Sri Lanka is a dream holiday destination. The sheer variety on offer, from lush rainforest to white sandy beaches, means it's a great place for people looking for a mix of adventure and relaxation. Throw in some world-class hospitality, fascinating history, and fantastic cuisine, and you can see why this is such a popular place for tourists.
If you're headed to Sri Lanka soon, you'll need to get some cash to pay for things while you're there. Whether you're travelling on a tight budget, or booked for a luxury break, withdrawing what money you need from an ATM once you arrive is a convenient choice.
If you’re planning on using ATMs in Sri Lanka, here’s all you need to know.
In cities and large towns in Sri Lanka, you’ll have no problems finding a handy ATM. There are a good range of local banks, and also a few foreign global banking brands like HSBC and Standard Chartered operating in the country, with Commercial Bank being the Sri Lankan bank with the largest ATM network.¹ All that said, once you get out into more rural areas, ATMs can be scarce. You should carry enough cash if you're headed off the beaten track.
To find a convenient ATM, use these ATM locators for local and global banks:
- HSBC ATM locator
- Commercial Bank ATM locator
- Amana Bank ATM locator
- Standard Chartered ATM locator
- Sampath Bank ATM locator
Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted networks in Sri Lanka.
Amex cards can be used at ATMs operated by Nations Trust Bank - but there are only a small number of locations to choose from.³ Similarly, Discover cards have low merchant acceptance and can only be used in ATMs operated by the Commercial Bank of Ceylon.² If your main card is issued by either Amex or Discover, you might need a backup, and it could be worth carrying enough cash to see you through if you can’t find an ATM to use.
Find a handy ATM to suit your needs using one of the following locators:
- Maestro ATM locator
- Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator
- Visa, Plus, and Plus Alliance ATM locator
- Discover ATM locator
- American Express ATM locator
It used to be quite hard to find an ATM which would work with a foreign bank card. However, some Sri Lankan banks are moving to a chip and PIN system, like that used in much of Europe, Australia and the UK for example. Commercial Bank - the largest local banking network - started issuing chip and PIN cards to its customers in 2017.⁴ If you use a chip and PIN card, you should find that your PIN is accepted in Commercial Bank ATMs without issue.⁴
In other banks, ATMs may work with a PIN or a magnetic stripe card like those often used in the US. As banks are changing and updating their technology, an increasing number of ATMs operated by local banks will accept foreign issued credit and debit cards, with PINs which could be 4 or more digits - but you may need to try more than one ATM to find one that’ll work for you. If you’re unsure whether your card will be accepted then it’s a good idea to try a larger global banking brand, and ideally, use an ATM at a bank branch during working hours. That way you can get some help if your card or PIN isn’t immediately accepted.
Depending on your own bank, and the local ATM you choose to use, you might find that you have a daily maximum withdrawal limit when you’re in Sri Lanka. Firstly it’s good to check the limits your own bank imposes on your card. If this limit is lower than the ATM operator’s own max cash withdrawal limit, then your home bank’s rules will apply.
If you don’t have a home bank cap on the amount you can withdraw per transaction or per day then the ATM operator’s limit will be used - this could be in the region of 80,000 rupees per transaction, but will vary a bit from one ATM to another.
Your home bank has a duty of care to make sure that your card isn’t used fraudulently. This means that banks invest a huge amount in tracking transactions and making sure any unusual activity is noted. This is good news for customers concerned with fraud - but does mean you need to tell your bank before you travel, that your card will be used overseas. If you don’t, you could find that your bank account is frozen or limited until the fraud team confirm it’s you using the card somewhere new.
Most people using a foreign debit or credit card in Sri Lanka will have to pay a fee to use the ATMs there.
Here are the fees - and scams - to watch out for.
Dynamic currency conversion (also known as DCC), is a costly - and common - headache for travellers at ATMs, and when using a card at a merchant abroad. DCC is where you’re asked if you want to pay for a transaction in your home currency instead of the local one.
Although it sounds convenient, DCC doesn’t offer good value for customers, because the exchange rate used usually won’t be the real, mid-market rate, which you’d find on google. The exchange rate used for DCC transactions is selected by the ATM provider or merchant, who can add their margin to the rate and then pocket the difference. You’ll get a better deal if you always choose to pay in the local currency instead.
Once you’ve navigated round DCC costs, you still need to understand your own bank’s charges if you want to avoid a nasty surprise.
Check out what fees are added to international ATM withdrawals for your specific account online before you travel.
If you bank with a big global brand which has branches in Sri Lanka, then it’s worth checking out if you can get fee-free withdrawals, from their ATMs. If not, the chances are that you’ll be charged a fee by the local bank or ATM provider for the use of the ATM.
Even if you don’t have an account with one of the international banks that can be found in Sri Lanka, you can still ask your home bank if they have a partner institution based there. You could find that your bank is part of a network offering customers free or reduced fee cash withdrawals, from specific partner ATMs overseas. Check out the options from your own bank before you travel, to make sure you get the best deal.
Reduce ATM fees in Sri Lanka with a few simple steps.
All bank accounts have their own fee structures for international ATM use. If you have several regular bank accounts with credit or debit cards activated, it’s worth checking out which offers the best deal for overseas cash withdrawals.
If you have the time you could even open a new account specifically for travel, which offers a good deal on overseas cash withdrawals.
Don’t forget DCC. As we explained above, DCC is an entirely avoidable expense for people using a foreign credit or debit card when travelling. Avoid these high fees and poor exchange rates by always choosing to pay in local currency.
Nobody wants to pay more than necessary to get spending money when abroad. One smart way to beat unfair fees is to transfer some cash to a local bank account before your trip. You can then withdraw cash from the local account using fee-free ATMs, when you need it, and avoid international bank charges.
You can do this if you or someone you know has a local bank account in Sri Lanka. And you might be able to save even more if you use TransferWise to make your international money transfer. TransferWise only uses the real, mid-market exchange rate, with just a small fee per transaction. And that means more money in your pocket for your trip.
Using ATMs in Sri Lanka is getting much easier for foreign travellers. It still might involve a little trial and error to find an ATM which accepts your bank card - but the large local and global banks should be fine for most international cards. And as long as you’re careful about DCC, you can often keep international cash withdrawal fees down to a minimum. Or, why not try TransferWise. Send money to a local account, and avoid international ATM fees altogether.
¹http://www.combank.net/newweb/en/branches-atms/atm-network (March 14 2018)
²https://www.discover.com/credit-cards/help-center/account/international-use.html (March 14 2018)
³https://network.americanexpress.com/globalnetwork/atm_locator/en/#search/7.873053999999999/80.77179699999999 (March 14 2018)
⁴http://www.ft.lk/article/631909/Commercial-Bank-introduces-Sri-Lanka-s-first-Chip---PIN-debit-card (March 14 2018)
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Whether you’re after an outdoor adventure or total relaxation, a trip to Sri Lanka is a great choice. Located just off the southeastern tip of India, it’s a...