SFO international to domestic minimum connection times (FAQ)

SFO international to domestic minimum connection times (FAQ)

If you’re flying through the San Francisco International Airport soon, I’ve got good news. Minimum connection times at SFO from international to domestic flights are generally lower compared to other major airports.

I’ve connected from international flights to domestic flights at SFO many times. On average, it takes around an hour and a half depending on the airline(s) that I’m flying. The longest time that it ever took was 3 hours, and the shortest time that it ever took was 45 minutes. It’s impossible to know ahead of time how long it’s going to take, so I highly recommend booking flights with longer connection times.

What is the minimum connection time at SFO for international to domestic flights (and vice versa)?

The San Francisco International Airport has two international terminals (one in Terminal 1, and the other in Terminal 3). Your international flight will more than likely be arriving at the A or G gates.

Domestic flights do operate out of both the A and G gates from time to time, but there’s a very high likelihood that your domestic connection will be departing from gates B, C, D, E, or F. It all depends on the airline that you’re flying.

That being said, here are the minimum connection times that you can expect when flying international in or out of SFO:

International to domestic flights

All international passengers arriving at SFO (regardless of having a connection or not), must pass through customs and passport control. This takes time, and therefore, I wouldn’t be comfortable with anything less than a 2 hour connection time.

Yes, I have done it in far less time than that. However, if things are busy, it’ll take a lot longer. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Give yourself at least 2 hours. Your sanity will thank you for it.

A gates international terminal SFO
Inside the international terminal (A gates). FYI, you’ll enjoy this a lot more if you’re not running at top speed to make your connecting flight. Choose the longest connection time possible!

Domestic to international flights

Connection times for domestic to international flights at SFO are much lower. One hour is all you really need, since there are no additional customs or security checks if you’re not changing terminals.

That being said, it’s important to know that there are 3 main terminals at SFO, and they are all separated from one another via separate security checkpoints. So, for example, if you fly into Terminal 3 / F gates, and your international flight is departing out of Terminal 1 / A gates, you are going to have to re-clear security to get into Terminal 1.

SANspotter at SFO terminal G
Yours truly chillin’ like a boss (and/or looking like an idiot) after making an domestic to international connection here at SFO. This was right before getting to try QANTAS 787-9 Premium Economy for the first time.

Pro tip: if you need to access the A gates from the G gates (or vice versa), use the walkway connecting these two international terminals. There is a designated security checkpoint there, which is much faster than the main security checkpoint.

A brief overview of the terminal layout at the San Francisco International Airport

Thanks to its simplistic terminal design, SFO is easily walkable from one end to the other. There are 3 terminals:

  • Terminal 1: A and B gates (A is a one of two international terminals)
  • Terminal 2: C and D gates
  • Terminal 3: E, F, and G gates (G is the other international terminal)
SFO terminal map
SFO terminal map. Study this well, and your next layover there will be a total piece of cake.

Each terminal has their own designated security checkpoints. However:

  • You can walk between Terminal 1 (B gates) and the international terminal (A gates only) without having to re-clear security.
  • You can walk between Terminal 3 (E and F gates) and the international terminal (G gates only) without having to re-clear security.
  • Even though you’ll have to re-clear security to move between certain terminals, you can still walk between them all without ever having to go outside. The inter-terminal walkways at SFO are extremely convenient and easy to find.

The reason why short international to domestic connection times can be tricky at SFO

My biggest grape with SFO is the fact that it’s not possible to walk between the two international terminals (A and G) without having to re-clear security.

They are located adjacent to one another, and it’s only a five minute walk between them. However, they are not connected airside, which could make some international connections inconvenient. 

For example, I recently flew into SFO and arrived at Terminal 1 (B gates). I was hoping to be able to simply walk over to the G gates in Terminal 3 (via the A gates), hang out there for a bit (plane spotting near the G gates is a great way to kill time), and then walk the rest of the way over to the F gates for my connecting flight.

