Sri Lanka Currency Exchange Guide

Sri Lanka is known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean, and it provides an unforgettable experience for tourists. With beaches stretching along the west coast that offer visitors unspoiled white sand and warm waters perfect for swimming, surfing or simply relaxing, it’s easy to find your own piece of paradise here. From towering Buddhist temples to world-famous national parks such as Yala National Park – home to wild elephants and leopards, there are endless sights to see in this beautiful country.

General Sri Lanka Currency Information

What is the currency of Sri Lanka?

The official currency of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR).

What do Sri Lanka notes & coins look like?

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The Sri Lankan notes issued by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka are pretty distinctive, commemorating the country’s 60th anniversary with a new series of banknotes released in 2011. The designs of both the front and back of each note were created by two local artists who won an island-wide competition, with development projects and native birds displayed on one side and traditional dancers and guard stone symbols set against a map of Sri Lanka on the other. Unfortunately, the 10-rupee denomination had been replaced with a coin before these re-issues.

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Sri Lanka coins come in several denominations; 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupees are all minted from stainless steel, whilst the 20 rupee coin is minted from aluminium bronze. All coins feature the full country name on the obverse, along with an armorial ensign and the year. The introduction of these stainless steel coins occurred in 2017 and continues to be used in circulation today.

Economy

Sri Lanka has seen impressive growth in recent years with a flourishing free-market economy. This was mainly driven by increased investment in non-tradable sectors and saw a nominal increase in mid-2019 to an estimated $84 billion gross domestic product (GDP) and $296.959 billion through purchasing power parity (PPP). This remarkable growth led to Sri Lanka being reclassified as a lower middle-income nation with income per capita ranking at 13,620 PPP dollars or 3,852 US dollars (2019). Despite these successes, the World Bank has raised concerns about unsustainable and inequitable growth. As a result, the country’s growth rate is slowing down from 2012 onwards.

Brief currency history

In 1825, sterling replaced the Ceylonese rixdollar, and the British silver coin was officially recognised as the legal currency in Sri Lanka. Two years later, in June of 1831, Treasury notes denominated in sterling that had not been exchanged were declared invalid.

Indian rupees were then given legal status in Ceylon on September 26th 1836, at which point the British sterling took a back seat to the new ruling currency; nevertheless, these were still employed as a source of payment along with rupees and annas though records remained kept (and payments made) in terms of pounds, shillings, pence and other related scores. An exchange rate of 2 shillings per rupee was established for accounting purposes.

Treasury notes were no longer legal tender once the Bank of Ceylon began to issue banknotes in 1844. It was in 1869 that the Indian rupee was formally established as unrestricted lawful money, and it was in 1871 that it was decimalised. From that point onwards, 100 cents replaced sterling and became Ceylon’s money of account and sole legal tender from the beginning of 1872.

However, it wasn’t until the mid-1880s that the currency reached a crisis point. This arose following an acute liquidity shortage experienced by The Orient Bank – one of three exchange banks on the island – resulting in a run on the other two institutions, Bank of Madras and Chartered Mercantile Bank.

The Board of Commissioners of Currency Ceylon, as it was then known, was founded in 1884 as a result of the Paper Currency Ordinance. By this Ordinance, Ceylonese rupee notes could be exchanged for Indian silver rupees at a nominal par rate without needing a fee. But after more than a century, in April 2022, the Sri Lankan rupee was called the “worst performing currency in the world” by the Financial Times because of the country’s extreme political instability.

 

Taking Travel Money to Sri Lanka

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What currency should I take to Sri Lanka?

If you’re travelling to Sri Lanka, you’ll need to exchange your Australian dollar (AUD) for the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). Get more information on converting AUD to LKR here.

Is it better to convert currency in Australia or Sri Lanka?

It is more practical to convert Australian dollars to Sri Lanka rupees in Australia before travelling to Sri Lanka because you will know exactly how much travel money you have at your disposal right away, without having to worry about exchange rate fluctuation while in a different country. Additionally, having access to funds right away upon arrival can help alleviate any stress related to currency conversion and save time during the travel process.

How much money can I take to Sri Lanka?

Foreign currencies over $15,000 USD or its equivalent are permitted. If you’re taking back more than Rs 20,000, then make sure you declare it upon entry so everything is accounted for. 

Where to convert currency?

With competitive foreign exchange rates and no hidden fees or commissions, Crown Currency Exchange offers an easy and accessible way to manage your finances overseas. They have been servicing customers with the utmost professionalism for nearly 20 years, making them a trusted name in the industry. Boasting 50 stores across Australia, you won’t have any difficulty finding one nearby. Our friendly professionals will assist you during your visit for a hassle-free transaction.

