Tips on how to leave from Kathmandu airport

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ September 17th, 2014. Updated on February 3rd, 2015. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Empty Nepal Airline Seats

There might be a reason why so many seats are empty leaving Kathmandu Airport …

Surely it’s not that hard to leave Nepal?

If you read my article/help guide on how to survive arriving into Kathmandu airport and did indeed survive you might think leaving would be easy. I don’t blame you. So did I. More than once. The answer is of course it’s a lot harder to fly out of Nepal than it should be.

It’s all very possible of course. But read on about my experiences, including some tips, to avoid a lot of hassle, arguments, frustration while saving a lot of time along with some money!

A tourist’s perspective on departing from Nepal

Heartbreak and tears from all sides. It’s hard to leave Nepal from an emotional standpoint let alone a physical one. The Nepalese people are endearing and seem to share the same heartache I do as we say goodbye at my guesthouse.

A little white Suzuki taxi is outside and I’m not allowed to carry a single bag to it. Everything is loaded into the back and then a queue forms.

Everyone is lined up waiting to say goodbye. Everyone from the old didi (Nepalese for mother) to the children and the odd relative I never really knew that well. Across the road another guesthouse family looks out and waves. I never knew them that well either. But I wave back tearfully anyway.

It doesn’t seem to matter here. Everyone hugs, shakes hands and slaps shoulders in a manly way.

It’s like saying goodbye to your family on your first day at school. It should be easier, but it’s not. And everyone promises to see you again soon.

Little do I know but this will be the last nice experience I’ll have until I’m back in Bangkok.

Little white taxis of Nepal

The “iconic” little white suzuki taxis of Nepal

Taxi to the airport

Now I know traffic can be bad in Kathmandu. But I’ve never really seen it that bad until the days I don’t need any traffic.

Yes, today as I fly out it’s as if everyone has decided to take to their cars out and block every lane-way from here to Tribhuvan airport.

My taxi man takes it all in his stride. Me? I’m wondering what to tell Kathmandu immigration when I show up tomorrow with the lousy excuse that I didn’t leave 4 hours before departure. Just like it said I should on the ticket. In big bold writing no less.

Speaking of which as we finally crawl by the smoky cremations at Pashupatinath and around the corner into the airport giant archway at least one reason for the delays becomes apparent. There’s a checkpoint and a military type person conveniently asking everyone for print outs of their plane tickets.

Most people were ready. For the others we had the charm at watching waving hands of desperation, shaking of angry heads, car inspections and a final head wobble of submission before being allowed in.

From Taxi to queue one of three or maybe four more

I’m not sure if it was the meager 50 rupee tip or my abundant chatting en route but once we pull up at the departure gate my little taxi man wastes no time in dumping out my bags quickly shaking my hand before tearing off down the road. No emotional hugs here. I put it down to “avoidance of bribes” by parking right outside the departure gates. At least that’s what I told myself. Repeatedly.

I look at departure gate A and then for a sign to tell me “Nepal Airlines departs from here” or even better “Bangkok”. Nadda. Just a crushed queue of people by glass doors being hassled by an army officer looking for those illusive paper plane tickets again.

Archway leading to Kathmandu Airport

Archway leading to Kathmandu Airport – the guard stop awaits!

Walking on I go to Departure Gate B further down. Empty, save for a few baggage people.

I nab a cart when they are not looking and hurriedly place my bags on them before taking my new-found ankle breaking weapon back to departure gate A’s queue smush.

It moves faster than expected. Most of them are forlorn loved ones handing around after being denied entry into the airport. The wailing children of one woman waving tearful hands at their mother through the greasy exterior window.

I hand my ticket to the officer at the gate as we wonder how many departing Kathmandu flights there are all at once. I then have to go on a search, like everyone else, for my passport which the officer also decided he wanted.

I’m inside the airport … kinda … nearly … well it’s another queue

Once inside there is another wonderful queue. This time the annoying barrier queue that has you feeling like a mouse in a maze. It all leads to yet another queue for security check number two!

Placing my bags on the scanner I go through the metal detector which doesn’t go off for once. Naturally enough not making it buzz triggers the security chap to take me into a little curtained off box for a pat down. Don’t worry they have men and women’s cubicles to avoid sexual harassment cases.

From my pat down position I could see with dutiful glee my bags trundling along before being overtaken by some random Nepalese bags being picked up by some locals who didn’t need to be patted down. My pat-down resulted in the questionable discovery of polo mints being found and a USB pendrive which needed to be explained to the guard.

Bags back in my possession and murderous polo mints back in my pocket it was off to find another cart and over to check-in.

