Lost in Transit

Transit Visas

C-1 transit visas

C-1 transit visas

Are a major bummer. But sadly you must have one if you are a non-US citizen traveling through the United states to get to a final destination which is not the United States.

Many people do not know that they must have one and are therefore turned away once they reach the United States. This applies to people on cruise ships as well, it applies to infants as well. If you do not fall into what they call countries falling under the Visa Waiver Program, which are:

visa waiver flags

visa waiver flags

Czech Republic
Latvia Liechtenstein
New Zealand
Republic of Malta
San Marino
South Korea
United Kingdom

Then all people, including infants, must have separate USA Transit Visa called a C-1 transit visa.

us visa

us visa

If you want to do any of the following you must have a Visa Waiver or C1 transit visa:

  • Transferring to another flight.
  • Just stopping and not disembarking from the plane.
  • Refueling stops. Sometimes these minor stops are not even clearly marked on preliminary itineraries for long haul flights.
  • 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 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.
us visa

us visa

They cost $140 each, according to the State Department Website. People from countries under the Visa Waiver Program, can transit through the USA without a C-1 visa, but the maximum time period of such stay is 29 days.

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.

It is important to give yourself plenty of time to obtain the transit visa. The documents required for each person traveling in your party are:

  • Passport
  • One photograph
  • DS-156 (Non Immigrant Visa Application Form)
  • DS-158 (Supplemental Non Immigrant Visa Application Form)
  • Visa Fees
  • Valid visa to enter the country of final destination
  • Proof of transport ticket of traveling to final destination
  • Financial documents in support of complete transit journey
  • Evidence of residence abroad where the applicant intend to reach after the stay in the US
  • Additional documents can be sought by the Consular officer at the time of interview (for example, a medical letter in case the applicant is HIV positive confirming the state of his health, a letter describing the purpose of the trip, etc.)

Application Procedure:

  • Application has to be made in the nearest US embassy or consulate
  • Applicants aged between 14-79 need to apply in person
  • Applicants aged below 14 and above 80 can apply via mail
  • Processing of transit visa application varies from country to country and it is better to plan it well in advance.

How to avoid transiting through the United States

The documentation requirements and the cost of transit visas for the US can be overwhelming. But there are ways around them, such as avoiding traveling through the United States altogether.

Traveling from Europe or Asia via Canada allows reaching a number of Caribbean and South American destinations. This is also good for flying around the world without entering the United States. There are many flights from European cities to Montreal and Toronto, plus some to other Canadian cities, and Vancouver and Toronto have non-stop services to Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

To South and Central America

south america

south america

  • Sao Paulo, Lima, and Mexico City are well-served from London, Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt and Madrid.
  • Santiago de Chile can be reached from Madrid, Frankfurt, Paris, and Zurich.
  • Many cities in South America are easily reachable from London, Paris, or Madrid .
  • Some carriers (Iberia, KLM, for example) fly direct from Europe to Panama or Costa Rica, from where regional carriers will take you to other parts of Central or northern South America.
  • Santiago de Chile and Sao Paulo 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.
  • Mexico City and Tijuana can be reached from Tokyo serviced by Aeromexico.
  • Aeromexico also operates a weekly Shanghai to Mexico City flight via Tijuana.
  • Emirates Airlines flies direct from Dubai to Sao Paulo.

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

To the Caribbean

the carribean

the carribean

  • 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)

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!
  • 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 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.

From Africa

african flags

african flags

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

Malaysian Airways has direct flight from Buenos Aires to Cape Town, but only once a week.

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

Please Note:  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.

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