Proof of onward travel is becoming a common and annoying travel requirement. An increasing number of countries are requiring that you show a valid ticket out of the country before you’re allowed to enter or even board your flight. This proves that you intend to leave the country and not overstay your tourist visa.
While traveling long term, you sometimes find yourself in situations that make it difficult to provide proof of onward travel. For example, maybe you’re flying on a one-way ticket. Maybe you’re a spontaneous traveler and you don’t know how long you’re going to stay. Maybe you plan to exit the country overland and can’t purchase a ticket online. The proof of onward travel requirement presents an obvious challenge. Luckily, there are some solutions. This guide outline 9 ways to show proof of onward travel.
The fist time I was asked for proof of onward travel was when I was flying from Los Angeles to Cartagena, Colombia on a one way ticket. I had never heard of this requirement. These days, I always make sure I have proof of onward travel when flying on a one-way ticket. I would say about 75% of the time, I end up needing it either when checking in for my flight or when passing through immigration. Usually, I pay to rent a plane ticket for 48 hours. This costs about $12.
What is Proof of Onward Travel?
Proof of onward travel means that you must provide proof that you are leaving the country that you are entering. The government wants to make sure that you are not planning to illegally immigrate. Airlines can also require proof of onward travel.
A booked airline ticket out of the country acts as your proof of onward travel. This ticket can be to a third country or back to your home country. The ticket must show that you are leaving the country before your visa expires. The ticket must be confirmed and paid for.
In most cases, you can also use an international bus, train, or ferry ticket as proof of onward travel. Sometimes these are a bit harder to book online but they are usually accepted by immigration. In some cases, immigration may require an airline ticket.
Any country can require you to show proof of onward travel. It doesn’t matter if the country offers visa-free access, visa on arrival, or if you obtained a visa in advance. Airlines can also require proof of onward travel before they allow you to board.
Generally, proof of onward travel is only required if you are entering on a short-term visa such as a tourist visa. If you are entering on a long-term visa, such as a residency visa, proof of onward travel usually isn’t required.
If you are arriving with your own means of transport such as a car, boat, motorcycle, or bicycle, you are usually exempt from showing proof of onward travel. Your vehicle proves that you have the means to exit the country.
Immigration may also require you to show proof that you have sufficient funds to sustain yourself during your trip. You may be asked to show a bank statement with a certain amount of money in the account.
Some countries also require that you show proof of funds in addition to proof of onward travel. In this case, you need to prove that you have enough money to support yourself during your stay. How much money you need to show depends on the country and the duration of your visa. This is a fairly rare requirement for tourist visas.
Airline Proof of Onward Travel Requirement
Many airlines require that you show proof of onward travel before they will issue you a boarding pass or allow you to board your flight. While checking you in, the agent may ask to see your flight reservation out of the country you’re visiting. If you check in online or at a kiosk, you may be called up by a gate agent to show your proof of onward travel.
Airlines check for proof of onward travel because many countries hold the airline responsible if a traveler shows up without the means to support themselves or leave the country. In other words, countries have passed the responsibility of checking proof of onward travel onto the airlines.
If an airline allows you to fly on a one-way ticket and immigration doesn’t allow you to enter the country when you arrive, the airline may be required to fly you back to your home country at their expense. Some countries also fine airlines for this. Before you are deported, you will likely be given the opportunity to buy a ticket out of the country.
To avoid this situation and reduce liability, airlines often require everyone to show proof of onward travel before boarding. Airlines tend to be very strict about the proof of onward travel requirements. If you can’t provide proof of onward travel, they will require you to buy a return ticket on the spot before they allow you to board. This could be very expensive.
Your proof of onward travel won’t be checked every time you board a flight on a one-way ticket. Because most passengers fly on round-trip tickets, airport staff often forget to check or simply don’t care. If you’ve made it onto your flight without proof of onward travel, it’s unlikely that immigration will ask for it when you arrive. That said, it’s not worth taking the risk. When flying, always be prepared to show proof of onward travel.
Why do I Need Proof of Onward Travel?
The proof of onward travel requirement exists to prevent illegal immigration. The government wants to make sure that you plan to leave the country and not overstay your visa or live and work in the country illegally.
