How to survive arriving into Kathmandu, Nepal for the first time

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ January 16th, 2012. Updated on August 25th, 2016. Published in: Travel blog » How to guides ... » Nepal.
Flying into Nepal

Flying into Kathmandu

Back by popular demand … (Updated for 2016)

It seems returning to country is more popular than I thought. I received an email from a Nepalese person asking if I could tell them what it was really like to step right off the plane and into Nepal.

I also received a similar request to write-up my thoughts for a national newspaper over here to wrap up Nepal’s previous year of tourism. It seems like it’s a popular topic for people to garner a foreigners first thoughts of arriving into their country.

I’m under pressure for time; so I scribbled all this down in one quick sitting. Raw and unedited. Take it for what it’s worth as someone who’s been here before!

A tourist’s perspective on arriving into Nepal

Having won my heart ten years ago for its beauty, people, food, and culture I couldn’t help but want to come back to Nepal. As it was the tail end of 2011 (I’ve since been back many times), Nepal’s shining glory year of tourism; I thought of no better time to return.

The pristine mountains of Nepal and an aeroplane

Relax while you can in the air … then hit the ground running for your bags

Last year the vague rumors of Nepal offering free tourist visas put a smile on my face, and the first notions of making a return. They are really trying, I thought to myself. Then, to learn this was only applicable to those summiting Everest, I handed over my crisp one hundred-dollar for a three-month visa with less of a smile.

“First time here?” grunted the immigration officer not even looking up at me.

I sighed, not even a traditional Namaste greeting. “I wrote on my visa application that this was not my first time here.”

He looked up, confused. Then, finally shuffling through the papers actually read what I was instructed to painstakingly fill out when approaching Nepal airport. All this before I was then bounced between counters alongside the other tourists queuing up. Each of us equally confused at this initial procedure of different immigration forms to fill out for different counters and payment desks at Nepal’s Tribhuvan international airport.

My bags!

It was then on to the rugby scrum that is baggage collection. Little men in tattered coats descended first, asking if I wanted a trolley. I remembered the hefty charge once you get outside. “No charge for trolley” signs are irrelevant compared to the “I pushed your bags fee”.

Micro van in Kathmandu

16 – 18 people are often squashed into these micro vans … not my idea of a great way to get from the Airport

No, I ignored them and then joined the every man for himself shoulder charge of trying to retrieve ones bags. Twenty minutes later my bag did at least arrive. No thanks to the multitude of men encircling every bag that comes out onto the conveyor belt. Every man defiantly lifting each one up to see if it’s theirs.

Very disconcerting considering they swarm around the small door blocking any view of your own luggage should it emerge unscathed. You simply have no idea if someone has taken your bag either my mistake, or otherwise. Such a thing happened just before mine arrived. A mild scuffle ensued, along with re-examining of baggage numbers and much shouting. At least it made for some unsettling entertainment for newcomers to Nepal.

Sadly, the security men on duty saw no need to interject in all this. Some pale-faced tourists moved closer together in a defensive posture, surely wondering what they had let themselves in for.

Never mind, as you wheel or more likely drag your bags across to the sometimes working security scanner a 007 like security man will stride out from behind a building column and ask to see your bag tags and tickets.

Gimme some money!

Now it was time for that FOREX counter. I waited five minutes for a man to appear. My ten dollars was stared at as if an insult.

“Is this all?”

“Yes, I’m just taking a taxi.”

He raised his eyes to heaven, waggled his head and gave the typical bad exchange rate.

Money in hand it was on to the ravenous vultures of taxi men waiting to descend upon me outside. Distantly in the back of my head I wondered if anyone had yet created a tourist airport bus to Thamel yet. A nice gesture considering the year that it is. I’ve heard there is a local micro van outside the main gates, fuel strikes pending.

Get a taxi

Looking around I saw nothing but a mass of name cards, and a scraggly bunch of taxi men getting read to pounce on the new arrivals. Calls of “Just one thousand rupees” met my ears as one by one new tourists were plucked off along the pathway.

Of course this could all be mildly settled if I just roamed around to try to locate the “official” taxi ticket booth for a 400 – random guess charge. Strangely I’ve only ever seen this booth at the national flight section …

“Only five hundred rupees sir.” A straggler held on and followed me.

