Can You Leave the Airport During a Layover?


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Yes, you can leave the airport during a layover.

Provided that it doesn’t go against the law. Or in other words, as long as you’re allowed to enter this particular country that you are traveling through. Sometimes it’s super easy. You just leave the airport and that’s it. Or maybe you have to go through a quick immigration procedure. Other times you need to apply for a special visa in advance in order to do that. And then there are also times when you aren’t allowed to leave the airport during a layover.

We are going to talk about all these options.


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Exploring the city during a long layover in Dubai
Exploring the city during a long layover in Dubai

1. Can You Leave the Airport During a Layover?

It depends from the country and their entry rules.

Before we continue, let’s talk about terms and definitions.

1.1 What Is a Layover?

What does a layover mean?

A flight layover is stop between two flights.

This is the period of time that you have until your next flight. Sometimes it’s referred to as a connection. You have to get off the plane during airport layovers. What’s important to understand about flights with layovers is that everyone on the same plane may have a different final destination. So, don’t be surprised when during a layover other people are going somewhere else.

Time between flights is called a layover time.

That is how long is a layover.

A flight layover is stop between two flights. This is the period of time that you have until your next flight. Sometimes it’s referred to as a connection.

1.2 Can You Leave the Airport During a Layover on an International Flight?

Yes, but it depends from the country and their entry rules.

Leaving the airport means entering the country. No matter if you have an airline-protected connecting fight or self transfer, in this case you’re entering the country. Hence, it’s important to look at what are the entry rules.

If you don’t need a visa for this particular country, you can leave the airport during an international layover. You can also do so, if you have a necessary visa and / or paperwork. In any case, mostly you will have to go through immigration control. Unless, you are traveling within the European Union, where there’s no internal immigration control even when traveling between different countries.

Take into account that you’ll have to go through airport security one more time. That’s for sure. You may also have to go through immigration control one more time. It depends from your destination. So, plan your layover accordingly, so you don’t miss your connecting flight.

Read more:

1.3 Can You Leave the Airport During a Layover on a Domestic Flight?

Yes, you can leave the airport during a domestic layover.

In this case, you won’t have to go through immigration control. Because you will have gone through it already, when arriving to the country (or because you are living there; you are in the country). But don’t forget, that you’ll have to go through airport security, when coming back for connecting flight.

At Changi International Airport in Singapore
At Changi International Airport in Singapore

2. Do You Need a Transit Visa for Layover Flights?

It’s a whole separate topic. We go more into details in a separate guide, where we talk whether you need a visa for a connecting flights or not. The following is a simplified answer. To learn more about it, check out our other guide on visas and connecting flights.

  • Do you need a visa for layover? You will need a visa for layover flight only if it’s required by laws of the country you’re traveling through. In 95% of situations you don’t need a visa. That’s if you have a proper connecting flight. If you have a self-transfer flight, there are more situations when you may need a visa.
  • Do you need a visa to leave the airport during a layover? In this case, you are entering the country. You aren’t just a transit passenger anymore. If you need a visa to enter this country then, well, you need a visa to leave the airport. Even if it’s a very short layover.

In this case and in general, a layover flight meaning a connecting flight. In other words, when you are traveling not directly but through somewhere and have more than one flight. There’s no difference between layover and connecting flights. Layover flights are the same thing as connecting flights.

Read more:

Couple going on a trip

3. Leaving Airport During Layover: My Experience

A frequent traveler does this all the time.

Here is a short account of three of my experiences.

3.1 Short Layover in Frankfurt, Germany (Self Transfer)

I did it on my way back from Mexico.

I had booked two flights — one was from Cancun to Frankfurt, and the other was from Frankfurt to Riga some 7 hours later. So, it wasn’t a regular international flight layover, not an-airline protected connecting flight. It was a so-called self-transfer flight. That means I needed to enter Germany no matter what. Would I need a visa for Germany, I would need a visa to fly to Frankfurt.

I didn’t need a visa for Germany, so this was easy.

I also didn’t need a COVID test.

It’s super easy to get to the city from Frankfurt airport.

And I had never been to Frankfurt.

All of this put together made leaving the airport very appealing. So, I did it. I got off the plane. Went through immigration control. Collected my luggage. Went on a short sightseeing visit to the city center of Frankfurt. Flew to Riga on the same evening. A plane layover well spent.

3.2 Dubai Airport, Long Layover (Self Transfer)

Dubai is one of the best connected cities in the world.

It’s very easy to travel from the main Dubai airport, DXB, to the city center. As a result, you need relatively very little time to go on a short Dubai sightseeing visit. I have had a Dubai airport layover a few times. Another thing I love about having a layover in Dubai, is that traveling to city is cheap and comfortable.

This time I was traveling from Bucharest to Kuala Lumpur.

I went through immigration control. Collected my luggage. See, this is the downside of self-transfer flights; you have to collect your luggage at every stop along the way. Then followed a night in Dubai airport. I hadn’t booked any accommodation as I was trying to save money on this. You can stay at Dubai airport throughout the night — Dubai airport is open 24/7.

In the morning I got myself a transport card. Went to the city using Dubai metro. Spent a day exploring Dubai. Flew to Kuala Lumpur in the evening.

Looking at the Burj Khalifa

How much time do you need for Dubai transit?

