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Avoiding a transit of the United States

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Avoiding a transit of the United States

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    This article is a travel topic
This article describes routes between countries that avoid transit in the United States.

Since the documentation requirements just to transit the US can be both onerous and expensive (see Preparing to Enter the United States), it may be preferable to select itineraries that avoid the United States altogether.

However, finding these flights is not always easy: the United States—fronting the Pacific Rim, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea—is an extremely vast country with several major cities that serve as hubs for many airlines; most on-line travel services lack an option to avoid a country; in many cases the smaller companies and chartered flights are harder to find.


You may wish to avoid transit in US airports because:

  • Anyone arriving into the United States or one of its territories (like Puerto Rico) — and not covered by the Visa Waiver Program or the separate provision for citizens of Canada & Bermuda — requires at least a C-1 transit visa to transit the airport. This can be expensive (US$160 minimum) and time-consuming to obtain, and you can be denied the visa: the requirements are the same as the full B-2 tourist visa. If you arrive without this visa, even for a fuel stop or transit, and aren't eligible for a waiver, you will be sent home and recorded as having been denied entry to the US. However, it is more likely that the airline will check that you have the proper visa to enter the United States before allowing you to board the aircraft. If you do not have the visa, you will be denied boarding and it may cost a lot to change your ticket or buy a new ticket at the last minute to avoid the US.
  • The United States does not allow sterile transit, which means that even if you have an immediate connecting flight, you have to pass through Customs and Immigration. This is time-consuming and tedious (4 hours or more is recommended to be safe), and all except Canadian travelers transiting in the USA using either a transit visa or the Visa Waiver Program will be photographed and fingerprinted.
  • You have previously been denied entry to the US or overstayed in the US, and have been advised that entry may be refused in future. Transit entry is as likely to be refused as any other entry, it will almost certainly be easier to avoid risking it.

Note that all of these activities now require either a Visa Waiver or C1 transit visa: transferring to another flight; just stopping and not disembarking from the plane; and refueling stops. Sometimes these minor stops are not even clearly marked on preliminary itineraries for long haul flights. If you have reason to avoid the US, ask that the itinerary be double and triple checked for transit and fuel stops in the US (including Hawaii and Alaska).

Note: Alternative transit points described in this article often also require visas. Always check transit or entry conditions of all stops. You are responsible for checking and if necessary getting the visas and are advised to do so months before your planned trip.

Via Canada[edit]

Traveling from Europe, Africa, or Asia via Canada allows reaching a number of Caribbean and South American destinations. This is also useful for flying around the world without entering the United States. There are numerous services from European, African, and Middle Eastern cities to Montreal and Toronto, plus some to other Canadian cities, and Vancouver and Toronto have non-stop or direct services to major Asia-Pacific portals such as Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei, Manila and Sydney.

When you transit through a Canadian airport, you will have to pass through a CBSA immigration inspection. It's simpler than the one to enter America USA (no customs, just immigration) but if your papers aren't in order, they will catch you. Depending on the airline and the airport, some Canadian transit requires entering Canada to change terminals or collect and recheck luggage.

Anyone who requires a visa to enter Canada will need a transit visa in order to transit Canada. Applying for a Canadian transit visa is easier than a US visa and usually does not require an in-person interview, and does not come with an application fee. Those who do not require a visa to enter Canada will need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) in order to enter or transit Canada.

