I thought it useful to further 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.
If you haven't seen my earlier blog post regarding correspondence, then you can read it here: Eva's Mailbox: Miscellaneous Correspondence from Near and Far #1
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.
Expat health insurance
Q: Do you have any advice on health insurance? Do I need to get expat health insurance before arriving or are there insurers in Sri Lanka who will provide cover for foreign nationals?
A: From my perspective as a long-term expat in Sri Lanka, you don't necessarily need international expat health insurance. However, it really depends on your circumstances - age, health, work, lifestyle etc. When I initially moved here I wasn't sure how long I would actually stay, so I took out some travel insurance to cover me for the initial period. Plus, I was still young, healthy, my work keeps me in a safe environment and my lifestyle is considered healthy.
After staying in Sri Lanka awhile, I got to know the country a bit better. There is free access to public health services as well to private paid health services.
You can easily take up medical or health insurance via a local insurance provider (eg. Sri Lanka Insurance, Ceylinco Insurance, Allianz Insurance, Janashakthi, Union Assurance, AIG etc...). This will probably work out cheaper than if you were to obtain international health insurance from your country of residence. All have websites so you can check online for what they offer and ask for a quote or request more information.
I personally haven't felt the need to take out any expat health insurance or private medical insurance, but this is still down to my particular set of circumstances. If I get sick I visit my local GP and pay about Rs500-1000 for the consultation and whatever is required for medication.
I have expat friends who had health insurance included in their work contracts, which made things a lot easier for them. I also have expat friends who took out expat health insurance before coming to Sri Lanka from their home country through one of the global health insurers as they were having a baby and wanted private medical coverage; and other permutations of that.
Q: Do I need any specific vaccinations before arriving in Sri Lanka?
A: This was not something I specifically took into consideration when I traveled and then eventually moved to Sri Lanka (though I ensure I'm up-to-date with my general vaccinations). However, very valid and important to consider in visiting as well as moving here.
I've done a little research and found the following links that should prove useful to you:
Most of the guidelines are provided by the World Health Organization, though I couldn't find the latest information on their website.
From a local perspective, the main concern in Colombo (and a few outskirt areas) earlier this year has been around dengue. There are various management and prevention actions in place and they are looking at the possibility of a dengue vaccine by 2015. You can access information at this website: http://www.dengue.lk/
Shipping personal effects to Sri Lanka
Q: I think I have a real dilemma. I want to ship my belongings at the same time as we leave for Sri Lanka. But I won't get my visa until I have lived in Sri Lanka for three months. What I don't understand is that my belongings are supposed to land within three months of my arrival but I won't have a residence visa to claim them from customs. How does it work? Can things arrive after three months and we can still claim them? Does this have to do with duty free allowances? Also, what do they mean by commercial quantities? I have several thousand books, all second hand, that I want to bring and also many CDs - again all used. Do you know if we might have to pay taxes on these?
A: Thanks for your question. Happy to assist where I can. Glad you've had a read of Roast Chicken Tales of Collisions with Sri Lanka Customs. Yes, you are in a tricky situation. However, I think there are a few things I can help to clarify. It will give you something to consider when making your decisions about shipping belongings over.
From what I know it is important to receive your belongings with the residence visa, particularly if you have items that could be construed as for commercial sale (note - it is possible your second hand books MAY fall into this category, given the quantity, by a customs official). Plus, if you are bringing in items on a tourist visa (?) it may land you in a predicament with customs.
Rather than have your boxes arrive while you are on a temporary visa, I would either send them on a later ship to arrive subsequent to you having changed to a residence visa (I have sent boxes on a ship after I've left that country - I had to sign a declaration that I packed and sent these items on collection); or get someone to help send them later??
The definition of commercial quantities is defined by Sri Lankan customs and is given in value of goods (Rs). A customs official can impose a tax of 20% and upwards depending on their assessment. They hone in on electrical goods, IT equipment, larger quantities of items they consider you might re-sell rather than for personal use.
The duty free allowance is a bit of a red herring in that it applies to brand new items you might send over. It doesn't apply if your belongings are all pre-owned or used. When I packed my kitchen and furniture stuff from the UK I made sure they weren't in packaging that made them look new (some were newish); when asked by customs officials when I went to collect my boxes, I confirmed my books, clothes, furnishings were all used and for personal use only. They made a fuss over my printer, but when they opened it up it was clear it was old. You shouldn't have to pay any taxes on your personal belongings. I paid only a small handling fee to pick up my boxes (the last time was Rs300 only, though I could see a few other hands looking a bit like they wanted some greasing!). If you've read the above article the very first time I shipped boxes I had to pay a little bit more than that!
Previously, SL residents (inc expat residents) would try to make the most of duty free allowances to bring in/purchase on arrival at the airport white goods (i.e. new fridge, washing machine etc.). However, the government has significantly clamped down on this now. The state import duties on white goods and electrical items tend to be high (though I've seen them change +/- since I've lived here). Hence, it is a good idea to bring back/over your white goods, electrical items if they are in good working order. That kind of stuff can be expensive here.
Check out http://www.customs.gov.lk/passenger.html for more information as they do provide some information on allowances for entry as a tourist, resident, the commercial quantities table and duty free allowances.
Accommodation search and options for longer stint in Sri Lanka
Q: I have journeyed many times to India and a couple to Sri Lanka. As an artist and writer (of sorts) I value your blog and all your information. If staying for 6-8 months would renting a room/an apartment be the go. Finances are limited and am used to being conservative if not a little bohemian in my living arrangements.
