Long-haul flights with a layover can be a blessing because you can explore another city before your trip even begins.

The real question is, can you leave the airport during a layover?

What visas do you need to get and what is the application process?

In this comprehensive guide, I will walk you through everything you need to know about layovers so you can collect more stamps on your passports and photos for your trip!

Do You Need A Transit Visa During A Layover?

Depending on the country, you may need a transit visa during a layover.

Some countries do not have an international transit area, meaning you are stepping on their soil the moment you land. Therefore, you need an appropriate visa for your transfer.

Remember, a layover specifically refers to transits where you have to physically get off the flight and board another carrier to continue your journey.

Can You Leave The Airport During A Layover?

Digital nomads that fly frequently are no strangers to layovers.

However, even after so many trips, you are probably still confused about your rights as a transit visitor.

There is really no “one answer for all” here as it depends on a country’s domestic laws and visa requirements.

I’ve included the three most popular layover destinations and how layovers work generally. You will get a better understanding of what to expect in different scenarios.

United Kingdom

Leaving the UK during transit is possible as long as you hold relevant visas. EU citizens or those with an existing UK visa do not need additional permits to enter the country.

However, if you normally need a tourist visa to enter the UK and do not currently have one, you will have to apply for the Visitor in Transit visa to go through border control.

The visa allows you to remain in the UK for up to 48 hours.

To apply for this visa, you must apply through the official UK government website.

Note that your next flight has to be within 48 hours as shown on your tickets, no matter how long you actually plan to stay outside of the airport.

Sometimes, your next flight may be with a different operator and you have to collect your luggage and check in again. Then, you will have to apply for a transit visa as well because you will be going through customs and immigration, even though you don’t plan on leaving the airport.


Europe is a bit complicated as it mostly consists of Schengen countries, yet every country differs slightly in its policies. Non-Schengen countries will have their own rules so I’ll focus on transiting in the Schengen zone.

For existing visa holders in any EU country, you do not need to apply for additional visas when transiting in the Schengen zone for the duration of your visa period. You are free to leave the airport during a layover.

If you don’t have a visa, then you may need to apply for either a tourist visa or a transit visa to leave the airport. Generally speaking, there is a list of countries (such as Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan) where a transit visa is required for passport holders, whether the traveler’s final destination is in a Schengen country or not. Some EU countries may have additional restrictions for other passports.

There are some airports (5 in Germany) where you can enjoy the so-called “transit privilege”, meaning you do not need to obtain a transit visa as long as you stay in the international transit zone, which is technically not a Schengen area.

United States

The US is a special case as it does not legally have an international transit area. The moment you land at the airport, you are stepping into the US territory. Thus, it doesn’t matter if you will leave the airport, you have to obtain a valid visa to enter the US before your departure.

You can apply for an ESTA transit visa together with your flight details. You are recommended to submit the application at least 3 working days before your flight to avoid delays, though it typically takes less than a day for a decision to be made.

If you already have a tourist visa or are in the US visa waiver program, you do not need to apply for a transit visa and can stay in the US as your visa permits.

How To Know If You Can Leave The Airport During A Layover?

Rules are not always as straightforward as they seem.

Even though there are guidelines to follow, the exact situation depends on a lot of factors.

For example, if you are traveling from Israel to Nepal via Pakistan, even with a valid visa, you may be denied entry due to local restrictions.

Therefore, when in doubt, you should contact the relevant consulates, airlines, or airport authorities for clarification.

They will be able to give you the most updated regulations on whether or not you meet the respective country’s visa requirements.

Please be aware of any past travel stamps on your passport that might get you in trouble with local authorities.

Some countries, usually those in political conflicts, will ban entry if you have an entry stamp to certain places.

The only way to go around it is to get a new passport.

This won’t be a problem in most parts of the world but as a frequent flyer, you should still watch out for potential issues.

Do You Have To Go Through Customs For A Connecting Flight?

For domestic flights

No. If you are starting, stopping, and finishing a journey all within the same country, you do not have to go through customs during your connecting flight. In some rare cases, usually in disputed territories, you may still need to go through customs during transit.

In some regions, such as the Schengen Zone, you do not need to go through clearance at all during your layover and at the final destination even when it is an international flight.

For example, if you are flying from Madrid, Spain to Warsaw, Poland, via Berlin, Germany, you do not need to clear customs in both Berlin and Warsaw because they are Schengen countries.

For international flights

Depends. For example, in countries like the UK, you do not need to go through customs unless you are leaving the airport. If you transit without having to re-check-in your bags, then you only need to go through customs at your final destination.

However, in the US, you have to go through border control even when your final destination is Mexico or other locations. Countries have the right to make sure all items you are carrying meet their local laws, whether or not you exit the airport.

