Driving In Sri Lanka As A Tourist


We prefer self driving and exploring any country at our own pace. While booking our trip to Sri Lanka, we were advised by online forums as well as Sri Lankan friends against renting a car and driving on our own. But as we planned a super short vacation, we still decided to explore the option of renting a car. But after hours of research, we came to the same conclusion. Self driving in Sri Lanka is tedious, expensive and involves quite a bit of paper work. This article is in no way aimed to deter your plans to self drive around this beautiful island, but a heads up on the process of driving in Sri Lanka as a tourist.



1.You will need a special permit or get your international license endorsed by the Automobile Association of Ceylon

To get your special permit, you will need to bring the following to the Department of Motor Traffic.

  • Your passport plus one copy
  • Copy of your Sri Lankan visa
  • Your driving license (needs to be in English) plus a copy
  • 1000 Rupees (around US$ 6) (2020)

The DMV is located 30 minutes away from Central Colombo and is open Monday to Friday from 9 AM-3 PM. Expect a large crowd at the DMV, so arriving as soon as the office opens will help navigate the crowd.

Driving In Sri Lanka As A Tourist

Sample of the Special Permit

To get your International License endorsed, you will need to visit the Automobile Association of Ceylon. This will cost 4400 Rupees (around $25) (2020). Rental companies can assist you in this process and have your license endorsed and ready before you arrive. For this you will need to send them a copy of your International License before hand.

Driving In Sri Lanka As A Tourist

Automobile Association of Ceylon

2. Every car rental company will have a cap on daily mileage

If you plan to drive around the country, ensure that you check the daily mileage closely. Most companies allow only 200 Kilometers (124 miles) per day. Extra kilometers will be charged at 30 Rupees ($0.17) per kilometer. Just to give you an idea, the distance between Colombo and Kandy is about 123 Kilometers (78 miles)

3. Car with driver costs almost the same as self driving.

Most rental companies will charge 30,000 Rupees ($165) as a refundable deposit when you are renting a car. A car with driver will not have any deposit and the variation in daily tariff is as low as $20 per day.

4. Traffic in Sri Lanka is crazy

Traffic starts as soon as you exit the airport and most times, it is standstill traffic. If the driving does not tire you out, pressing the brake pedal sure will. 

Driving In Sri Lanka As A Tourist

Bottleneck traffic in Sri Lanka

5. Be prepared for random police checks

If you clearly look like a foreigner, you will be stopped multiple times on the highways. As long as all your documents are in order, there is nothing to worry.

6. Speed limits are not always clear

There aren’t enough speed limit signs on the roads. Police officers use hand held radar and randomly pull people over.

7. Do not trust Google Maps here

We used Google maps on our way back from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy and the route suggested was deep within a thicket. It was too late to turn back, so we had to drive cautiously until the dirt road finally connected to the highway. Be prepared for such adventures if you are planning to solely rely on Google Maps.


We totally get it if you still want to drive and explore this beautiful island on your own. But if you want a relatively stress free vacation with short naps in the car between destinations, it is better to hire a driver and not have a care in the world. We booked our trip with Leopard Holidays (car with driver) and had absolute no complains.

Couple of Travels
Couple of Travels

We really hope this article has helped in your planning process. Comment down below or click that ‘Contact Us’ button if you have any questions. We would be super happy to help!
Happy Travels!

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