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Packing Guidance for Sri Lanka

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Sri Lanka has a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons dependent on where you are in the country. Coastal areas of Sri Lanka are humid with daily temperatures in the 80’s, while the interior and higher elevations of the country are cooler/more temperate with average temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. Weather can be unpredictable especially if you’re traveling across the country, so it’s always best to wear cool, quick-drying fabrics in layers, carry a sweatshirt if traveling in the higher elevations, and always carry an umbrella!

Raincoats and umbrellas are available in Sri Lanka but may not be the quality you are used to. We recommend bringing a lightweight breathable rain jacket and/or umbrella.

Peace Corps Sri Lanka provides the following items:

  • Phone: You will be provided a basic smart phone with a local sim card for communication with the PC Sri Lanka Staff and Volunteers. However, if you plan to bring your own phone and would prefer to use that, you will be provided with a local sim card.
  • Mosquito net: Sri Lanka is a Dengue-fever endemic country, and it is highly recommended to sleep under a mosquito net.
  • Medical kit: Peace Corps Sri Lanka provides all Volunteers with a med kit. See the full list of items.
  • Water filter: The tap and/or well water in Sri Lanka is not safe for drinking. All Volunteers receive a high quality activated charcoal water filter for water purification at site.
  • Smoke/carbon monoxide detector: You will be taught how to use it and where to place it in your house.
  • Power bank: You will be provided with a solar-rechargeable power bank to recharge your cell phone during extended power cuts.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Additional guidance for Peace Corps/Sri Lanka

Prohibited items: The following are prohibited in Sri Lanka:

  • Smokeless tobacco products OR mixtures that contains tobacco
  • Flavored, colored, or sweetened cigarettes that contain tobacco
  • Electronic cigarettes that contain tobacco

Work supplies: Peace Corps Sri Lanka promotes the use of local resources in Volunteer and Community work. This presents a challenge as many schools have very few resources. A Volunteer priority is to work with counterparts to identify local solutions to resource constraints using available means. Because of this, we discourage Volunteers from bringing job aids from outside the country that may create conditions that are not replicable after the Volunteer’s departure.

Tattoos: Volunteers should have their tattoos covered when teaching school. Tattoos of a religious nature or portraying religious figures may be problematic in some areas.

Training clothing

Dress for pre-service training should be comfortable and professional. Loose-fitting, breathable fabrics are recommended. You will have the opportunity to have local clothing made while in PST but will want to wear/bring skirts that cover the knees when sitting or full-length pants and tops that cover the shoulders.

Work clothing

Women

When at school, women will be required to wear a culturally appropriate dress. Peace Corps Sri Lanka will provide you with one appropriate outfit during PST, and you will receive an allowance to buy additional clothing when you are at site. School dress should include dressy (not sport) sandals.

Men

Male teachers are expected to wear short or long-sleeved pressed collared shirts that completely button up the front. Shirts are tucked neatly into pressed fitted pants. Any shirt that does not button all the way up (such as a polo shirt) is not appropriate for school. Men should also wear a belt and closed-toe dress shoes with socks.

Leisure and recreational clothing

In general, when in your site, knees and shoulders should always be covered in any school, community, or religious space. T-shirts and casual pants or jeans are appropriate after school hours and on weekends.

Sri Lankan women do not generally wear shorts in public in the rural areas; the exception being long shorts for exercise with a tee shirt. Volunteers should not wear tank tops or clingy or cleavage-baring clothing, especially in rural areas.

Swimming suits of all varieties are widely available in Sri Lanka, but you may consider bringing your own, especially for use in tourist areas. In rural communities it’s good to have board shorts and rash guards/long sleeved swim shirts that provides full coverage as most Sri Lankans will swim fully clothed or wear very conservative swimwear.

Areas in and around Colombo and in the high tourist areas tend to be more relaxed about clothing, and you’ll see more people wearing shorts, short dresses, and sleeveless clothing.

