Travelling to a foreign country like Nepal can be daunting especially during current Covid-19 pandemic. International travel is stressful even in normal times. It is more challenging during coronavirus crisis where travel advisories, flight delays, quarantine and PCR test can easily derail even the best planned trips.
While this blog post is written with travel to Nepal in focus, the guidelines can be used for any international travel.
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Current Situation In Nepal
As with any international travel during pandemic, ask yourself a question. Is it necessary specially when US government has travel advisory that advices not to travel to Nepal due to Level 4 health notice and potential for isolated political violence? Other governments have similar advisories in place.
If you decide to go ignore what government tells then this blog may give you some useful pointers. Ground realities are that:
- Coronavirus threat is real and it is better to monitor situation by looking at daily case number. This can be monitored here.
- There is a national election in November which means potential for rallies, protests and government reprisals.
- Limited numbers of flights available that means airfare will be more than usual.
Visa For Nepal
Visa on arrival is temporarily suspended. One needs to get tourist visa from a Nepalese embassy near to your residence. Currently Nepalese Embassy takes application by mail only (NOT online). One needs to submit visa application along with passport with at least six month validity and two blank pages. The visa fee payable with application are as follows:
- 15 days Multiple Entry Visa $ 30
- 30 days Multiple Entry Visa $ 50
- 90 days Multiple Entry Visa $ 125
The visa can be extended in Nepal for another 60 days by paying fees currently @ USD 3 per day.
Flights To Nepal During Covid-19 Pandemic
There are few direct flights available and all of them originate from middle east to facilitate easy travel for migrant Nepali workers. Currently schedule flights are available from Doha, Dubai, Delhi, Istanbul, Kuwait and Sharjah which means you must transfer through these airports.
These links are most authoritative and will help in making informed decisions.
Latest flight schedule for Kathmandu https://www.tiairport.com.np
Airline advisory: https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/world.php
Route Planning: https://www.flightsfrom.com
Covid restrictions: https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/world.php and
In addition, passenger must have PT-PCR test before boarding the flight. Unvaccinated traveller must quarantine for 7 days at hotel listed on https://ccmc.gov.np/arms/attachments/Quarantine_HotelsList.pdf
While PCR test is checked on arrival, quarantine is practically not enforced. We came across several reports where passengers booked for 7 nights and cancelled booking after staying for a night in quarantine. While we never advocate breaking law, it is best to let reader be aware of practical situation on the ground.
Best Time For Travel To Nepal
The month of October/November and February/March are the best time to travel to Nepal. The season is cool and dry which is ideal for trekking Himalayan mountains.
Going Out Of Nepal
Going out of Nepal during Covid-19 pandemic is more tricker than entering Nepal. Due to Covid-19, common backpackers route of India, Sri Lanka to South East Asia is either shut or open with multiple restrictions. Currently, Nepal is in Red zone for many countries which means passengers are not allowed to enter if coming from Nepal.
For example, passengers from Europe or north America can come to Nepal via stop over in Turkey or Dubai but travel from Nepal to these destination requires mandatory quarantine. At the time of writing (September 2021) it is recommended to use
FlyDubai/Emirates – transit through Dubai
Qatar Airways – transit through Doha
Turkish Airline – transit through Istanbul
Airlines require Covid-19 PCR test done by Nepal government approved laboratories those are mostly located in capital, Kathmandu. Hospital requires 8 hours to give test reports that are valid for next 72 hours by airlines so plan accordingly to complete your journey to final destination within stipulated 72 hours.
Another important factor is to ensure PCR test has QR code (required by most airlines) and rubber stamp (required at Kathmandu airport). There is a special booth near the entrance that rechecks and validates PCR report which enables you to enter TIA airport.
Indian citizens travelling to a third country would need a No Objection Certificate issued by Indian Embassy at Kathmandu otherwise they would be denied boarding at immigration check point.
Nepalese currency is not freely convertible in other currencies at least out of Nepal. It is best to covert Nepalese rupee to USD at airport (before check-In) that offers favourable rates when compared with currency dealers operating in touristic areas such as Thamel.
Kathmandu City To Airport
Taxi to airport will cost NPR 500 and ride time is 30 minutes. Add another 60 to 90 minutes for checkin and immigration formalities. Although queues are shorter due to coronavirus scare. Mask is required at the airport but social distancing norms are not followed.
Quiet Places At Kathmandu Airport
Kathmandu airport due to its small size and high passenger traffic, is more busier and chaotic than local fish market. If you are flying business class or priority pass holder you can take advantage of business class lounge located land side (before security control) on upper level. Walk in customer pay USD 50+ for use of lounge ($27 for priority pass guests)
Cheaper alternate is to use restaurant located on upper floor where one can order beer and finger foods for USD 10 (credit cards accepted). Bonus tips: Just let them know of your flight details and they will track boarding time so that you don’t have to wait in crowded airport.
Other Consideration While Making Decision To Visit Nepal During Coronavirus
Nepal is a beautiful country which is yet to be spoiled by modern developments. The flip side of it is also true that infrastructure to support tourism is some what underdeveloped. Government started Visit Nepal 2020 to address this but that initiative has fizzled due to ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Following things must be seriously considered before making decision to visit Nepal:
There is an environment of political instability. The country will have third general election in span of five years. Political rallies, protests and violence are common during these elections which can disrupt travel plans.
Nepal has poor health care infrastructure. In case of getting sick with Covid-19 you may find lack of ventilator, oxygen and medical support even with insurance as hospitals are overwhelmed. Those seeking emergency medical care (for example, broken limbs while trekking or altitude sickness) may find limited access to hospitals which are already struggling to cope with Covid outbreak.
Hospitals lack proper sanitation and have poor medical infrastructure in place. Risk of secondary infection of coronavirus or any other nasty microbe is real. Even Nepali citizens visit India for serious treatments.
Nepal has resorted to sporadic, harsh lockdowns to address spread of the coronavirus. International flights during those times were suspended. Tourist who got stranded unfortunately had to pay fines and penalty to get their visa extended. Some are also barred to visit Nepal with dreaded red stamp in their passport even when they were forced to overstay because of closure of international flights.
Outbound flights from Nepal can be expensive if number of scheduled flights are reduced by Nepali authorities.
Nepal has low vaccination rate. Covid-19 cases are rising on daily basis therefore it is possible that other countries may impose additional restrictions such as quarantine or even deny entry altogether to persons coming from Nepal.
In conclusion, it is not advisable to travel to Nepal in 2021 except for emergency.