It is not recommendable to drive a car by yourself if you are not acquainted with the traffic in Sri Lanka. The traffic in Sri Lanka is very different from Western countries and dangerous for foreigners, however, if you cause an accident, the consequences cannot be overseen. Anyway, if you plan to drive yourself, keep in mind that the maximum speed in towns is 56 km per hour, in rural areas 72 km per hour and on the highway 100 km per hour. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road. Therefore it is better to rely upon local drivers and hire a chauffeur driven van or car for your tour, transfers and excursions. Moreover the rates for chauffeur driven cars and vans are quite reasonable in Sri Lanka.
If you want to drive a car in Sri Lanka yourself you need a valid driving license. However, it is better to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) with your national automobile club in your country. They can issue a carnet, which is valid for a limited period, mostly a year. The practical experience is that foreign drivers have had little problems so far, but when you have an accident it would be better to be in possession of an IDP.
Tips for renting a car
You can rent a car in many places. Sometimes people approach you (especially in tourist areas) and offer you a tour, but if you don’t know the person you will take a risk. You can be cheated, the driver might not have a driving license, you don’t know about his driving style, whether he has a properly, well maintained vehicle, etc. It is advisable to rent a vehicle either from a recognized tour company, upon recommendation of people you can trust or from an international car rental company. Make sure that you are clear about the conditions, such as what is included and what not. A signed agreement on paper can avoid uncomfortable situations. Don’t expect drivers to be a guide too, unless he has been certified as an official driver/guide by the government.