Worried about your upcoming flight to the US from Nepal? I was in the same boat a year ago. Here, I have got you covered. In an effort to cover a lot of details, I have written this article as if I was explaining to a four-year-old. So feel free to skim the parts that seem obvious to you. Before we proceed, I find it ideal to carry all my documents (which I will mention below) in a clear bag since you have a lot of them to take care of.
At Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA):
Sad, but true, navigating TIA can be very confusing. So I have tried to be detailed in this section.
- After reaching the international terminal of TIA, just look around for a trolley. Likely you will find one by the curb or across the street or near the first gate. They are free to use.
- Next, look up the gate corresponding to your flight (labeled 1, 2, etc.) and proceed to the appropriate gate. The guard at the gate will ask for your passport. Only the one who is traveling will be allowed in.
- Just keep walking until you reach security check. Just slide your luggage into the search machine, have yourself briefly searched, and collect your luggage at the other end of the machine. Take your trolley (makes life easy till you check-in your luggage) to the other end of the security check and stack your luggage on it.
- The security check opens to AIRLINE CHECK-IN, see the picture below. Look up your airline and class (economy, business, etc.) and join the appropriate line.
- When your turn comes, you will be asked for your passport with visa. A copy of your ticket (printed/digital) is not needed usually. If you purchased the ticket using your own debit/credit card to make the payment, the officer may ask for the card.
- Next, your check-in luggage will be weighed. If it is beyond the allowance, you will have to pay extra. (They can be flexible about 1-2 kg.) Beyond this point, you need not worry about your checked-in luggage until you enter the US. It’s such a relief!
- The officer will provide you Boarding Passes for all of your flights to the US (not sure about domestic flight within the USA). Keep them safely. They will likely provide a tag for your hand luggage as well.
- Having done with all of this, you can proceed to the immigration. If you are facing the Airline Check In, look to your left. You will see an escalator going upstairs to immigration. See the picture below.
- You will find immigration form (separate for citizens and foreigners) to your left when you get off the escalator. Fill up the form appropriately. Keep your passport and boarding pass handy, for you will need details like Passport Number and Flight Number.
- Turn upright and proceed to the appropriate immigration counter (student, workers, etc.). The line for students is usually short, yay! The immigration officer will ask for your passport. He may request your I20 and No Objection Letter from the Ministry of Education. After looking at your documents, he will stamp your passport and will let you in.
- Keep walking until you see a line for security check on the left and a lounge on the right. You can choose to stop in the lounge to buy some food or do last minute shopping. Once you go through the security, you can’t come back to the lounge.
- For security check, the police officer will ask you keep your belt, wallet, watch and stuff in your backpack. When you are collecting your backpack after the search, have your boarding pass stamped at the end of the table. See the picture below. (It’s crazy how much you have to go through at TIA.)
- Show your stamped boarding pass to the officer who will let you into the ‘gate zone’. Just keep walking till you find the gates. You can still find some shops there in case you want to eat/drink anything (but they are terribly expensive).
- Find your gate number on a screen and wait in the appropriate zone. Before letting you through the gate to board the plane, the officer will ask for your boarding pass.
- There you go! The jumbo darling will be waiting for you to take you to the land of opportunities.
Navigating through the airports in developed countries is all about following signs and instructions. If confused, don’t feel shy about asking for help to security personnel or officers at help-desk. If you are worried about being judged, likely you won’t see them again!
- Once you disembark the plane, follow the TRANSFER SIGN, NOT ARRIVAL, BAGGAGE CLAIM OR DEPARTURE. Just keep following the transfer sign (airports in the developed countries are very well labeled) till you arrive at the security. Transfers have to go through the security.
- Get in line for security check up. Once you approach the machine, follow the instructions given. Some ask you to dispose of liquid items (including water), place your laptop in a separate bin, empty your pockets, etc. Just comply. You don’t want a metal-alarm to beep when you are passing. If you have a very short layover (less than 2 hours) let the officers know about it so that they can expedite the process for you.
