Colombo, Sri Lanka Report of what it's like to live there - 02/08/10
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?
Jerusalem, West Bank and Washington DC, USA
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?
Current home base is Washington, DC - 16 hours connecting through London or Frankfurt
3. How long have you lived here?
2 1/2 years
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Affiliated with the UN
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Large beautiful houses with yards and some with swimming pools. Apartments also available in the city center.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Imported goods are expensive as is the case everywhere. Local produce is relatively cheap and of decent quality. Not everything is available all the time so sometimes you have to stuck up on items like canned tomatoes, frozen corn or cream cheese. But if you are not a planner, and can go with whatever is available in the supermarket that day, it is not a big problem.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Washing powder, good quality sun screen, mosquito repellent with DEET and shoes for the whole family.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC and Domino's are the most prominent chains (around 3-4 USD for a burger meal, 4-5 USD for a small pizza). But there are lovely more upscale restaurants available, making the fast food chains only a rare best option. Delivery service available through roomservice.lk Indian, Sri Lankan, Swiss, Steak, and mixed Western are all readily available and of good quality. Mexican food hard to get.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Increasing problems with mosquitos carrying Dengue fever.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Easy, quick and cheap to send letters and packages through local post.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available cost is about 200 USD for a nanny/maid and slightly more for a driver.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, all the major hotels have gyms of decent quality, but they are quite expensive.
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?
We use ATMs mainly at the HSBC and we use our credit card to pay for groceries etc.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
English-language services available.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Several newspapers in English and also TV, though, I don't know much about that as we don't have cable TV.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Basically none as everybody speaks English, but the British Council has Sinhala classes and that is great way to meet people when you first arrive.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A lot. There are no sidewalks in lots places, lack of elevators and few restrooms with wheelchair access.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are very safe and very affordable. Buses and trains also safe if you don't mind standing and are familiar with the jump-off-while-driving technique.
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?
We have a 4-wheel-drive, but it is not strictly necessary. It does make for a nicer ride on the bumpy roads, though. Japanese cars most popular.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available, cost about 30 USD a month. Speed is fairly OK.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have a Dialogue pay as you go plan and that works for me.
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)?
Vets available. I think there is one kennel close to the airport.
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, very difficult to get a work permit.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Modest. Sleeves for women, no tank tops in public and skirts below the knee.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really, feels very safe. You can live anywhere in the city or the suburbs. Also safe to be out at night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue is a concern and other mosquito born diseases. Lots of hospitals with decent medical care. I gave birth here and had a good experience.
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?
Two rainy seasons. Rest of the year sunny and around 30 degrees celsius.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My children attend the Overseas School of Colombo and they and we absolutely love it. Small IB (PYP, MYP and IB) school, with great management and warm nurturing environment. Highly recommend. There is also a British school, another International school with expats attending: Colombo International School (CIS) and a very small French school. A number of smaller English medium schools also available.
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?
There are plenty of preschools. Lots of Montessori schools. I have a child at the Pre-OSC and that has been a good experience. This school will close down in the summer of 2010 and the children will move to the main campus outside of town.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Swimming, tennis, cricket, football.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Mixed, lot of complaining going on. Either you love it or you hate it here and once you have started on one path it is very difficult to change.
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?
Restaurants, bars, bbqs, private parties, swimming.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families. Seems to be also quite alright for singles and couples. Lots of nice restaurants and some nightclubs as well.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
We know several gay and lesbian couples and they all seem to be pretty happy with Colombo.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Religious prejudice not generally a problem. But tension between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority exist.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Beautiful architecture, lovely hotels, great beaches and lots of culture.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Tour the hotel pools, go to Galle, Dambulla, Yala national park, Bentota beaches, Una Watuna, restaurants, High Tea at Galle Face hotel.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Barefoot stuffed animals and hand painted porcelain, wood and stone work.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Colombo is a small city, but very pleasant and easy. Nice weather not too hot and lots of places to visit out side of the city on the weekends.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't travel too much in the region and spend your weekends at 5-star-hotels.
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 clothes and bicycle.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, sense of adventure and positive attitude.