From check-in to money exchange

Check-in is relatively painless. Only the mildest of arguments break out over my baggage limit. Apparently the numbers and separated letters “30k g” threw them off and they wanted me to pay the extra 10kg for my 20kg baggage allowance. I underlined the separated “k” and “g” to prove a point. Head wobbles later and I waved goodbye to my luggage.

Entrance into Kathmandu Airport

The first orderly queue of many … Yep, that’s the only way in – aim for the double doors in the center

From check-in I then surrender my emergency 1000 rupee note to the FOREX lady. Surprisingly, the rates are close to Thamel rates.

Immigration … not as bad as you might think

Up the escalator and straight over to the immigration form benches. I take a little white slip and fill it out with my pen. I do this while queuing to avoid the mad drivel of Nepalese pen thieves hovering by other form fillers at the counters.

Then it was time to watch the “Foreigners” queue get smaller as I finally reach the immigration desk. There were no mistakes here. No Namastes. No thanks for your visit. No goodbyes. Just an exit stamp. I stood a little longer and said Namaste, thank you and goodbye to the man.

There was an awkward wait of three seconds before he at least gave me a half-head wobble of dismissal or possibly dutiful human recognition. I suspect the former.

The wonders of Nepalese airport security

Being a wee bit late I couldn’t stop for a hearty expensive meal of … cookies or instant coffee at one of the four stands here. Nor spend my USD on the one little duty-free shop selling … well, not much. Instead I head to the main security check-in lane for men. That’s the impressively long queue right next to the equally impressive empty women’s only check-in queue to the right.

I watched ahead to see if this was a paranoid shoe removal airport or a somewhat more sane “the airport scanner should detect a shoe bomb” type airport. It was a Nepalese “some can remove shoes, others will be sent back to the queue to remove them type airport”.

Removing every known mental item, shoes and canvas belt I reveled as the buzzer did not sound and I got another free pat down. My polo mints were in my bag by now so the guard seemed disappointed to find nothing my check-in card and passport which he fingered over suspiciously for several seconds.

Over to reclaim my hand luggage I was moved along to yet another queue where everyone’s hand luggage was being manually searched. Hands up who thinks their scanner isn’t working today?!

The security man was a young chap who also seemed incapable of saying hello or Namaste. Instead he wanted my passport, check-in card and for me to empty my bag.

Now, if you are like me then you’ve probably spent an inordinate amount of time squeezing every possible thing you can into your overweight hand-luggage. As such I was not so happy at having to repeat this process ion reverse as a large Indian man with ornate body oder beside me did the same thing only with a lot more noise.

“What’s this?” said the security man picking up my head torch.

Nepalese souvenirs

Did you dare to pack any souvenirs?! Well, you better have receipts for them all!

“Head torch” I replied in a sympathetic manner reserved for special people.

“And this?”

“hard-drive … for photos. Erm, Photographs.”

“And this?”

“They would be earplugs …” Enough already. “You know, for blocking my ears during the flight in case someone is snoring. I hate snoring. Don’t you? Do you fly?”

The man scowled at me, “Alright, go.”

Great. I began putting things back in and elbowed the Indian next to me as much as he had been elbowing me. He was having issues with security over having a singing bowl without a receipt. His security guard was not amused. At least mine was showing signs of life and began to help me put things back in my bag.

Bag packed, again, I held out my hand for my passport and check-in card. He handed me the check-in card.

“My passport?”


“My passport please?”

“No passport.”

“What?” I glared. “Where’s my passport?”

“I don’t have your passport!”

The lost passport

I’ll save you the long drama of me getting quite annoyed at my passport going missing and my mind buzzing about the fact the obnoxious elbowing Indian was also nowhere to be seen all of a sudden either.

“Where’s my damn passport!” I yelled loudly.

The guard went silent. I shouted for his manager and thirty seconds later a bountifully rotund man with lots of medals on his chest appeared. I explained the situation to him calmly.

“Perhaps you left it outside when you were having coffee?”

“I didn’t have coffee!?”

The officer shrugged, “Perhaps you dropped it on the other side of security then?”

“No I didn’t. As I already explained I handed it to this member of your staff.”

Tribhuvan International Airport on a rainy day

Did I mention that if you fly out of Nepal in the monsoon season there’s a high probability your flight will be cancelled due to bad weather? No? Maybe it’s a good thing as the radar doesn’t always seem to work.

Again this went on a while. My mind was now going from missed flight, expired visa, to applying for an emergency passport over the next week. Oh and also about how some random Thai man will be taking my luggage home from Bangkok airport in a few hours.

