How to open a bank account in Sri Lanka

TransferWise content team
15.10.18
6 minute read

Sometimes described as "India Lite" for being similar to India, but smaller and more tranquil, while possessing rich culture and gorgeous scenery, it's no wonder expats are clamoring to live in Sri Lanka. The country helps its visitors to feel at home with convenient banking services. You’ll find a host of large international and government-owned banks. Sri Lanka offers a sophisticated array of financial services for the young professionals, families, and retirees who choose to make Sri Lanka their home.

This straightforward and useful guide will take you through all the specifics you need to know to open a bank account in Sri Lanka.

Can I open a bank account as a non-resident of Sri Lanka?

Yes, if you have a work or resident visa¹. You won't be able to open an account with a tourist visa though.

What's the process? How long does it usually take?

Depending on the bank, the type of account you apply for and if they require additional approvals the process can take anywhere from an hour to multiple days. Be sure to bring all required documentation with you when you go to open your account. Many banks have multilingual staff, but a phone call ahead of time to ensure you can easily communicate with your banker can save you hassle later.

Many expats report that it's much easier to open a non-resident savings account (which can be used in a comparable manner as a current account) than a non-resident current/checking account. Some banks may even require an introduction to consider your current account application.

What documents are necessary for a foreigner to open a bank account?

Be sure to call the bank in advance to discuss what documentation is required as it differs from bank to bank. The documents that Sri Lankan banks will most often ask you to provide are¹:

  • Passport
  • Resident Visa
  • Proof of income
  • The bank’s own application form

Can I open a bank account abroad? What about at least online?

There are a few banks that let you open accounts online, but most will require you to bring documents into their branch offices. Large corporate banks in Sri Lanka, like HSBC, however, can usually accommodate online applications².

What banking fees are involved?

Many Sri Lankan banks offer no-fee account opening, though a few do charge monthly maintenance fees. The can also be initial deposit minimums you must meet to open an account¹. Most banks also charge additional fees for services which go beyond daily banking. Before committing to an account, be sure you ask your banker about any additional fees and costs.

Regular fees include:

ATM fees

With so many ATMs in the main cities, most ATMs in Sri Lanka don't charge fees when you take out money at your Sri Lankan bank. However, withdrawing cash from an ATM at a different bank can cause ATM fees to pile up quickly.

If you’re using a debit card from a non-Sri Lankan bank at a Sri Lankan ATM, it’s very likely you'll be subject to a foreign ATM fee as well as a percentage of the amount withdrawn. Similar to some ATM fees, this is the flat fee, plus a percentage of the transaction which is set by your bank at home. Exchange rates can also be quite high at ATMs versus a local bank.

Standard bank fees

Most banks still have fees for supporting services or extra features. Some of the most common maintenance and convenience charges are:

  • Cash transactions at a branch
  • Exceeded ATM withdrawal and deposits
  • Monthly account maintenance fees
  • Card changes like PIN update or replacement cards
  • Wire transfer and deposit fees

Fees for international transfers

Banks typically charge additional fees for international transfers which generally consist of a flat fee as well as a percentage of your total transfer amount. Be sure to monitor the mid-market rate to ensure you aren’t paying more than you should.

A good idea might be using a specialist service such as TransferWise to transfer money from your account at home to your account in Sri Lanka. You can significantly reduce international transfer fees with TransferWise, while getting the mid-market rate instead of the banks rate, which has a markup added. The fees for an international payment may not seem large at first, but when adding the cost of the currency exchange, it will add up to quite a large sum usually. Another way TransferWise has reduced the fees, is by cleverly splitting their transfer into a series of local transfers instead of making an international payment, which carries large fees.

Which bank should I choose?

