I'm in Tamil Nadu, India.

Let's say I go to the area around Rameswaram, India, and that after that I want to visit the area around Mannar Island, Sri Lanka. Getting a visa for Sri Lanka is done very quickly online for my passport. (I've done it before.)

enter image description here

If I were to pay some fishermen or something to bring me over, it shouldn't take more than roughly two hours. But I have a feeling this might be illegal? I'm not too keen on being taken into custody by coast guard personnel. Now, is it in fact illegal, even if I have a visa for Sri Lanka? If it's legal, will I still have to find a way to report to both countries' authorities about my border crossing?

I will not break either country's law.

What other options do I have?

According to Skyscanner, the only possible airports are Chennai (MAA) and Colombo (CMB). Can anyone find a more convenient flight?

This means I have to travel 520 km by road to Chennai airport.

enter image description here

Going through the airports, checking in, waiting, flying, etc, should take around 4 hours at best.

Then, I've got to get from Colombo to Mannar Island, which is another 280 km.

enter image description here

I'm estimating that such a road/air journey would take at least 20 hours (more, if I stop to rest or sleep), and cost me several hundred USD, depending on choice of flight and what kind of ground transportation I use.

Now, is there any faster and/or cheaper option here? Remember that everything has to be perfectly legal to both countries.

  • 19
    +1 I think the question is find but another way to frame it would be "What are the formalities for private crafts going to Sri Lanka". There is typically a procedure for that and it's not unusual for countries to have a number of designated port of entries where ships must call when coming from abroad.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 10:29
  • 3
    Maybe this is relevant
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 10:31
  • 4
    True, maybe asking one or two separate questions, then? Or at least a title like "Crossing from India to Sri Lanka: Do I really need to make a huge detour though Chennai airport?"... Like I said, I think it's a fine question but my concern is that the headline does not really indicate what specific problem you have and could easily be overlooked by someone knowledgeable about yachting and port procedures in Sri Lanka.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 10:34
  • 1
    There is supposedly a port of entry at Talaimannar Pier, but I am having trouble locating it. It might be closed. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 4:31
  • 2
    Its kind of like getting from Panama to Colombia or colombia to panama (no roads). You would probably need to hire a private broker ahead of time to let local authorities know you are coming. Then once you arrive he or she will meet you upon arrival and have all necessary documents ready and provide you with transportation to the proper immigration authorities to get your visa completed. The broker handles everything and may be able to email you something that you could carry with you on the fishing vessel that would cover you if the coast guard intervenes. This is what I had to do when I hire
    – David W
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 11:45

6 Answers 6


There are currently no ferry services running between Sri Lanka and India. There have been various proposals (some of which even started running for a short while in 2011, 2012 and 2015) but none of them have lasted. Your best bet is probably to fly from Tiruchirappalli Airport (roughly in the middle of your first screenshot) to Colombo. Sri Lankan fly twice daily from here to Colombo, do this would cut around 4 hours off the drive on your first day but it would by no means be quick. I have no idea if a local fisherman or someone would take you across but if someone can confirm that they do then that might be the best option.

  • 7
    Good job on shortening the first drive. Regarding the fishermen, I don't have any direct experience with such a thing, but I know that in India, most such things can be had for a price, even if someone isn't in the habit of doing something. Money talks, and it should be way cheaper than a flight ticket, for example. However, we need to consider the legal isue. When you cross an international border, there is such a thing as exit stamps, entry stamps, immigration laws, etc.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 15:19
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    Legal issues and arrests are a serious reality: indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/…
    – Nav
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 16:34
  • 3
    You could further shorten the drive by taking a flight from Madurai rather than Trichy. This should save you at least an hour, maybe even 90 mins depending on traffic.
    – nikhil
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 4:42
  • 2
    @Nav: The first question being whether they actually did or didn't have the paperwork to be allowed to go to India in the first place. Commented May 15, 2016 at 7:18
  • 2
    Why not ask them immigration.gov.lk/web/…
    – Stevetech
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 11:46

Now, is it in fact illegal, even if I have a visa for Sri Lanka? If it's legal, will I still have to find a way to report to both countries' authorities about my border crossing?

