Let’s get this straight : do you need proof on onward travel every time you travel internationally?
Should you have it on you every time you travel?
You surely should, if you are entering with a tourist visa or as visa-exempt. Let me tell you my example.
This is what happened.
I am in the Buenos Aires airport, following the immigration agent frantically. Clutching on to my passport, she walks like there is no tomorrow. And I try to keep up.
You see, I am about to catch my flight to Bolivia in 4 hours, and she could make it or break it. As an Indian citizen, I can transit through Argentina. I thought this would be an easy, uneventful affair. Newsflash: it wasn’t.
We finally reach the security. She gives my passport to the guy inside, and asks me: “ok, show me your return ticket from Bolivia.”
I surely didn’t expect to get this question in Argentina. I go through my documents and fish out the flight ticket that says I leave from Bolivia to Ecuador in 2 months.
“Ok, so when do you return to India from Ecuador?” She presses.
Thankfully, I was geared up for this scenario too. As per my flight ticket from Ecuador, I would fly back to India after 5 months, even though I myself didn’t know if that would really happen. I just didn’t have a printout. I could turn on my MacBook, and show it to you, I said.
She probably had better things to do. And I didn’t look like a hippie. So, she gave me the benefit of doubt and handed me my passport back.
What Exactly Is The Proof Of Onward Travel? And why is it such a sore spot?
It’s nothing personal really. Buying a one-way flight ticket can only happen in songs and movies. In real life, every country wants to make sure you are not an illegal immigrant or begpacker. Both these happen, and even though just having an onward ticket doesn’t guarantee the fact that you are not gonna do something like that, it’s their way of telling themselves: “sure thing.”
Airlines take the heat and often don’t let you board
In most cases, rather than taking the responsibility themselves, many countries pass the ball on the airlines. So, the airlines with which you are flying, could turn into the bad guy and not let you board the flight if you don’t meet the requirements. If you are in a pickle, and you have to fly, they could force you to buy a return ticket from them, which could end up making a very big hole in your pocket. The reason is, if the airline doesn’t enforce all this, and actually fly you without the onward ticket, and the immigration hawks pick your ass out, that particular airlines would be the one to fly you to your origin.
The rule sucks because if you are planning to just take buses overland, like I did in South America, you don’t need an onward flight ticket. The rule sucks if you really don’t know when you go back. It sucks when you are on a budget, and you have to buy the onward ticket just so you are allowed inside.
I am visa exempt. Do I still need to show proof of onward travel?
Being visa exempt is a privilege. Arrive, get a stamp for 90 days and enter. Why would they ask you for proof of onward travel?
Well, sorry to be a ball buster, but they are not gonna cut you any slack.
Especially in Asia. And some notorious airlines might not let you board.
Same goes for people who have a tourist visa or are availing a tourist visa on arrival. Although, I must add that you might be a little more vulnerable.
What are the Countries that Need Proof of Onward Travel?
There might be more but some countries that are famous for making more than just a big fuss about it are United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Peru, Philippines, New Zealand, Thailand, United Kingdom and Panama. Japan and Guatemala are also known to be fussy at times.
Buying a round-trip ticket is simply impossible for everyone. You might be in a bad situation speaking in monetary terms.
What is the Way Around?
If you are you a digital nomad or a long term traveler making a lot of visa runs, there is no way you could go on buying onward flight tickets even if they are refundable. So, I am gonna compile a list of short-cuts I and other long term travellers use, in that order. All these are easy and if I might add, perfectly legal.
As a precaution, I get proof of onward travel before travelling to any country. I would ask you to do the same.
1.Rent a Valid-till-you-fly flight on schengenvisaflightreservation.com
Even though the title might suggest it could be only for Schengen countries, you can actually rent any ticket for any part of the world through this. For 15$, you would receive your ticket in 24 hours. And, this ticket is authentic and, the airlines website would have a real reservation for you. I have personally used this website many times. Here is a screenshot of what it looks like.
The advantage you have with this one is, the ticket doesn’t get auto-canceled in a stipulated time period. It’s valid until the date of flight. If you book a multi-country flight and plan it well, you can use parts of the ticket in different countries.
The only issue is they take up to 24 hours to deliver the flight tickets. You can get it in 3 hours as well, but you need to pay up.
2. Rent a 24-72 Hour Valid Ticket from an Online Travel Agent
Here is the thing. When you are traveling, you often haven’t planned every minute detail. You might not have 24 hours to wait for a flight ticket. In that case, here is a list of websites you can use to rent a ticket. You will receive an e-ticket in PDF format containing your name and PNR number and the flight details.
- Bestonwardticket : Fees- $12. Delivery time- 30 minutes. Ticket validity- 48 hours.
