Beyond The Terminal: Can You Leave The Airport During A Layover?

Picture this: you're on a long-haul flight, cramped in a tiny seat, and counting the hours until you reach your final destination. Suddenly, your flight itinerary flashes across the screen, and you realise you have a layover of several hours in a new city. 

As the excitement of exploring a new destination sets in, you start to wonder, “Can I leave the airport during a layover?” However, the answer isn't always straightforward, as various factors can determine whether you're free to explore the city or stuck in the airport terminal. 

In this guide, we'll explore the ins and outs of leaving the airport during a layover, weigh the pros and cons, and provide tips to ensure a stress-free travel experience.

Can You Leave The Airport During A Layover?

Can you leave the airport during a layover to enjoy the beauty beyond? Cre: @oh_she_travels

The vast majority of the time, absolutely! For instance, if you have a layover in the United States, you can often leave the airport and explore the surrounding area without any barriers. However, if you need a specific answer for each case, read on to discover!

1. For Domestic Flights

During domestic layovers, you are free to leave the airport. If your domestic layover is longer than one hour, you should expect to receive two boarding permits.

If you want to check out local points of interest, make sure you get your second boarding pass and print it out before you leave. In case you forget it, re-entering the airport can be challenging.

However, it is recommended that you take advantage of your time in the area. The rule of thumb is to always return to the airport in plenty of time before your scheduled departure.

2. For International Flights

In contrast to a local layover, however, international layovers are always a hassle. The first thing is that you have to go through immigration and customs. However, not all countries and airlines require you to do so.

To some, a visa may be necessary to enter the nation you are currently in. Leaving the airport during a layover without a visa is a violation of airport policy.

Nevertheless, if you just want to get through customs and onto the next flight, you won't need a visa. 

In short, if you have a valid visa for the nation you are visiting, it is safe to leave the airport upon arrival. Otherwise, it’s wise to stay at the airport during your overseas layover.

4. The Case Of The UK

If you're on a journey that involves a layover in the United Kingdom, you might require a transit visa. The Visitor in Transit visa grants you permission to stay in the UK (up to 48 hours) while waiting for your next flight. 

However, provided that you have already acquired any of the below, you are exempted from requiring a transit visa:

  • An EU Settlement Scheme family permit
  • A Home Office travel document
  • A Standard Visitor visa
  • A Marriage Visitor visa.

5. The Case Of The US

The United States stands out as an exception because its airports do not feature international departure and arrival areas. No matter where you're headed after leaving the United States, if you enter the country from another country, you must go through immigration. 

You may need a tourist visa or an ESTA transit authorisation if you're not a U.S. citizen. This means that you will still need to pick up and recheck your bags through immigration and customs, even if you don't plan on leaving the airport.

However, it’s up to you whether leaving the airport during the layover is a good idea. There are a number of things you need to know and think about before you venture outside the airport. We will discuss more in the following sections.

5. How To Know If You Can Leave The Airport?

​​More often, if you're unsure whether you can leave the airport during your layover, it's best to check with your airline or the airport authorities. You can usually find information about layover rules and restrictions on the airline's websites, official governmental websites (for ex., the UK), or by contacting customer service.

Additionally, the airport may have information desks or customer service centres where you can inquire about leaving the airport during your layover.

Factors That Determine If You Can Leave The Airport During A Layover

Backpacks and luggage can impact your leaving decision. Cre: @kelrashedi77

As a general rule, several factors can determine whether you should leave the airport during a layover. These include:

  • Duration of the layover: The time you have between flights is crucial in determining whether you can leave the airport. If you have an hour or more layover, you may have enough time to leave the airport and explore the surrounding area.
  • Immigration and visa requirements: You may need a visa or other travel documents to enter the country, depending on your destination and nationality. It's essential to research the visa requirements well in advance of your trip to avoid any unpleasant surprises at the airport.
  • Airport security restrictions: Some airports may have strict security measures in place that can prevent you from leaving the airport during a layover. Make sure you check the rules and regulations of the airport you're travelling through to avoid any issues.
  • Airline and ticket type: Different airlines and ticket types may have different rules and restrictions when it comes to leaving the airport during a layover. It's important to read the terms and conditions of your ticket carefully to understand what you're allowed to do during your layover.
  • Baggage storage options: If you have checked luggage, consider storing it at the airport or taking it with you on your excursion. Some airports offer luggage storage facilities, while others may not offer the same options.

Your trusty companion when you want to spend a few hours outside the airport. Photo by ttgo

Interested in a backpack that can pack your whole world? The Cabin Classic Flight Backpack is an excellent choice! With its sleek design and thoughtful features, this backpack is the perfect travel companion for the modern jet-setter.

Pros And Cons Of Leaving The Airport During A Layover

1. Advantages

  • Exploring new destinations:

Exploring a new destination is one of the most significant advantages of leaving the airport during a layover. Whether it's a city, town, or nearby attraction, getting out of the airport and experiencing a new place can be an exciting and enriching experience.