If you arrive by unconventional means, you will run into the burden of proving the legitimacy of your visit. It is upto you as a traveller to prove you have the right to be in the country and that you have arrived legally and are not violating any laws (for example, by smuggling goods).

One way to do this is to enter via a know port of entry (such as the airport) where the government provides facilities to assist with your legal entry.

If you arrive by boat/fisherman - and then leave by airport, you may be questioned as to why you don't have an entry stamp (if such a thing is required) and this may lead to many further complications - ranging from a fee to detention and deportation.

Further if you are intercepted by the coast guard, you'll have to come up with more than a smile to explain what you are doing ferrying across instead of taking the normal route.

If you happen to cross into the territorial waters and are then intercepted, you are effectively an illegal immigrant. The coast guard doesn't have the authority to validate your visa; so you'll be taken into custody and then ... well, I would just rather not risk it.

Bottom line - take the plane.

  • 6
    Yeah, I pretty much agree with this answer. I just find it astounding if there's really no other legal way to cross this narrow strait. It may have something to do with the tense political climate between the state government of Tamil Nadu and the government of Sri Lanka.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 8:48
  • 7
    @Fiksdal: did you see the link in the second comment on the question, about formalities for arriving in Sri Lanka by yacht? It seems from that that there is a legal procedure for crossing by boat, it just may involve quite a bit of individual work to arrange.
    – PLL
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 14:15
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    @PLL Yeah, this is very relevant, could be answer worthy. Something similar probably should be done in relation to Indian authorities.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 14:47
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    What exactly is this answer based on? It seems like speculation to me.
    – fkraiem
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 4:14
  • Not all visas are for immigration purposes; and not all visas allow for entry by water. Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 6:58

A commercial ferry service between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka has started running in October 2023.

Passenger ferry service between India and Sri Lanka begins again after nearly 40 years

The company is scheduled to have a website with ticket booking up by january 2024. Until then, bookings can be made by phone.


Ferry services have stopped. And I do not know if you are still interested in the look out for nearby airports but there is one at Madurai which operates flights to Colombo once or twice a week.

Check out this website where you can book Indien domestic and international flights and it gives you the options.

Madurai is closer to Rameswaram than Tiruchirappalli and Chennai.

  • 1
    According to FlightConnections.com, both SpiceJet and Sri Lankan Airlines now operate daily service between Madurai and Colombo. Commented May 25, 2019 at 14:30

The Tiruchirappalli International Airport is only 3 hours and 55 minutes driving from the place you are stating, so that might be a small improvement. Still, it isn't optimal, of course.

  • 2
    True, but a small improvement is better than no improvement.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 18:50
  • 4
    I don't see what this answer adds to the earlier one by @skifans (besides a link to the wiki page).
    – mts
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 12:50

As a passenger, entering Sri Lanka by sea is no more difficult than entering by air. You land at an Official Port of Entry, and follow instructions from your Captain, Agent, and Port Authorities.

The problem is that it's much more difficult for your ships Master (Captain). The crew is covered by simple transit regulations, there are exemptions for emergencies including bad weather, and there may be exemptions for traditional/customary usage (fishing etc), but landing passengers is not something that is covered by any kind of exemption: the Master and the vessel both need to be certified, scheduled, and booked into the Port. For which you need a port Agent.

That's not something that random fishing boats are going to be set up for.

But that doesn't mean it's impossible: Rameswaram is a natural spot for Ocean Yachting, Ocean Yachts frequently land on Sri Lanka, and Rameswaram has an active boating and yachting tourist business. All you need to do is find someone who is already certified for both India and Sri Lanka: either a commercial tourist business or a visiting yacht.

I'm not on the spot, so I can't help you further than that: I suggest getting in touch with [email protected] and asking about the harbour and if there is a yachting club or yacht transport service.

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