Visas and Work Permits 7 min

Work permits and visas in Sri Lanka: an employer’s guide

Written by Sally Flaxman
January 15, 2024
Sally Flaxman


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For many digital nomads, Sri Lanka’s multicultural diversity, plentiful co-working spaces, low cost of living, and safety, make it an appealing place to work from. To hire employees or relocate an employee in Sri Lanka, however, you must follow the country’s employment practices and maintain compliance with Sri Lanka's laws governing immigration, labor, and taxes. Failure to comply with local employment laws could lead to financial penalties or legal issues for the employer.

You could choose to work with an employer of record (EOR) who can handle the complexities of international hiring for you. An EOR like Remote handles everything from immigration, and taxes to payroll and compliance.

This guide will explain how to employ a non-citizen in Sri Lanka, how to relocate an existing employee, and how to ensure your company maintains compliance with immigration and employment laws in Sri Lanka.

The importance of immigration compliance in Sri Lanka

Many digital nomads enter foreign countries using only their passports or on tourist visas. However, many countries have begun tightening restrictions on doing so. Engaging in any kind of employment, trade, or business, whether paid or unpaid, on a Sri Lankan tourist visa is illegal and can incur penalties for both employees and employers, including various fines and fees or even detention.

It is in the employee’s best interest, as well as the company's, to obtain the necessary work permit before entering the country. Changing your visa class is not allowed once you have entered Sri Lanka. 

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Do non-citizens need a work visa or work permit in Sri Lanka?

A non-citizen who plans to perform any kind of work while staying in Sri Lanka must obtain an entry visa and permission to work before arriving in Sri Lanka. Upon arrival, the individual must apply for a residence visa for employment. We will describe the application process in detail later in this article.

What are the eligibility requirements for a work visa in Sri Lanka?

There are two types of visas in Sri Lanka under which individuals are allowed to perform work while staying in the country. 

Business visa

Visitors to Sri Lanka may apply for a business visa for:

  • Business negotiations or meetings

  • Short-term training programs less than one month in duration

  • Workshops, seminars, conferences, or symposiums

  • Participating in music, dance, art, sports, or religious events

In the majority of cases, these scenarios do not apply to digital nomads. 

Whether the applicant applies at a Sri Lanka Diplomatic Mission overseas or through the country's Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system, the business visa can be extended for up to one year. The government of Sri Lanka can issue a business visa for a single trip into the country or multiple trips.

Employment visa

Digital nomads or foreign nationals who want to live and work in Sri Lanka must enter the country on an entry visa, after which they can apply for a residence visa for employment (also known as an employment visa). 

What are the long-stay visa types in Sri Lanka?

The only type of long-stay visa that is generally applicable to non-citizens or digital nomads is the residence visa for employment (or employment visa), described above. 

How do you get a work visa for Sri Lanka?

The process of applying for an employment visa in Sri Lanka can be complex. 

First, the foreign national employee must obtain a valid offer of employment or employment contract from an employer with a legal business presence in the country. For this article, we will assume your business is categorized as a private-sector company. The varying documentation requirements for other categories are listed here

Once the individual secures an employment offer or contract, the process of application is as follows:

  1. You, as the employer, should apply to the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Colombo for the foreign national's entry visa approval. At this time, you should notify the Department of Immigration that your employee wishes to apply for an employment visa. The documentation requirements for this step will be detailed below.

  2. After the Department of Immigration approves the entry visa, the agency will notify your local Sri Lanka diplomatic mission.

  3. The employee visits the local Sri Lanka diplomatic mission to obtain an entry visa endorsement on their passport. This endorsement is valid for 30 days.

  4. When the employee arrives at the port of entry in Sri Lanka, immigration may grant entry for the specified period.

  5. Prior to the expiration date of the entry visa, the employee must submit a residence visa application and all supporting documents to the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Colombo. The documentation requirements for this step will also be detailed below.

  6. Upon approval, the employee can visit the Department of Immigration in Colombo to obtain an employment visa endorsement on their passport. This endorsement is generally valid for one year and may be renewed annually.

Processing time for the employment visa is approximately one to two months, but this time frame can vary depending on multiple factors. 

What is the process for employee work visa sponsorship in Sri Lanka?

To work in Sri Lanka, the individual must work for a company based in Sri Lanka or possess a legal business entity in the country. If your company does not own a local entity or wishes to establish a legal business entity in Sri Lanka, you can instead partner with an employer of record like Remote. 

Helping an employee relocate to an international destination can be complicated and daunting. Remote's Relocation program can help make international relocation painless for your company and employees. Learn more about Remote Relocation here

What are the visa requirements for digital nomads in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka does not offer a specific visa arrangement for digital nomads.  

How Remote makes compliance in Sri Lanka so much easier

The process of relocating an employee internationally can seem overwhelming for both the employer and the employee. Fortunately, working with an employer of record can remove a good deal of the burden from your shoulders, both simplifying and accelerating the process. 

Apart from meeting immigration requirements, Remote can help you with every aspect of international hiring — maintaining ongoing compliance with local labor laws, international taxation, benefits, and payroll. As your global HR partner, Remote can share or even bear the weight of the potential problems in international hiring.

Learn more about how you can make employee relocation simple with Remote’s Relocation Guide. To get a demo of our incomparable services, contact our Mobility experts today! 

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