  • Experiencing local cultures:

Leaving the airport during a layover allows you to experience a new place's local culture, customs, and food. This can add depth and richness to your travel experience and create lasting memories.

  • Breaking up a long trip:

Long flights can be tiring and exhausting, and leaving the airport during a layover can break up the monotony of a long trip. It allows you to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, and recharge before your next flight.

2. Disadvantages

Flight delays can happen during layover time. Photo by alice_photo -

  • Additional expenses:

Leaving the airport during a layover can also come with additional expenses you may not have budgeted for. For instance, you have to pay for transportation costs, entrance fees to tourist attractions, or meals at local restaurants. It's important to factor in these additional expenses when deciding whether to leave the airport during a layover.

  • Visa requirements:

Some countries may require a visa or other travel documents to leave the airport during a layover. If you don't have the necessary documents, you may be denied entry into the country or face other penalties. So it's essential to check the visa requirements beforehand.

  • Possibility of unexpected issues:

Leaving the airport during a layover can expose you to unexpected issues such as flight delays, traffic, or other transportation problems. These issues can cause stress and anxiety and disrupt your travel plans. Moreover, if your layover is at nighttime, there are safety issues. It's important to have a backup plan in case things don't go as planned.

Tips For Leaving The Airport During A Layover

Local guides can give you helpful instructions. Photo by LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS -

While leaving the airport may sound like a fantastic idea, there are certain things you need to note. ​​By following these tips, you can make the most of your layover and have an exciting and memorable experience exploring a new destination:

1. Research Beforehand

Before leaving the airport during a layover, it's essential to do your research. Find out what sights and activities are nearby and any safety concerns or visa requirements. You can also look for local guides or apps to help you plan your layover adventure.

2. Be Mindful Of The Time

When leaving the airport during a layover, it's also crucial to be mindful of time. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to return to the airport and go through security again. You don't want to miss your connecting flight because you got caught up exploring a local market or museum.

3. Be Aware Of Local Customs And Rules

When leaving the airport during a layover, it's important to be aware of local customs and rules. For example, some destinations may have dress codes for religious sites or certain behaviours that are considered disrespectful. It's always a good idea to research your destination's culture and customs and respect local traditions.

What Should You Do To Make The Most Of A Short Layover? 

If your layover is short, it's generally not recommended to leave the airport. Leaving the airport during a short layover can be risky, as you may not have enough time to return to the airport before your next flight.

This could result in missing your connecting flight and potentially having to purchase a new ticket. Furthermore, it's important to plan ahead and be prepared to move quickly. Here are some things you can do to make the most of your time:

  • Explore the airport: Many airports have interesting things to see and do, such as Changi Airport, known for its outstanding leisure amenities. If your layover is short, you might not have time to leave the airport, but you can still enjoy some unique features of the airport itself.
  • Grab a bite to eat: If you're hungry, use your layover as an opportunity to try some local cuisine or sample some international flavours. Many airports have excellent restaurants and cafés, so take a few minutes to enjoy a meal or a snack.
  • Relax and recharge: Airports can be stressful places, but many have dedicated areas for relaxation and self-care. Look for quiet lounges, meditation rooms, or even spas where you can unwind and recharge before your next flight.
  • Get some work done: If you have a short layover but need to stay productive, use the time to catch up on emails or work on a project. Many airports have business centres or quiet areas where you can work in peace.
  • Spend some quality time with companions: You can chat with your travelling friends about the upcoming trip for extra excitement. If travelling alone, make a phone call to your loved ones.


1. What Happens If You Leave The Airport During A Layover?

If you leave the airport during a layover, you may need to go through immigration, customs and security again before boarding your flight. You also risk missing your connecting flight if you don't return to the airport in time.

2. Can I Leave The Airport If I Have A Connecting Flight?

You can leave the airport during a connecting flight if you meet the immigration and visa requirements of the country you are visiting. Moreover, check if you have enough time between flights for some exploration.

3. Is A 4-Hour Layover Enough Time To Leave The Airport?

A 4-hour layover may be enough time to leave the airport and explore the city. But it also depends on the airport's location, the time of day, and the immigration and customs procedures.

4. Do I Need A Visa For A Layover In Thailand?

It depends on your nationality and the duration of your layover. If you are a citizen of a country that is eligible for visa exemption, and your layover is less than 12 hours, you do not need a visa. However, you may need to apply for a transit visa if your layover is longer.


In conclusion, leaving the airport during a layover can be a great way to make the most of your travel experience. However, it's essential to be aware of the potential disadvantages, such as safety concerns and additional expenses. 

Ultimately, it's up to each traveller to decide whether leaving the airport during a layover is right for them. You can choose based on your interests, budget, and time constraints.

Did you learn anything from this piece? Please share your thoughts on this topic by commenting below. It would also be helpful to spread this post around to simplify people's daily routines. Be careful!

Long Nhi

1 comment

  • Mercia

    I have learned a lot in this article. Traveling to UK from the US and I feel anxious about having a layover of ten hours. I don’t want to leave the airport anymore because hoping to find something exciting for us to do.

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