Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) is a bit of a challenge on arrival, which seems apt (but actually extremely frustrating) for a country that so many people visit in a quest for challenges and adventures.
So, arrive prepared and expect a lot of queues and see it as a glorious bonus if you are on a fairly empty flight and get from the plane to the other side of the airport within an hour (yes, really, that would be a good result). Fortunately, it’s well worth the effort once you’re out of the airport and officially in Nepal.
There is a great “Welcome to Nepal” photo opportunity outside the airport once you’ve walked off the plane (there is no jet bridge). Remember, if you take that opportunity and faff with photos for ages, everyone who just carries on inside the terminal will be ahead of you in the queues. This is more worthy of contemplation, to take photos or not to take photos, than would normally be the case for a photo opportunity.
As a UK passport holder, a 15-day tourist visa on arrival costs US$25 (possibly now, Sep 2019, $30). Check before you travel.
On leaving your aircraft, you need the following to hand:
- US$25, or US$30 if the price has now increased (for a 15-day tourist visa)
- 1 passport photo
- 1 black (or blue) pen
- your passport
- the address of where you are staying (or where you could stay – you need to write something)
- your boarding pass (including baggage claim sticker)
- a healthy dose of patience and good humour.
Visa application form at KTM:
Your ultimate aim is to approach the visa fee counter with the correct US dollar notes and a filled in visa application form and passport photo.
Assuming you are not yet in possession of an A4-sized visa application form (the airline should have handed you a passport-sized form, a landing card, but not the visa forms), you will be directed to a bank of electronic visa application booths. Don’t be deceived into thinking these will shortcut anything. In KTM, technology is not your friend. I queued up and operated the machines five times, both with and without staff guidance, typed in the relevant form information and “computer says no”. I suggest, even if you are soothed by the sight of people seemingly successfully completing the electronic form-filling option, as soon as you get into the building, find the least harrassed-looking member of immigration staff and request a paper form (if necessary, think of a reason why you can’t use an electronic machine) or, if you’re really lucky and spot a pile of them, or even just one remaining, pick it up and don’t even attempt the electronic application. The paper form is the A4-sized visa application one with the passport photo box in the top right and is the far superior alternative to the electronic booth process.
If you ignored all advice to bring your passport photo with you, you will then face the prospect of a queue for the photo booth and will need to address the means of paying the booth to take a passport photo of you looking your most tired and harassed. There is also a genuine risk the photo booth will not be working, as was the case when I was there. I have no idea how that issue was resolved as I was through immigration before those tourists even got to the fee-paying counter, and that was almost an hour after disembarking the plane. Seriously, bring a passport photo with you, any opportunity to feel smug and skip a queue is worth it.
NB It is also useful to bring additional passport photos with you just in case (if you later want to purchase a SIM card, trekking passes and you never know what else).
You should now have in your possession a small filled-out form, a large filled-out form with space for your passport photo (or, if it worked out, the application you filled out at the electronic booth), $25 (or $30 if it has gone up, or more if you are staying longer than 15 days) and your passport.
Now approach the visa payment counter, most likely behind a queue.
$25. No change given. (NB This fee was accurate in December 2018. It might now be $30. Check with the Nepal Department of Immigration website)
Don’t bother trying to hand over particularly old, torn or damaged dollar notes, they will most likely be rejected.
Don’t assume there will be an ATM or that you can pay by card. There isn’t and you can’t (you sort of can but it’s best to work on the assumption you can’t) . It’s all about the 25 United States dollars in clean, non-ripped notes.
If you have forgotten to bring dollar notes or assumed you could pay by card, you can change GBP or Euros (and a few other currencies) at a currency exchanger but the rates are dreadful and there is also a high risk of adding another potentially long queue to the series of queues you are yet to discover await you.
If you have no hard currency of any denomination and there are issues with card payments, you may have to resort to asking someone to help you out. There are ATMs on the other side of Immigration but I am not aware of ATMs pre-Immigration in the confused visa application area. You really will learn fairly quickly that this is an area you want to leave as soon as possible, largely for the stress of seeing so many other confused, tired and irritable people.
Once you have paid, you will be handed a visa fee receipt (and I think another more receipty kind of receipt just for your record). You need to keep hold of this and add it to your handful of paperwork.
