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I am taking my first solo trip from London to Sao Paulo in just over a month and I have a few questions.

I have booked the hotel, the flights, and got all other things (apart from getting money exchanged, and shorts... would you believe I can't find any in stores in the middle of winter)

However, there're a few things I am unsure of.

  1. How do connecting flights work? I am flying London -> Amsterdam -> Sao Paulo via KLM, and the reverse on return (all flights). So I don't know what I need to do in Amsterdam. Do I stay on the plane (assuming it is the same plane), do I need to do customs checks again, or do I just walk to the other plane (assuming different planes)

  2. Is it cheaper to exchange money in a local bureau de change, the one in the airport, or one in the local one to where I am staying?

  3. What is "too early" to arrive at the airport? In the past I have travelled as an accompanied minor (last time I went was about 4 years ago), so we usually got to the airport about 2 hours before the flight.

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    These three questions should not be in a single question. (2) has been asked here before, as has (3), so you should probably remove those from your question – Kate Gregory Dec 10 '15 at 13:08
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    Never exchange money at the airport, unless you absolutely have to. – fishlein Dec 10 '15 at 13:23
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    Amazon never stops selling shorts. – Doyle Lewis Dec 10 '15 at 14:54
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    @user568458 try travel.stackexchange.com/questions/10/… and travel.stackexchange.com/questions/25320/… and all the "related" questions each has listed on the right side when you read them. Also explore their tags for similar questions – Kate Gregory Dec 10 '15 at 14:57
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    @KateGregory actually those questions look very different to me. Your first is about safety carrying travellers' cheques vs cash vs debit cards etc, the 2) here is about where to get good rates on cash. Your second is about airlines whose boarding times bring passengers to the gate before the plane is ready to board; the 3) here is about check-in times, and when to arrive at the airport. If they're the closest we've got, I'd suggest Jordan asks 2) and 3) as separate questions. Related is not the same as duplicate. – user568458 Dec 10 '15 at 15:13
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  1. For a flight London->Amsterdam->Sao Paulo, you will not stay on the same plane. For economical reasons, different types of planes are used for these legs. The procedure is actually really simple: when you check in in London, you receive boarding passes for both flights. Then, in Amsterdam, after arriving, you go to the gate of your connecting flight. There will be screens that show the gate numbers. Your boarding pass may already have a gate number, but that may change, so use the screens. You will need to clear all the "stations" on the way to the gate. Luggage is normally collected at your final point of arrival (which is Sao Paulo), with a few exceptions (such as arriving in the US). In case of doubt, ask the check-in agent.

    As far as passport checks and customs are concerned: normally there is nothing that you can do wrong here. Just follow the signs for "connecting flights" and pass the stations that are on the way. If you don't receive a boarding pass for the Amsterdam->Sao Paulo leg in London, you will need to approach the connecting flights desk of your airline in Amsterdam.

    If you travel with a connecting flight for the first time, I suggest that you go straight to the gate at your connecting airport with the respective boarding pass in your hand. Only then, check how much time you have left until boarding starts and use restaurants/shops/etc. only in the vicinity of your gate (meaning that you can get back to the gate without passport checks, security checks, or airside bus transfers). Be at the gate a few minutes earlier in case airline employees still want to check whether you have the right to enter your destination country. They sometimes call out people whom they haven't checked yet.

  2. There is no general answer to this question as it may depend. For many people, getting cash from an ATM in their arrival country gets them the best rate. Second to that is your bank at home. But there are surely exceptions to this rule (for example if there is a lot of competition between the changing offices in your destination country).

  3. Most airlines do not allow you to check your baggage earlier than 4 hours prior to departure. So that is too early. The suggested time of arrival at the departure airport should be found somewhere on the web page of your carrier (KLM). I personally tend to add an hour to that when using public transportation to get to the airport. How early you should arrive depends on your personal acceptable risk level. The "2 hours" figure is normally fine, but check the website - there are sometimes exceptions for certain destinations (but Amsterdam shouldn't be one).

