Sri Lanka is an island where summer lasts all year. This country, formerly known as Ceylon, is famous for its temperate climate, azure ocean, unique nature, an abundance of natural and architectural sites and authentic culture. Sri Lanka is a land of tea, spices, rubber and gemstones. You can spend a holiday here even on a shoestring budget. Furthermore, real estate is affordable in this South Asian country. All these factors attract expats to Sri Lanka, looking for a calm and slow-paced life on the coast. However, it is not that easy to become a citizen of Sri Lanka. Read on to learn how to get dual citizenship in Sri Lanka and other ways to stay in the country legally.
Who Is Eligible for Sri Lankan Citizenship
Sri Lanka sets very stringent criteria for granting citizenship. For example, children born in Sri Lanka to foreign parents are not eligible for Sri Lankan citizenship. The jus soli rule only applies to children born to unknown parents. On the other hand, you can get Sri Lankan citizenship by descent if
- you were born before 22 May, 1972 (the day when the new Constitution was adopted and Ceylon was renamed to Sri Lanka), or
- your parents were born in Ceylon.
Children aged two and above and people born to at least one Sri Lankan parent are eligible for citizenship if they plan to settle in the country. Otherwise, you can stay legally in Sri Lanka on a residence visa (a type of residence permit). This type of visa grants a path to naturalisation in Sri Lanka: you need to live here for at least five years and prove to the government that you can contribute to the local economy.
Naturalisation in Sri Lanka
There is no difference in civil rights between naturalised Sri Lankan citizens and Sri Lankans granted citizenship by birth. This means that you can study, work, buy real estate, receive medical care, vote and run for public office just like any other Sri Lankan citizen.
Foreigners with residence visas are eligible for naturalisation in Sri Lanka after living in the country for five or more years. You must confirm your knowledge of the Sinhala or Tamil languages, prove that you are reputable, and persuade the authorities that you can contribute to the country.
The minimum required residence period is shorter for the spouses of Sri Lankan citizens. They can apply for naturalisation three years after their marriage. This procedure is called Sri Lankan citizenship by registration.
Thulusdhoo, North Central Province. Photo: Aviv Ben Or (Unsplash)
Required Documents for Naturalisation
To get Sri Lankan citizenship through naturalisation, you must submit a number of documents to the Department of Immigration and Emigration. All the documents must be notarised and translated into English, Tamil, or Sinhala. You must pay the fees and submit a receipt confirming payment. The fees are as follows: USD 2,000 for the main applicant, USD 500 for the spouse and USD 500 for all unmarried children under the age of 22.
The standard list includes:
- a completed application form with three colour photos per each family member
- birth and marriage certificates
- a travel passport
- a certificate of no criminal record issued no more than three months ago
- a copy of the residence visa
- a proof of income
- a receipt confirming payment of the fee
Depending on the type of visa, you may have to submit other documents. This might be a university degree, a title deed, a confirmation letter from the bank if you are an investor who has made a deposit, and so on.
Who Can Get Dual Citizenship
Sri Lanka only recognises dual citizenship in rare cases. Only people married to Sri Lankan citizens can keep their original citizenship. The government can also make an exception for some foreigners under a special decree. However, this hardly ever happens.
Who Can Get a Residence Visa
There is no such thing as a permanent residence permit in Sri Lanka. Foreign nationals can only get a residence visa. You can get it at the Department of Immigration and Emigration by applying for this visa in advance through a Sri Lankan Embassy or Consulate in the country of your permanent residence. The residence visa is valid from one to five years and can be extended.
Sri Lanka offers the following types of residence visas:
- Work Visa. If you are a highly-skilled specialist working on an investment project, a bank employee, an employee of a non-governmental organisation, a volunteer, or an employee of a private company, you can get a work visa for one year. If you are a member of a foreign diplomatic mission, your work visa is valid for two years.