Nepalese Taxis

Nepalese Taxis – Little Suzuki cars that really are “that” small …

“Two hundred fifty,” I quipped back.

He laughs, in that way they do, “No sir, no fuel in Kathmandu this week …”

“There’s never any fuel in Kathmandu in any week,” I reply. “Three hundred last.”

He looked back at the dwindling crowds, then back at me before taking his chances and running back to the remaining tourists facing this onslaught.

I look around. Night was descending. There were a few taxi men standing to the side, but none were interested in my three hundred rupees. Had I over shot my mark?

I walked down towards the main exit road dreading the thought of a matchbox Nepalese micro van fiasco when finally a taxi stopped. A typical barrage of bartering followed, and I got in for two hundred and fifty, plus the promise of another fifty later if we arrived at the right destination.

Welcome to Nepal

Twenty minutes later and I am back at my old guesthouse. No electricity, load shedding was reaching its winter peak, just how I had left it the last time.

Welcome back to Nepal, so far it seems not much has changed in its year of tourism. Good thing it’s now 2012 and we can move on.  Writing this in my candle lit room I ask myself, “was once, actually, really, more than enough!”

“The adventure awaits” is more like it.

Never mind the arrival, I’m not a first time visitor. I know tomorrow I will head out and avoid Kathmandu’s Thamel district to meet some real Nepalese people. People eager for me to tell them of how things have progressed outside of this tiny little landlocked country over the past few years.

We will share tea more than once. They will wonder why I came back. And I will wonder why I didn’t come back sooner.

Quick tips on how to survive arriving at Tribhuvan airport (updated 2016)

International arrivals and departures from Tribhuvan airport can often be more convoluted than necessary. While many passengers don’t experience this much annoyance or frustration it can still happen. It’s best to be prepared in either case.

Getting through Kathmandu Airports immigration queues

  • Fill out your arrival papers on the plane once they are handed out
  • Upon departure from your plane push and shove like everyone else to get ahead first
  • Arriving into the immigration lounge take note of the queues (Nepalese passport holders / foreign passports), walk over to the ATM like electronic kiosks to the left
  • Place your machine readable passport ID page over the scanner on the lower left. Make sure the barcode bit of it is directly over the black part of the scanner. Let it scan … wait a bit … try again. If successful you need to confirm by pressing on the touch screen. You’ll be prompted to enter in your hotel details and length of stay. There’s a very annoying Nepalese “Ward” and “District” codes to be filled out. I pressed “0000” for them all and it accepted it
  • The machine will then try to take a photo of you. Yes, you’ll probably have to duck and step around a bit. Keep pressing the unresponsive “take photo” button until it finally obeys and your photo is taken. Confirm all your details and collect the bit of paper it spits out
  • Walk up to the next counter which is at the end of the arrival hall or to the right of the passport machines. Hand over the slip of paper along with the required money (USA, RMB, Sterling or Euro – you’re safer with USD) for a two or three colored receipts (there is an ATM in arrivals but it rarely works so don’t count on it)
  • Turn to the right and there will be several kiosks for visas. Some are for 15/30 days others are for 90 days. Don’t queue at the wrong counter or you’ll be sent to another one down the row. Check first, then queue. There are little signs above them
  • Hand over all your receipts and passport before confirming what type of visa you want. Get your sticker like stamps. Leave to your left
Note: the above might change on a whim … but it’s what the procedure is as of 2016.

Get your luggage back at the airport

  • You should have small bar code and number stuck onto your ticket or passport that should match your luggage – don’t lose it!
  • If in a group one person should remain back with all hand luggage while everyone else forms a protective circle and gets as close to the luggage conveyor belt exit window as possible
  • If alone, make sure all your stuff is zipped up and barge in head first to get a clear view of where your bags should appear
  • All the baggage trolleys are free to use. Don’t accept offers to carry luggage from everyone
  • Do not be afraid to push back at the heaving mass of men, women and old people elbowing you anywhere they can while waiting for the luggage to appear. Give an inch and you’ll be jostled to the back in an instant!
  • Be prepared for some close bodily contact with high odor people of all types
  • When the conveyor belt starts to move stand your ground!
  • If you see your bag appearing don’t move, it will/should get to you. Don’t panic when you see at least five people pick it up to see if it’s theirs. Even if you are the only person in the world with a bag covered in pink polka dots
  • Grab your bag and allow the crowd to slowly push you to the back
  • Move out to the main clearing and be prepared for a security man/woman to jump out. He wants to compare that ticket number which should match your bag ticket number
  • If there’s electricity have your bag x-rayed on the way out

