The currency is the Sri Lanka rupee or LKR. It’s a closed currency, which means you can only get it in the country in which it is used. So, while we’d usually advise exchanging your money before you fly, in this case you should pick up your spending money when you arrive.
As a rough guide, one rupee is worth less than half a penny. So, if you bring £200, you will get about Rs44,000 in return. Notes are used most often, ranging from Rs10 (less than a 5p) to Rs5,000, just over £20. Coins are rarely used as they are of such low value. A 10-cent coin is worth less than a tenth of a halfpenny. They are fiddly and many traders hope you’ll tell them to keep the change rather than hand over coins.
The best way of getting your Sri Lankan spending money is to bring sterling notes and swap them for rupees at the airport, where the banks and money exchanges, including Thomas Cook, are open 24 hours a day. They offer the same rate as the plentiful banks and exchanges all over the island. Don’t do any deals with unlicensed money changers on the street. They may appear to offer a great rate, but you could well end up out of pocket.
Withdrawing Sri Lankan rupees from a local cash machine is also an option, as there are plenty of ATMs around the island. But make sure you’re aware of any charges and limits your bank may have. Some may charge you to withdraw in a foreign country, or in a different currency, so make sure you check before you head out on holiday.
A safe alternative is to take a Cash Passport. This prepaid travel card means you’re protected if things get lost or stolen. It can be used at cash machines, and with chip and pin and credit card readers worldwide, it’s very convenient. Of course, there are always travellers’ cheques. Few businesses accept them as direct payment today, but they’re still a great way to pick up a bargain exchange rate, and then change back to cash when you need it.
Credit cards are widely accepted in most places, but you’ll still want some cash for markets and tipping.
It’s illegal to take home closed currencies, which are useless outside the country anyway, so make sure you exchange your rupees back into pounds at the airport before you leave. It’s a good idea to keep your currency exchange receipts to show you have used official channels to get your closed currency.