What to expect at Kathmandu Airport

It can be a daunting experience if you arrive at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport for the first time after a long flight. The queues can be disorderly and unorganized. Getting sorted out can be a rite of passage when you fly into Nepal. You will soon notice that the International airport is busy and see its wear. One needs to be patient, assert your ground in lines, and ask when you are unsure where to go. Do not let the frustratingly disorderly entry process make you disheartened; Nepal is a beautiful and exciting country waiting to be explored just a few steps away. Rest assured, you will be having a great time soon enough.

Standing in Lines.

Look for the small signboards above the counters that are in the front, don’t jump into the first long queue. Instead, ask others in the line which part of the process they are waiting for. It can be frustrating after waiting for  30 minutes or more before you finally reach the desk and get told you are supposed to be on another counter. Don’t be surprised if the waits are long, disorderly, and impolite. You might have to shuffle your feet and perhaps even stick your elbows out to stop others from trying to cut the line to go in front of you.

Arriving at the Immigration Hall.

You should have been given a customs declaration and visa form by the flight crew of your airline. Filling them on board your flight will provide you with a significant advantage. If you didn’t get the forms, you would find English versions among the paper piles on the tables where others fill out their paperwork. In the unlikely case of not seeing the forms on the tables, go to the queues’ front and get one from the immigration counter.

Advice: Always keep passport-sized photos, a pen, and your passport accessible to complete any paperwork. If you don’t have a passport size photo, you will need to fight for one of the electronic booths that are on the left. It saves time if you have a photograph with you. Bring several passport-sized photos as they can come in very handy in Nepal, especially if you plan to get a local SIM card or go trekking and other purposes.  Hold on to your boarding pass with the luggage tag; you will need it to claim your bags.

These days, you can fill up the Nepal visa on arrival form online and print it before arriving in Nepal. However, there have been complaints of problems with the form, including that it isn’t on a secure HTTPS website. You will probably still need to pick up the arrival card and complete it in the arrival hall.

Visa on arrival for Nepal

You will need to get a visa on arrival unless you have organized a tourist visa at a Nepalese embassy in your residence before arriving in Nepal. Nepal’s online visa form is an option, but it is better to fill out a paper form until better electronic security is enforced. You will need to know your hotel’s exact address in Kathmandu, whether you fill a visa on arrival form online, booth, or paper. Keep the hotel address handy from the guidebook, email confirmation from the booking website.

Payment for Visa on arrival

You will have to approach one of the counters to pay the visa fee after completing the forms, and the preferred currency is US dollars cash. They do accept some major currencies; however, you will get an unfavourable exchange rate. So have the exact amount handy, and make sure the notes are crisp, not too wrinkled or torn.

If your currency is not accepted, there is a small currency exchange window to the right of the counter. Unfortunately, exchange rates at airports are not favourable most of the time.

Whether you have opted for an online visa or a visa on arrival, the time it takes you to get through the queue is a draw of luck.

Visa on arrival fees:

  • 15 days: US $30
  • 30 days: US $50
  • 90 days: US $125

Citizens of SAARC countries do not have to pay for a visa. Indian nationals don’t need a visa to enter Nepal. The visa fees for Chinese tourists were waived in 2016. Put the receipt and go to the next counter to give all paperwork, photos, and receipts to an immigration officer, and your will visa on arrival will be issued. Exit to the left towards the escalators, which brings you down to the baggage claim area.

Luggage Collection

You might expect your luggage to be circulating on the carousel since it took you a long time to get your visa; when numerous flights land in Kathmandu, people have had to wait for two hours or more on occasions. Fortunately, these incidents are not frequent. Keep your luggage tag handy in case you are asked to show it when you claim your bag. There should be free trolleys in the baggage claim area. There could be some porters offering to carry your bags or to “rent” you a free trolley.

Exiting the arrival terminal

You will have to go through either a green or red channel depending on if you have to declare something to the customs. Sometimes the customs officers wave you to go on, while on others, they ask you to put your bags through the X-ray machine. You will come across a currency exchange counter to your left; exchange only $10-20 if you need to pay for your taxi, then use an ATM for a better rate afterwards. Your passport will have to be produced to exchange money. You will need the receipt if you wish to exchange any local currency back to US dollars. You can book a prepaid taxi via several counters that are nearby. The prepaid taxi fares are fixed, and you don’t have to worry about being ripped off. It is less of a hassle despite being slightly more expensive than going out, finding a taxi, and haggling on the price if you haven’t prearranged your hotel or travel company for an airport pick up. You would want less or no headache as you are on vacation.

There is an ATM located outside the arrival terminal, and it might not be working. If you have arranged for someone to pick you up at the airport, look across the road where many people are standing with placards of hotels, travel companies, or names of guests they are there to meet.

Beware of persons coming to pull your bag/suitcase or push your trolley. These are touts who take advantage of tired, disoriented, confused tourists by carrying your bags or pushing your carts and asking for tips, and some of them have been given up to US$50 – high income for less than three minutes of “work.” Be assertive, give them a firm “NO,” and hold on to your luggage and keep walking.

The drive from the airport to your hotel should be 20 – 30 minutes if the traffic isn’t bad and could take much longer if there is a traffic jam or if some V.I.P is travelling as the traffic cops would redirecting or stopping traffic from letting some V.I.P pass smoothly at the inconvenience of others.

Check out our Trekking packages for Nepal, Bhutan, India, and Tibet.