“Maybe it’s inside your bag?” the officer said as it was obvious I was not budging.

I started taking everything out one at a time to appease him and buy myself some more time to work out what had happened. Either the Indian chap and nicked my passport or the security guard had. Either way the moment I went outside security I’d not get much further in getting it back.

Out went the hard-drive, the torch, the book and … the passport!

I looked up at the little security man. His eyes darted away in guilt.

“And this?” The officer looked at me as if I was completely inept.

“My passport,” I growled staring at the security guard.

“Good, issue resolved,” and with that the officer marched off.

The departure lounge

I entered Kathmandu airports departure lounge a little worse for wear after all that. It’s a big enough area but naturally there are not enough seats available for the amount of calculated passengers that need to wait. So passport clutched tightly I made my way out to the surprisingly clean coffee bar only to remember I couldn’t buy anything as I had no more rupees.

Rejected I took up a position along the main corridor outside the renovated toilets.

Over the hours my most wanted polo mints came in handy as flight after flight departed. Mine was of course delayed due to the weather or something to do maintenance.

“Do you know where the flight from Bangkok is leaving from?” asked a panicky looking Frenchman.

“Probably from that area,” I said pointing back to the main lounge.

“But there are no signs and it’s very late?”

“Yep, you’re right,” I replied. “And this is Kathmandu airport.”

Quick tips on how to survive departing from Tribhuvan airport

Avoid unnecessary hassles leaving from Kathmandu airport with these tips.

The day before your flight

  • Make sure your baggage weight limit is mentioned clearly on your flight ticket
  • Print out your plane ticket
  • If there’s more than one of you play it safe and print out a plane ticket for them too
  • Keep a working pen with your tickets (you’ll need it at immigration)
  • Get all the receipts for any souvenirs you are carrying in your hand luggage
  • If you don’t have any receipts rush to a local store and pay them 100 rupees for another receipt or alternatively just pack the items into your main baggage
  • Book a taxi with your hotel or guest house if you are leaving early the next morning

Getting to the airport on time

  • It goes without question: Leave early
  • International flight check-in opens 3 -4 hours before departure
  • If there’s a public strike then the airport usually has buses departing from outside the Moroccan embassy just before Kantipath (see my online guide to Kathmandu for more)
  • Have your plane ticket ready in case security want to see it when you drive into the airport
  • Not all luggage men are bad. The carts are free but if the man starts to push it then you will probably have to tip him
  • No other guests can enter the building aside from ticket holders so say your goodbyes outside (or, possibly print a fake ticket for them just to get inside – they’ll need a passport too)

Getting into the actual airport

  • It’s impossible to work out which gate you are departing from so just queue at the gate with the biggest queue outside. It doesn’t really matter as they both enter the same hall anyway!
  • Security will want to see your plane ticket and passport before allowing you into the building
  • When queuing remove the usual bits and pieces for the security scanner and prepare for your first pat down
  • Welcome to Tribhuvan International Airports departure area

Getting checked in quickly

  • There are only two building sections inside for airline check-ins so locate your airline by looking for their logo
  • Queue
  • Hand tickets and passport over
  • Place bags on scales (you know your baggage limit right?)
  • Receive a check-in card and baggage tags

Getting rid of all your Nepalese rupees

  • Nepalese rupees can’t be changed outside of Nepal! So this is your last chance to get rid of them
  • Head over to the only FOREX in the airport
  • The rates aren’t too bad so there’s nothing too much to complain about

Immigration tactics

  • Head up the escalator
  • Grab a little white departure card and fill it out at the immigration queue (remembered your pen?)
  • Don’t give your pen to anyone until you are sure you don’t need it otherwise it will be taken by the clever pen thieves of Kathmandu International Airport
  • Get stamped out of Nepal

Surviving the security check at the departure gate

  • If you are man queue in the massive queue to the left
  • If you are woman hop, skip and jump along the empty queue to the right
  • If you are a child hope you came with your mummy and not with your daddy
  • Take off everything metal including your shoes
  • Remove your dangerous laptop, tablet or e-book reader
  • Go through the scanner and then proceed directly to the pat down area again (you’ll be okay if they are busy)
  • If luck is with you there will be several flights leaving at once and you wont have to have your luggage searched
  • If luck is against you … ha ha!
  • Hold on to your passport and get your receipts ready if you dared to pack a souvenir into your hand luggage

