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A Digital Nomad in Sri Lanka: Work from your own tropical paradise!

Updated: Oct 18, 2023


With COVID beginning to feel more and more like a permanent fixture in our lives years after it has spread its deathly claws to all corners of the globe, many of us have been struggling to find the positives to this pandemic. Though they are far and few between, there are some things brought about by the coronavirus that have completely changed our lives and the way we perceive productivity and efficiency.


'Work From Home' cultures have now evolved into people across the globe refusing to tolerate stressful work environments, with many of us shifting away from unsatisfactory and unfulfilling jobs, to those that allow us remote working opportunities, a chance to connect with those around us, and an opportunity to explore the world beyond our laptop screens.


This has, now more than ever, resulted in an upsurge in digital nomads – those who travel, explore, experience, and celebrate their lives whilst utilizing remote working opportunities to provide for their livelihoods.


With Influential French travel and tourism operator Club Med ranking Sri Lanka #2 on their list of ‘Top countries for digital nomads: Where to work while travelling in 2021’, in mid-July of 2021, the Sri Lankan government approved a decision to attract digital nomads to the country, by providing them with long-term visas priced at $600 for a period of one year. This decision comes as a welcome to both locals and digital nomads across the world, with Sri Lanka taking steps towards improving its offering and shifting towards more accommodative behaviors in order to boost tourism within the country.


Now that the formalities are out of the way, here’s where we come in. Hi, we are Shenelle and Shehaan, a self-taught Sri Lankan duo who have directed, filmed and produced content for social media, prime time TV & commercials, and are passionate about expanding our portfolio alongside our experiences. As digital nomads ourselves who have travelled and worked in major digital nomad destinations in Asia such as Chiang Mai, Bali and Hanoi, and we know exactly what you are looking for to make sure Sri Lanka is a good choice as your next remote working destination.


We have also travelled extensively across Sri Lanka over the past two years, documenting what life is like all around the island through our YouTube channel, and see Sri Lanka as a country with tremendous potential to be a nomad hotspot. In this comprehensive guide, let us take you through everything you need to know before coming to Sri Lanka, and explain the ins and outs of our sunny little island.





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Weather & Language

One of our most favorite things about Sri Lanka is that the country hosts an all-year-around summer weather, and if you want to experience a cooler climate, the central region of Sri Lanka is just a few hours away from Colombo; and boasts misty mornings, lush greenery and crisp fresh air.


Locally, most Sri Lankans speak Sinhalese and Tamil, but in greater Colombo and in tourist hotspots, English is a commonly and fluently spoken language. Most signage throughout the country is also represented in all three languages, making it easy to travel and explore all parts of the island.


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Safety & Security

Though the country has had its fair share of battles, with a civil war that ended in 2009 and the Easter Sunday attacks that took place in 2019, Sri Lanka remains one of the safest South Asian countries to travel to. The homicide rates in Sri Lanka are as low as 2.3% in comparison to the USA which is around 5%, and most European countries which is less than 1%, with attacks against travelers being extremely uncommon.


Sri Lanka was also celebrated worldwide for its COVID response at the onset of the pandemic, and has continued to implement regular lockdowns and impose stringent safety protocol to deal with the situation in the most efficient way possible. In more recent days, Sri Lanka was recognized for being one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, with 53% of the country’s population having received their vaccines as at the 10th of September 2021.


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Cost of Living for a Digital Nomad

The cost of living in Sri Lanka may be a little more expensive than other Asian countries, however, the quality of life is much higher. With ample organic food options, exotic fruits, and even the ability to grow your own food in a home garden, Sri Lanka possesses the possibilities of switching to a more sustainable lifestyle.


The current USD – LKR conversion rate also proves that digital nomads will enjoy the perks of working and living in a third world country with food, lodging and entertainment coming at a great bang for buck. The cost of living in Sri Lanka is also, on average, 56.75% lower than in United States.


For an in-depth analysis of Sri Lanka’s cost of living, check out our blog post here.


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Food & Drink

Sri Lanka has ample dining options, from little local eateries to 5-course fine-dining experiences. A pack of rice and curry would cost $1.50 on average, and a meal for two at a high-end restaurant in Colombo can be enjoyed at a price tag of $50. Alcohol is also readily available at wine stores and supermarkets across the island but is only sold between 9am and 9pm, and not sold on Poya days, which is the Lunar monthly Buddhist holiday of Uposatha in Sri Lanka, where it is a civil and bank holiday.


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Transportation

Transport in Sri Lanka comes in many shapes and forms and you can select your preference according to distance, time, budget and comfort.

A majority of the populace opts to travel through the public transport system – by bus if it’s a short to medium length journey, and by train if it’s a longer journey. Buses are frequent on main roads with bus stops available every kilometer or so when travelling within the province, but for long distance travel to the central or northern provinces, one must book a seat in advance as the journey could go on for 5 – 9 hours depending on your destination.


Trains in the country operate the same way, with the Sri Lanka Railway operating approximately 396 trains which include 67 Long-Distance and 16 Intercity trains. When travelling to the central province, trains are preferred due to the scenic nature of the ride, with the Kandy – Ella journey being regarded as the most scenic train ride in the world. Both busses and trains are a fairly uncomfortable when it comes to short journeys but first class tickets on either can get you plush seats and air-conditioned cabins for a little more than the regular ticket price.


With ticket prices ranging from anywhere between $0.050 – $10, 444.lk is a handy service powered by the country’s largest telecommunications network, Dialog, that allows you to book your seat in advance online, and provides a seamless travel experience.