  • You may need to visit the transfer desk in Amsterdam in order to get your boarding pass - depends on what airlines you travel with. I don't know that KLM will be one - but other people with the same basic question may no be so lucky. Transfer desk is clearly marked with very large signs. Also worth mentioning that checked bags go all the way to your destination (although in some countries like the US you have to pick them up at the first port of entry to clear customs). – Floris Dec 11 '15 at 16:19
  • Besides transfer desks there are also a lot of transfer self service machines. Mostly they are self explanatory, but there is usually also a member of staff to help the people. In case of questions while in Amsterdam, all uniformed staff in the airport will help with simple questions, (that is staff of all airlines will point you to the right person to ask, if they do not know the answer) and KLM and airport uniformed staff will help you with all questions. – Willeke Dec 11 '15 at 18:51
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Short answer: you just take your hand baggage (don't worry about checked in baggage, they'll sort it), follow signs to "Flight connections" or similar, then from there, it's exactly the same as if you'd just passed security. Just find the right gate for your next flight using the screens, maybe nose around duty free or buy a drink, and wait.

It's easy (it has to be, since people often do it while half asleep!)


In detail: If you made one booking which includes a change, it works like this:

  • When the plane lands, you take your hand baggage and get off the plane like everyone else.
  • When you reach the terminal building, passengers start to go different ways. You'll follow signs labelled "Connections", "Transit passengers", "Flight connections", etc. Occasionally, large airports have different routes for international vs national connecting flights.

Here's a typical sign. You'd follow the top route to "Flight connections", while others follow the route to "Baggage Reclaim and Exit". This is pretty much the only step in the whole process where you're not just following the herd or doing the same as a non-connecting flight:

enter image description here

Image from Dublin Airport, http://migrationireland.blogspot.com/2012/04/flight-connections-at-dublin-airport.html?m=1

  • You don't need to go to baggage reclaim, which is where passengers whose final destination is this airport are going, because your checked-in hold bags are taken from one plane to the other by airport staff. You don't even need to think about the luggage you checked into the hold until you reach your final destination.
  • The signs will take you to the gates and the waiting area, duty free, etc. You don't need to check in or go through customs, normal security or passport control again. Some airports have a much smaller x-ray machine on this route, or occasionally a desk double-checking papers - this is usually pretty quick and it'll always be obvious what to do. In my experience, this tends to be when the second airport is in a region with different security standards than the first - I'd not expect this going UK > Netherlands > Brazil, but I might expect it going Brazil > Netherlands > UK, which might be a problem if you buy liquids in the Sao Paulo duty free.
  • Then you just find which gate your next plane is at on the information boards, try to not go mad waiting for however many hours it is, then get on the plane as normal.

The only exception is, if you booked separate tickets (if you booked one flight to Amsterdam, then, you started a whole new booking, and booked a flight from Amsterdam to Sao Paulo). But this is really rare. You'll know if you did this.

If for some crazy reason you did, then you need to fully check out, claim bags, pass immigration, then check in again - unless you can get the flights joined when you check in, as explained in Gavin Coates' comment below.

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    not necessarily - you can inform the ticket agent at the time of checking in that you booked two separate flights. They can then join them together into a single booking, and check you in for both. If it's on the same airline, then it's no problem, if it's two separate airlines then they may not be able to check you in, but might still be able to tag your baggage through to the final destination. – Gavin Coates Dec 10 '15 at 14:09
  • Interesting, didn't know that. Hopefully I won't ever need to do this, but good to know! – user568458 Dec 10 '15 at 14:48
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    Just to say, at Amsterdam, arrivals from "safe" countries (EEA, US, and a few others) are considered clean and are dropped directly into the departures area. They do not need to reclear security, they can go directly to the next gate or to the lounge. If they need a new boarding pass or to check in for their next flight, this can also be done airside at the assistance desks without exiting the departure lounge. – Calchas Dec 11 '15 at 11:17
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I have personally made this exact trip more than two dozen times for work. I can tell you exactly what will happen.

