According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, in 2018, over one billion people visited another country. Many of these flights included layovers in another country on their way to their final destination, with significant implications for visa requirements for visitors in airside transit. Airside transit means visitors with a connecting flight in a country that is not the final destination country, and they are waiting in the terminal for their connecting flight. Usually this means the traveler will not be required to pass through an immigration checkpoint. Below we explore the top ten busiest airports and their regulations for visitors in airside transit.
The countries with the top ten busiest airports are ranked in the following order: The United States of America (Atlanta Jackson Hartfield, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles International Airport, and Dallas Fort Worth); China (Beijing Capital Airport); United Arab Emirates (Dubai International Airport); Japan (Tokyo International Airport); United Kingdom (Heathrow International Airport); Hong Kong (Hong Kong International Airport); and France (Paris Charles de Gaulle).
United States of America. The US has four of the top ten busiest airports in the world, with 2.3 billion-person trips by Americans for business and pleasure in 2017. Atlanta Jackson Hartfield ranks 1st, Chicago O’Hare ranks 4th, Los Angeles International Airport ranks 7th, and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport ranks 10th. Regulations for airside transit applies to all international airports within the USA. Prior to 2003, the US had a Transit Without Visa program where certain travelers did not require a visa for airside transit. The program was eliminated due to intelligence that the program was exploited by terrorists. Currently, everyone will require a visa for entry who is not visa-exempt.
China. China’s largest airport, and the world’s second busiest, is Beijing International Airport. China requires a transit visa from nationals from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Yemen. These countries will need to apply for a transit visa prior to their arrival. For other nationalities, China has a 24-hr, 72-hr, and 144-hr transit visa that travelers may obtain upon arrival at major international airports for short excursions while waiting on their flight to their final destination.
UAE. The UAE’s largest airport, and the world’s third busiest, is Dubai International Airport. It has an integrated transit visa upon arrival program linked to short excursions arranged through the airport for travelers stopping by the UAE on their way to a third country. The transit visa upon arrival may be issued to all nationalities except Afghanistan, Iran, Niger, Somalia, and Yemen. These nationals must apply for a transit visa to transit through the UAE to another country.
Japan: Japan’s Tokyo International Airport is the fifth busiest airport in the world. A traveler will not need to have a transit visa for airside transit. However, if the traveler is required to pass through the checkpoint for any reason (the airport is closing for the night, sightseeing, etc), then a visa is required. Those from the following list of nationalities may get their transit visa for sightseeing during their layover on arrival: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Macedonia, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay.
United Kingdom. The UK’s London Heathrow Airport is the sixth busiest airport in the world. The following nationalities will need a transit visa for passing through the UK: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burma, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Swaziland, Tanzania, The Gambia, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela (unless you have a ePassport), Vietnam, Yemen, Zimbabwe. However, if the traveler has a valid visa for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the USA, a visa or residence permit in the EU or Switzerland, then a transit visa is not required.
Hong Kong. The Hong Kong International Airport has the eighth busiest airport in the world. No visa is required for airside transit for any traveler. If a traveler wishes to visit Hong Kong during the layover, then a visa may be required based on nationality.
France. Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport ranks ninth as the busiest airport in the world. The following nationals will need a visa for airside transit through France: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sri Lanka. There is an exemption from this requirement for nationals from India, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone who have a valid resident permit or visa for Canada, the EU, Japan, the United Kingdom, or the USA. If you do not meet the exemption requirement, then you will need to apply for a transit visa in advance of your travel.
Check the Visa Adviser® App for the latest updates on airside transit requirements.