Moving to Sri Lanka: from the perspective of a returnee.
Posted on May 10, 2016 at 4:09 am
By Dinushi Bopearachchi
Moving to Sri Lanka is a big step, whether it’s for a few months or several years, as any diaspora will quickly learn holidaying in Sri Lanka is very different from living there.
However, if you have time between jobs or studying or are even thinking of doing those abroad, Sri Lanka could be a great place to go. As a 20-something, born and raised in England but with parents from Sri Lanka, I thought living in Sri Lanka for four months would let me reconnect with my roots and family and also be the perfect opportunity to finally learn the language my parents speak. The prospect of constant sunshine, beaches and low living costs also appealed to me, however there are a few practical things you should consider before making this move…
My first piece of advice is to apply for dual-citizenship if you don’t already have it. You’d need to apply at least 6 months before you come, just to make sure you have it before you arrive. This way you’ll have minimal contact with Sri Lanka’s dreaded Department of Immigration and Emigration. Here you’ll encounter Sri Lankan bureaucracy as it’s finest (worst) along with it’s odd mixture of tedium and chaos. Before you get there, go online so you can print off all the correct forms and fill them in, and there you make sure you bring all the correct documents along with plenty of copies. Go early, and be prepared to spend several hours navigating around Sri Lanka’s questionable visa system and queueing etiquette.
Where you live is something that will heavily impact your lifestyle,so carefully consider not only location but also who you live with. If you already have family in Sri Lanka, you have two obvious choices; move in with relatives or find your own place. The perks of living with families include free rent and utilities (or at least heavily subsidized…), access to their cooks/cleaners/drivers (if they have any) and of course having their invaluable local knowledge on hand. However, there are also many not-so-perky points to consider such as culture-clashes with your relatives and dealing with their protective nature. For instance, my aunt doesn’t let me take three wheelers, fearing my English naivety will get me kidnapped, also expect looks of horror if you try to leave the house in shorts (if you’re a girl at least).
This all makes living alone or with housemate a much more preferable way of maintaining your independence and a social life. However, this at first can seem a bit elusive, as many young Sri Lankans live with their parents until married, there aren’t as many readily available places for young, single professionals as you’d find back home. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t find any. In Colombo there are many apartments that seem to cater to expats as they offer AC, wifi, and even access to pools and gyms. However, these come with a substantial price tag, starting at at least £600 per month- so find housemates to cut down on rent.
Work, study or volunteer to fill your time in Sri Lanka- this sounds quite obvious but it’s better to plan this out before you arrive to save yourself twiddling your thumbs for your first few weeks in Sri Lanka. I booked my flights with the vague idea to teach English or volunteer during my stay, and it took almost a month to get things sorted (though that’s still ongoing). Sri Lankan pace is much slower than I’m used, emails take weeks to get a reply and people often forget to call you back so leads are easily dropped. My advice is too keep pushing people for a response, be it yes or no, and to do research online, and ask around to see if anyone you know has connections you can use.
So that’s pretty much everything I wish I knew or thought about more before I came. Though one last thing I would like to tell my past self, is come with realistic expectations. This may sound a bit foreboding, and yes everyone’s experiences here are different, but living abroad (even if it’s a second home) often means you’re starting from scratch, and making the transition from holidaying to living here day to day is at times hard. But don’t worry, being prepared and coming with realistic expectations means you’re well on your way to building a life (be it permanent or temporary) in your motherland.