject to histamines from poor refrigeration. There is a good seafood market on Duplication Road and near the U.S. embassy.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Take your golf clubs.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Rice and curry. Get used to it. I never ate at McDonalds but rather went to smaller restaurants. The name restaurants at hotels are just as expensive as Europe or the U.S.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I'm told US$100 a month for a cook or maid.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Don't use your credit card for anything but cash from a Hong Kong Shanghai Bank ATM. Even then watch for it being compromised.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Left hand only but Sri Lankan drivers make their own rules - maintain eye contact with other drivers.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis and tuk-tuks safe (unless you're in a tuk-tuk and hit broadside). Trains and public buses are currently off limits to U.S. Embassy mission personnel due to random bombings.
3. 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?
Toyota Landcruiser is the vehicle of choice but stick with a mid-size Toyota or Nissan SUV. Vehicles can be purchased in-country or Singapore.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Expensive but I was in the Hilton Apartments - get it by the month and have it included in the cost of your rent.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
I had a Sri Lankan cell phone and called Hawaii everyday for less than US$60 a month. Minimum charge for a cell phone is US$3/month.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes but most dogs are free spirits and homeless.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Black pants and white shirt. Shirt with tie to look professional.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Random bus and train bombings. Sri Lankan military and political targets are hit by claymores and roadside IED's. Westerners are relatively safe if they avoid political and military target.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Water is relatively safe but stick with bottled water outside large hotels. Dengue fever and chicangunya (sp?) transmitted by mosquitos. Purchase MedJetAssist insurance for medical evacuation if you're too banged up to get on a commercial flight out. Medications are over the counter and from India. Many drugs are knock-offs that are the genuine generic. I rarely saw an ambulance in Colombo.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Monsoons in autumn.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
About 600, mostly European. Large Korean community and some Japanese.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
As I said, the N&G Golfing Society occupied most of my time on weekends and the friends I made led to other social events or outings. A N&G golf outing to Kandy is a rowdy bus trip and a fun-filled dinner. Some golf was played but I have trouble remembering it. I would not recommend going to casinos other than to look and leave.
3. Morale among expats:
Surprisingly very upbeat.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
There are activities throughout the year for embassy events, AmChamber of Commerce, Rotary clubs etc. On weekends many expats play golf with the N&G Golfing Society at the Royal Colombo Golf Club. The N&G welcomes all golfers who like to drink beer afterward.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Wouldn't know but am told that if you mind your own business, the locals leave you alone.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Travel to the hill country and resorts but travel is difficult due to bad roads and bad drivers. Contact Royal Colombo Golf Club and ask to be introduced to the N&G Golfers on the weekends. A great group of expats who form close relationships and provide more than just golf
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Clothes at Barefoot, not much else.
9. Can you save money?
Oh yes, if you can stay out of the expensive restaurants.
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 clothing and 110 volt appliances. Leave your bicycle at home unless it's a trail bike. I would NOT ride a bicycle or motorcycle in Sri Lanka.
3. But don't forget your:
Special meds, sunscreen, mosquito repellant.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Anything by Carl Muller, especially The Jam Fruit Tree.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Anything by Carl Muller, especially The Jam Fruit Tree.
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Bridge over the River Kwai - filmed in Sri Lanka, Elephant Walk - about Sri Lanka.