The most common way for people to illegally immigrate to a country is to enter on a tourist visa, student visa, or work visa then never leave. According to this article from NPR, “people who overstayed their visas accounted for 62 percent of the newly undocumented, while 38 percent had crossed a border illegally.” Visa overstays are more common than illegal border crossings.
The proof of onward travel requirement reduces the likelihood of visa overstays. Having a return ticket proves to the government that you plan to leave the country before your visa expires.
Some financially irresponsible travelers also run out of money during their trips. They either spend all of their money or travel on a one-way ticket without the means to return home. These travelers may end up overstaying their visas, begging, working illegally, or committing other various crimes. This creates a number of problems for governments to deal with.
By requiring proof of onward travel, the government can be assured that even if a traveler runs out of money during their trip, they will still be able to leave the country because their return ticket is already paid for.
The purpose of this guide is to make it easier for you to comply with the proof of onward travel rule. If you don’t have the means to pay for a flight out of a country, you shouldn’t enter.
Which Countries Require Proof of Onward Travel?
Officially, only a handful of countries have immigration laws on the books stating that proof of onward travel is required for entry. These countries include the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand, Costa Rica, the Philippines, Indonesia, and probably several others.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t be asked when entering other countries. You could be asked to show proof of onward travel when entering any country. In my experience, Southeast Asia countries, Central American countries, and European Union countries tend to be strict about proof of onward travel.
Sometimes these rules are enforced and sometimes they aren’t. At this point, it is best to always be prepared to show proof of onward travel whenever entering a foreign country. Particularly when passing through an airport. You never know when you’re going to be asked.
Most airlines require proof of onward travel these days. Any immigration official could require you to show onward travel plans before allowing you to enter. You don’t want to have to put yourself through the stressful situation of having to book a flight last minute.
Where is Proof of Onward Travel Checked?
There are 3 different places where you may be asked to provide proof of onward travel.
- At the airline check-in desk or gate- When checking in for international flights, the agent may ask to see proof of onward travel before issuing you your boarding pass. If you check in online or at a kiosk, you might be called up to the gate to show your proof of onward travel before you can board.
- At immigration- Before stamping your passport and allowing you to enter the country, an immigration official may ask to see a valid ticket out of the country. This can happen at the at an airport, land border, or sea port. When you enter a country overland, the chance of being asked for proof of onward travel is lower.
- At an embassy or consulate when applying for a visa- Many countries require that you show proof of onward travel before they issue you a visa. You’ll have to attach your flight itinerary as supporting documentation for your visa application. If this is a visa requirement, be sure to accurately list the locations and dates where you will enter and exit the country. Some countries are very strict and will only allow you to enter and exit at the point of entry indicated on the visa that you have been issued. Read the rules carefully.
How to Provide Proof Of Onward Travel: 9 Ways
Luckily, you have plenty of options when it comes to providing proof of onward travel. Some are legal and some are illegal. Some cost money and some are free. In this section, I’ll describe each method.
1. Purchase a Refundable Flight Ticket
This is the best and cheapest way to provide proof of onward travel. Simply buy a fully-refundable one-way airline ticket from the country that you’re visiting back to your home country or to a third country then cancel and get a refund when you arrive. This way, you have a legitimate onward travel ticket to show at the airport check-in counter and immigration.
To make this work, you’ll need to buy your second ticket before your flight. Search for a fully-refundable flight from your destination country back to your home country or to another country and book it.
After booing, you’ll receive an email with your ticket confirmation. This email is your proof of onward travel.
After booking the ticket, you have two options.
- Wait until you arrive at your destination country and make it through immigration, then cancel the ticket and collect your refund.
- Print out the ticket after booking, then immediately cancel it.
The first option is safer because you will have a legitimate valid ticket. If the airline or immigration actually checks that you are booked on the flight or asks you if the ticket is valid, it is. You’re not lying to anybody.
With the second option, your ticket is not valid because you already canceled it. All you have is a confirmation email that shows you bought a ticket. In most cases, this is sufficient. Usually, nobody will check or ask if your ticket is still valid.
It’s important to note that it is possible for both immigration and airlines to check the validity of your onward flight ticket if they choose. A database of flights and passengers exists. From my understanding, one airline can check another airline’s bookings if they need to.
In some cases, you have no choice but to cancel the ticket before you arrive. For example, if you only have a 24 hour window to request a refund but you’ll be in transit for 36 hours, you’ll have to cancel your ticket before you arrive and pass through immigration.