Considerations

In rural areas where Volunteers are going to serve, clothing is washed by hand and dried outside or inside during rainy season. Hand washing can be very hard on clothing, and fabrics that take a long time to dry may never dry during rainy season. Keep this in mind when considering what clothing and fabrics to bring. Local tailors can make clothing for a reasonable cost that is made to withstand this type of cleaning, and we encourage all Volunteers to have clothing made locally. It’s a good idea to bring an example of the type of clothing you are looking to have made that can be copied by a tailor or seamstress.

Undergarments in Sri Lanka are available but may not be the quality you prefer. It is recommended you consider bringing at least a year’s worth of undergarments, made of breathable fabrics.

Shoes are widely available in country, but you may not be able to find your preferred styles, brands, fit, or sizes for very large or small feet. We recommend you consider bringing a sturdy pair of comfortable sporty sandals, dressy sandals, sneakers, and closed-toed dress shoes that are comfortable for walking.

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Additional guidance for Peace Corps Sri Lanka

Hair salons and maintenance: Very few barbers or salons in rural Sri Lanka have experience with textured hair, products, braids, weaves, locs, etc. and products designed for textured hair can be difficult to find. You may wish to consider bringing required products and tools for hair maintenance. Salons that do cater to this type of hair can be found in the capital city but will be expensive.

Menstrual hygiene products: Volunteers who require menstrual hygiene products will receive a specific stipend for this purpose to purchase on the local market; however, you may not find the brand or type you prefer, so you may wish to bring a supply with you. Many Volunteers find a menstrual cup or other reusable products beneficial, and they may be available on the local market, but due to fluctuating import regulations and supplies, cannot be guaranteed.

Deodorants and other personal care items: Dry stick-type deodorants are hard to find in Sri Lanka. Other personal care items such as facial wash and moisturizer, makeup, etc. are available but you may not be able to find the brand or product you want at any given time. You should consider bringing whatever personal care items you cannot live without, and feel free to ask in your pre-departure briefing about particular items’ availability in Sri Lanka.

Voltage

Sri Lanka runs on 220v. Most phone and laptop chargers are compatible with both 120v (US Standard) and 220v. Make sure in advance of bringing any electronics from the US that they are compatible with 220v, especially heat sources (hair dryers, curlers, straighteners, etc.) These are available for purchase in Sri Lanka but may be expensive. Electronics that are 120v compatible only will, at the very least, throw a breaker or fuse, and at worst, catch fire, melt, or cause significant damage. Do not bring any electronics that are only 120v compatible.

Access and reliability

Access to electricity varies greatly at Volunteer sites. Most Volunteers will have electricity at least part of the time in their homes, but power cuts and outages are common. Peace Corps will provide one solar power bank for charging a cell phone or small electronic items. Many Volunteers will find additional extra batteries or solar chargers very useful for keeping phones and small electronics charged. Because electricity is unreliable, we recommend you bring at least one rechargeable headlamp or lantern. Candles and flashlights are widely available in Sri Lanka.

Outlets

Outlets in Sri Lanka are not uniform and can vary from place to place. It’s common to find UK and multi-country outlets as well as three-round-prong outlets. We recommend Volunteers bring an international travel adaptor and purchase additional adaptors in country.

Personal devices

Peace Corps Sri Lanka does not require Volunteers to bring any type of personal device. However, most Volunteers will find a smart phone and a laptop or tablet very useful in their work, learning, and reporting. Considering the climate and areas Volunteers will be working, we recommend bringing used or inexpensive personal devices. Peace Corps will provide you with a basic phone and local sim card; if you choose to bring and use your own cell phone and intend to put a local sim in it, please be sure it’s unlocked (not tied to a specific carrier in the United States).

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description of some common activities Volunteers enjoy and what may not be available in country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

Arts and crafts

Art and craft supplies are largely unavailable or expensive in Sri Lanka but can be an excellent hobby and way to bond with community members and students. If there is an art or craft that is near and dear to you, you may want to consider bringing some supplies.