Changing money at Kathmandu Airport

  • There’s a small forex near the exit doors: wait for a little man to appear – he’s quite grouchy so don’t take crap from him
  • Ask him the rates. He will ask you how much you want to change. His minimum change is USD $50 which he will give a bad rate. You’ll some of it for a taxi.
  • Leave and try and not feel defeated by his smirk

Getting from the airport to Thamel or Kathmandu city

  • The 2015 rate from the airport to Thamel is 450 rupees. 400 if you are really, really good at bargaining. 500 is if you just don’t want to bargain much. 600-800 will get you less hassle. If you intend to pay anything over this then please just send it to me or buy one of my Nepal guidebooks which explains all this very succinctly
  • Once outside the main building doors (you can bring your baggage trolley) ignore the mass of taxi men running up to you and turn right, do not say hello or Namaste, just walk
  • When the crowds thin out blurt “250 rupees Thamel” to one of them. Keep walking. Repeat until there is only one man left
  • Nod your head at the repeated mentions of the cost of fuel. Say you know there is a fuel shortage from when you were here last week. Make sure he understands this. Begin the bargaining process with the repeated walking away tactic
  • Eventually the taxi man will agree on a price then disappear. He’s actually gone off to find another taxi man to see if they can squash you in with some other people or a “Friend”. You should never accept a taxi ride with a “Friend” even if they are just going to the exit gate.
  • Make sure, and triple confirm the taxi man knows the exact address of your hotel and agrees on the price. Get his name. Repeat the price. Get in the taxi and enjoy the ride – you’re nearly there
Note: All the above is subject to change as is the real beauty of Nepal. Don’t take anything too seriously and never shout at anyone or get angry. Most Nepalese people have to go through the same problems you do when arriving into the country and are equally not impressed with the system.
  • Real fuel shortages do occur regularly, a taxi price usually goes up 100-1000 rupees depending on its duration.
  • There is a bus (micro van) going from the airport gate to the city. It’s a pain but will only cost you 10 rupees and will drop you near Swayambhunath.
  • During strikes there is a real bus that will take you to/from the airport/Thamel

Leaving Kathmandu Airport

In case you were wondering if it was just as fun leaving as it is arriving I wrote some tips about leaving from Kathmandu Airport.

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44 Great responses to How to survive arriving into Kathmandu, Nepal for the first time

  1. Nathan says:

    *This* is the type of advice people need when arriving at an unfamiliar country. …but, I thought you would have taken the micro-van? Is the walk really far?

    • It’s not so far. However it was 6.30pm by the time I got outside the airport – rush hour. And it would have been for the next hour or so. Those micro vans only drop you at Ratna Park (main bus park) which is then another small micro can to an area just outside Thamel and then an even longer walk to my guesthouse.

      So, for me at least as I stay outside Thamel a taxi for 300 +20 mins was a lot better than 30-50 rupees and 2-3 hours arguing, bargaining, and waiting around.

      • gordon says:

        Hi, Dave

        Thanks for the info

        Any idea about booking a car to the hotel from the airport prior to arrival?
        I see some websites but will they try to bundle other travels together, or give ‘friends’ a lift?

        I had this experience at Columbo.

        Any advice appreciated.

        • Hi Gordon,

          Some hotels offer an airport pickup. If they do, then go with that if it’s included in your overall price. The more expensive the hotel the greater the chance the driver will actually be there. The lesser the hotel price and there’s more a chance the driver might be late etc. And yes, lower budget hotels might include you in a sort of group pick up with another hotel nearby. It’s generally okay. But if they charge for the pick up just make sure it’s not over 800 otherwise it’s probably better just to haggle a taxi at the airport as it will be cheaper. Again, if it’s late at night then prices will go up either way.