What will happen

  1. Before you leave for the airport, call each of your credit card carriers and inform them that you will be traveling abroad. Otherwise you might find your credit card getting rejected later.

  2. In London they'll provide you with both boarding passes plus a claim check for your checked bags. Make sure you keep the claim check handy, you will need it in Amsterdam.

  3. You'll fly to Amsterdam and deplane.

  4. You will have to find your gate. Lots of screens tell you where it is. Go find your gate.

  5. Depending where your gate is, you may find that you have to pass through an intimidating passport checkpoint. This is not common but can happen if your planes are in two separate parts of the airport (e.g. you don't need to do it if you are flying from AMS to Edinburgh, but you do if you are flying from AMS to Glasgow). Each checkpoint area has two lines; one line for flights that are leaving soon, and a longer line for everyone else. Be sure to get in the short line if your connection is tight (there is a screen telling you if your specific flight is eligible for the express line).

  6. On the way to the gate, you will pass through shopping and dining areas. Take advantage. Once you are in your gate you won't be able to get back to the main airport area. They don't take GBP in Amsterdam, but you can use your credit card with no issues. If you smoke, this is your last chance for the next ten hours (there are two indoor smoking areas in AMS).

  7. The departure gates in Amsterdam have their own security checkpoint. Immigration will do a precheck on you-- they will need your passport and your baggage claim ticket. Liquids are not allowed through. They will x-ray your carry-on luggage and ask you a couple of questions, then affix a sticker to your passport. Once you enter the gate you can't leave; they will have a bathroom and a vending machine and nothing else. So again, don't enter the gate until you're ready.

  8. When your plane is ready, you will move from the gate to your seat.

  9. You'll fly to the United States. On the flight they will hand out immigration cards. I suggest you fill yours out (truthfully) while on the plane.

  10. At your arrival gate, you will be directed to immigration (all other exits will be locked down). They will check your passport, take your immigration card, and ask you a few innocent questions.

  11. After you exit immigration, you will enter international baggage claim. This is still a secure area.

  12. After you have your bags, you exit baggage claim through customs. Most passengers are waved through. A handful are directed to a side area where they will go through all of your bags. I went through this two dozen times and got searched only once.

  13. Once you are through customs, you are free and clear. Enjoy your stay!

Exchange rate

You get the best exchange rate if your have a credit card with a "no international fees" option. This is rare. But if you have it, I suggest you get dollars by taking cash advances.

The second best option is just to use your normal ATM card in an ATM machine. Your bank will typically give you a pretty good rate and the ATM fee will only be $2-$5.

Arrival time

You must be checked in 30 minutes prior to your flight to AMS. Even a second late and they can't help you (the computer shuts down). I suggest arriving at the airport two hours before your departure.

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    The departure gates at Schiphol no longer have their own security checkpoints, as they've moved (as of June 2015) to centralized security before you can enter the concourse (you might still find additional special security at the gate for flights to the US). He's also flying to Brazil, not the US. – Zach Lipton Dec 11 '15 at 8:44
  • Even though, as Zach Lipton said, I am flying to Brazil and not the states, this is still extremely informative. Thank you. It's a 50 minute wait between connections, so not long. But you make it sound easy, and that's great :) – Jordan Dec 11 '15 at 10:09
  • On a related note, point 1 (the one with the credit cards) is country/bank specific. I only bothered to do this once, and my bank told be that they cannot use this information as they have no influence on whether a transaction is allowed or denied. But it's a good point and worth a try, especially when going to South America. – DCTLib Dec 11 '15 at 11:39
  • The only place I ever had a problem with my (German) VISA card is Switzerland. I have used it all over the world and no-one batted an eyelid. But indeed tell them beforehand that you are going or they might think you are an identity thief. – RedSonja Dec 11 '15 at 14:35
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    "9. You'll fly to the United States." – uh, what? The OP is going to Sao Paulo. – Moriarty Dec 11 '15 at 16:13
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Here's what will happen. For the sake of completion, here is the entire journey summarized.

