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Transit Visas & Layovers: International Flights

Making the long trip to visit another country can be tedious and often involves stopping over in another country to change planes. Many international trips are so long that it’s difficult for planes to carry enough fuel to fly the required distance. In cases like this, you may find yourself spending a few hours in an airport of a different country before boarding a flight for the next leg of your trip.

Layovers themselves are usually fairly simple; sitting in an airport lounge or restaurant and kicking back while you wait doesn’t take practice. However, some countries require visitors to have special visas that permit traveling through the country, even if those visitors never plan on leaving the airport. 

Before your trip, it’s important to do proper research about all the countries you’re traveling to, even if you’ll just be there for a matter of hours. Depending on your country of origin and the countries you’ll set foot in during your travels, you may need to get visas approved ahead of time.

We’ll dive into everything you need to know to avoid international travel issues – nothing ruins an exciting adventure like issues in the airport.

What is a Layover?

Traveling from point A to point B may require a stop in the middle on some flight routes, this is called a layover. Layovers can happen for a multitude of reasons such as refueling the plane, allowing the crew to change, or simply providing the pilot with a break. The reason for a layover varies, but they are very common on long, international flights.

However, layovers can happen even when traveling within one country. For some layovers in international airports, meaning airports in countries you’re not a resident of, specific procedures will need to be followed.

Be sure to research your final destination AND any countries you have layovers in to prepare for the requirements of that country.

What is a Transit Visa?

At its core, a transit visa is a travel authorization that allows travelers to go through one country to get to another. Usually used for air travel, transit visas can also be required for some sea travel, too.

Usually lasting for 12 hours or less, these visas are only meant for temporary layovers in one country, and they usually do not permit travelers from leaving the airport.

Who Needs a Transit Visa/Permit?

This topic can get complicated because there is no standard; some countries require transit visas for citizens of certain countries, while another country might require transit visas for citizens of an entirely different list of countries. For instance, if you have a layover in Turkey, you are not required to possess a transit visa, so long as you don’t plan to leave the airport.

For travelers passing through New Zealand, you must apply for a transit visa unless you are traveling to Australia or are from a country that has a visa waiver with New Zealand. Be sure to research the country you plan to travel through to find out if you’ll need a transit visa.

What Happens if You Do Not Have a Transit Visa?

Like most travel policies, this is entirely depending on the country you are traveling through. If a transit visa is required and you failed to obtain one prior to traveling, you may face fines, delays, or even be forced to adjust your trip.

Some countries are lenient and will be helpful in finding a solution, others will not accommodate a lack of planning.

Can You Leave the Airport on a Layover? 

Generally, travelers are permitted to leave the airport during a layover, but rules will vary by country. If a country requires travelers to have a transit visa during their international layover, it is likely they will not allow those travelers to exit the international holding area of the airport.

Additionally, leaving the airport can further complicate your travel experience; you may have to go through customs, and getting back for your flight will require another trip through security. Unless you have ample time, this is not recommended.

Are Layovers Typically Planned? 

For international flights, planned layovers are incredibly common due to the extensive distance of the trip. However, sometimes flight delays, cancellations, or mechanical issues can cause unplanned layovers.

If a layover is planned, you will know ahead of time and be able to plan for any requirements, such as a travel visa, if required. If the layover is unplanned, airlines can usually help get you routed through a destination that will accommodate you. 

How Long are Layovers? 

Depending on your flight route and the airport’s specific regulations, layovers can range from less than an hour to 12 or more hours. Most airports have a general idea of what it takes to make it from one gate to another and factor that into the layover time. 

What Can Travelers Do During a Layover? 

If leaving the airport is an option and you have ample time, you can explore the city you’re passing through! If you’d rather stay in the airport, check out the lounge options, bring a great book, or download your favorite movies to pass the time.

Many international airports provide free WiFi to travelers, though that is not always the case. You can also look for workout rooms, sleeping pods, or great restaurants!

Being Informed About Transit Visas is Critical

It all comes down to one thing: preparation. When you travel, especially internationally, doing sufficient research can be the difference between a smooth travel experience and a nightmare trip. Knowing the ins and outs of a country’s rules when it comes to immigration requirements, travel visas, and layover policies is the responsibility of each and every traveler.

We hope our breakdown of layovers and transit visas helped explain what both of these terms actually mean and helped you figure out where to start. With some extra Google searches, the proper preparation of documents, and the right amount of time to get everything in order, you shouldn’t have any issues!

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