          I certainly wouldn’t be booking a hotel that’s offering an airport pickup + tour bundle type thing as they are usually way over priced.

          Hope that helps

  2. Andy says:

    Great tips. Sounds like the place needs it too. Any tips on where to stay?

  3. Anna's World says:

    It’s like walking in your mind to read this post! I can nearly see everything that you went through. Definitely a great read if you are flying into Kathmandu

  4. Cynthia Elan says:

    Reminds me of a rugby scrum!! Head down, charge all the way to your hotel! :)

  5. Backpacker Girl says:

    Is it really harder to take the bus than a taxi??

  6. Poppie says:

    Wow! I must have been unconscious when I went over there a few years ago. It was just a few weeks after the Royal Family had all been murdered and there were guards everywhere. I guess not many tourists made it a very simple process at that time. So this description is amazing! I didn’t notice any much difference from arriving in Vanuatu or Fiji. The mini van description, with tattered upholstery, the multi body odours, the swell of the crowds, all just felt like Fiji or Vanuatu on a larger scale tho’! There is a certain element of excitement, tinged with a hint of “personal danger” tho, one must admit, but fun!

    • Hi Poppie, yes I guess a lot of the above will be dependant on the time of year (off peak or peak season) and the luck of the draw with who you are with when you fly in. 2011 was Nepal’s year of tourism so I’m guessing there were more people around.

  7. What are the main differences between bus and taxis?

    • Taxi takes you directly to your destination. Bus is really a micro-van you have to flag down, take to Ratna park, get out, get another then get dropped outside an area and have to walk in. Both are options, the price difference is about 200 rupees on a good day.

  8. Jakob says:

    Very good and usefull info!
    I entered in Nepal 2 times last year and the second time, based on my experiences, I skipped Thamel and went to my guesthouse near Gwarko in Patan with the local bus, felt so much better than the first time I entered Nepal: no need for negotiations with the taxi-drivers, 30 rupees only and it almost felt like I was an inhabitant, part of the local community.

  9. Natalie says:

    I am planning on going to Nepal for the first time this summer- end of July.
    Do you have any advice for going in summer? I hear it is very wet and rainy. Does it rain all the time, are there dangers with landslides etc.? I will be mostly in Kathmandu visiting a friend. I am not sure I will travel much as I only would have 9 or 10 days total in the country.
    Any tips or advice would be fabulous.

    • Hi Natalie,

      The end of July is indeed monsoon season in Nepal. It’s certainly not the best time of year to go “trekking in Nepal”, but for visiting Kathmandu, you should have no problems.

      Monsoon weather in Nepal generally means between 1-3 heavy downpours a day. Downpours usually last around an hour. Sometimes there’s a little bit of street flooding in the city, but nothing that doesn’t flow away after an hour or so. Climate change is effecting things and sometimes there’s a day or two of all day light rain.

      There are no landslides in Kathmandu city itself. Landslides really only occur in the mountains or on mountain trails / roads. So again, unless you planning to visit villages in the mountains, you should be fine.

      Bring a light rain jacket, it’s quite warm at that time of year so you don’t need anything heavy. There are also plenty of rain jackets etc for sale in Thamel Kathmandu so again your should have no problems. A good set of hiking boots, or at least something that covers your ankles is a small tip even in the city to avoid splashes and dirt on your feet.

      Day trips to places like Patan, or Bhaktapur are musts if you only have a short time. From Kathmandu you could try a short trek to Nagarkot if the weather is fine. Likewise, if you want to travel further out you can go to the idyllic city of Pokhara. There’s a lake, the world peace stupa (a simple quarter day hill climb). Do take the time to check out the Climbers Museum in Pokhara, there are some fantastic and huge photos on display there.

      Check out my travel guide to Nepal on this site. Also over the next few weeks I’ll be publishing a list of treks, things to do in Nepal etc. So stick around for some tips etc. Or subscribe by email and get them sent to you for free, a good way to keep a list of things to do too. You can always unsubscribe before you head over on your travels ;)

      Hope this helps


      • Natalie says:

        Thank you so much! That is correct I will not be hiking / trekking, but more cultural visit.
        I also wanted to let you know that your photographs are amazing- capturing the true essence of a place as well as the people and culture. Do you have a Flickr site with them up?
        Thank you again for all the tips. I hope your trip is a success in many ways.

