Nepal is a fantastic trekking destination - home to the Himalayan mountain range sweeping across the north of the country. Thousands of trekkers from around the world visit the country every year to go trekking around the Everest region or the Annapurnas in the west, which each have world famous trekking routes. Nepal is a narrow country is South East Asia, sandwiched between India to the south, and China to its north. In this article we’re going to look at how to get to Nepal for international travellers, and other useful information about entering the country so you can get to your trekking destination with ease.
There’s only one option for international flights to get into Nepal, as the capital Kathmandu hosts the country's only international airport. This is the Tribhuvan International Airport (airport code KTM) on the outskirts of the city. It’s a small airport with a very limited number of facilities - more on this below.
When booking flights to Nepal, if travelling in the peak seasons of September to November and February to March then book well in advance. Prices rocket as everybody wants to experience the good weather and clear skies on their Himalayan treks.
Annapurna seen from the flight. Photo by Choi
One thing to be aware of before you book your flight - when flying into and out of Kathmandu, if it’s a clear day then you can get absolutely stunning views of the Himalayas from the plane. When I visited Nepal I didn’t know about this and was gutted when I realised all the amazing views were on the opposite side of the plane! Do your research beforehand about which side of the plane to sit on, depending on where you’re flying in from. Reserve a good seat if you can. If you get a window seat and lucky with the weather, it’s worth it - trust me!
Few western countries fly directly to Nepal. Instead, it’s common to transfer onto KTM flights via India, Turkey, or the Middle Eastern flight hubs. Use sites like Skyscanner and Expedia to find cheap flights. Pay attention to the flight time and number of transfers - some flights to Nepal include two stops and take much longer.
At the time of writing, the UK has a good range of carriers to Nepal to choose from and they all involve transfers in the countries mentioned above. Flights with a minimum of journey time (12 hours is about the fastest) include:
It’s an especially long journey to Nepal from the USA with most journey times lasting over 24 hours and even as high as 30 or more, involving multiple flight transfers. Some travellers prefer to do a layover on the way and perhaps explore a city in another country to break up the journey.
For those on the East Coast, flying via Europe is usually the quickest option. Many of the carriers which serve the UK (see above) also go to Nepal from the East Coast.
For those on the West Coast, it’s quickest to travel via Eastern Asian countries like Thailand or Singapore. Consider flight carriers like Singapore Airlines , Cathay Pacific , China Southern and Thai Airways .
Annapurna and the prayer flags of the Himalayas Photo by Favila
First of all, be prepared for long waits to get through immigration and get your luggage. KTM is a small and old airport that struggles to deal with the numbers of passengers it receives - especially in peak season. It can take an hour or even longer to get through immigration queues and for your luggage to appear. Bring a book or electronic device as you will usually spend a lot of time standing around waiting!
Most tourists can simply buy a visa on arrival in KTM airport (the only countries which are exempt are listed here ). Your passport must be valid for at least 6 more months when doing this, and you need an entire free page inside it.
Visas can be bought for 15, 30 or 90 days and can be extended if required. Pay in US dollars by cash - although it’s possible to pay in other currencies this is the easiest and most reliable way to pay. The latest prices are listed on the Nepalese Immigration website here .
Bring at least two passport photos with you - you need them for the visa and they come in handy for other permits in Nepal (like trekking permits). Although there is a photo booth or two in the airport, they get long queues and you need to mess around getting local change to use them.
You’ll also have to fill out an Arrival card and the tourist visa form - which you need to grab from a table at immigration. Some flights into KTM provide this in advance. Fill it out as early as you can to speed up your queuing time - and bring your own pen! Apparently there are now machines in the immigration hall which you can use if you have an electronic passport - they will fill out the tourist visa form for you automatically.
There are money changing booths in the airport (which of course charge exorbitant rates) and an ATM or two. You’ll want some smaller money if you want to pay for a taxi, so the exchange booth is sometimes worth it if you just change a small amount. Or you could buy some food or drink in the lobby to get some smaller notes. Most taxi drivers will accept US dollars but will ask for way more than its worth.
KTM is the airport you will be landing at. Photo by Doug
Many tours and accommodation offer transfer services from the airport to Kathmandu. KTM is chaotic when you exit immigration. A horde of taxi drivers will be yelling, waving cards, offering accommodation and so on. Just stay calm, take your time and keep your eye out for someone holding a sign with your name on it - and be patient, sometimes it’s best to let the crowd die down a bit so you can find your driver.
If you don’t have a transfer arranged, there’s a taxi desk where you can arrange a taxi. This is more expensive but a less stressful option than tackling the hordes outside. There are also regular shuttle buses, both for tourists and locals heading into the city centre - although if it’s your first time in Kathmandu a taxi is a better option, you will probably be exhausted after the flight anyway!
If you fancy tackling the taxi hordes, do your research in advance about the general cost you should be paying. Don’t be intimidated, these guys are just trying to get your business - Nepal is a safe place. Don’t worry too much about haggling really low, prices are very cheap in this country anyway - but don’t get completely ripped off. Be firm about the price you expect to pay and make sure your taxi driver knows where your destination is. Move on to someone else if you can’t get a deal. Ideally have a street map printed out showing the location of your accommodation as Kathmandu’s streets are like a maze. If noone is taking you up, then your price might be too low - even so, you can start walking out of the car park and once the tourists start to get driven off suddenly you can get the price you are looking for.
Be prepared for culture shock when getting into Kathmandu. It’s a crazy city with lots of noise, chaos, sights and sounds, drivers weaving over the streets, motorbikes swerving past pedestrians and so on. Take things slow when you arrive and give yourself time to adjust if you are staying for a few days. It gets easier with time. But rest assured, the rest of Nepal is not like Kathmandu at all - outside the cities it is much less chaotic and more peaceful!
Traveling to the majestic Annapurna Range in the Himalayas is an experience you don't forget. Photo by Mariusz
The only major land option is to enter Nepal by India via one of a number of border crossings - buses make India to Nepal journeys daily and are easy to arrange. At most of these border crossings you can buy the Nepalese tourist visa on arrival. Make sure you have cash and change to pay fees (which may differ from the airport visa fees), and bring your passport photos. The other visa restrictions also apply.
Once you’re in Nepal and settled in your Kathmandu accommodation you can start to look forward to your Himalayan adventure! Get some rest after your long journey and prepare to fall in love with this amazing country, once you get into the mountains the chaos of Kathmandu seems very far away. We hope you found this article useful, and check out our other Annapurna and Everest trekking articles for more helpful info for your trip.