Moving to Colombo
What Colombo lacks in size it more than makes up for in bustle. With more than 5 million inhabitants crammed into its metro area, whatever it is you’re looking for - ornate colonial architecture, towering modern skyscrapers, Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic temples, open air markets or major sporting events - you’ll find them in Sri Lanka’s capital.
Except that Colombo isn’t Sri Lanka’s capital - not exactly. That status goes to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte where the parliament was moved in the 1980s but, since Colombo sprawls into that satellite city (as it does with many others) with no hint of boundary or separation between them, the two are often conflated.
Colombo escaped relatively unscathed from Sri Lanka’s long civil war - only a few buildings suffered bomb damage - and today its intensely urban atmosphere stands in marked contrast to the rest of Sri Lanka which is overwhelmingly rural. Settling in the city sees you take your place among an ethnically diverse population made up chiefly of Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Moors and Tamil. This is a population which has built a modern industrial and commercial hub from the remnants of Portuguese, Dutch and British occupation and whose various influences have shaped the vibrant local culture and cuisine.
Moving to Colombo from the UK
Significant cultural differences between Sri Lanka and the UK can lead to a difficult transition for Brits moving to Colombo. An open mind, versatile approach, the willingness to read as much as you can before arriving and an understanding that it might not be all smooth sailing will certainly help.
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On the positive side, English is widely spoken in Colombo so learning a whole new language might not be necessary - especially if you’re moving via employment with a large multi-national. On the other hand, learning a words and phrases in the local languages of Sinhala and Tamil will help immensely with integration.
Roads in Colombo are congested and many vehicles are old and heavily polluting. Taxis take the form of more expensive mini-cabs, mini-vans (which you share with others) and the less safe tuk-tuks.
The overall level of education in Colombo is excellent for South Asia and there are many good quality international schools in the city.
House prices in Sri Lanka have been climbing steadily in recent years despite the global downturn and a 100% property tax on foreign buyers (which is expected to be lowered very soon) . The average sales price in 2012 was LKR 17.63 million (£83K).
Comparing Colombo vs London
Colombo’s tropical monsoon climate has two distinct rainy seasons which occur in the periods from March to June and September to December. This leads to an average annual rainfall which is more than four times greater than that of London. By way of compensation, Colombo experiences no winter - daily average temperatures fluctuate in a narrow band from 26 to 28 °C - and gets more that 75% more annual sunshine hours than the UK capital.
Property prices and rents are dramatically lower in Colombo than in London, contributing to a lower cost of living overall. Transport, utilities, entertainment, restaurants, consumer goods and groceries all cost less. Much lower average salaries lead to lower local purchasing power though.
On average inhabitants of Colombo report themselves as feeling slightly less safe than Londoners, as receiving poorer healthcare and putting up with more pollution. They spend marginally less time commuting, on average, however.
Colombo has a distinctly aquatic feel in some parts. A large number of canals, a huge body of water (Beira Lake) in the centre, the Kelani River to the north and of course the Laccadive Sea to the west, help to cool the city in summer and play host to many cultural, religious and festive activities.