- Rentonwardticket : Fees- $9. Delivery time- 2 hours. Ticket validity- 72 hours.
- Onwardflights: Fees- $7. Delivery time- 12 hours. Ticket validity- 24 hours.
- Onewayfly: Fees- $19. Delivery time- 30 minutes to 12 hours. Ticket validity- 14 days.
- Ticketonward: Fees- $12.99. Delivery time- 24 hours. Ticket validity- 72 hours.
- Onwardfly: Fees- $9.99. Delivery time- Lesser than 2 hours. Ticket validity- 48 hours.
3.Book a Refundable Ticket on an Online Booking Website
There are a number of booking platforms like Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline that allow you to book a ticket and cancel it within 24 hours for a full refund. So, if you want to save this 10$, and opt to book a refundable ticket, you would have your onward ticket and you can cancel it once you make it to your destination.
The catch? You need to check which flights are cancellable within 24 hours because not all of them are.
And, sometimes cancellations can be tricky, especially if you don’t have internet when you arrive at your destination. And, sometimes, depending on your booking, you might not even get the option to cancel it online and you have to make international calls and probably spend quite a bit of time canceling the flight. One time, I had a hard time cancelling a 1300$ flight on Expedia. I was completely and totally batshit by the time I could do it.
4. Book a Flight Ticket on an Airline’s Website with a 24-hour Cancellation Window.
Airlines of lots of countries give you a full refund if you cancel it within 24 hours. For example, as per the USDOT regulation every airlines that has a flight coming into or leaving from the USA, has to give the option of 24 hour cancellation. While the interpretation might vary a little airline to airline, the general rules are:
- The flight originates in or is going to the US on any airline, not just US-based companies.
- The flight was booked directly with the airline, not on any third party agent.
- It was booked at least 7 days in advance.
Except for all the airlines flying from or to USA, the following airlines give you a 24 hours cancellation option as well.
5. Use Airlines Miles
If you have piled up a lot of miles, you can use those miles to buy a refundable ticket and cancel it later. Most of the times, you would have the option to find something that’s refundable.
6. Buy a Cheap Throwaway Flight on a Budget Airlines
This is a good option especially in Asia and Latin America. There are lots of budget airlines like EasyJet, AirAsia, Volaris where you can buy a flight ticket for as low as $50 from one major city in one country to a big city in another country.
7. Sign off a Liability waiver with the airlines
Alright, this doesn’t work with every airline. But if an airline acts like a brat and you are not in a situation to buy an onward flight ticket on the spot, reason with them. Show them the proof of your funds and explain them that you will leave the country by land.
Ask the airline if they have a liability waiver you can sign to board the flight even if you don’t have a proof of onward travel. Some airlines have that handy and they might be able to print out a contract for you at the check-in desk that goes like this: we are not liable if the immigration at the destination airport turns you away.
Ok, enough about flight tickets. Let’s jump to buses and trains. This is a good option for land borders especially.
8. Buses in Latin/ Central America
There are international bus services operates in most of the central-american or Latin American countries. You can buy a ticket and use it as the proof of onward travel.
9. Trains or International Buses in Asia
Again, the trick here is to buy a ticket to a major city although a ticket to a smaller city can work as well. Let’s say you are in Thailand and you need proof of onward travel. In that case, buying a train ticket from Bangkok to Vientiane in Laos can be the proof of onward travel.
10. Carry Cash
This is the last option. And it might cut the deal at land borders. Carry some cash in USDs or Euros or in the local currency with you and explain at the immigration that you have the means to leave the country. If you are lucky, they will let you off the hook.
Why can’t I Come up with a fake ticket?
Now that’s what I call inviting trouble. Airlines can look this up. Sometimes Immigration has the means and willpower to do that as well. In principle, this is immigration fraud and it might get you in trouble. Now, this option may not always have the happy ending. Websites like Returnflights.net or omatic.musicairport.com allow you to book flight tickets that look real. It’s not too hard to edit an old ticket on MS Word or Photoshop as well.
But if it’s not your lucky day, you might get deported for lying to an immigration officer. So don’t do it no matter who told you.
When should you have an onward flight to your home country?
This sounds biased but the truth is if you are not visa exempt for the country you are traveling to, the best way this works for you is to have a return ticket to your home country. Sometimes the immigration agent or airlines agent might have had a bad day and they wouldn’t budge unless you show them a return ticket to your home country.
Last words: Don’t get caught off guard! And dress well.
The fact is if you are a backpacker or a digital nomad, there will be a day when you will be asked for this. Especially if you are in an airport, do yourself a favor and don’t dress like a bum/hippie with no money.
If you think this article is useful, please share it so that others can get the proof for onward travel. Happy traveling.