NB Prior to arrival in Nepal, you can fill out an online visa application form. However, the government website is not secure and I was strongly advised against using it.
Don’t even think about queueing at Immigration until you have in your hand your one small passport-sized form (hopefully handed out by airline crew and which you should have already filled out), your visa application form and the receipt from having paid your visa fee. You will also need your passport (obviously) and your boarding pass. If you do not have any of these things with you or have not filled out the small form, you stand a very high chance of being sent away to sort yourself out and start queueing again from the back. And remember, the Immigration queue is not even the last queue before you leave the airport!
I made the mistake of assuming the A4 photo form would be retained by the counter where I paid the visa fee so left it there. Fortunately, some kind people in the Immigration queue, after I’d realised that most other people had theirs with them, kept my place for me and I returned to the paying counter and retrieved my application, able to return to my spot in the barely-moving passport queue which by that time was significantly longer than when I joined it.
Assuming, unlike a lot of people I saw turned away at the Immigration desks, you have all your paperwork in order, you will finally have your passport stamp for Nepal and your visa will be stuck in your passport. Whoop, that’s the first and most significant series of hurdles behind you.
On turning left out of the Immigration booths, follow signs to Exit/Baggage, obviously. If you need an ATM, as soon as you see one, use it. Sometimes they aren’t working, some are often busy; take the opportunity as soon as it presents itself, which is also good ATM advice for the duration of your stay in Nepal. Only use exchange counters when you are fully aware what exchange rate to expect and are feeling alert enough to get your zeros right.
Once you head downstairs, you are likely to be confronted by, guess what, a queue to join a pre-baggage-collection compulsory hand luggage x-ray queue where you need to remove all metals but you don’t need to take out laptops or liquids, unless of course someone asks you to. It was quite hot and stuffy when I was there and I hadn’t expected yet another queue; this was my lowest point in the whole arrival process even though it wasn’t the longest or most confusing queue.
The odds are that you have now spent so long between getting off the plane and arriving at the baggage carousel that your case will have already done a few dozen laps of the carousel belt. If all goes to plan, this will be the shortest wait for anything since the plane landed. There is security around the baggage carousel and you might need to show your airline-issued baggage-claim ticket once you’ve retrieved your luggage so the security staff can confirm you are taking the correct case.
Trolleys are free so be aware of that fact if a porter offers you a trolley for a fee. I loved Nepal and the Nepalese people I met but after having spent an hour, probably more, queueing and getting hot and flustered in the airport, be alert to people offering you services that you think should be free but which may conclude with a request-for-money sting, which may end up being massively expensive due to your having only large currency denominations from an ATM, an exhausted bewilderment as to currency conversion rates and most people not having change for big notes. My default is to say no to all offers of help but to assume a fee will be required if I need assistance and then ask someone for it, ie on my terms and on my decision to request help.
ATM and cash exchangers are around this area. On leaving baggage reclaim, you then enter a kind of room full of tour stalls and pre-pay taxis. This is not where drivers meet people unless you are with a tour group. My limited taxi experience dictates that you are best off finding a taxi driver outside rather than pre-paying (it is normal that there will not be a meter and the likelihood is that the car will be even more knackered than you are). But agree the fare to your destination before you commit to the journey. Do not take that advice lightly: agree how much you will pay before you set off. It always makes me feel uncomfortable insisting on agreeing a price but, really, it’s A LOT LESS uncomfortable than realising you’ve been completely stitched up when an outlandish price is demanded when you arrive at your destination. To Thamel, with an airport premium, it should not be over 1,000 NPR (and that is with a generous tourist rate premium on top of the airport premium). I paid 600 NPR from Thamel to KTM, I expect it is more from the airport (Kathmandu Guest House pick-up, not drop-off, is complimentary).
If you are being met by a placard pick-up, carry on outside where people stand on other side of road in front of KTM.
If you have arranged a hotel/group minibus pick-up (as I did through Kathmandu Guest House), you may wait a long time to leave KTM for the hotel (the drivers seem to collect everyone arriving within a certain timescale off other flights. I ended up waiting over 45 minutes with the minibus and driver for two other people, both off different flights, so, on top of the unexpectedly slow airport transit process, my “Yippee, I’ll arrive at the hotel in daylight” ended in the reality of arriving at night time).