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To be clear this is not a question on doing anything illegal. The question is about realms of control, and when you're "visiting" the territory of a country.

According to the UN's rules, territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles outside of the land. So to travel to country X, entering into those areas would put you under their territory.

What I'm wondering is whether a similar convention exists for altitude above ground/sea-level. I assume there's some limit, or the ISS would arguably be crossing countries' territories all the time...

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When you fly you are traveling above the control of many countries... –  MeNoTalk Aug 19 '13 at 6:41
    
But they control the airspace, and can order you down... –  Mark Mayo Aug 19 '13 at 6:46
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There are certainly flights which go around entire countries. –  hippietrail Aug 19 '13 at 7:43
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Stratospheric balloon flights, at 30 km+, need permission from the countries they fly above. –  gerrit Aug 19 '13 at 9:12
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I always think about this when I see an airplane go over my farm. I own that piece of land and the air and the skies above. Those airline fellas need to pay me to fly over my land ! Or atleast give a few free tickets :) –  happybuddha Aug 19 '13 at 15:51

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Not without getting into what's technically defined as "outer space". From Wikipedia:

There is no international agreement on the vertical extent of sovereign airspace (the boundary between outer space—which is not subject to national jurisdiction—and national airspace), with suggestions ranging from about 30 km (19 mi) (the extent of the highest aircraft and balloons) to about 160 km (99 mi) (the lowest extent of short-term stable orbits).

Essentially, if it's considered airspace, rather than outer space, you're in the jurisdiction of the country you're over. If you've got a craft that can comfortably fly in "outer space", then enjoy your jurisdiction-less travel.

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A convention sort of exists, in that countries recognize there's a limit, but they don't exactly agree on what the limit is. In any case, though the average consumer isn't getting that high up (at least for now).

Wikipedia says, on the subject of how high sovereignty extends,

There is no international agreement on the vertical extent of sovereign airspace (the boundary between outer space—which is not subject to national jurisdiction—and national airspace), with suggestions ranging from about 30 km (19 mi) (the extent of the highest aircraft and balloons) to about 160 km (99 mi) (the lowest extent of short-term stable orbits).

19 mi is roughly twice the largest absolute ceiling of commercial and business aircraft; you might be able to get up there with a military jet, but well, if you're flying military, the rules are probably bendable anyway.

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I would like to add to the other answers that once you pass the 30km (19 mi) height (which is possible with a stratospheric balloon) you are effectively outside of the actual control of a country. There is no weapon or force available in this height which can reach you. Most of the available missile systems reaches up to 25 km and even the SR-71 Blackbird cannot fly higher than 26 km horizontally. The US and Russia may have anti-satellite weapons, but any other country is pretty helpless against people flying in this height.

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"higher than 26 km horizontally"? Surely one of these words is not the right word? (-: –  hippietrail Aug 31 '13 at 3:35

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