- Now, check screens for the status of your flight and gate. If your connection is short, skip to step 5.
- If you have a long layover, the flight information might not be available yet. You have the option of browsing the Internet or watching movies on your laptop or reading a book. So plan accordingly. If you want a ‘proper’ sleep, find the sleeping lounge. If interested and have time, you can get some food or do some shopping. Duty-Free Shopping and Food Courts are cheap compared to other options available. *
- If you decide to use a restroom in the transit, carry your backpack to the restroom with you. You should not leave your backpack unattended. Sometimes there can be random check-ups. Don’t be scared if you haven’t done anything wrong. Just comply and you should be fine.
- Usually, boarding starts one hour before the take off time. Find your way to the gate and be seated until your boarding zone is called out. ** (You can find your zone on your boarding pass.) The officer will ask for your boarding pass (which you got at TIA) and maybe your passport to let you through the gate.
- You are all set!
* If you have a long layover, take advantages of the options offered by your airline. Some offer free tour of city (for example Turkish airlines in Istanbul) or you might be eligible for a room to spend the night. There can be restrictions though. So check your airline’s policy.
** Finding your gate in large international airports can be tricky sometimes. I usually just keep on walking, sometimes for a long time, following the signs to the gate. When confused, especially when I have to change terminals, I reach out to the people at help-desk or security personnel. Once, I had to take a bus within the airport to reach another terminal to find my gate and yes, they didn’t have signs telling me this!
In the US
I know you will be excited at this point having touched the holy land! But there are some very important steps you need to follow before you can be actually in the US.
- Before you land in the US, you will be handed a Customs Declaration Form to fill out on the plane. Complete the form on the plane honestly. The questions on this form can be confusing; in that case reach out to air hostess, or check the sample of the form below to remove any confusions beforehand. *
- Once you land, follow the signs to immigration/customs/arrivals. Wait in the appropriate line till your turn comes. The officer will then see your passport, I20 and may ask for SEVIS fee receipt. She might inquire about your college, financial aid, money and food you have brought with you, etc. Be honest. She will stamp your passport and will let you in (most likely if there are no troubles).
- Follow the signs to baggage claim. (Yes baggage first and then customs.) Find the carousel number corresponding to your flight and wait to see your dear luggage pop out with which you parted long ago! If your luggage is sadly missing, go to the help desk.
- Use a trolley if needed and make your way to exit or to appropriate domestic terminal if this is not your final destination. Before that, you will see a customs officer to whom you will hand in the Customs Declaration Form you filled on the plane.
- If you have something to declare at the customs, like you have brought seeds with permission or have more money than allowed or are simply confused whether or not you are allowed to bring a particular item, tell the officer about it. He will help you. Don’t lie, for you will be fined heavily if they find out.
- Sometimes US Customs randomly pick people who have to go through additional check up. They will seat you nicely and have you open your bags to see what you have brought and make further inquiries. I know you are tired but be polite!
- If you are in your destination city, you are free to go, yay! But, if you have to take a domestic flight to your final destination, just follow the signs or ask someone at the help desk about how to do so. You might have to change terminals, which can be tricky.
- Now you will have to again check-in your luggage at kiosk, get your boarding pass (if TIA didn’t give you one for domestic flight), follow the signs to your gate and all that. Having done international, domestic is easy 🙂
* You can find a sample of the form here: https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/CBP%20Form%206059B%20English%20%28Sample%20Watermark%29.pdf
Sigh! This was really long. Forgive me if possible. First international flight is always scary, especially if you are traveling alone. I hope this blog will help you (especially at TIA). After your first international flight, most of this will seem familiar. Hey, there can be surprises on your first or further flights, but you will become a lot more confident with time. 🙂 Good luck!
N.B. I have shamelessly poached the images used in this blog from Google and not given due credit to the contributors. Please excuse me for that.