COVID Series: Where Can I Connect?
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
During COVID, often the only way to fly from Country A to Country B is on two separate flights that connect through Country C. I've built the most complete list I can find of which major airports allow foreigners to connect through on their way to somewhere else, even if they're not welcome to enter the country.
As international travel recovers much more slowly than domestic - for understandable reasons - airlines, airports and governments haven't put much effort into making it easy to understand where we are and aren't allowed to fly right now.
Here, I pore over page after page of government press releases, and badger airport officials across the globe, so you don't have to.
I'm just a guy with a blog. None of this is definitive, I'm compiling what I can find because pretty much nobody else is doing it. I bear no responsibility for your border crossings, but I'm doing my best to keep this up-to-date, and to include links you can use to double-check before you book.
I can't speak to individual airlines' passport policies. Some may not allow you to board even your first flight, unless they are convinced that you have the necessary documentation to enter your final destination country. Check with your airline before booking.
It's also really important to note that airlines don't need to confirm that you're eligible to transit to *sell* you a ticket, but they do need to ensure you have the correct documentation before you board the flight, so it's really important that you check this before you purchase.
I also recommend carrying a printed copy of the officially-published rules; you'll be at the mercy of the least-informed airline employee or customs agent along your journey, so be ready to point them to the correct rules.
HOW IT WORKS
When you fly from Phoenix to Vancouver to Seoul, with only a short connection between flights, Canada considers you to be a "transit passenger"; in other words, Canada customs doesn't care whether you're eligible to enter Canada, because you're never stepping outside the secure International wing of the airport in Vancouver.
That last bit is the key to this whole thing, because especially during COVID, it's what makes it possible for you to get on a flight connecting THROUGH a country you otherwise can't fly TO. This is a practice airports often refer to as "sterile transit".
Just so this list doesn't end up forty pages long, please assume that any time I say "foreign citizens" what I mean is "anyone other than citizens, permanent residents or people with special visas that currently allow them into the country in question".
IF YOU FIND SOMETHING I'VE MISSED
Please email me, graham AT flyermiles dot CA, I'll be happy to update the list!
Last updated: Nov 23, 2020
NORTH AMERICA / SOUTH AMERICA
YES, foreign transit passengers are currently allowed to connect through Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. You'll follow a secure path from your incoming gate to the International gates, or, if you're flying to the United States, you'll "pre-clear" US Customs before you're admitted to the US wing of the airport.
If your arriving and departing flights are in different international terminals (primarily an issue at Toronto) you will be permitted to transit between the two terminals, normally by a secure runway bus.
It is not permitted to fly between two Canadian airports as part of your reservation. For example, Dubai-Toronto-Chicago would be permitted, but Dubai-Toronto-Vancouver-Seattle would not.
Foreign citizens *must* be booked on a single reservation, with your bags checked all the way through, and will not be allowed to clear Customs to enter Canada. If your connection is overnight, bring a blanket, you'll be sleeping in the terminal, but for the most part, airlines are currently scheduling US flights to connect to international flights at times that avoid this.
Transit passengers whose destination is not Canada, do not have to submit their travel and contact information through the ArriveCAN program.
MOSTLY NOT. Since American airports aren't set up for sterile international connections, you normally have to clear US Customs before moving on to your outbount international flight. As a result, anyone who's not currently eligible to enter the United States simply cannot make this kind of connection. Anyone not covered by this ban will still need to go through US Customs as usual, and depending on your nationality, this may require a transit visa.
Currently, any foreign citizen who's even set foot in Europe, the UK, Ireland, China, Iran or Brazil in the past 14 days is barred from entering the United States.
Foreign nationals including tourists can enter Brazil by air, effective July 30. Those entering Brazil for <90 days must show health insurance of at least 30,000 BRL (approx. $7,500 CAD) or be denied boarding. I can't find detail on whether this includes passengers connecting through Brazil to a third country.
