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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 describes routes between countries that avoid transit in the United States, since the documentation requirements to transit in the US can be onerous. 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 online 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, Mexico & Bermuda — requires at least a C-1 transit visa to transit the airport. This can be expensive (US$131 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.
  • 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

Traveling from Europe 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 cities to Montreal and Toronto, plus some to other Canadian cities, and Vancouver and Toronto have non-stop or direct services to Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney.

From Europe

To North America

To South and Central America

To the Caribbean

  • Bermuda is 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)

From Oceania

To South and Central America

Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires can be reached from Sydney and other Australian cities with a stop in Auckland. 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 Canada

Trans-Pacific travel avoiding the US can be difficult due to the use of Honolulu as a refueling 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 who stops in the Cook Islands goes via LA!
  • 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 Sydney to Vancouver non-stop (and 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 or Bangkok. See Discount airlines in Asia.

From Asia

To South and Central America

One stop connections from Asia to South and Central America are possible by transiting via major European hubs such as London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, but that's a lengthy trip. There are some direct flights over the Pacific:

Note that JAL service from Tokyo to Sao Paulo has a stop at New York-JFK.

Singapore Airlines also flies from Singapore to Sao Paulo but stops at Barcelona. A transit visa for Spain isn't required for most nationalities as long as the next leg of a passenger's journey commences on the same day.

To Canada

There are many non-stop flights to Vancouver from major Asian hubs on both Asian and Canadian airlines, as Vancouver is the closest North American port-of-call to Asia. Recently there has been an increase in the number of non-stop flights from Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, Manila and Shanghai to Toronto as well, owing to the business links and large expatriate Asian population in the city of Toronto.

From Africa

South African Airways flies direct from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires; TAAG Air Angola flies direct from Luanda to Rio de Janeiro.

There is a general lack of flights direct to non-US North America from Africa, so it might be a better idea to hit up to Europe first.

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