However, although it is possible to walk from A to G without going outside, it requires re-clearing the security checkpoint. Until they allow that, you have to prepare for the possibility of needing to re-clear security when moving between certain terminals at SFO.

SFO airport from the air
My life will be complete when they make it so we can walk to and from every terminal at SFO without having to re-clear security. Why they gotta make things so difficult?

In my opinion, there are so many other large airports in the US that make connections easier:

Walking times between all terminals at SFO

Despite the inconvenience of some terminals not being connected to others behind the security checkpoint, walking times between all terminals at SFO aren’t all that bad actually.

The San Francisco International Airport is my third most visited airport in the world, and this is how long it normally takes me to move between terminals:

A gates (Terminal 1) to:

  • B gates: 3 minutes
  • C gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • D gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • E gates: 12 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • F gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • G gates: 3 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)

B gates (Terminal 1) to:

  • A gates: 3 minutes
  • C gates: 3 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • D gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • E gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • F gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • G gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)

C gates (Terminal 2) to:

  • A gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • B gates: 3 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • D gates: 3 minutes 
  • E gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • F gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • G gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)

D gates (Terminal 2) to:

  • A gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • B gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • C gates: 3 minutes 
  • E gates: 3 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • F gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • G gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)

E gates (Terminal 3) to:

  • A gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • B gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • C gates: 3 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • D gates: 3 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • F gates: 3 minutes
  • G gates: 6 minutes 

F gates (Terminal 3) to:

  • A gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • B gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • C gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • D gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • E gates: 3 minutes
  • G gates: 3 minutes 

G gates (Terminal 3) to:

  • A gates: 3 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • B gates: 6 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • C gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • D gates: 9 minutes (and you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • E gates: 3 minutes
  • F gates: 3 minutes 

Note that it may take longer depending on how much luggage you have. Throw a couple of ornery kids into the mix, and there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to be hating life by the time you reach your connecting gate. 

What is the ideal international to domestic connection time at SFO (and vice versa)?

Whenever planning a connection at SFO, I tend to plan for the worst but hope for the best. International to domestic connections will generally take longer than domestic to international, so it behooves you to plan ahead. The following are my ideal connection times at SFO – at least in regards to international flights:

International to domestic flights

Call me paranoid, but to make sure that I wouldn’t run into any problems at all, I would personally want a 4 hour connection time for an international to domestic flight at SFO (if I could get it). I once flew into San Francisco on an Icelandair 767-300 (in economy class), and had approximately 50 minutes to make a domestic connection down to SAN. I made it, but it was a traumatic enough to scar me for life (lol). I was all about long connections from that point forward.

SANspotter walking through SFO
Of course, it’s important to note that I am usually very paranoid about arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Take my estimates with a grain of salt.

You could probably be fine with a 2 hour connection time. 3 hours would be ideal, since you’ll never really know how long it’s going to take to get through customs (and then recheck any baggage).

Domestic to international flights

My ideal time for a no-stress domestic to international connection would be 3 hours. That would be enough time to allow for any minor flight delays, the possible need to re-clear security, and the opportunity to grab a quick bite to eat before the connecting flight.

Tips for fast and easy international to domestic connections at SFO

Most of the time, international to domestic connections at the San Francisco international Airport will be easy. The signage is very clear, and it’ll be pretty obvious what you need to do and where you need to go.

If you’re still feeling a bit worried, here are some tips that’ll make the process go much smoother:

  • Check ahead of time to find out where your international flight will arrive, and where your domestic flight will depart. Knowing this info ahead of time will give you time to mentally prepare for what’s ahead.
  • Sign up for Global Entry or use the Mobile Passport app to speed up the process of going through customs. I highly recommend reading my Mobile Passport vs Global Entry comparison to help you decide which program is right for you.
  • If at all possible, pack light! All international passengers arriving at SFO will need to retrieve their luggage before proceeding through customs – luggage is just going to weigh you down (and cause you to curse like a sailor depending on how heavy it is).

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