YES - Entry restrictions to Austria do not apply to transfer passengers through Vienna International Airport. Passengers must remain in the International wing, though at time of writing all flights are consolidated into Terminal 3.
If you don't speak German I suggest copying that link into Google Translate!
YES - Transit is permitted for connections of less than 24 hours at Paris Charles De Gaulle International Airport and Paris-Orly, passengers must remain in the International Wing.
You may connect between two flights booked on separate reservations, but passengers on separate, unrelated bookings are warned that if you are ineligble to clear French customs, this may cause serious and/or expensive problems related to getting your bags checked through from one flight to another.
The translation isn't perfect, but does appear to specify that passengers passing through France without clearing Customs are exempt from the requirement to show a negative RT-PCR test prior to boarding your flight to France, but you may be required to make a sworn declaration that you are not showing any symptoms of COVID-19 prior to boarding.
Note that the website below will regularly update the list of countries on each level of restrictions. Note that European nations that are not members of the EU (including the UK) are listed as "Extra-European".
YES - Transit is permitted through the international wing at Frankfurt and Munich International Airports, but transit passengers "must leave [Germany] immediately", which is of course not specified. Here's the response I received from the good folks at Frankfurt Airport on 23 November (emphasis mine):
"There are no objections to a stay in the transit area of Frankfurt am Main Airport if these citizens are not required to have a transit visa or if they have, for example, a Canadian / American / Irish / British visa or residence permit, an exception to the transit visa is given . However, it is not possible to enter the country, for example to pick up and drop off large luggage. If necessary, please contact your airline. The employees are sure to be at your disposal."
"Entry to stay overnight is also not possible due to the currently strict entry regulations. In principle, the transit stay must be made as short as possible, but no time limit is defined."
"If it is a question of an onward flight within the Schengen area, entry for onward travel is only possible immediately before the connecting flight / train, etc. (approx. 4 hours) without giving any particular reasons. The corresponding connection must be proven by means of a ticket or similar."
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, as of mid-August this ruling includes US citizens who are not otherwise allowed to enter Germany.
YES - Transit to non-Schengen/European destinations is allowed through Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, transit passengers must remain in the International wing and must depart in 48 hours or less.
Transit to Schengen/European destinations is subject to Dutch entry policy as usual.
YES - Transit is permitted, and passengers who never leave the International transit zone are exempt from Portugal's requirement for a PCR COVID test.
Received by direct message: "YES - Transit is permitted, transit passengers must remain in the International wing and must depart in 24 hours or less."
Note that a few African and Middle Eastern countries do still require a transit visa, even just to pass through a Spanish airport. See the link below for details, it's in English.
YES - "persons [can] enter Switzerland for the purpose of transiting the country and who intend and are able to travel on directly to another country;"
YES - Turkey's unique at this stage as its borders are basically open, so it's difficult to find any mention of specific COVID rules for transit passengers.
If you leave the international wing between flights, you'll very likely require a visa to enter Turkey.
United Kingdom - London Heathrow
YES - Transit is permitted. If your bags don't check straight through, you'll need to be eligible to enter the UK to sort that out. If your connection is overnight, you can either stay at the departure gates, or enter the UK and stay overnight in a hotel.
Note that citizens of several countries (such as India) must still apply in advance for a UK transit visa, even just to pass through Heathrow without clearing customs. https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa/y/india/transit/somewhere_else/no
United Kingdom - London Gatwick
Received by direct message: “YES, non-EU citizens are allowed to transit through Gatwick. If you transfer through our flight connections facility then this will be ok”
YES - Flights into and out of Hong Kong must be on a single ticket, but are no longer required to be operated by a single airline. Luggage must be checked through, and passengers must carry printed boarding passes for both flights.
Transit *from* Mainland China through Hong Kong to another destination is permitted, however transit from another origin through Hong Kong *to* Mainland China is not.