Making it to the Departure lounge

  • Wait outside the main departure lounge as it’s cooler
  • The newly renovated toilets are around the corner and are quite clean
  • If it’s raining outside be prepared to wait and wait and wait … or be told “flight cancelled”
  • Continue to wait for your flight announcement
  • Discover no one can hear the speaker system
  • Hover around as people rush up to the gates whenever a uniformed person appears
  • Rush like a demented lemming to the gates once you realize someone whispered that your flight is departing
  • Do battle with every Nepalese person on board to stow your meager one piece of hand luggage versus their vast replicating pieces of luggage
  • Look out the plane window and realize that you will miss all that great chaos!
Note: All the above is subject to change per person at random notice as is the real beauty of Nepal. Don’t take anything too seriously and don’t shout at anyone (yea well, I had my passport go missing so that’s an exception right?). Most Nepalese people have to go through the same problems you do when departing Nepal and are equally not impressed with the airport system. All this from Kathmandu airport code KTM!
  • The airport is improving – the toilets now flush and the hallways have cleaners!
  • On my latest departure from Kathmandu airport I did not have my hand luggage searched – but I was still patted down and polo mints questioned (seriously)
  • The potholes along the runway have been fixed – or at least transferred to the domestic terminal
  • In case you are wondering: arriving and departing from Kathmandu’s domestic terminal is another adventure altogether!

Planning a flight to Nepal?

Just in case you stumbled upon this article and were wondering about arriving here’s an article I wrote about how to survive arriving into Kathmandu airport.

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20 Great responses to Tips on how to leave from Kathmandu airport

  1. Ken says:

    “security check-in lane for men. That’s the impressively long queue right next to the equally impressive empty women’s only check-in queue to the right.”

    Ha ha classic. Great read, enjoyed.

  2. Anna's World says:

    Your passport woes aside, I think every budding airport official needs to read this. Leaving a tourist supported country is just as important as arriving.

    Last impressions linger!

  3. Pam says:

    Brilliant article and so accurate, I can really relate. I’m one of those people who like to be at the airport hours ahead of schedule if possible. The driver of the hotel shuttle in Kathmandu didn’t seem to share my concern that we were stuck in traffic. It’s certainly an experience getting out of Kathmandu :-)

  4. Sander says:

    Bingo! You captured our experience leaving Nepal too. We couldn’t believe how annoying that airport was. Pointless checkpoints all the way. And the security scanners never worked so the queues were so long.

  5. Smith says:

    Great writing again. Had me laughing as I thought back on my own airport experiences over the years. Never had my passport taken though!

  6. Terry says:

    I read every bit of this and could just picture it all again. Yes I’ve been through it too. Can someone from Nepals Tourism board please reread this and take action on the airports bad tarnish upon Nepal. It’s called a wooden facemask for 500 rps not a precious artifact. Those rare, protected artifacts are the ones you’ll find the Chinese shipping out with expensive couriers!

    • I hear you loud and clear about the Chinese exportation of old artifacts (particularly wood carvings) from Nepal. All the government have to do is pay a visit to any known Chinese run hotel in KTM and they’ll see rooms filled with shipping boxes and old looking items.

  7. Ryan says:

    Enjoyable read Dave. Great tips too. Being a landlocked country you’d think they’d make more of an effort

    • Thanks Ryan, yea it’s a no-brainer. The fact they like to say “once is never enough” as their tourism slogan then have this experience as a send off is a little ridiculous.

      I have no doubt that if they did take action it would be something along the lines of “let build a new airport many miles away and make lots of money from it”

      Instead of “Let’s get the current one in order”.

  8. Catherine says:

    That’s exactly how it is!

    Our dear friends came with us to the airport and couldn’t even wave us off! Very bad last impression on Nepal.

    • This is one of the worst aspects at the airport. No place for people to wave goodbye. It’s not a huge thing but there’s not notice saying people cannot get inside the airport without a ticket. If they did that at least there would be less heartache.

  9. Tom says:

    I remember being shaken down at the check in counter for overweight luggage. Having been travelling for months, I really did know my true weight but the airline employee put his foot on the scale. He then said “Big problem, big problem, it’s ok, you pay me”.

    To that I said “pay you what?” looking into my open wallet. He then reached in and took a couple bills he liked, like he was plucking tissues from a box- yoink, yoink.

    How would you fight something like that, not much you can do? I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to get on my flight if I complained.

    • That really is bad. I remember a girl having issues at check in too. Her luggage was overweight, the problem was the money. They wanted rupee and she’s already cashed it all in. So had to pay in USD$. Caused a lot of problems.

      I think in your case they would have not allowed the bag on if it was overweight. If it wasn’t then maybe you’d stand some chance.

      I now carry a small bag weighing scale. It’s very light, but puts my mind at ease. Might help you out too!

  10. Uma says:

    Sounds like quite the gongshow … glad to hear you got through it though!