Sunday, February 2, 2014

Eva's Mailbox: Miscellaneous Correspondence from Near and Far #1

Over the past year or so, I have been receiving a steady stream of inquiries and messages to my Adventures in a Tuk-Tuk Blog email address. Mostly, readers, travelers, acquaintances and interested parties have questions about moving, living, working, retiring and traveling to Sri Lanka. Sometimes I've received emails from different people in different parts of the world who ask me very similar questions or seek similar advice.

I thought it useful to share some of these questions (in a broad sense) and my responses so the wider audience may benefit from them. I've edited my responses so they focus on the topic without the social aspects of my responses.  I've also excluded personal details or attributes that I feel some people may not wish to share in an open forum.

Please note - in reading my responses bear in mind these are my thoughts and suggestions. Take from it what is of benefit and where it may not align with your needs, set it aside.

Moving to Sri Lanka

Q: I just started reading your blog on Sri Lanka - I love it and can relate to it! I just wanted to touch base with you for any advice. I am married to a Sri Lankan and we are moving back to Sri Lanka. This will be my first time living long term there. Do you have any advice for me? Would really appreciate any help you can give me.
A: Most of my expat friends who are married to Sri Lankans found it big help to consciously lean on their spouses in the early days. Mainly, it’s due to language, environment, culture etc. But, I’m assuming you already know about the culture and country etc. so it won’t come as a huge shock.

The other advice I’d give is to arrive with a great deal of openness and patience. Sri Lanka is not perfect by any sense of the word (not sure there are many places that are), so living long term, as opposed to holidays, is very different. The everyday stuff that may have been okay on holidays will really grate on your nerves when you’re living here long term. It ranges from traffic to behaviors to politics and more. But, if you’re open and patient, you’ll eventually find your feet with it all.

The other thing... it is definitely OKAY to make mistakes in Sri Lanka. I made a whole heap of them when I landed, and still do. But, I remind myself... that it’s ok and just laugh at myself. Believe you me, I’ve put my foot in it a lot! Plus, gotten into some hairy situations with police, officials and others. So, mistakes do happen, and you learn a lot from stuff like that.

I guess a lot of the rest has to do with your relationships with his/your family, friends and people you know in Sri Lanka. I have an amazing adopted Sri Lankan family as well as some very close local and expat friends I’ve made over time. It’s taken me awhile, but they make life in Sri Lanka so much more interesting and better.

One final thing, what’s the worst that could happen? Mmm... you hate living in Sri Lanka. Well, it takes time and adventures to work this one through. Don’t worry too much about it. Take it day at a time. Practically speaking I’m sure you have plenty on your plate, what with accommodation, settling in, work, family, friends, etc... 

Starting a business in Sri Lanka

Q: Do you have any experience with starting a business in Sri Lanka, are there expatriates creating small businesses there? We want to open an hotel. Do you see a bright future for the country? Any tips you have or opinion will help me shape my decision
A: A good starting point to consider is visa requirements. If you haven’t already taken a look, the Department of Immigration and Emigration website, and more specifically the relevant visa you need to apply for to enter the country. I’m not sure if you have ties or contacts in Sri Lanka already, but if not, then the Residence visa – Investor category may be relevant to you.
A very useful website is Invest in Sri Lanka developed by the Board of Investment Sri Lanka. There is plenty of useful contacts, information and assistance on all types of investment in Sri Lanka.
If you are interested in the Tourism and Hospitality sector, the following Sri Lankan government websites will also be helpful as there is a lot of development and change.
•       One Stop Unit (OSU) - Unit for National Investment in Tourism 
•       Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority (specifically look at the “for business” part of the website). You can access a wealth of information on Sri Lanka’s Tourism Strategy and other industry partners, plans etc.
•       Sri Lanka Tourism - This is a good source on general tourism/traveler information.
Sri Lanka is no different from many other countries I've lived. The difference in Asian countries, as opposed to western countries, is corruption, inefficiency, thievery are all more openly visible (especially when the economy is challenged). There are certainly political, post-war and other issues affecting Sri Lanka, but at an everyday level it doesn't directly affect me. I can’t say whether the future in Sri Lanka is bright or not, but post-war Sri Lanka is definitely filled with opportunities, rebuilding, growth, development etc.