  10. Andreas says:

    This sounds like Jakarta 2.0 ;)
    And maybe not the report the local newspaper was hoping for?

  11. Vicky says:

    Great post. Very informative. I really find posts like these incredibly helpful and unfortunately so few travel blogs provide such details.

  12. John says:

    Great post! First timer this year (May 2012) Our trekking company sent a car/driver and we were still besieged by the taxi touts on the way to the car!!

  13. Giao Dang says:

    Hi Dave,

    Can I go to Pokhara directly from Tribhuvan airport? Because my arrival time just is around 12pm.

    • Hello,

      12pm is a bit late to be taking the tourist buses to Pokhara. You could take a mini van. At that time of day though it could be quite a hassle. And the journey will have a lot of stops and possible transfers along the way.

      A better option would be to get a flight to Pokhara they also leave from Tribhuvan airport. Though you’ll be arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport and the domestic flights leave from the other side of the same area called Tribhuvan Domestic Airport. You’ll have to walk outside to it and do battle with the taxi men to walk there.

      Unfortunately none of the domestic airlines offer online tickets. So you’ll have to pay on the spot for a ticket and hope there’s a seat available, or try to book a flight through an agency before you arrive.

      Hope this helps.

  14. Mike says:

    Hi Dave
    I’m due to go to Nepal for the first time at the end of september. I had heard Kathmandhu Airport was a bit of a scrum. Very useful post and advice- Thanks


  15. Annie Johnson says:

    Hi, first went to Nepal in 1990 – no baggage belts then!! It appears it is just as chaotic now!! Back for my sixth trip in October – yes I fell in love with the country, people etc – taking friend with me for his first time so your info is so useful. We have visas already but will we still need to fill in forms? Seven years since I was last there and cannot quite recall! I am counting the days – 23 to go!!

    • Hi Annie,

      I imagine you shouldn’t have to queue in the first line to get visa receipts as you already have one. If I were you I’d enter immigration, grab a form from the table, tuck it under your arm and head straight to the immigration counter with passport open showing your visa.

      Knowing Nepalese bureaucracy you might get a grouch who says you still need to fill a form. But hopefully they’ll just stamp you straight in!

      Glad to hear the site has been helpful to you. Try checking out the links to on the side bar of my Nepal Travel guide. The biggest change are all the entrance prices.

  16. Karen says:

    This is great info! I will be headed to KTM in March. I don’t suppose the airport has free wifi? My flight arrives late at night (around 10:30 pm). Are there still taxis outside at that time?


  17. These are indeed useful and i love to use this when I get mysef to Nepal :) Its on my bucketlist though

  18. Bill Leggott says:

    Thanks for the info. How long a drive generally is it from the airport to the Thamel area? We arrive apr 4th and fly to Pokhara on the 6th. We return late in the afternoon back to Kathmandu after Paragliding.Is the domestic terminal easy to use?What is the reason these people are grabbing bags on the conveyor. I get they wish to be paid for carrying bags but until they are identified?How do they get behind security? Please forgive if these seem naive questions regards Bill

    • Hi Bill,

      No problems. It’s about 30 mins from the Airport to Thamel in a Taxi depending on traffic, fuel strikes etc. The domestic terminal is fine, a little chaotic at times. Just keep your head about you and you’ll be fine. About the bags. It’s more a Nepalese thing than a thieving thing. People will pick up bags from the conveyor if they look anyway remotely like their own, or if they think there’s a bag behind/under it or even they think it will speed up things. Security … You’ll probably only see them at check in or on the way out. When flying out of Nepal they tend to be overzealous on bag searching.

      Hope this helps!