Sri Lanka is home to many national and international banks offering a wide range of financial services. Some of which are listed below:

  • HSBC Sri Lanka³
  • National Development Bank⁴
  • Bank of Ceylon⁵
  • People’s Bank⁶

HSBC Sri Lanka

HSBC is one of the largest banks in the world. As such, it can offer online applications and a comprehensive variety of financial services:

  • Personal banking and savings accounts
  • Business accounts
  • Debit and credit cards
  • Express banking
  • Lifestyle loans
  • Insurance
  • Investments services⁷
  • Cash back incentives⁸

National Development Bank (NDB)

NDB offers a wide variety of services for personal and business account holders. They also offer a special Islamic banking account for those customers who follow Sharia banking principles⁹ as well as:¹⁰

  • Current and savings accounts
  • Debit and credit cards
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Online banking
  • Loans
  • Business accounts
  • Islamic banking

Bank of Ceylon

Bank of Ceylon is Sri Lanka’s largest commercial bank. It has over 700 ATMs and over 600 branches¹¹. They offer basic services plus extra benefits such as:¹²

  • Current and savings accounts
  • Loans
  • Credit cards
  • Online banking
  • Business services¹³

People’s Bank

People’s Bank is a state-owned commercial bank. With more than 735 branches and over 460 ATMs in Sri Lanka¹⁴, you won’t have trouble getting immediate, personalized service. They offer the following services:

  • Current and Savings accounts¹⁵ ¹⁶
  • Debit and credit cards¹⁷
  • Online and mobile banking
  • Loans¹⁸
  • Commercial banking¹⁹

TransferWise

Consider using TransferWise to pay or get paid internationally. TransferWise ensures you get the best exchange rate and limited transaction fees. TransferWise does this by breaking international payments into a series of local payments to lower your costs, and always uses the mid-market rate.

TransferWise also offers a free borderless multi-currency account, which allow users to manage and send dozens of different currencies all from the same account without crazy fees or even-crazier exchange rates. Just a small, fair charge when your money moves between currencies. You can even get your very own local bank details for several regions around the world – so you can pay and get paid locally.

Full of exotic animals, exciting cuisine, and a rich cultural heritage, Sri Lanka lures you to her coasts. Thankfully, with exceptional banking practices, you can sit back and enjoy the surf rather than worry about exchange rates and fees.


Sources:
  1. https://www.justlanded.com/english/Sri-Lanka/Sri-Lanka-Guide/Money/Banking-in-Sri-Lanka ( October 14, 2018 )
  2. https://www.hsbc.lk/1/2/personal/apply-online ( October 14, 2018 )
  3. https://www.hsbc.lk/1/2/home-page ( October 14, 2018 )
  4. http://www.ndbbank.com/index.jsp ( October 14, 2018 )
  5. http://web.boc.lk/ ( October 14, 2018 )
  6. http://www.peoplesbank.lk/ ( October 14, 2018 )
  7. https://www.hsbc.lk/1/2/personal/investments/dual-currency-deposit ( October 14, 2018 )
  8. https://www.hsbc.lk/1/2/personal/credit-card/platinum-cashback-card?pid=PWS:LK_EN:10.1_cashback:hps:hero ( October 14, 2018 )
  9. http://www.ndbbank.com/pages/english/islamic_banking/islamic_banking.jsp ( October 14, 2018 )
  10. http://www.ndbbank.com/pages/english/individuals/indviduals.jsp ( October 15, 2018 )
  11. http://web.boc.lk/boc/index.php?route=product/category&path=185_203_207&desc=1 ( October 15, 2018 )
  12. http://web.boc.lk/boc/index.php?route=product/category&path=87_88_227 ( October 15, 2018 )
  13. http://web.boc.lk/boc/index.php?route=product/category&path=185_186_187 ( October 15, 2018 )
  14. https://www.peoplesbank.lk/sites/default/files/PeoplesBank2013.pdf ( October 15, 2018 )
  15. https://www.peoplesbank.lk/current-account ( October 15, 2018 )
  16. https://www.peoplesbank.lk/savings-account ( October 15, 2018 )
  17. https://www.peoplesbank.lk/cards ( October 15, 2018 )
  18. https://www.peoplesbank.lk/loan-and-advances ( October 15, 2018 )
  19. https://www.peoplesbank.lk/commercial-lending ( October 15, 2018 )

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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