Expat employment in Sri Lanka

Q: I recently saw stumbled upon your blog. I would love to move to Sri Lanka - my key impediment is that given the employment laws there, I don't think I could find a job. What has your experience been and do you have any particular advice?
A: Firstly, you need to review the visa options in order to work in Sri Lanka. The Department of Immigration and Emigration website sets out the relevant visa categories. The employment category or investor category under the Residence visa are probably most relevant options. The former needs a company, NGO etc. to sponsor your application. The investment category has many conditions but may be a viable option. Take a look at the rest of the categories under the residence visa as they may be applicable to you and/or your partner if you already have ties to Sri Lanka. 
You might also wish to have a look at the Resident Guest Scheme Visa Programme to see if you’re eligible to apply. This is open to all foreign nationals. Any foreign investor / professional who could contribute to the economic and socio cultural enrichment of the country can apply.
In terms of the fields of employment, foreigners with IT, accounting/finance, hospitality/tourism skills and experience find it easier to obtain employment in Sri Lanka. Primarily, larger Sri Lankan companies, international banks and foreign companies operating in Sri Lanka. There are also employment opportunities working with NGOs, charitable organisations, UNOps or sometimes embassies. These organisations working in Sri Lanka normally arrange the work permit/visa for their foreign employees. 
You may wish to peruse some online sites that list jobs in Sri Lanka. Please note this list is not exhaustive and I recommend doing further online research or going directly to specific employer websites for job vacancies.
Word of advice: you definitely need to be very pro-active if you apply from abroad, otherwise you may get no response after submitting an application via this method.
From my experience, if you have contacts or friends in Sri Lanka, it is generally easier to get a "foot in the door" in finding employment here. 

Retirement in Sri Lanka

Q: Hi, I was considering moving to Sri Lanka as I have a weak pension income. I have visited in the past and liked it. Do you have any advice?
A: Sri Lanka seems to be a viable and comfortable place for expats to come and retire. I’m not personally of retirement age, but I know of a few retired expats who enjoy their life over here. The visa situation is interesting. Sri Lanka has a “My Dream Home” visa specifically for senior foreign nationals who wish to reside in Sri Lanka.
I recommend visiting the Department of Immigration and Emigration Sri Lanka website for further information. The rest of the website has other residence visa information if this is not applicable to you. Determining whether your pension income is sufficient income for residing in Sri Lanka depends on your lifestyle and where you wish to reside. Rental accommodation can be quite affordable, but again it depends on your requirements and location. Food and incidentals, transport etc. are considered by expats to be very affordable. 


Anonymous said...

Hello Eva,

thanks for your blog it is very interesting an fills the void on the internet about this beautiful country. We have been once to Sri Lanka and are coming again for a week's holiday in July with our 2 kids. We are thinking about moving there in order to live a more simple and natural lifestyle(we currently live in Dubai!). However I couldnt find information about schools there. are there lots of English schools in the country (apart from Colombo , Galle and Kandy)? do you know expat kids who go to local schools? our children are still small but the oldest will have to be schooled (he's 3,5). I'm just not sure sending him to a cinghalese-speaking only school will be OK for him as he's already struggling with 2 languages.

thanks in advance for your help!


Eva Stone said...

Hi Aurore, thanks for the feedback and visiting my blog. I have published a blog post this evening on this very topic that should help you a little with your research into a potential move to Sri Lanka and the state of play when it comes to schooling for your children. If you have any more questions drop me an email or comment.
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Hi Aurore, (and Eva,)

Not sure if you will see this.
There are numerous schools in the country where non-native children could study in the English medium and go into either the local university (university entrance exam called G.C.S.E. A/L's is offered in English and even a significant amount of native-speakers take the exams in English) or get into top universities abroad. Most prestigious schools in the country offer education in the English medium from grade 1-13 (some of them are private schools and the others are public schools). Almost all of these schools are located in large cities like Colombo and Kandy, as well as they are either boys' or girls' schools. Although Sri Lanka is a distant and small country, you'd be surprised to see how many kids get into Ivy-league colleges (including some of my friends who made into Yale, Harvard and MIT) straight after their high school education from a prestigious school with a rich heritage--so doors will be wide open to succeed to any level they desire in the future, whether they decide to stay here or explore opportunities around the world.
I'm not too sure whether these big name schools are popular with non-native kids (in the school I went to, there was only two brothers [from foreign parents] that were in the age group I was in, but they spoke the local language almost as natives), but charter schools that label as 'International School's are the more common type I've seen most foreign kids attend. These schools are mixed schools (boys and girls) and follow various international curriculums while also preparing for local exams. In these schools, even the local kids are encouraged to converse in English, so they would feel comfortable even if they decide not to learn Sinhala.
Also, if you decide to home-school, there're plenty of institutions you can send them to take part in courses and find friends. One such place is the British Council which has a few branches around the island where they can take group courses in English taught by native English speakers. There are also many institutions in Colombo where they can take part in extra-curricular activities such as music or theatre. There's one such music institution I've been to in Colombo where many non-native kids attend and perform in groups. So, even home-schooling is an option in a large city where they can take part in plenty of activities and socialize with kids of their age.
Wish you very good luck!

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