A: It’s good you’ve traveled here and to India, so there won’t be as many surprises as if you were to come for the very first time.
Yes, definitely renting a room or an apartment is the way to go if you’re staying for an extended period.
The pricing will depend on the quality of the place and location. Renting a room with a Sri Lankan family is also possible and can be quite economical. I’ve found that most expats who have a less 9 to 5 job or lifestyle tend to rent rooms or apartments around Negombo or Mount Lavinia. These areas are closer to the better Colombo beaches and are more used to foreigners and tend to also be cleaner/tidier. However, it’s also possible to find reasonable places that are more central around Bambalapitiya, Kolupitiya and Colombo 7 (though the latter is more pricey)
Given you’re looking for something with a more artistic feel, you might find it better outside of Colombo. Galle is quite a lovely place with lots of artistic appeal and there is an expat community there. Also in the south there are smaller places like Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna which might have a nice feel. In the hill country, Kandy has quite a lovely feel, the climate is cooler and many places are accessible from there. Take a look at http://www.lankapropertyweb.com to get an idea of locations, accommodations and prices.
What you may choose to do is stay in a holiday accommodation (i.e. hotel, motel, guesthouse) initially and then check out a few places once you’re here. This may help to find the “right” place rather than getting tied in to a place you may not actually like.
Q: I have a question about living costs, are condos (nice 40 meters or so) widely available and cheap to rent? like 250-300$ per month?
A: There are more condos being built around Colombo right now as the country is developing and opening up. As you can imagine, these are a little pricey to rent given they are either new or close to new. However, there are other accommodation options in your price range in some of the main suburbs around Colombo. If you are seeking accommodation outside of Colombo (in one of the other cities or smaller towns) then it gets cheaper.
I recommend taking a look at http://www.lankapropertyweb.com/ to get an idea of locations, different types of accommodations and prices. I’ve used this site a few times to speak with owners, agents and to view properties and then to negotiate (note - negotiation is a must!)
I’d also recommend staying somewhere initially and then scoping out an area/place/property for the longer term, rather than committing to a place right away.
Setting up personal banking in Sri Lanka
Q: How easy is it to set up bank accounts in Sri Lanka? What kind of bank accounts are suitable for foreign expats?
A: Banking in Sri Lanka is essentially the same as in other countries. Local banks operate to a large extent in a similar manner to the global banks that operate in Sri Lanka. I'd recommend sticking to banks as opposed to credit unions or other financial institutions that may not be subject to as rigorous financial regulation.
To open a bank account you will be required to fulfill the identity requirements similar to opening bank accounts overseas (i.e. proof of identification, proof of address). If you do not have proof of local address when you first arrive, it is possible to provide proof of your foreign address with certain banks.
Each bank has a variety of accounts ranging from non-resident foreign currency (NRFC) to local rupee accounts, as well as savings, cheque, fixed deposits, credit cards etc.
With certain global banks that operate in Sri Lanka it is possible to open an Sri Lankan NRFC account in a foreign currency prior to arriving in SL; or exchange foreign currency to LKR and open a local rupee. I made use of this facility with one of the global banks prior to arrival in Sri Lanka.
Another that may be useful to note, are Special Foreign Investment Deposit Account (SFIDA), which are special interest earning deposit accounts for Foreign Nationals and Sri Lankan citizens residing overseas. Accounts can be opened as Savings and Fixed Deposits in a number of currencies including LKR, USD, GBP, EURO, AUD and more. The minimum requirement for opening an SFIDA is USD 10,000/- or equivalent. These accounts are exempt from Income Tax, Debit tax and Withholding of Income tax. However, there are special guidelines for how funds are remitted into and out of Sri Lanka.
Q: I will be undertaking an internship in Sri Lanka and I will have my own apartment and am cooking for myself. Do you have any tips on the best places to buy food and do's and dont's of grocery shopping?
A: Food can be easily purchased at supermarkets. The local names for the larger stores are Cargills, Keels, or Arpico. However, there are other supermarkets like Laughs and other smaller shops that sell foodstuffs. You can purchase dry goods as well as fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, frozen foods and various grocery items.
Also, there is usually a Sunday pola or market in most neighborhoods where lots of fresh vegetables and fruits are sold by local sellers. This is often a great place to get the fresh stuff and get familiar with the local produce.
There are also shops that sell fresh fish, seafood etc. And these are normally caught daily. I don't have any specific don'ts with regards to grocery shopping though I find a lot of expats (including myself) don't tend to purchase a lot of red meat, as it doesn't look like what we're used to 'back home'. I tend to stick to seafood or chicken and lots of fruit and vegetables.
Suitable clothing for work and life in Sri Lanka
Q: I am moving to Sri Lanka for 2 years in August and to be honest I am not sure what to pack. I will be teaching in a British school and there is a dress code. All my summer clothes are quite casual and my big problem is shoes as sandals are banned and I don't find nice summer shoes. Any advice?
A: My advice would be to pack what is comfortable for leisure wear, and bring what you have that would be suitable for teaching. You can buy the rest when you get here (after you get a better idea once you're here).
I've always found that slightly looser clothing is more comfortable for the humid weather, unless you're in air-conditioning. Also cotton or linen clothing is better than polyester or nylon with the heat.
With shoes I do wear flats and heels when necessary, but on the whole whenever I can, I'm in a variety of sandals, slip-ons or flip-flops. With your teaching role I'd bring your most comfortable heels or flat shoes that go with your outfits. And, most of the time I carry my sandals or flips so I can change into them as soon as possible. There are also footwear retailers in Colombo to check out once you get here. Note - good leather shoes don't last that long here due to the weather!