From Europe[edit]

To North America[edit]

To South and Central America[edit]

To Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean[edit]

  • Bermuda and the Bahamas are directly reachable from London.
  • Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia and Saint Kitts are reachable from London Gatwick on several airlines.
  • Havana is directly reachable from several European cities. From there connecting flights to Latin America, other Caribbean islands and other Cuban cities are available.
  • St. Maarten is directly reachable from Paris and Amsterdam.
  • Barbados and St. Lucia are directly reachable from Frankfurt (weekly flights)
  • Guadeloupe and Martinique have direct service from Paris

From Oceania[edit]

To North America[edit]

Trans-Pacific travel avoiding the US can be difficult due to the use of Honolulu as a refuelling stop. As Hawaii is a US state, a stop in Honolulu is a US transit. Similarly, some of the more northern routes refuel in Anchorage, Alaska. Insist on having your itineraries checked for these fuel stops, as sometimes they are not advertised. The most common other points of transit (and unfortunately the ones on the cheapest flights) are Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, there are some options that avoid US transits:

  • Air New Zealand has non stop flights from Auckland to Vancouver, but be careful because the flight which stops in the Cook Islands goes via Los Angeles!
  • Since 14 December 2007, Air Canada has eliminated the fuel stop in Honolulu and now runs one daily non-stop flight to Canada from Australia. A daily flight now flies from both Sydney and Brisbane to Vancouver non-stop (and the Sydney flight is an onward direct flight on the same plane to Toronto.) You can also continue to book flights to Canada via either Auckland or the major Asian transit points such as Tokyo, Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong; if choosing to book via these routes, ensure there is no transit or fuel stop on the US West Coast. There are also flights from Australia to Canada via Manila on Philippine Airlines.

It is also possible to reach Canada via Asian hubs such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Taipei. See Discount airlines in Asia.

To South and Central America[edit]

Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires can be reached from Sydney and other Australian cities with a stop in Auckland. Qantas and LATAM also provide direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Santiago.

These flights are substantially shorter than trips via North America, but are less frequent and can be more expensive. Book well in advance. Onward flights to the rest of South America and up to Mexico are available from both cities.

To the Caribbean[edit]

You may need to make a three-quarter circumnavigation of the globe by flying first to a European city like London or Munich, or via South America or Canada as above.

From Asia[edit]

To North America[edit]

There are many non-stop flights to both Vancouver and Toronto from major Asian hubs on both Asian and Canadian airlines, as both cities have significant Asian ex-patriate populations and Vancouver is the closest North American port-of-call to Asia. There are also non-stop flights from certain Asian cities to other Canadian cities, including routes from Shanghai to Montreal and Tokyo to Calgary.

To South and Central America[edit]

There are some direct flights from East Asia over the Pacific:

  • Mexico City can be reached from Tokyo serviced by Aeromexico and All Nippon Airlines.
  • Aeromexico operates a nonstop flight to Seoul that operates four times a week.
  • Aeromexico also operates a weekly Shanghai to Mexico City flight via Tijuana.

A few airlines serve South America flying westbound:

One-stop connections from Asia to South and Central America are possible by transiting in Canada. Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, Mexico City, Santiago and Sao Paulo are all served from Toronto by Air Canada. Alternatively, Air Canada offers flights to Mexico City with a transfer in Vancouver. A Canadian transit visa or eTA may be required, depending on your nationality.

To the Caribbean[edit]

Air China flies from Beijing to Havana with a stop in Montreal.

Air Canada serves Antigua, Aruba, Bermuda, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Havana, Providenciales, St. Lucia, St. Maarten and San Juan with a transfer in Toronto.

From Africa[edit]

To North America[edit]

There is a general lack of flights direct to non-US North America from Africa, but Montreal is served by Air Algeria from Algiers and Royal Air Maroc from Casablanca. Toronto is served by two good Star Alliance airlines: EgyptAir from Cairo and Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa.

However, it might still be a better idea to head up to Europe first, which has much greater frequencies and availability - especially as the African Union has still made little practical progress in reducing the need for visas for intra-African travel for Africans.

To South and Central America[edit]

South African Airways and LATAM Airlines fly direct from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo. TAAG Air Angola flies direct from Luanda to Sao Paulo.

Ethiopian Airlines flies from Addis Ababa to Sao Paulo with a stop in Lomé. Royal Air Maroc flies from Casablanca to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in a triangular routing.

To the Caribbean[edit]

TAAG Angola Airlines operates a once-weekly service between Luanda and Havana.