Visitors should note that each country may have different restrictions on items permitted. Certain medicines, food, or perishables may be banned from entering the transit location even if they are allowed in your final destination.

Do You have To Check In Your Luggage Again During A Connecting Flight?

Depends on your flight operator. If you are flying with two different airlines, you will need to collect your luggage and check in again at the airport.

Whether or not you need to check in again is fairly easy to tell. If you are given two boarding passes when you check in, your luggage is going straight to your final destination. But if you are only given one for the first half of the journey, it means you are only checked in for the first flight.

Flying with the same airline for the entire journey offers extra security. In the case of late arrival from the first flight, your next flight will sometimes wait a bit for you.

How Long Of A Layover Do I Need To Leave The Airport?

Leaving the airport can be time-consuming. Clearing customs and immigration takes 2 hours on average. Given that you have to check in again 2 hours before the next flight, it is safe to say that you should probably not leave the airport unless you have more than 5 hours in between.

What To Consider When Leaving The Airport During A Layover?

Visa requirements

First and foremost, make sure you comply with the entry rules. You may not need a transit visa for the transfer itself but you could need one to leave the airport. Getting rejected at the border control is not fun, especially when you have a whole day of activities planned.

Personal belongings

Other than your visa, your personal belongings can be a big concern, especially when you only have your carry-on bags. Let’s say you bought two bottles of whiskey at the airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on your way to Bangkok, Thailand, via Doha, Qatar. Once you leave the airport in Qatar, you won’t be able to check back in the two bottles as carry-on items because they will exceed the limit.

Also, some countries strictly ban the import of certain items. The local authorities have the right to confiscate your personal belongings. If you are carrying items that do not meet local laws, you might be best staying in the international transit area.


Unless you are in a very tiny airport with high efficiency, you need at least 5 hours to spare before you consider leaving the airport.

A layover longer than 10 hours should give you plenty of time to visit the city. Check transport links and places to visit beforehand to make sure the situation hasn’t changed.

You should only visit locations with easy access to the airport or are fairly close to it to avoid unexpected issues such as trains not working.

Airport situation

Strikes, extreme weather conditions, and other situations can cause a massive queue at the security check or check-in counters. This will significantly increase the time needed to clear immigration.

Be alert and keep updated with local news before your flight. You should reevaluate the situation when the circumstances change. It may no longer be feasible to leave the airport.

Local customs

The culture and social norms may be drastically different in your layover destination. The country may have legal dress codes or smoking in outdoor places may be prohibited. As a responsible traveler, you should make sure you don’t break the local rules as there can be legal consequences.

Backup plans

Having at least one backup plan is always smart. What if the train breaks down unexpectedly? Will you have enough money for a taxi ride?

A lot of things can happen during a trip. Whenever you travel, it’s good to have emergency money for taxi rides, hotels, or an extra plane ticket. You always wish you don’t need them but when you do, you will be grateful you have spared extra cash.


Airports will usually have a storage room for you to leave your big luggage behind. Some airports will charge a storage fee while others won’t as long as you collect the item within certain hours.

Keeping your suitcases in the airport is the most convenient and safest way to explore the city without having to worry about them being stolen or slowing you down.

What Is Skiplagging And Can You Do It?

Skiplagging, or hidden-city flying, means you leave at the layover destination and do not carry on with your onward journey. This act is tempting because it can often be much cheaper for travelers.

A direct flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong can be $800 but a flight from Melbourne to Hanoi via Hong Kong can be $700. That’s why some passengers choose to leave during transit with no intention of catching the next flight.

Airlines strictly ban skiplagging and airfares are carefully calculated so customers can’t exploit this travel “hack” anymore. Still, there are loopholes to find cheaper fares sometimes.

So, can you do this? While it’s not encouraged, you can indeed leave at your transit location.

But you should never associate the purchase with your frequent flyer account. The airline may confiscate all your points if it finds out you have not completed this trip. Second, you should not repeatedly use this strategy with the same locations and the same airline. Once an airline catches you, they might even ban you from flying with them for life.

Finally, and possibly the most important one, travel with only your backpack! Your checked-in luggage is going straight to the final destination. You can’t request to have your luggage back during a layover. Keep your belongings with you and do not travel with an excessively large bag.


Embarking on a new journey is always fascinating, more so if you can experience one more city on the way. Next time you find yourself with many hours to kill in an airport, you should consider heading to the city and having some fun before your cramp your legs on the next flight again!

About the Author


Content Manager & Editor

Maria became location independent in 2016 when she quit her job and became self-employed. She is currently traveling around Spain while working on her own projects. Email her at maria @ lifestyletraveler.co

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