Note that citizens of several countries are required to show a negative nucleic-acid COVID test result from within 72 hours of boarding their flight to HKG, but one line in this news release from November appears to exempt transit passengers. I could see this going wrong if you're departing from an overseas airport operated by contract staff.
https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202011/19/P2020111900545.htm (it's long, search for 'transit')
YES - "Foreigners are not denied to enter Japan when they arrive in Japan via any of the following 159 countries or regions, which are subject to denial of permission to entry, for refueling or transit purpose. Those who entered those countries or regions will, however, be subject to the entry ban."
YES - but arriving and departing flight must be within the same terminal (KLIA or KLIA2). Generally if you're booked with a single airline in and out, this won't be an issue, but make sure you've got your onward boarding pass on you when you arrive at KLIA.
YES - with severe restrictions.
ONLY passengers travelling on Singapore-owned airlines (specifically Singapore Air, Scoot and SilkAir) may transit through Singapore with a connection of under 48 hours, and even then only on a specific list of approved routes that is constantly evolving. In short, if your departure city is on the list, you can fly anywhere the Singapore Group goes. So, Jakarta-Singapore-LAX is fine, but LAX-Singapore-Jakarta is not permitted.
I am in ongoing contact with Changi Airport's media team, and they are telling me the most up-to-date information is not on their own website but on Singapore Airlines'.
Check the website below before you book your flights!
Passengers are limited to Transit Holding Areas, but these include napping areas and free wi-fi, you can order duty-free and even food from airport restaurants to be delivered to you at your seat, and according to their website, you can even book an hourly room in the airside hotel and get some sleep. I've stayed there, it's quite comfortable.
YES - Transit of <24 hours is possible through Seoul Incheon airport, with the oddly specific exception of Mongolians specifically going to or from Mongoolia; if you're from Ulanbataar, but you're going from Tokyo through Seoul to Singapore, that's fine.
Transit passengers must remain in the International wing.
Sri Lanka - Colombo
PROBABLY, BUT INFO IS OLD - there is no specific information published on any airport or government website I could find. Sri Lankan Airways publishes a document from May 01, specifying that transit-only connections of less than 12 hours are permitted, and passengers may not leave the international wing of Bandaranaike International Airport.
I've reached out to the Bandaranaike International Airport media team for more info.
YES - Connections must be 8 hours or less, and all travel must be operated on a single ticket by either EVA Air, Cathay Pacific or China Airlines (not Air China).
Passengers must remain within the International wing of Taipei Taoyuan Airport. In particular, this means that those flights arriving from North America or Europe at Taipei Taoyuan (TPE), and departing hours later across town to Shanghai from Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA) are not permitted.
MIDDLE EAST / AFRICA
Abu Dhabi / Dubai
YES - All passengers, including those connecting through, must have a negative, printed "PCR" COVID test taken <96 hrs before departure. No other test is accepted. You may be selected for additional testing on arrival.
Note that passengers arriving from a specific list of countries, primarily in Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia, must also be tested again on arrival. Please see the list at the Emirates link below.
Passengers from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh must get their test from a list of designated labs.
All non-transit passengers must have a negative, printed RT PCR test taken <120 hrs before departure. Test must be officially stamped with time and date. All non-connecting passengers will be swab tested on arrival.
Passengers with an overnight connection must quarantine until their outbound flight, at a government-approved quarantine hotel. This requires a transit visa, which you can get at the airport on arrival, though many countries' citizens can do this online in advance.
YES - Transit connections are permitted if both flights are operated by Qatar Airways, I have reached out to the Qatari government and the Doha Airport authorities to try and find out if this extends to other airlines.
"Passengers from all destinations served by Qatar Airways can continue to travel with the airline and transit through Hamad International Airport, subject to entry restrictions at their final destination. You will need to hold immigration approval to land at the final city in your itinerary that is operated by Qatar Airways, even if you are taking a connecting flight afterwards."