How to Navigate an International Airport
For first time travelers, or travelers who are venturing to a new country by themselves for the first time, navigating an international airport can be very intimidating, especially when you get to customs and passport control. It’ll seem like everyone knows where to go, what to do and how to do it – everyone except you. But don’t worry! We’ll walk you through what to expect when your plane lands and we’ll give you some tips on getting through your first international airport with ease!
What to Expect on the Plane
Sometime during your flight, the flight attendants will hand out a customs form for you to fill out. This will ask about your personal information, flight number, questions about your trip like where you will be staying, and if you are bringing any food or money into the country with you. You will want to fill this out before your plane lands and keep it with your passport for easy retrieval when you need it later.
- Pack a pen in your carry on so you don’t have to ask around for one on the plane.
- Take a screenshot of the address of where you will be staying so you can easily access this information in your photos as you’ll likely not be able to Google it when you land.
- If you’re connecting to another flight at that airport, ask a flight attendant if your bags will be put on your next flight or if you need to pick them up at baggage claim and check them again for the next flight.
Once you land, just follow the crowd through a series of hallways to passport control. This is where a passport control officer will check your passport for the correct visa, if you needed one ahead of time, or put a stamp in your passport as an arrival visa. If you’re in an English-speaking country, the officer may have a few questions to ask you about your past or future trip, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. However, most officers won’t speak to you at all. This process may only take a few minutes but it’s not uncommon to wait in this line for up to a couple hours.
- There will be a bathroom somewhere between the plane and this line – use it!
- Have a book or podcast handy in case the line is longer than expected.
- Keep your passport in hand so you’re prepared when you get to the front of the line.
- Keep your customs form within easy reach as well, you’ll need it later!
Baggage Claim Area
After your passport has been checked, follow the signs and/or the crowd to the baggage claim area. If you are picking up checked bags, find the baggage carousel that coordinates with your flight – there are usually TVs with the flight information displayed if you’re not sure.
- Give your bag a defining feature like colorful tape on a handle or a luggage tag. Many people are impatient after an international flight and can get pushy looking for a spot close to the carousel. If you don’t like crowds, you can spot your bag from a row back if it has a pop of color.
Once you’ve grabbed your bag, you’ll need to pass by a customs officer before leaving the terminal. They will take the customs form from you and make sure it’s filled out. Like the passport control officer, they may ask you some questions about the information you provided, but most of the time they won’t. Once you hand off this form, you’re done! From here, you’ll find your ride from the airport and start your adventure abroad!
Throughout this process, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help from anyone. It may look like your fellow passengers aren’t friendly, but most people simply go on autopilot during this process and may just be zoned out. Everyone knows how confusing airports can be and are usually more than happy to try and help you!