How to enter Lebanon as a British citizen; Arriving in Beirut Rafic Hariri Airport and Everything Else You Need to Know
This guide will cover how to get to Lebanon from the UK, how to enter and exit the country through Beirut Rafic Hariri Airport and how to travel from the airport to the city.
Beirut has been somewhere I’ve wanted to go for what feels like forever. I’m driven by this deep sense of wanderlust. I want to explore as much as I can. I think that Beirut the place that I’ve consciously wanted to explore for the longest. One of my earliest memories is my dad taking me to the pub when I was about eight years old and sitting me down with a copy of The Guardian, which was covering the end of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
Whilst I don’t have a weird fetish for visiting warn torn countries (and I’d be hesitant to use the term war torn to refer to a country that has done it’s best to recover), there was something that just seemed to entice me. I’ve fallen in love with the Middle East in general as well – or as much as I can credibly say this with my limited experience of the region.
Getting to Beirut – Who to fly with and how much to pay
Only British Airways and Middle Eastern fly direct to Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport from the UK. Both of which fly from London Heathrow. As of 2017, the Heathrow to Beirut route is the most popular Western Europe route that operates to Beirut, behind the Air France and Middle Eastern Paris Charles de Gaulle route.
Direct flights from London to Beirut cost upwards of £400 at the time of year that I went (February), and indirect flights via Paris around £250. You can fly to Beirut from other European cities such as Amsterdam via budget airlines such as Transavia.
I flew with Ryanair from Paphos in Cyprus as part of a wider trip. The flight only took around half an hour and cost me £9.99 one way. I originally flew from Manchester to Ukraine at the cost of £40, the Ukraine to Paphos at £30 and then Paphos to Beirut for £9.99. Initially, I had planned just to visit Ukraine, somewhere I’d had my eye on for ages (even before the Chernobyl series believe it or not!). But I was able to take longer off from work, and Beirut has always appealed to me but all of my previous trips had fallen through due to work commitments or the cost of flying.
I was originally scheduled to fly back to Manchester via Istanbul with Pegasus for £80, but due to an air crash incident in Istanbul, I eventually flew back with British Airways via Heathrow. And yes I spent all of my hard-earned Avios doing this and the pain is still raw.
Arriving at Beirut Rafic Hariri Airport – immigration & getting a visa upon arrival
UK nationals do not need to organise a visa in advance, nor do they need to pay for the single entry visa that they receive upon arrival. The single entry tourist visa that you can get upon arrival is valid for 30 days.
I was expecting the immigration process to take much longer than it did. Less than half an hour after landing, I was in the Arrivals Hall which was pretty impressive.
I flew with Ryanair and I did not receive a landing card on the plane. I have read that you will receive a landing card if you fly with British Airways or Middle Eastern, but I did not need to, or at least I was not asked to, present a landing card at all upon arrival at the airport.
After queuing for about 15 minutes, when I got to the front of the queue I was asked a few questions including how long was I staying in Lebanon for, where would I be staying and what the purpose of my trip was. You can only connect to the Wi-Fi after immigration, so make sure you have the address of your accommodation to hand. We did the standard biometric data collections of fingerprints and that was it.
In brief – You don’t need to pre-fill any forms in and you don’t need to provide a passport photo. Make sure you have a note of the details of your accommodation. As I’ve said, I wasn’t asked for a landing card but you still might need to obtain one.
Does Rafic Hariri Airport have Wi-Fi?
The Wi-Fi at the airport is free, but only for 30 minutes. I’d read bad reviews about it before arriving myself, but I found the Wi-Fi ran quickly both times I was at the airport. You’ll only be able to connect after you’ve left immigration.
CityFone will sell you a local Lebanese SIM card, which can be found on the right as you come from the Arrivals Hall.
Transferring from Rafic Hariri Airport to Beirut city centre
There are three ways to get to Beirut city centre from the airport.
First of all, you can get an Uber from the airport to the city centre for around £10. This is cheaper than getting a taxi and you’re far less likely to be ripped off. Uber drivers aren’t allowed to stop outside of the Arrivals Hall so you’ll need to agree on a pickup location with your driver. Make sure you do this after passing immigration, because don’t forget you’re limited to 30 minutes Wi-Fi. Uber is very popular in Beirut and I used the service various times when I was there without any issues, including from my hotel back to the airport.
If you’ve never used Uber before, you can use my invitation code owkau6 for a discount.
A taxi from the airport should cost no more than $20. The taxi drivers do not use metres and may try to overcharge, so agree on a price in advance. The official airport taxis have a plane logo on the side of the car, and are the most reliable. The taxi rank is just outside of the Arrivals Hall on the ground floor.
I chose to book a private transfer in advance because I had a discount code to use up. I used Sun Transfers and the service was pretty great so no complaints from me. There are many other private transfer options available.
There is no official public transport from the airport to Beirut, so, unfortunately, you’re dependent on one of the other options.
Leaving Beirut via Rafic Hariri Airport
Entering Lebanon was much easier than leaving it. I could write essays about how welcoming and friendly everybody that I encountered in the country was, but for some reason, this sentiment is never extended to airport security staff no matter the country. Every interaction I had with the airport staff on my departure was pretty unfriendly, which was the opposite to how it had been when I entered Lebanon.
There were several checks of my hand luggage, passport, and boarding pass. For flights to the UK, the British government also mandates additional checks at the gate where my bag was opened and checked again and I was patted down.
Obviously all of this is pre-coronavirus so make sure you try and stay abreast of any changes or developments if you do visit Beirut once it’s safe to travel. More info here.
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