Hello and welcome to another edition of Travelstart’s FAQ Friday with me, Nick Paul. This week we are attempting to answer the question: Can I leave the airport while in transit?
Background on this topic
Well that depends on where you are travelling by and what passport you are travelling on. Many countries that usually require South Africans to have a visa for entry don’t require us to have a visa for transit. But to be clear here – just because you are allowed to transit visa free doesn’t mean that you are allowed to enter the country without a visa while in transit. Most countries will require you to stay within the transit area while in transit. Let’s have a look at some of the popular routes.
Via Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi
These are very popular routes for South Africans to travel and while you don’t need a transit visa to go via these airports for less than 24 hours, you won’t be allowed to leave the airport without a valid entry visa.
Via Continental Europe
The continental portion of the EU, that’s the part excluding the British Isles, usually let’s passengers transit via a single airport provided they are continuing on to their destination within the next 24 hours and provided that the airport doesn’t close overnight if they are in overnight transit – most of the major airports don’t close overnight. If you hold a valid multiple-entry Schengen visa, you will be allowed to leave the airport provided that you have enough time and if you don’t, you cannot leave the transit area.
Via Singapore and Hong Kong
Here, you don’t need a visa to enter the country. So as long as you have enough time to get out and make it back in time for your flight, you’ll be okay to leave the airport. This is typical for any country where you don’t need a visa for entry.
Via the UK
Here you are technically not allowed to even transit the country without a valid transit visa – with some exceptions which we have covered in previous videos. If you have been allowed into the airport for the purpose of transit, you have to stay within the transit area except if you need to change airports en route to the USA or Canada and hold valid visas for those destinations. That being said, I have heard of a few instances where passengers in transit have been granted permission by the immigration officials to leave the airport for a few hours. As far as I am aware though, this is at the discretion of the individual official concerned.
So, in summary, if you need a visa to enter the country you are transiting, even if you are only there to transit and not stay overnight, you will need a visa to leave the airport. If you don’t require a visa to enter the country you are transiting, you will be allowed to leave the airport visa free provided you have enough time.
That’s it from me for this week on FAQ Friday. If you’ve got any travel-related questions, please ask them in the “comments” below and please remember to subscribe to our channel. Thanks!