Is tipping customary in Sri Lanka? How much is expected?

Yes, tipping is customary in Sri Lanka. It’s usually up to your discretion, but 10% of the total bill is considered a standard tip. To give you a better idea of what is expected, here are some guidelines:

Taxis: It is customary to round up your taxi fare to the nearest whole number or leave some change as a token of appreciation for your driver’s service 

Tour Guides: Tour guides often rely on tips for their income. It is customary to give these people a small tip of no more than SR 50 (around $0.30 USD). This money can go a long way in helping them support their families and make ends meet. 

Spas: When visiting spas throughout Sri Lanka, offering 10% of the total bill as a tip is polite. This amount should be placed conveniently at the front desk so that you can be on your way quickly and easily after your treatment has been completed. 

Restaurants: The customary tip in restaurants around Sri Lanka is 10% of the bill; however, you are free to pay more or less than this, depending on your satisfaction with both the meal and table service provided.  

Hotels: If you stay at a hotel, it is polite to give the staff a small tip as a gesture of appreciation for their service. 50 or 100 Sri Lankan Rupees (around AUD $0.20 to $0.40) should suffice for most services offered at the hotel, from housekeeping to concierge.

What is ATM access like in Sri Lanka?

With an established financial ecosystem, Sri Lanka offers convenient ATM access throughout the country with ease. Some of the most popular banks can be found at the airport as well as in the main cities. These banks accept both Visa and MasterCard for withdrawing cash from ATMs, making it a great option for travellers seeking quick and easy access to funds. 

What should you budget per day?

Budget

If you’re looking to save money while travelling, a budget of Rs 8,612-11,072 (AUD $35-45) per day is recommended. This will cover basic costs such as accommodation (hostel or guesthouse), transportation (bus or train), and food at local eateries. You may also be able to find activities like hiking, sightseeing, and snorkelling that are free or low-cost. 

Moderate

For those who want a more comfortable journey in terms of accommodation and food, Rs 18,454-22,145 (AUD $75-90) per day is suggested. With this budget, travellers can stay in mid-range hotels, eat out at higher quality restaurants (local and international cuisine), ride private transportation options such as taxis or Uber rides, and enjoy excursions like boat tours or safaris. 

Luxury

If you’re looking for an extensive tour with all the bells and whistles included, your daily budget needs to be Rs 36,918+ (AUD $150+) per day. A luxury holiday involves staying at 5-star accommodations with all meals included at gourmet restaurants. You can take private tours around the country with experienced guides as well as hire drivers if needed. If you prefer more unique experiences such as whale watching trips or spa treatments, then this would also be covered by this budget amount.  

Currency details

Currency:

Sri Lanka rupee

Currency code:

LKR

Currency symbol:

Central bank:

Central Bank of Sri Lanka

Nickname:

None

Currency sub-unit:

Cent = 1/100 of a Rupee

Bank notes:

Rs. 20, Rs. 50, Rs. 100, Rs. 500, Rs. 1,000, Rs. 2,000, Rs. 5,000

Coins:

1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents, Re. 1, Rs. 2, Rs. 5, Rs. 10

Must-do's while you are in Sri Lanka

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1. Visit Ancient Cities 

Sri Lanka’s vibrant history and culture can be seen in its many ancient cities. Anuradhapura is one of the oldest cities on the island and is home to some of the most impressive ruins from the past. Sigiriya is another city that was once an ancient fortress and palace complex, now popular for its rock fortress, whose summit offers stunning views of the surrounding area. 

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2. Climb Adam's Peak 

Adam’s Peak is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka, offering breathtaking views from its summit. The climb takes around 4 hours, but it’s worth it when you reach the top to witness sunrise across the lush landscape below you. 

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3. Explore Wildlife 

Yala National Park is a great place to explore wildlife as it is home to hundreds of species, including elephants, leopards, sloth bears, monkeys, wild boars and even jackals! Wilpattu National Park is another excellent spot for wildlife enthusiasts as it features a variety of habitats, such as lagoons and wetlands, that attract numerous species of birds, reptiles and mammals.

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4. Relax on Pristine Beaches 

Sri Lanka has some incredible beaches with crystal clear waters and white sand beaches perfect for relaxing or swimming. Unawatuna beach is trendy among tourists due to its picturesque location with breathtaking views out over the bay. In contrast, Mirissa beach boasts excellent snorkelling opportunities with colourful fish swimming just offshore. 

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5. Shop at Local Markets

Sri Lanka is home to many vibrant and bustling markets where you can find interesting items such as handcrafted jewellery, wood carvings, leather goods and spices. The Pettah market in Colombo is trendy among tourists due to its wide selection of shops and stalls offering everything from sarees to souvenirs.

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