  19. ViP says:

    As a Nepali, I feel ashamed to be telling you this, but Kathmandu’s international airport is definitely one of the worst airports in the whole world. From the services, or the lack of it, to the utterly rude middle aged immigration officers, there are MANY things we need improving. I feel especially ashamed to see how tourists are hassled and exploited in such a way. 1000 rupees from the airport to Thamel is plain robbery I say. And as you pointed out, the small as shit excuse of the car we call our taxis is just pathetic. There’s hardly any space to put luggage, and many times I’ve seen Nepalis and foreigners alike having to hire two taxis, which just doubles the amount. It is pathetic how the airport officials cannot even provide a tourist bus service, let alone install facilities for helping tourists like information counters, proper restrooms (you didn’t even talk about that! Didn’t want to scare your readers away from visiting Nepal, did you?), proper money exchange counters, among others.

    I don’t know when the government and the airport officials realize this that we want our first and last impression to be something positive, not the present universal distaste, hatred, and ridicule that the airport gets.

  20. Ciaran says:

    Just some current info,

    Flew into KMT at 8pm, airport was nearly empty, no line for 30 day visa, also 90 day visa line was empty, but the 15 day visa line was very long and everyone there looked confused (i wne t for the 30 day visa).

    Of the two forms you need to fill out on arrival, one was available on the plane (Air Asia X) and the other was available on the big old brown desk in the hall of the arrivals building.

    Only the FOREX booth BEFORE the visa section was open at this time of night, the ones outside near the taxi office were both closed.

    Again maybe due to the late arrival time, but there was no problems with baggage, no one offered to carry the bags or to get a trolly. There was still the airport security guy wanting to match you luggage tags to the ones on your bags.

    I was staying at a place near the British Consulate, about 20 minutes walk from Thamel and the price given at the official taxi office inside the airport was 750nr, then the first line of taxis right outside the exit doors of the airport said it cost 1000, kept walking back towards the rear of the parking lot and the next row of taxis were 800 (because of the taxi being a new car) the last row of taxis in the airport parking lot said 600, i offered 400 and we met in the middle at 500 and this included a phone call to the guest house for directions along the way (yes the taxi looked like it was about to fall apart too and it took a couple of goes to get the rear door closed! HA!)

  21. CindyVazzy says:


    I’m heading to Nepal next week. Was just researching on as much tips as I possibly can for Kathmandu and Nagarkot. On this link:, there is a downloadable Visa form. Is this the same form as the ones handed out within the arrival hall? I was thinking of preparing them in advance so I can save on some time.

    We’ve also arranged for an airport pickup by the hostel that we’re staying at for $5. :) What would you say would be an average per day spent in KTM?

    Thanks for all your help!


    • Hello,

      No that’s not the same form. That looks like a visa application form from the Nepalese Embassy in Malaysia. The one on arrival is different. Just make sure you have a passport photo and pen ready. More information on Nepalese visas here.

      Yes USD$500 for hotel pickup is good :)

      Average budget depesds on what you do. Considering KTM Durbar Square is $7.50 to enter, Patan $5 etc a low budget would be $15-20 pp not including accommodation for a day of sightseeing in KTM which included one entrance fee and food. Bhaktapur is $15 to enter so again it depends on where you want to go. Taxi fees are 200-300 around the city. While Patan is $4-$5, Bhaktapur over $10.

      Enjoy your stay

  22. Agata says:

    Thank you for a very useful info. My friend and I we’re going to Nepal in 2 weeks time. I wonder if the taxi price will be counted double as there will be 2 passengers? Also do you know anything about Lumbini accommodation? I’ve heard that the Korean monastery doesn’t take the tourists any more and we’re worried that we’d stuck there without place to sleep. Thank you.

    • Hi,

      No taxi fares are for the whole taxi and not per person.

      As of last month the Korean monastery still takes people for small donations. Otherwise the small road in Lumbini village has several guesthouses.

  23. Bhabendra says:

    I am a Nepalese. Very kinetic description, I laughed my head off while reading this article. A true visual discreption upon arrival at the TIA.
    Being Nepalese still got confused with the chaos while arriving at airport, I really felt sorry for all the tourists and visitors who come to visit Nepal.

  24. This has provided all the info we need for our Nepal trip scheduled next week. Kudos!

  25. greg torr says:

    Hey do you guys know if there are any facilities for leaving luggage at Kathmandu airport