Anything starting from 4-5 hours is enough for Dubai transit. 4-6 hours in Dubai is enough even to go to the beach. Why not go on a swim between flights in Dubai? It takes about 1 hour to get to the beach from DXB airport. Metro stop – Dubai Marina. Then spend 1-2 hours on the beach. And in 1 hour you can easily get back to the airport.

Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, two of top tourist attractions in Dubai, are even closer to the airport. They are in the same place. So, why not use a layover to visit the tallest building in the world? Metro stop – Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall.

3.3 24 Hours in Guangzhou, China (Connecting Flight)

It was a connecting flight with China Southern Airlines.

I was flying from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur with a layover in Guangzhou. As with most countries, in China it wasn’t really about the question — are you allowed to leave the airport during a layover. Instead it’s whether with your passport and in this particular country, you can or can’t do that. According to the layover flight rules at the time, in 2018, it was possible for me.

So, I went through the immigration control.

I got my 24-hour visa free transit stamp.

I didn’t have to collect my luggage. In fact, it isn’t even possible to collect luggage between flights on an airline-protected connecting flight. China Southern Airlines arranged me a free transit hotel. On some occasions, when layover times are long, airlines do so. I wasn’t having a special treatment.

First, I went to China Southern free transit hotel. I could choose one from many. It all happened at a special desk in Guangzhou airport. Free transfer was included in the package. In the evening, I went to the city center of Guangzhou.

In the morning, I flew to Kuala Lumpur.

Now, in 2022, with China being closed to foreign visitors, it won’t work. At least for 99% of you. But up until the pandemic it was possible, and even during long layovers you could leave the airport and head out to explore. 24-hour, 72-hour and 144-hour visa free transit in China was possible.

You can learn more about it here.

Later, I have had a visa-free transit in Shanghai (it worked also with self transfer; I was flying from Hong Kong to Shanghai, and then onwards to Moscow).

Sightseeing on a layover in Guangzhou, China

4. How to Get a Free Transit Hotel Room?

You should contact your airline to arrange that.

On some occasions, when layover times are long, airlines offer free transit hotel. Not all airlines do so. Some of those that do are among the best airlines in the world. Few examples — Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.

4.1 Turkish Airlines

Available on flights with layovers in Istanbul.

Your final destination should be outside of Turkey.

Economy Class passengers having a connection time of 12 hours or longer and Business Class passengers having a connection time of 9 hours or longer can benefit from hotel service free of charge in case a transit flight with a shorter connection time is not provided for the related travel.

turkishairlines.com

You won’t be eligible for this free service, if shorter connection time was possible at the moment of booking a flight. Meaning that you can’t take a flight with the longest layover on purpose, and get free accommodation from Turkish Airlines.

How to book Turkish Airlines free hotel stay?

Go to the Hotel Desk at Istanbul Airport. You will have to go through immigration first. That means, you’ll be entering Turkey.

4.2 Qatar Airways

Available on flights with layovers in Doha.

In some cases, Qatar Airways will arrange accommodation, entry visas, airport transfers and meals for passengers facing extended transit times in Doha. This service may be available if all the following conditions apply: 1) There is no connection of less than eight hours available; 2) The transit time in Doha is between eight and 24 hours; 3) The booking does not include flights to or from Kuwait (KWI) or Muscat (MCT).

qatarairways.com

How to book Qatar Airways free hotel stay?

Contact Qatar Airways a minimum 3 days in advance. If you’re flying last-minute, and have booked a flight within 72 hours or 3 days before the departure, you won’t be able to do it online — in this case, proceed to the transfer desk at Hamad International Airport in Doha, to arrange your transit accommodation.

At the moment, Qatar Airways transit hotel program is stopped. For updates and to learn more about Qatar Airways transit accommodation click here.

4.3 Etihad Airways

Available on flights with layovers in Abu Dhabi.

Etihad Airways offers both discounted and free accommodation, depending on how you are you planning to stay in Abu Dhabi. The offer is available for transiting passengers only.

With our Best of Abu Dhabi stopover package, get up to 40% off Abu Dhabi’s most exclusive hotels for up to six nights. Or choose a one or two-night stopover on us in selected 3* and 4* hotels. Or if you’re connecting in Abu Dhabi for 10 – 24 hours, book our complimentary Transit connect package. 

etihad.com

How to book Etihad Airways free hotel stay?

It must be done online at etihad.com.

But book your flights first.

Learn more about the Etihad stopover programs here.

What is a stopover? It’s basically a long layover. A layover is a stop between flights that’s up to 24 hours long. If it’s longer it’s a stopover.

At Hong Kong International airport

5. What to Do During a Layover?

What to do during a layover?

  1. Walk around at the airport
  2. Find a quiet spot to rest (airport hotels, airport sleeping pods, airport lounges can be the thing you may want to look for)
  3. Read a book or a newspaper
  4. Watch a movie on your phone, tablet or laptop
  5. Leave the airport and visit the city
  6. Do something you otherwise don’t have time for
  7. Call or message your loved ones. Make sure to take into account the time difference between you and that person you want to contact, if it isn’t a middle of the night for him or her
  8. Go on an organised transit tour (when available)

Do you have to get off the plane during a layover?

Yes, you have to leave the plane. That’s the only thing you can’t do during a layover — you can’t stay on the plane during a layover. Everyone has to get off the plane. You also have to change the plane. Unless, it’s only a re-fuelling stop not a layover (it’s generally a rare occurrence).

Do you have anything to add? Or maybe you still have questions about connecting flights? Have you done it before? Have you left the airport during a layover? What was your experience?


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