If you’ve ever wondered what makes an airport an international one, we can refer to the official definition by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has 193 member states, including the USA.
The ICAO state that an international airport is “any airport designated by an ICAO Contracting State in whose territory it is situated as an airport of entry and departure for international air traffic, where the formalities such as customs, immigration, public health, agricultural quarantine and similar procedures are carried out.”
So simply put, an international airport is an airport that enables passengers to travel between countries while having all the customs and border control facilities for entry and departure in place.
Table of Contents
- 1 5 Differences Between International and Domestic Airports
- 2 Similarities Between International and Domestic Airports
- 3 There Are Over 1,500 International Airports Worldwide
- 4 There Are 150 International Airports in the U.S.
- 5 Even Small Airports Can Be International Airports
5 Differences Between International and Domestic Airports
Domestic vs. International Flights
The main difference between an international and domestic airport is that a domestic airport only offers flights from within the country. This means that a domestic US airport would only offer flights from other cities or states within the USA.
While domestic airports will not offer flights to international destinations, international airports will offer flights to domestic destinations.
Customs and Immigration
The reason why domestic airports can only offer flights to and from within the country is because they do not have all the customs and border control facilities necessary for entry and departure in place.
For international flights, upon arrival, you will have to go through the arrival gate and customs where you will show your passport and visa to the border agent and have the opportunity to declare anything you should.
Services and Amenities
Generally, international airports have far more in the way of airport services and amenities.
Larger and nicer passenger waiting areas, public restrooms, and retail stores for dining and shopping, including duty-free shops, are all found at international airports. Some international airports even provide areas for passengers to rest and sleep.
You can expect to see a higher level of security in international airports. While your boarding pass and a photo ID may be enough to travel domestically, you’ll need a passport to fly internationally.
Many destinations, especially depending on your length of stay, will also require you to obtain and show a visa.
Similarities Between International and Domestic Airports
International and domestic airports may be different in some key ways, but both also have similarities.
Both include baggage and passenger screening processes through the use of airport scanners, though the latter will be on a smaller scale. The same applies to any services and facilities found within the airport
There Are Over 1,500 International Airports Worldwide
If we take the ICAO’s definition of “an airport of entry and departure for international air traffic, where the formalities such as customs, immigration, public health, agricultural quarantine and similar procedures are carried out” there are over 1,500 international airports in the world.
The most popular international airport in the world is Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China that can see as many as 60 million passengers a year.
There Are 150 International Airports in the U.S.
While there are over 20,000 airports in the USA, approximately 150 of those can be considered international airports.
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport see the most numbers, ranging from 30 to over 50 million total passengers a year.
Even Small Airports Can Be International Airports
The size of the airport does not determine whether it can be classified as an international airport or not.
What determines whether an airport is international or not is if it enables passengers to travel between countries while having all the appropriate customs and border control facilities in place.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).