Let’s get this straight: do you need proof of onward travel every time you travel internationally? And do you always need to buy confirmed flight tickets to show proof of a flight itinerary for visa application without knowing whether the visa will be granted or not?
Should you have onward proof of travel 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 was in the Buenos Aires airport, following the immigration agent frantically. Clutching on to my passport, she whizzed away like there is no tomorrow. And I try to keep up.
You see, I was about to catch my flight to Bolivia in 4 hours, and she could make it or break it. As an Indian citizen, I could transit through Argentina. I thought this would be an easy, uneventful affair. Newsflash: it wasn’t.
We finally reached the security. She gave my passport to the guy inside, and asked me: “ok, show me your return ticket from Bolivia.”
I surely didn’t expect to get this question in Argentina. I went through my documents and fished 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 pressed.
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 Can Deny You Boarding If You Don’t Have Onward Travel Proof
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.
Flight Itinerary for Visa Application
Whenever you submit a visa application for Schengen countries, the UK, Australia, Thailand or any country on the earth, one of the most common requirement is to show a flight itinerary for visa application.
I have known people who bought confirmed flight tickets only to have their visa denied. There is simply no need for this. There are many ways to get a confirmed flight ticket or hold a flight, by paying a very little amount.
Do I Need to Show Proof of Onward Travel if I Don’t Need a Visa?
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
- Costa Rica
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
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.
Does Every Country Need a Travel Itinerary for Visa Application?
You bet. While not every country might ask for confirmed flight tickets for visa, they will always ask for at least some proof of a flight reservation or train tickets or bus tickets.
What is the Way Around to Get a Flight Itinerary for Visa?
If you are 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 travelers 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 traveling to any country. I would ask you to do the same.
1.Hold a Flight by Renting a Ticket
This is probably the easiest and most risk-free way of renting a flight itinerary for visa. It is 100% legit which means it will totally check out on the website of an airline.
Although there are many websites that provide these services, for what it is worth, we recommend Visa Reservation.
I have personally used their services. The best part about the ticket is that it is valid for 15 days. Depending on your needs you can get the ticket in
- 6 hours or
- 24 hours
It costs $30 per person.
And, this ticket is authentic and, the airline website would have a real reservation for you. I have personally used this website many times. Here is what it looks like.
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 48 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 a PDF format containing your name and PNR number and the flight details.
We recommend Onward Ticket for this. It costs 12€ (around $15 USD) per passenger, and they send it to you right away.
The onward ticket is a flight reservation only. You can’t use it to fly.
3.Book a Refundable Ticket on an Online Booking Website
There are a number of booking platforms like Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline that allow you to book a ticket and cancel it within 24 hours for a full refund.
So, if you want to save the money you would spend on renting flight tickets, and opt to book a refundable ticket, you would have proof of onward ticket and you can cancel it once you make it to your destination.
The catch? You need to check which flights are cancellable within 24 hours because not all of them are.
And, sometimes cancellations can be tricky, especially if you don’t have internet when you arrive at your destination.
And, sometimes, depending on your booking, you might not even get the option to cancel it online and you have to make international calls and probably spend quite a bit of time canceling the flight.
One time, I had a hard time canceling a 1300$ 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 airline that has a flight coming into or leaving from the USA has to give the option of 24-hour cancellation.
So you can hold flight tickets for free for that time duration. While the interpretation might vary a little from 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 time, you would have the option to find something that’s refundable.
6. Buy a Cheap Throwaway Flight on a Budget Airline
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 to 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 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 proof of onward travel or travel itinerary for visa application.
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 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 USD 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.
Can I Book a Dummy Ticket for Visa?
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 a happy ending.
Websites like omatic.musicairport.com allow you to book dummy flight tickets that look real, and you can use them as proof of onward travel. 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 airline 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.
Nice article. Very useful information.
Deb Pati says
Thank you Andrey.
Wow, this is a really great article. I’m thankful that it’s so comprehensive and well organized. I’ve always wondered about this, but the information made my head spin and I never follow through on my research. It kind of makes me think twice about buying a one way ticket (which I’ve never done yet, but have considered.) It’s interesting how countries will pass the buck to airlines, I would never think that to be the case. I would think they would want to deal with it personally since all of this really has to do with matters of security? Interesting!
Deb Pati says
That’s true. One time, a friend of mine got almost deported from Ecuador as the visa rule for Ecuador changed a week before he boarded his flight and even the airline had no idea. He bought a ticket for Guatemala right there and was able to leave.
Love this article, it’s a super interesting topic. I always make sure to buy flexible and refundable flight tickets so that I have proof with me.
Jennifer Prince says
Oh goodness. I didn’t even realize there were such things. I need to research this on my own for countries I visit in the future. So interesting! Visas and such confuse me a lot. I definitely never want to get deported!
Aspire World says
Great article. And so detailed. Had never heard the tips about the buses.
Maria Hamilt says
I just wanted to clarify that you don’t have to have a return ticket to US, right? I’m going to the Philippines next month and I just bought a one way ticket from Korean Air because I dont know if I want to stay longer than I anticipated. So can I just buy a ticket from Manila to Bangkok just to have something to show them that I wouldnt be ” staying” in the Philippines. Did I get it right? Thank you! I’ll be flying from San Diego Int’l Airport! 🙂
Deb Pati says
Yes, you can certainly buy a ticket from Manila to Bangkok to show them the onward travel proof.
Great information! Appreciate it. I am in Canada and need to show travel itinerary for my wife’s visitor visa. So the intended arrival date to Canada will be Aug, 2021 and intended departure date from Canada to India would be Feb, 2022. I am looking at Top Onward ticket. Can I submit the ticket reservation I get from this website as one of the document for Visitor Visa? If yes, my follow up is, that itinerary would expire in 48hours according to Top Onward ticket, so what happens when immigration officer checks to see if that is a valid itinerary? I am scared if our application gets rejected on that basis. Please suggest
Deb Pati says
Thanks for stopping by.
For visa purpose, we recommend Visa reservations. It gives you 15 days, which is usually what a visa process would take. Renting anything below that is not something we would recommend.
Hello Deb, I want to know if I have to book a flight to bolivia , which route is best , Is there any flight from delhi or I can book via dubai or other country, pls suggest
Deb Pati says
The route via Dubai is the best. But you can also take the route through Europe or the USA if you have the requisite visas.
As a perpetual tourist, getting docs together for residency in Costa Rica, I can relate to and appreciate this thorough article Deb!
Thanks so much. Excellent information
Deb Pati says
Thank you Dani for your kind words.
Thank you for the info! But I’m confused. As an Indian citizen, why would you need to rent a ticket from India?
Deb Pati says
It is for travelling to countries outside of India, and we can rent no matter where we are.