What it's like to live as a digital nomad in Sri Lanka
Early 2020, right before Covid-19 swept across the world, we were living and working as digital nomads in Sri Lanka. While we’ve worked remotely in a lot of countries, we knew Sri Lanka would pose a new challenge.
Our biggest concern before leaving was the strength of wifi available. After all, Sri Lanka is reasonably undeveloped and doesn't have the remote working draw-card of places like Chiang Mai or Canggu. Ashley's job at the time required her to be on video calls throughout the day, so it was safe to say wifi was extremely important to us. (We since learned of remote hotspots like Skyroam, which would be a lifesaver in Sri Lanka.)
We'd heard a few coworking spaces were available in Sri Lanka. A couple in Colombo, and one called Verse Collective in a small beach town in the south called Dickwella, between Mirissa and Tangalle.
Despite ominous reports from other travel blogs about remote working in Sri Lanka, we decided to give it a go ourselves.
...and it was one hell of a ride!
As Australian and US citizens we were both granted one month tourist visas. We applied online through Sri Lanka's immigration website, which you can find here. However, our plan was to stay beyond a month, so we had to visit the immigration office and extend.
*Note: You can extend your visa right away in Sri Lanka., you don't need to wait until it's close to expiring like some other countries.
The extension process was confusing and long. The immigration office isn't open on weekends either, so if you work weekdays, expect to spend almost all day extending your visa. Pay attention to any local holidays too, which could affect opening hours - we learned this the hard way. You can check Sri Lankan public holiday dates here.
The immigration office felt like typical South Asia mayhem at times. Staff were generally pretty helpful and will point you in the right direction. Most of your time will be spent in waiting rooms, but there is a little shop in the main area to grab a coffee and a veggie roti.
The cost of extending a Sri Lankan visa depends on your passport. As an Australian, I paid $30, however, as an American, Ashley had to fork out $100 for hers. See full price per country here.
In summary, extending visas in Sri Lanka can be arduous affair, but the good news is it's all handled in a single day (if you arrive early) and you'll be able to leave a little weary, but with your passport in hand.
Our Sri Lankan Home
We decided to base ourselves in Dickwella as it was a laidback beach town away from tourist hotspots like Mirrisa and Hikkaduwa. Dickwella is also home to Verse Collective, the modern coworking space we'd been hearing about, so it made sense for us.
Finding places to live in Sri Lanka is not as easy as Thailand and Bali. There are no "monthly rental" signs around and your best bet might be Airbnb for longer-term rentals. We're generally not fans of pre-booking accommodation as we like to view the home first, however, this was difficult in Dickwella. We eventually spoke to a local on the beach about our situation and he had a friend with a rental apartment, which we agreed to.
We lived in an apartment in The Mount House, which was a very basic Sri Lankan-style housing and extremely cheap. In fact, the most affordable long-term rental either of us has ever had. It was by no means fancy, but a good money-saver. It's also a perfect place for wildlife lovers, with cheeky monkeys visiting most mornings and curious peacocks passing by in the afternoons.
You can see rooms available in Dickwella here.
*Price haggling is common in Sri Lanka, so don't be afraid to negotiate on the price.
We initially rented a motorbike to get around locally, but upgraded to a tuktuk, which we used to drive around Sri Lanka on a break from work.
Motorbike rental shops don't exist in Dickwella, and all motorbikes appear to be rented through hotels and guesthouses. You'll be asked to leave your passport with staff, and prices are comparatively steep. We paid 30,000 LKR ($160 USD) per month. If renting daily, you'll be paying more than $10 a day.
To rent a tuktuk, you can go through tuktukrental.com. Use our code GOROAM for a 5% discount.
*It is illegal to ride a motorbike without a helmet in Sri Lanka and police are strict on this. Helmet theft is common in Sri Lanka (yes, it happened to us).
Remote Working in Sri Lanka & Wifi
Sri Lanka is one of the best countries in the world to travel, in my opinion. But for remote workers, it's not quite there yet.
This is mainly due to slow wifi. It was our main concern coming to Sri Lanka and even at our workspace in Verse Collective, it would sometimes struggle.
We got around this by using SIM card data, which was much more reliable than wifi. While it was relatively expensive to keep topping data for video calls, it was a small price to pay to keep our jobs.