Upper class Sri Lankans who can afford it also opt to travel via tuk tuks, three wheeled vehicles also known as rikshaws, that are fast and loud but provide for an exciting experience wherever you’re going. You can hail one off the road or opt to book one from local cab hailing services such as Uber, PickMe or Yogo – but be warned that tuk tuk drivers are known to often overcharge foreigners. A typical tuk tuk will charge you $0.25 per kilometer with a small charge for waiting time as well, and are a good option if you want to speed past the hustle and bustle of the city.

Uber services are available in major cities such as Colombo, Kandy and Galle, and cabs or vans that will arrive at your doorstep can be booked at your convenience.


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Accommodation

Airbnb and Booking.com are popular options used by locals and foreigners alike in Sri Lanka with a multitude of options available that can be selected according to location, budget and required amenities. You can book a single room, an apartment or an entire villa at your desired location for prices starting from $10 per day. With the COVID-19 pandemic effecting the local tourism industry to a great extent, most hostels and hotels are also currently offering amazing deals throughout the year where you can book an entire villa for as low as $300 a month!


From villas amidst lush paddy fields to beach front properties, there’s a variety of accommodation options to choose from and your best bet to finding the most suitable property for your lifestyle is by exploring and experiencing everything Sri Lanka has to offer!


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Excursions

Whether you choose to spend your days in the capital of Colombo or choose to venture forth to sandy beaches or misty mountains, Sri Lanka has an endless array of excursions and expeditions to explore. From hiking to snorkeling to zip lining, whale watching to deep sea diving, there is an experience waiting to happen at each corner of this sunny little island. The This is Sri Lanka 2019 and This is Sri Lanka 2021 series’ will give you a comprehensive understanding of all the fun ways you can explore Sri Lanka!


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Internet

Unfortunately, unlike other countries, Sri Lanka’s internet is capped at the amount of data you use or capped at the speed of data depending on the package you choose. The country has a few major internet service providers, namely Dialog Axiata, SLTMobitel, Hutch, and Airtel. SLTMobitel is the only internet connection provider who hosts a fiber connection that is available in major cities across the island such as Colombo, Galle and Weligama.


When travelling out of Colombo, we suggest that you check in with your property about the availability of a fiber line, in which case you can upgrade their data plans to your requirement, be it the speed of internet or the amount of data you will use.

We have found that Dialog has the best connectivity across the island but if you are travelling to more remote locations such as Jaffna or Ella, we recommend that you purchase two sim cards, one Dialog and one SLT Mobitel, and a mobile hotspot dongle to activate packages as and when you need them.


Poor signals are something many tourists face in more rural areas but this method will ensure that you receive an uninterrupted internet service throughout your travels.

For a comprehensive guide to internet service providers in Sri Lanka alongside first-hand data tests, check out our blog here.

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Our Recommended Digital Nomad Hotspots

Now that you know the ins and outs of life in Sri Lanka, we’ve documented some Digital Nomad Hotspots that are must visits when you travel to our country. Hosting a range of climates and experiences, here are our top picks:


Weligama

Known for its breathtaking sunsets, good food, and great surf spots, Weligama is a destination that is popular amongst tourists to relax and unwind. Sipping a cold drink next to the ocean whilst getting some work in is honestly the epitome of a good life. For ways you can make the most of Weligama, here’s a little vlog.



Ella

Perfect for those who are more inclined towards cooler climates, Ella is full of lush greenery and misty mountains. It doesn’t get too cold in the day but the temperature is just right to enjoy the outdoors hiking, picnicking and exploring the hillside. With an array of cozy cafes and little nooks to work out of, Ella also makes our list of top Nomad Hotspots for being labelled ‘one of the friendliest places in Asia’ when café owners fed and housed close to 50 tourists stranded in the city during the first country-wide lockdown imposed due to COVID. Hosting the most scenic train ride in the world and the Nine Arches Bridge that easily resembles the train journey to Hogwarts, Ella is a breathtaking place to live and work out of.



Trincomalee

Located in the North of Sri Lanka, Trincomalee is famous for its white sandy beaches, rich local food, and vibrant culture. With a largely Tamil populace, Trinco is a great change-up from more Southern cities if you want to visit religious sites, places of historical value, and really delve into the heritage of Sri Lanka’s people. Not only is this city known for its rich roots, the high life can also be enjoyed in Trinco aboard a luxury yacht that caters to all your whims and fancies.



Colombo

The capital city of Sri Lanka, Colombo is perfect for those who enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life. With a great social scene, lively night life and ample opportunities to spoil yourself, Colombo is the meeting point between Sri Lanka and the West, and is a melting pot of flavors, people, and experiences.



Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya, meaning the ‘city of light’, is often referred to as Little England for its cool climes, colonial architecture, and lush greenery. Also known as the tea plucking capital of the country, Nuwara Eliya is famous for its fresh fruits and vegetables, horse racing track, and lively annual fairs. April tends to be Nuwara Eliya season, with many Sri Lankans travelling to the city to experience everything it has to offer, but off-season, Nuwara Eliya is a quiet, relaxing city to work and live in.


Whilst the country is going through some turbulent times on the international stage, it surely doesn’t take away from the fact that Sri Lanka is a paradise island, and in our opinion, a great digital nomad hotspot, everything considered. We've put together a series of informative vlogs showcasing a number of experiences to be had on this beautiful island should you have a few months to call her home so do be sure to check them out.


If you have any further questions, do submit them via the contact form available at https://www.sheneller.com/ and we’d be more than happy to answer them in our FAQ segment for all nomads to benefit from.



Check out our entire vlog on everything you need to know as a digital nomad planning to visit Sri Lanka




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