Books

The Peace Corps Volunteer Lounge has a lending library of novels and educational textbooks that are available to Volunteers. Some Volunteers prefer e-readers to paper books due to the weight of transport, but it in some sites it can be difficult to charge e-readers, and the humid climate can be hard on electronics in general.

Camping

There are camping opportunities available in Sri Lanka although they are not as developed as traditional campgrounds would be in the US. For those who enjoy camping, you may want to consider bringing lightweight camping equipment. Keep in mind that you are prohibited from bringing fuels or other flammable materials.

Cooking/food

Many Volunteers find comfort and connection in cooking for themselves and others. Traditional Sri Lankan kitchens in rural areas are very different from kitchens in the United States. In rural areas cooking is typically done in clay rather than pans, food is sometimes cut while being held in the hand rather than on cutting boards, and meals are heated over charcoal, wood fires, or gas burners, in addition to stove tops. Volunteers who love to cook may consider bringing some of their preferred cooking tools; staff can advise in pre-departure about specific items availability and cost in Sri Lanka, to help potential Volunteers decide what they should bring if they are able to do so. Sri Lankan cuisine consists primarily of rice with one or two curried vegetables and fish/meat/eggs/dried fish.

Seasoning: Sri Lanka is home to multitudes of local spices, especially warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and many types of curry and chili. Herbs and spices, such as dill and thyme, chipotle and Mexican spices, etc. from other parts of the world can be expensive and/or difficult to find. Some Volunteers choose to bring an assortment of their favorite dried spices for a taste of home. Sri Lankans love spicy food.

Coffee: Instant coffee is widely available and popular in Sri Lanka. Locally produced ground coffee/beans are available in the market, but the quality and taste can be different than what you may be used to. Imported ground or whole bean coffee can be found in Colombo. Tea is the most popular beverage which is grown in Sri Lanka, and good quality tea can be found everywhere in the country.

Gardening

Many Volunteers take up gardening as a physical outlet and to produce herbs and vegetables that are harder to come by in rural and regional settings. Gardening tools are widely available, but you may want to consider bringing good-fitting gloves.

Games

Small board and card games can be a great way to get to know community members and pass time with friends.

Gifts

While by no means required, a small gift can be a nice way to make early connections with host families and community members. Calendars of American Scenes, coffee table books, pictures of yourself in the US, and small knickknacks are very much appreciated.

Household goods

Pillows, bedsheets, towels, and other household goods are available in Sri Lanka, but the comfort and quality may be below what is available in the United States. Consider packing any “can’t do without” household items.

Music

Many Volunteers who play a musical instrument find comfort and connection by bringing an instrument with them to Sri Lanka. Please be aware that the climate can be very hard on musical instruments. If you consider bringing a musical instrument, please do not bring something of high monetary or sentimental value. Many Volunteers enjoy having a small, portable Bluetooth speaker to play music in their home and with their host family or community members. Please see the section on electricity before selecting a rechargeable speaker.

Personal items

Showing photos of your home and family can be an excellent way to connect with your host family, new community, and work partners. Consider bringing a small photo album with prints as internet connectivity is not always reliable. Consider bringing other sentimental or personal items that help keep you grounded and connected to your sense of home and self, but please do not bring anything that you could not live without in case of loss or damage.

Photography

Many Volunteers take excellent photos on their smart phones. For more avid photographers, consider bringing your camera equipment, but understand that it may present a temptation to theft. Appropriate use of photos in social media and blogs will be covered during PST.

Sports

Sports can be a great way to connect with your community and students, especially Cricket! Soccer balls and basketballs are also available locally, but other types of sports equipment can be harder to find, such as Frisbees, baseballs/gloves, badminton, etc.

Travel

Volunteers may have the opportunity to travel within Sri Lanka and internationally over the course of their service. Peace Corps Sri Lanka recommends that you secure checked baggage during international flights with TSA-approved locks. You may also consider bringing lockable cables for securing bags to the top of vehicles while using local transportation. Other items you may consider are a backpacking backpack, small-mouthed water bottle (easier to drink from on bumpy roads), and a debit or credit card if you intend to travel outside of Sri Lanka.