- Investor or Skilled Worker Visa. You can get an investor visa for making a deposit of at least USD 250,000. It is valid for five or 10 years. A visa for skilled workers is valid for five years provided that the applicant earns at least USD 2,000 a month for themselves and an extra USD 1,000 for each of their dependents.
- Student Visa. Valid for one year, the visa is issued to students at local university, an educational institution approved by the government, or at a religious facility. You should make a deposit of USD 1,500 to get a student visa.
- Visa for Religious Workers. Valid for one year, the visa issued to members of the clergy, religious institutions and their workers.
- Retirement Visa. Valid for two years, it is issued to people over the age of 55 with a monthly income of USD 1,500 for the main applicant and USD 750 for anyone else included in the application. Applicants must have a deposit of USD 15,000 at one of the local banks approved by the Sri Lankan government.
Ella. Photo: Tom Nicholson (Unsplash)
You can also get a residence visa if you used to have Sri Lankan citizenship, but lost it for some reason.
We recommend that you check in advance the rules for staying in the country on your type of visa. In some instances, resident visa holders have to meet certain conditions. For example, the authorities check whether the financial solvency of the resident visa holder meets the standards required for an investor or a retirement visa. They can check your bank accounts. In other words, an expat must regularly deposit money on the account in the amount of the minimum monthly income (as a rule, USD 1,500).
Documents Required for a Residence Visa
You must submit the following documents to the Department of Immigration and Emigration to get a residence visa:
- an application;
- a travel passport and its copy;
- a copy of your marriage certificate if your spouse is a foreigner;
- a copy of the birth certificate in the case of an applicant who is a minor;
- a bank statement. You must have USD 1,500 on your account unless you are an investor. In the latter case, instead of a bank statement, you can attach a letter from your sponsor in Sri Lanka;
- a certificate of no criminal record;
- a document confirming the reason for the issue of the visa: an employment contract, a marriage certificate in the case of marriage to a Sri Lankan, and so on.
Foreign citizens entering Sri Lanka must have medical insurance. Please bear in mind that you cannot change your tourist visa to a residence visa. However, you can extend your Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), initially for two months, and subsequently based on the grounds for staying in the country. The ETA does not allow you to stay in the country on the same basis as a residence visa.
Moreover, you will not get a residence visa if you violated the visa rules which led to your deportation or you stayed in the country for longer than your visa and have to pay the fine. Your visa application may also be declined if you fail to submit all the necessary documents.
How Investors can Get a Residence Visa
Sri Lanka has a special investment programme called the Resident Guest Scheme. Under this programme, investors can get residence visas if they start a business in any sector of the Sri Lankan economy. In this case, the application should include letters of recommendation from the Sri Lankan authorities or an important member of the Sri Lankan business community.
Investors can bring their families to Sri Lanka, including children, spouses, and parents. As a rule, the investor visa is valid for five years and can be extended.
If you do not want to register a company in Sri Lanka, you can open a deposit account of USD 250,000 at one of Sri Lanka’s banks. Do not forget to add an extra USD 35,000 per family member that you are bringing with you to Sri Lanka. In addition, an investor applying for a residence visa must have a monthly income of at least USD 2,000, plus USD 1,000 per dependent family member.
Since 2022 investors can get a residence visa for investments in condominiums - real estate owned by a company, individuals or the state. The validity of a visa depends on the amount of the investment. For example, if you invest USD 200,000 in an urban condominium, you can get a visa for 10 years.
In a Nutshell
It is difficult to obtain Sri Lankan citizenship and even harder to become a dual citizen here. Anyone married to a Sri Lankan citizen is eligible for a Sri Lankan passport. Otherwise, you can choose the naturalisation route after living in the country for at least five years. However, only the first group can keep their original citizenship. At the same time, you can live long-term in Sri Lanka on a residence visa which is valid for a minimum of 12 months and can be extended if you have good grounds for staying, from studying at a university, working at a local company or making investments, and many more.
Cover photo: Ella, Sri Lanka. Adam Vandermeer (Unsplash)