colombo airport sri lanka

Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka
Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka

All flights to Sri Lanka will arrive at Colombo Airport, or as it’s official name Bandaranaike International Airport. The airport is very small, with just the one terminal servicing arrivals, departures, and transit passengers. The size of Colombo Airport in Sri Lanka makes it swift and easy to navigate.  

Facts 

Although Colombo Airport’s official title is Bandaranaike International airport, it can often get referred to as Katunayake Airport or Colombo International Airport. The airport was named after a former Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, and is located in Negombo, which is about 20 miles from the capital of Colombo. The main airline to Sri Lanka is SriLankan airlines, but other such airlines as Emirates, Qatar and many more arrive and depart on a daily basis.

Sri Lankan Airlines at its base in Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Airlines to Colombo Sri Lanka

Tips on navigating Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka

Duty free was a surprise, on my first visit, I have never seen anything like it. I will explain in more detail later. 

Arriving

Any traveler will first arrive at Colombo Airport, as you exit the plane, follow the signs to arrivals and transit. The signs in the airport will be in Sinhala, and then English. The walk from the gate to immigration, is a short distance.

The easiest way, is to just follow this walkway right to the end, before turning left into immigration. On the plane you would have been provided with a landing card, which you must complete before proceeding through immigration.  

A local sim card can be purchased from the Dialog booth located just prior to immigration. If can’t find the booth, proceed to the arrivals hall, and locate the Dialog Booth there. Please note your phone must be unlocked to use the sim. This is a foreigner’s sim, which is ideal to keep in touch with friends and family as you travel.  

If you haven’t already obtained a visa, then you can obtain a visa on arrival. Just visit the visa on arrival office just off from the immigration officers. 

Depending on the time of arrival, immigration can get busy, with queues building. Unfortunately, Sri Lankans are very impatient, and will try and jump the queue. You will need to get use to this, as it happens all the time in Sri Lanka.

The immigration officer will only require your passport and landing card.  

Duty Free at Colombo Airport Sri Lanka
Alcohol in duty free at the airport.

After immigration, this is the interesting section, duty free!

As you walk in, we are sure you will notice the usual things, such as alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate, and perfume. But I certainly wasn’t prepared to see washing machines, cookers, fridge freezers, and other electrical items being sold in Duty Free. We even saw a local taking their recently purchased fridge freezer home with them.

I just couldn’t understand why people were purchasing such items, but it is quite clear. The cost of these appliances, are far cheaper in duty free than in the local shop, so locals on their return trips, will purchase these items for that reason. For us travelers witnessing this, it can be a surprise to start with.  

This is now your time to have a look and see if you would like to purchase anything from duty free. Once you have done your shopping head towards the baggage carousel, to claim your baggage.

There are plenty of signs confirming which baggage carousel to claim your baggage. Once you have claimed your baggage, proceed to declare/nothing to declare channels. As you exit the relevant channels, you will enter the large arrivals hall.

This is where you can change your currency, meet someone if they are greeting you at the airport, purchase a new sim card, or order a taxi. If you need a taxi, check with the taxi firms for a fair price. Many will try and increase the fare because you are a foreigner, so try to bargain with them. Public transport can be found just outside the parameters of the airport.

electrical items in duty free in Colombo Airport Sri Lanka
Electrical items in duty free at the airport

Transiting 

If you are only transiting through Colombo Airport, before heading to your next destination, just follow the arrival passengers along the arrivals and departure area, but at the end of the long walkway, turn right, and you will enter the departure lounge.  

Check out the boards for the relevant departure gate as you would normally in any airport. Once you have found your gate, head back the way you came, walk along the arrivals and departures walkway to your gate. In the departure lounge, there are a few places for food and drink, or to pick up on any duty free. 

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Departure

To depart Sri Lanka, you will be dropped off at the departure doors. Walk through the doors, in to the departure hall, and find the relevant drop of point for your check in bags. Once you have checked in your bags, locate security (there is likely to be a large queue).

The same rules apply at security as it does at any airport, such as liquids cannot be more than 100ml, which must be in a small see-through bag, take out any electrical items such as laptops, iPad etc.  

Once you have proceeded through security, you will enter the departure lounge. There are a few shops, duty free, somewhere to eat and drink etc. Just follow the same process as you would in any airport, find out what your gate number is, before heading to the gate.

There are plenty of signs to the gate, but the first thing you will see, when you proceed to your gate, is that it is the same way you came when you arrived at the airport. Follow the walkway down to your gate, and sadly this is where you wait for boarding of your plane, and your trip ends in Sri Lanka. 

Do you want an experience of a lifetime? Have you ever thought about volunteering in Sri Lanka? Travel Ceylon Together offer 1,2 and 3 week programs working with elephants, orphaned children, and turtles. You can find out more by contacting us.

Electrical items on sale in duty free at the airport.

Your say

Have you visited Sri Lanka? How did you find navigating the airport? Did you find anything different that you wouldn’t get back in your home country? We would love to hear from you, just leave a comment below.

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14 thoughts on “colombo airport sri lanka

  1. Ok, that’s too funny! I have never heard of being able to buy a washing machine at duty free! How on earth would you even carry it out of there. I guess being a small airport that would make it easier.

    1. We know, we were surprised on our first visit too. We have heard that the electrical items are only for local passport holders, could you imagine a tourist buying one of these

  2. Very detailed report on Colombo Airport. I have wanted to visit Sri Lanka for years but something always comes along and prevents me. One day or maybe Im just not detined to get there 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve actually never seen a post dedicated to sharing about an airport, but it’s so useful! Especially when in a foreign country, the airport can be a scary place. And appliances at a duty-free shop!! That must have been quite the sight to see!

    1. Thank you, and glad you liked reading the post. Yes, our intention is to make travel less stressful, scary, and to be prepared for the next travel adventure. It was quite funny watching someone take their fridge freezer home with them

  4. I’m always looking for detailed posts such as this when I’m arriving at an overseas destination, so helpful! It must be quite strange to see people shopping for large household appliances like washing machines and such at an airport. I’ll definitely come back to this post when I eventually make the trip to Sri Lanka.

  5. Its funny to know that people can actually buy washing machines and gadgets like that while in the airport. But yes, the locals prefer this as it saves money. I havent yet visited Sri Lanka, though I am living in the neighbouring country. This guide on the airport is quite handy and useful and I will definitely refer to it when I plan to visit Sri Lanka.

    1. Yes it does make sense when explained to you, but when you see it for the first time very unusual. Since it is such a short distance from you, you should make the short trip its a lovely country to visit.

  6. After reading your post, I revived my short layover at Colombo International Airport which is officially called as Bandarnaike Airport. I found the duty free shopping very reasonable here. First time, I am seeing cooking range and washing machines are selling at airport.

    1. I hope that your layover was smooth at Bandaranaike airport, yes haha it is interesting in duty free and definitely not something we have seen before

  7. I think this post will be pretty helpful to first timers. I remember that this airport can be pretty overwhelming. I was amazed that you have to walk through all these shops on arrival – I’m used to shopping on departure 😉

    1. Thank you, it can be pretty overwhelming especially for first time traveller to Sri Lanka. Yes Duty Free in departures have a larger range of shops we think compared to arrivals

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