If you have to cancel your onward ticket before boarding your flight, try to book it on a different airline than the one you’re flying with. This makes it more difficult for the airline to check the validity of your ticket. If you book on the same airline, they can easily see in their system that you’ve canceled the return ticket. It is unlikely that anyone will notice but this is a good extra precaution to take.
Before buying a ticket, you’ll want to confirm that it is fully refundable. Be sure to read the fine print. Some airlines charge cancellation fees. Some only offer refunds in the form of flight vouchers. They don’t offer cash refunds. You should also make sure that there isn’t a booking fee. You want to make sure that you can get all of your money back. If there is a fee, find another flight to book that doesn’t have a fee.
It’s also important to make sure that the ticket you book is on a flight within your visa validity. For example, if your tourist visa or entry permit is valid for 30 days, the ticket must show that you’re leaving the country before that 30 days is up. Otherwise, you may not be allowed to enter.
Ideally, you should book a ticket that departs around the time you actually intend to leave the country. In some countries, immigration will issue you a visa that is only valid for the number of days that your proof of onward travel indicates that you’re staying. For example, if your proof of onward travel shows that you plan to stay two weeks but you intend to stay for a month, you might only get two weeks on your visa.
As long as the ticket is fully refundable, you don’t have to worry about the price of the ticket. You just need to make sure that you have enough money to cover the cost of the ticket. That said, it’s best to book a cheap flight, just in case you can’t get a refund.
When booking my refundable flight, I always book the cheapest flight I can, just in case I can’t get a refund. For example, if I’m flying into Bangkok, I’ll book my onward ticket to Singapore or Kuala Lampur rather than the United States. A regional flight is much cheaper than an intercontinental flight. If I can’t get a refund for whatever reason, I’ll be out less than a hundred dollars instead of a thousand.
How to Book a Refundable Ticket
There are a number of ways to book a refundable ticket. One option is to use a booking engine such as Expedia or Orbitz. These companies offer free cancelation on many flights if you cancel within 24 hours. Usually, there are no fees involved.
When using these booking sites, use the .com version of the site. The country-specific versions often don’t offer 24 hour refunds. When looking through the list of flights, look for flights with free 24 hour cancelation advertised on the listing.
Some booking engines also have a ‘refundable flights’ check-box on the search page. If you check this box, you’ll only be shown flights with 24 hour or better refund policy. This makes it even easier to search for refundable flights.
You’ll find that most flights come with 24 hour free cancellation. The only exceptions are flights on budget airlines. Budget carriers often do not offer free cancellation, unless they are required to by law. I have found that most budget carriers in Europe and Southeast Asia do not offer free cancelation. Another option is to book a flight to the United States. According to the US Department of Transportation, airlines flying into the US must allow you to cancel your ticket free of charge for 24 hours after booking as long as you make the cancelation at least 7 days ahead of departure. To read more about this rule, check out this guide.
This works well for American travelers. If you’re not from the US, you could be asked to show a US visa.
You can also book a flexible date ticket directly with the airline. Flexible tickets can be changed or canceled. They are usually much more expensive than standard fares. The price doesn’t matter because you’re going to get a full refund anyway.
Before you book a flexible ticket, you’ll want to make sure that it is fully refundable. Some premium airlines offer 24 hour refunds on all of their flights.
Is this legal and Ethical?
Buying a ticket and canceling it is a perfectly legal and free way to provide proof of onward travel. The ticket you have to show the airline and immigration officer is valid and paid for, even though you plan to cancel it. You don’t have to lie to anyone.
Buying and canceling the ticket doesn’t break any rules. It isn’t against the terms of the airline as long as the airline offers free refunds.
This trick has been used to provide proof of onward travel for decades. Before online booking was possible, travel agents used to offer this as a service to their clients who were flying on one-way tickets. You can still pay companies to book and cancel a ticket for you. More on that in the next section.
Drawbacks to booking a refundable ticket
The biggest drawback of this option is the time it will take to get your money back. Some airlines may make you wait several months before issuing a refund. During that time, your money is tied up so you won’t be able to use it for travel.
You will also have to deal with the actual process of asking for a refund. This can be torturous. It depends on which airline you use. On one occasion, I had to wait on hold for two hours to speak to an agent to request a refund. Some airlines make refunds difficult.
Sometimes you can get your money quickly and painlessly. If you cancel immediately after booking and the airline or booking company offers free cancelations, the ticket may never even be charged to your credit card.
Of course, there is also the risk that you don’t get your money back. An airline or booking company could refuse to grant you a refund. Maybe you misread the flight listing and mistakenly booked a non-refundable ticket. In this case, you could be out hundreds of dollars. Airlines and booking companies are not known for their customer service. They can try to rip you off.
To reduce the likelihood of this happening, it’s a good idea to call the airline or booking company before booking a refundable ticket. Confirm with the agent that the ticket is fully refundable.
2. Rent a Ticket to Use for Proof of Onward Travel
A number of services exist that allow you to rent an airline ticket to use for proof of onward travel. For many travelers, this is the fastest, safest, and easiest solution.
These services work by booking a real flight ticket in your name. They then forward you the booking confirmation in an email. This is your proof of onward travel. You can print the email or show it to the airline or immigration agent on your phone. The company then automatically cancels the ticket for you after you’ve made it through immigration. Usually, the ticket is valid for 48 hours. If you need more time, you can also rent a ticket that is valid for up to 14 days.
When you rent a ticket, you’ll only pay a small fee to a company that will provide you with a temporary ticket to use as proof of onward travel. Prices for onward ticket rental range from $12-$20. You don’t have to pay for the whole flight.
Some companies allow you to choose the destination for an additional fee. Some allow you to schedule the ticket in advance. Longer validity tickets are also more expensive.
In order to rent a ticket, you’ll need to supply your name, the return date for your onward ticket, the departing airport, and your email. Optionally, you can also choose to include an arrival airport.
The main benefit of renting a ticket is that you don’t have to worry about actually getting a refund. You also don’t have to deal with reading through cancellation policies to find refundable tickets. You never have to pay upfront for an expensive ticket or wait for a refund. In addition, the only personal information you need to supply is your name. No passport info is required.
Before you rent a ticket, make sure it comes with a Passenger Name Record (PNR) code. This is what the airline and immigration use to verify that your ticket is real. If it doesn’t come with a PNR code, you may have trouble at some airports and border crossings.
A number of companies offer this service. Some are better than others. Some are straight-up scams. Be sure to do your research before renting a ticket.
For example, some companies supply you with a fake ticket to use for proof of onward travel. They never book a real ticket in your name. Instead, they simply fill out a template with your name and the flight details for a real flight. They essentially supply you with a forged document. These companies should be avoided.
Personally, I think renting a ticket is the best way to provide proof of onward travel. It’s what I do. It’s fast and convenient but it does add an extra cost.
The best places to rent a ticket for proof of onward travel:
- Bestonwardticket.com– This company rents tickets that are valid for 48 hours. They charge $12 for a basic ticket. You can add a destination for $4.99 and you can schedule your ticket for a later date for $1. The tickets are real and verifiable. I have used this service many times and have never had an issue.
- Onwardticket.com- They company issues you a verified ticket within 60 seconds. This is a great option if you’re in an airport or immigration and you need last-minute onward travel. You can choose from 48 hour or 14 day validity for your ticket. You can also choose from direct or multi-stop flights. Prices start at $12.
- Onewayfly.com- One Way Fly can issue you a verifiable ticket that is valid for up to 14 days. This is great for applying for visa applications. They also offer proof of accommodation (hotel reservations). This is a common requirement for visa applications. This company also allows you to add multiple passengers, avoid stopovers, or delay the ticket delivery. You do need to schedule this ticket in advance. It can take up to 12 hours to arrive after you place your order.
Before you book an onward ticket, be sure to read some reviews to make sure you’re ordering from a legitimate company. There are several scammy companies that sell fake onward tickets or provide poor service. The above 3 companies are all legitimate and receive excellent reviews. I trust them.
This is the option that I usually use. Even though it costs money, I prefer renting a ticket over booking a refundable ticket. The reason is that I don’t want to worry about not being able to get a refund.
3. Buy a Cheap Ticket and Throw it Away
Book the cheapest ticket you can find, use it for proof of onward travel, then don’t take the flight. In some places, you may be able to find tickets on budget airlines for less than $20. In most cases, you’ll spend $50-$100 on a ticket.
This is a good option if you get caught at an airport check-in counter without proof of onward travel. You can just find Wifi and book the cheapest flight. This is completely legal. Buying an onward ticket proves that you have the means to leave the country.
The cheapest tickets are usually short regional routes operated by budget airlines. Look for a ticket from your destination to a big city in a neighboring country. Tickets between large cities or capital cities tend to be the cheapest. Tickets to major hub cities are often cheap as well.
Be sure to check different dates to find the cheapest option. Sometimes tickets are cheaper if you book 2 weeks or a month in advance. Make sure the date you book is within your visa’s validity.
This method tends to work best in regions with lots of flights such as Europe and Southeast Asia. A few examples of budget airlines include Ryanair, Volaris, AirAsia, EasyJet, and WizzAir.
To help you find cheap flights, use the Google Flights map feature. It can help you quickly search for the cheapest flights in multiple cities in a region. Just input your destination city as the flight origin then change the search to one-way.
The drawback to buying a ticket and not using it is that it can be expensive. Sometimes. In some countries, airfare may be too expensive to just buy a throwaway ticket. This is the case in more off-the-beaten-path countries where flights are less frequent.
After you pass through immigration, consider calling the airline to tell them that you can’t make the flight. Even though the ticket is non-refundable, you may be able to get part of your money back. In some cases, you can get a refund on certain taxes. Some airlines might offer you a partial refund or voucher. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
4. Book a Bus or Train Ticket Out of the Country
Most airlines and immigration authorities will accept an international bus or train ticket as proof of onward travel. You don’t always need an airline ticket. Your bus or train ticket must show that you’re planning to leave the country before your visa expires.
This can be the better option if you’re a budget traveler. You can often buy an international bus ticket for $20-$50. These days, most bus companies sell tickets online. You can simply print the e-ticket or show the confirmation email. You don’t have to use the ticket if you don’t want to.
This is a risky method. Some airlines and immigration officials are picky. They require that you show an airline ticket as proof of onward travel. I believe the reason is that they can’t verify bus or train tickets. They can only verify air tickets on the database.
In my experience, a bus or train ticket is usually accepted for proof of onward travel. It depends on where in the world you’re traveling, the port of entry you’re using, and the mood of the immigration official. If you’re entering the country overland, a bus or train ticket is almost always accepted. At airports, it’s hit or miss.
5. Book a Ticket with Points or Miles then Cancel
If you have accumulated enough rewards points on your travel credit card, you can use the points to book yourself a one-way ticket to use as proof of onward travel. After booking, print the confirmation e-ticket email. After reaching your destination, cancel the ticket and get your points back.
This works well because flights booked with rewards points have better cancelation policies in many cases. FOr most flights, you have 24 hours to cancel. Points are often refunded instantly after you cancel your flight. you don’t have to wait for a refund.
Most banks and credit card companies have their own search engine for booking reward flights. Sometimes, you can use rewards points to book directly with an airline. In this case, you may have to convert your rewards points to the airline’s miles. Sometimes, you can use your points to book through a booking company like Expedia. Some credit card companies also have a concierge service or travel agency that you can call to help you make a fully refundable booking. You can simply call and ask the agent to book you a refundable ticket.
Before booking, you do have to research to make sure that the ticket is refundable. You don’t want to waste your valuable points. Read the terms and conditions carefully. It’s also a good idea to call an agent to confirm that the ticket is refundable.
The main benefit of booking with points is that you don’t have to put up any money for the ticket. You pay with points and receive points back when you request a refund. When you book with points, you usually don’t have to wait for a refund. It’s instantaneous.
6. Ask the Airline If You Can Sign a Waiver
If you find yourself in an airport without proof of onward travel, and the airline check-in agent is not allowing you to board your flight, ask if you can sign a waiver.
The waiver releases the airline of any liability if you are turned away by immigration when you arrive at your destination. In other words, the airline will not be responsible for paying for your return ticket if immigration doesn’t allow you to enter the country. By signing the waiver you are also guaranteeing that you have the financial means to leave the country. You will be responsible for paying for your return ticket if you are not allowed to enter.
This is a legal contract between you and the airline. If you agree to the terms, the check-in agent will print out a waiver for you to sign. Many airlines have these waivers already prepared for this situation.
Not every airline offers this option. Some will simply not allow you to board until you can obtain proof of onward travel. It is worth asking if you can sign a waiver if you’re in a pinch.
Even if you sign a waiver and are allowed on the flight, it does not necessarily mean that you will be allowed to enter the country once you arrive. The waiver is only between you and the airline. Immigration could still deny you entry if you don’t have proof of onward travel. That will be another problem for you to deal with when you arrive.
If the airline won’t allow you to sign a waiver, the next best option is to find an internet connection and either rent a ticket or buy a refundable ticket, as outlined above.
7. Carry Proof of Sufficient Funds
In lieu of showing proof of onward travel, some countries will accept a recent bank statement that shows that you have sufficient funds to support yourself for the duration of your stay and purchase a ticket home. Some counties list it as an alternative to proof of onward travel.
The amount of money that have to show will depend on the country you’re visiting and how long you plan to stay. For example, they may require that your account has maintained a balance of at least $5,000 for the previous 3 months.
While traveling, is a good idea to carry proof of funds if you can. Particularly if you’re a digital nomad. Some countries require it before issuing a visa. This is a common requirement if you’re applying for a long-term visa such as a digital nomad visa.
8. Buy Proof of Onward Travel from a Travel Agent
Some travel agents offer onward travel as a service. They will email you a pre-booked ticket confirmation that you can use as proof of onward travel.
If you book your trip with a travel agent, they may offer this service for free. If not, they will charge for it. This service will probably cost somewhere around $30-$50.
Behind the scenes, the agent simply buys a refundable ticket in your name, sends you the confirmation email, then cancels the ticket for you after you arrive at your destination.
9. Talk Your Way Out of It
Sometimes you can talk your way out of having to provide proof of onward travel. If asked for proof of an onward ticket, you can tell the airline attendant or immigration official that you intend to leave overland or that you simply haven’t bought your return ticket yet. Sometimes they’ll just accept this answer and send you on your way. Sometimes they’ll ask you some follow-up questions or hassle you a bit then allow you to pass.
Whether or not this will work really depends on where you’re traveling, what you look like, how you behave, the mood of the immigration official, and luck. If you’re a smooth talker and look well-off, you might be able to talk your way out of it. If you look like a dirty and broke backpacker, you probably won’t have as much luck.
In my experience, this method usually works at land border crossings. If asked for onward travel, I tell the immigration official that I plan to leave overland by bus. In many cases, they will accept this answer. At airports, this method is hit or miss. Usually, it won’t work.
This is a risky option. The airline could refuse to let you board. An immigration official could refuse you entry or even deport you. If you can’t talk your way out of it, you’ll usually be given the option to buy a return ticket.
Forging a Ticket for Proof of Onward Travel
Some travelers create fake tickets to use as proof of onward travel. To do this, they use photo editing software or a word processor to create a realistic-looking flight confirmation. Some use a real confirmation email and change the flight info for an existing future flight. They edit in their name as well as the airline, flight time, and flight number from a real flight. They simply copy the flight info from an airline or booking site.
Services also exist that sell fake tickets. They have a template and simply enter your information then send you the ticket.
I do not recommend you forge a ticket for proof of onward travel. It is illegal and could get you into big trouble if you’re caught. By showing a fake ticket to an immigration official, you are lying to a government official. You are also breaking immigration law. If you’re caught, you could be denied entry, fined, deported, or even thrown in jail. You could be prohibited from returning to the country.
Showing a fake ticket to an airline employee is also a bad idea. They could refuse to allow you to board, cancel your ticket, and even turn you over to airport police for questioning. Forging a ticket is risky.
Another reason not to forge an onward ticket is because it’s easy for the airline or immigration official to find out that it’s fake. Remember, they can look you up in their flight database. If they see that you aren’t on the flight manifest, they know that the ticket isn’t valid. It won’t have a valid PNR code.
When you use the other methods outlined in this guide, you are not lying to anyone. You are acting within the law. When you use a fake ticket, you are at best lying and at worst committing a crime. There is really no reason to make a fake ticket because there are so many legal and free alternatives.
What Happens If I Show Up Without Proof of Onward Travel?
If you didn’t plan ahead and find yourself in a situation where you’re asked for proof of onward travel and you don’t have it, one of three things will happen.
- A ticketing agent or immigration official will ask you to buy a ticket- This is the most common scenario. In this case, you’ll have to go to an airline ticketing counter and buy a ticket on the spot. Preferably a refundable ticket. If you have access to the internet, you could go online and buy a ticket.
- You’ll be denied entry- If you don’t have enough money to buy a ticket, the airline may simply not let you on the flight. In this case, you’ll just have to turn around and leave. If you’re at immigration, you could be denied entry. In this case, the airline may be forced to fly you to your home country. You’ll be deported.
- They’ll let you in anyway- In some cases, you may get lucky and they just let you in. Before this happens, you may be questioned and hassled. It really depends on the mood of the airline employee or immigration official.
To reduce your likelihood of getting asked for proof of onward travel, try to dress nicely and look clean and well-groomed. Business casual clothing works well. Avoid looking like a dirty backpacker or a hippy. This draws negative attention.
Why Travelers Dislike These Rules
Backpackers, long-term travelers, those traveling to multiple countries, and digital nomads often experience issues with proving proof of onward travel. A few common situations where you may need to provide proof of onward travel include:
- Flying on a one way ticket- This is the most common scenario. Many long-term travelers like to buy one way tickets to keep their itinerary open or to save money. When you fly on a one way ticket, you’ll often need to show proof of onward travel.
- Applying for visas- Many countries require you to submit an onward or return flight ticket with your visa application. This can present a challenge if you plan to enter and exit overland or if you don’t know your exact travel dates. Maybe you want to get the visa before you buy your tickets. You will need to show proof of onward travel to get the visa.
- Entering by air and exiting overland- Maybe you plan to fly into a country and exit by bus, train, ferry, or on foot. In some cases, you can’t buy your ticket out of the country online in advance. For example, maybe you’re planning to travel to a border by public transport then cross on foot. You can’t buy a public transport ticket weeks in advance. You may still need to show proof of onward travel upon entry.
- Keeping your itinerary open- If you’re a spontaneous traveler, sometimes you don’t know how long you’ll want to stay in a particular country. Maybe you’ll want to stay 1 month or maybe you’ll want to stay 3 months. Sometimes you don’t know which country you want to visit next. Maybe you’re going to Thailand and you’re not sure if you want to travel to Cambodia or Malasyia next. You still need to show proof of onward travel.
My Experience with Proof of Onward Travel
When I travel, I usually fly into a country on a one-way ticket then travel overland to surrounding countries by bus or train. I usually fly home or to my next destination from a different country than I flew into.
When flying on a one-way ticket, I always make sure to have proof of onward travel because I never know when I’ll need it. I would estimate that I’m asked for proof of onward travel on about half of the one-way flights I take.
When crossing borders overland, I usually do not carry proof of onward travel. I have only been asked for it once when traveling from St. Petersburgh to Helsinki by ferry. Luckily, I had already booked an onward ticket out of Europe that the immigration agent accepted. I do not believe he would have let me through without an onward ticket. He was friendly but strict.
I have also had to provide proof of onward travel on a couple of occasions when applying for visas. Once when applying for a visa for India and once for a visa for Thailand. In both cases, I booked my return flight because I knew when I was leaving.
In the past, I have made fake tickets. I do not recommend trying this. It’s too risky and it’s against the law. These days, I always rent a ticket. Even though it costs money, I find it to be the fastest, easiest, and most reliable option. Having a real ticket gives me peace of mind. I won’t be denied entry.
The proof of onward travel requirement is a hassle for backpackers, digital nomads, and long-term travelers. You may need to show onward travel when flying on one-way or applying for visas. It is an essential travel document. Just like your passport. Luckily, there are some loopholes that you can use to get around this requirement.
The best method for providing proof of onward travel really depends on where in the world you are traveling, how long you plan to stay in the country you’re entering, and your budget. If you have room in your budget, I recommend renting a ticket. If you’re on a tight budget, consider booking a refundable ticket then canceling.
Some may argue that using these tricks is skirting the rules. This is not the case. All of the methods outlined in this guide are legitimate and legal. Travel agents have been using these tricks for ages.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to sort out your onward travel before heading to the airport. You don’t want to end up arguing with a check-in agent or immigration official and being forced to book an expensive ticket home on the spot. Hopefully, this guide makes your trip go a bit smoother.
How do you provide proof of onward travel? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.