  1. At the check-in counter in London, you will receive two boarding passes. One will be from London to Amsterdam; the second will be from Amsterdam to Sao Paulo.

  2. Your luggage will be checked in all the way to Sau Paulo. You will only have access to your carry-on baggage during the flight. The check-in clerk will also provide you luggage tags (which will be affixed to your boarding pass). Make sure you keep these safe.

  3. Once you land in Amsterdam, you'll have to exit the plane, enter the terminal and head towards the transit lounge.

  4. On your boarding pass, it will tell you what gate and what time your next flight is boarding. Keep this information in mind as you do not want to be late. If for some reason this information is missing, just look at the large series of TV displays, which will show the gates for all departing flights.

  5. Now all you have to do is relax till your Amsterdam to Sao Paulo flight is announced. You can walk around the terminal, grab something to eat/drink or do some shopping.

  6. Once you have arrived at Sao Paulo, you'll proceed as normal toward immigration. There you'll have to show your passport.

  7. Once you pass immigration, you'll collect your checked-in luggage. To make sure you don't pick up someone else's bag (as bags do sometimes look similar), you can match the bags with the luggage tags.

  8. You'll have pass through customs.

  9. Welcome to Sao Paulo!

Is it cheaper to exchange money in a local bureau de change, the one in the airport, or one in the local one to where I am staying?

The cheapest will be the bureu de change that is not located at the airport (the airport one has extra surcharges).

You can also change money at the local exchange at the destination. However, you should expect higher rates.

What is "too early" to arrive at the airport? In the past I have travelled as an accompanied minor (last time I went was about 4 years ago), so we usually got to the airport about 2 hours before the flight.

The standard is 3 hours from your departure on international flights. However, these days with on-line check-in and self-service kiosks, you can squeeze that down to 2 hours.

As you are on an international flight, I would recommend sticking with the 2 hour buffer.

If you arrive too early, you may find that there are no check-in counters open for your flight. This is typical when the airport is not a hub for the airline.

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    Bureu De Change at the airports typically have two rates - an advance rate, and a walk up rate. NEVER use the walk up rate! Instead, pre-book online (typically up to 24 hours before hand) and collect at the airport, then you get a reasonably good rate. – Gavin Coates Dec 10 '15 at 14:11
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    As the OP is flying non-Schengen to non-Schengen, on a through ticket, I don't think they'd need to go anywhere near Dutch immigration. Why do you think they will? – Gagravarr Dec 10 '15 at 14:16
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    Transit visas are normally checked by the airline. Last time I flew through Amsterdam from outside the EU connecting through to the UK, I don't recall seeing any immigration staff, only security – Gagravarr Dec 10 '15 at 14:28
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    @BurhanKhalid Transit visa are designed to prevent people from boarding flights to the Schengen area. It's a bit counterintuitive but once a person has made it to the border control post, there is absolutely no reason to check whether they have a transit visa. See travel.stackexchange.com/questions/25207/… and travel.stackexchange.com/questions/24298/what-are-transit-visas for more on this. – Relaxed Dec 10 '15 at 15:03
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    Relaxed and Gagravarr are correct. In every one of the 20 or so Schengen airports I've been to, there is no passport control for passengers transferring between non-Schengen flights. Instead, these are checked (as others have mentioned) by the airlines. They pass this information on to the immigration authorities, of course. Sometimes, flights are met by immigration officials at the arrival gate; I imagine one reason for this might be to check transit visas. Imagine how cost-ineffective it would be to screen all passengers just to check the small percentage of those who require transit visas? – phoog Dec 10 '15 at 16:47

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