Data strength varies considerably throughout Sri Lanka. Dialog has the best overall coverage. However, we decided to go with different providers to double our chances on the go. I signed up with Airtel, while Ash played it save with, Dialog. This turned out to be one of the smartest decisions we made, as we were constantly hot-spotting from each other's phones depending on whose data was strongest.
I would strongly recommend using a global wifi hotspot like Skyroam in Sri Lanka, especially if stable and reliable internet is required for your job. You can use the code GOROAM to get a 10% discount with Skyroam.
- Incredibly cheap cost of living
- Year-round high season
- Tight-knit co-working scene
- Delicious local food
- Endless natural attractions to explore on days off
- Slow wifi
- Lack of cafe-working scene
- Lack of western comforts
- Outside of Colombo, limited access to technical assistance
- Power outages common
Verse Collective - Coworking Space
We worked most days from Verse Collective, a hip coworking space on the doorstep to Dickwella Beach.
It has to be the coolest workspace we've worked from and what's more? It's free!
Nothing beats taking a midday swim or walk along the beach to de-stress from work.
Coffee and meals here are relatively expensive, but hey, can't complain when you're getting a free workspace.
The wifi speeds were disappointing, especially when you have 15 remote workers battling for bandwidth. Most of the time we stuck to our phone data.
The staff organize weekly events and often work with local charities like Animal SOS Sri Lanka.
Overall, we highly recommend Verse Collective as a workspace hub.
Cost of Living as a digital nomad in Sri Lanka
The cost of living in Sri Lanka is incredibly cheap. In fact, there's not many countries that can compete with how little money you need to get by here.
On average we were spending $500.00 USD each per month and this was by no means strictly budgeting.
We ate locally most meals with the occasional western-style vegan meal. See our Dickwella vegan food guide here.
We did budget on accommodation, but we had two rooms and a kitchen so we were generally happy.
Days off mostly consisted of drinks on the beach, drives to nearby towns, surfing, and we did fork out for a Safari at Udawalawe National Park.
The breakdown below shows our cost of living while based in Dickwella, Sri Lanka. It does not include visas, flights, businesses expenses or the tuktuk we used to travel the country.
Average Monthly Expense & Cost - Two Person Breakdown
Scooter & Gas: $170.00
Activities & Extras: $200.00
2 Person Total: $1000.00
Per Person: $500.00
*Prices are in USD
Sri Lanka's Digital Nomad Options
Unfortunately, not everywhere in Sri Lanka is ready for digital nomads. However, there are a few places emerging which offer the best environments for remote workers.
- Most coworking options
- Cheapest cost of living
- Perfect for city-lovers
- Extremely busy and chaotic
- Noise and environmental pollution
- Peace and quiet
- Serene beaches
- Small coworking scene
- Limited grocery shopping options
- Clean mountain air
- Old European feel
- Cooler temperature
- Cold mornings and nights
- Whale watching
- Tourist crowds
- Sri Lankan culture
- Laidback feel
- Live in a fort
- Cool architecture
- Tourist crowds
Eating in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan food doesn't get the credit it deserves internationally. Perhaps, overshadowed by neighboring Indian food, but Sri Lanka holds their own when it comes to incredible local food.
Sri Lankan food is primarily vegetarian and consists of daal and roti (similar to naan bread) and rice and curry.
Food is often served in buffet style, especially rice and curry. Despite its humble name, Sri Lankan rice and curry is anything but. You'll be served more plates than your table can fit. You'll be served a wide range of different curries commonly consisting of: jackfruit, pineapple, daal, potato and much more.
Breakfast is usually daal, coconut roti and string hoppers. It might take a little getting used to, but this style of breakfast became our absolute favorite.
Locals and attitudes towards foreigners
Sri Lankans might be the most friendly people on earth.
No matter where we were, local people were always extremely helpful and friendly. And generally, the more remote you go, the friendlier the locals.
There are instances where locals might try to take advantage of foreigners, but keep basic wits with and you won't encounter much of this.
Most Sri Lankan men are respectful towards western females and stares are usually innocent and curious.
Overall, Sri Lanka feels extremely safe and, as visitors, the locals make you feel right at home.
Check out more guides and tips on Sri Lanka: