How to get a permit to visit the North of Sri Lanka!
In October 2014, the Sri Lankan government introduced a permit system for foreigners wanting to visit the northern areas of the island. Don’t let this put you off though! The Tamil regions are vibrant and different to the rest of the island, the beaches are beautiful and undeveloped. The permit is not for safety reasons, but most likely because the Sri Lankan government is trying to prevent journalists from investigating what happened at the end of the war. Unrestricted travel was possible until October, the sudden reversal has hit anyone in the tourism industry hard… if anything is going to help the north recover then tourism is at least one tool!
Obtaining a permit to visit the North of Sri Lanka is a lot more straight forward than you might think. Daunted by the prospect of having to visit the Ministry of Defence in Colombo and waiting for approval, I carried out a little research when sat in an airport between flights and was pleased to find that it is a very straightforward process.
Not only did I save myself the cost of a tuk tuk, I also was then able to travel with a printed version of my permit safe in the knowledge that should it get wet, blow away in a storm or spontaneously combust, I had a back up on my email ready to print whenever I needed it.
How to get a permit to visit the north:
The first step is to visit the Ministry of Defense website
You will need to email them outlining the following information
2. Passport Number
3.Country (As in passport)
4. Intended date of travel -for this one, we estimated a little earlier than we thought we would be there just in case
5. Intended date of return- again, we gave ourselves a wide margin to account for any travel delays
6. Purpose – Tourism
7.Mode of Travel – Air/Rail/Public Transport/Private Vehicle As we are travelling by bicycle, that is what we put down
8. Vehicle Registration (only if private vehicle)
9. Name of the driver (only if private vehicle)
10. Whether multiple entries be required
I applied for our permits (both in one email) on November 13th. We recieved approval by early morning on the 15th.
At the time, we applied to firstname.lastname@example.org However, since we applied, the information on the website now stipulates that you must email email@example.com. I would recommend checking the website for any changes or updates as the process of applying for a permit seems to be a relatively new one.
You do of course have other options. If you really want, you can visit the Ministry of Defense, it may indeed be a grand day out. Also, if you happen to be in possession of a fax machine, you can also apply that way at +9411228109
At this stage, you’ll have all the hard work done. Hopefully you will have your positive reply just as quickly as we did. Once you have your permit by email, it’s a case of simply printing it out. I recommend taking at least three copies if you plan to travel around the Northern province. If you are in Sri Lanka when you apply, it’s incredibly easy to get things printed. All you need to do is find a ‘bookshop’. They usually have internet access and printing facilities available.
When travelling in the Northern Provinces, we did not have our permit checked until we were on the road between Munnar and Jaffna. It was checked 3 times that day. The first check took approximately 15 minutes. It seemed to us that the soldiers at the checkpoint made a call to Colombo to confirm our permit, recorded our details and we were ready to go. The only difficulty there seemed to be at some checkpoints was the army being able to make head nor tail of our passports. The process seemed a little faster when we gave a hand, pointing out our names and dates of births. Staff at the checkpoints were polite and helpful.
Towards Mulaitivi, our passports were checked several more times here. It is an area where there is a high military presence. At 2 of the checkpoints here, they asked if they could keep a copy of the permit so that we did not have to hang around while they wrote everything down.
In summary, I would advise anyone considering going to the Northern province to go ahead and apply for a permit. It is such a straightforward process, that we were pleasantly surprised. If you have any comments, questions or experience of applying for a permit yourself, please feel free to comment below.