Long term travelers all face this problem at some point, and I’m including myself. I’m talking about traveling peacefully with no onward ticket. For instance, if you’re Canadian and you take a week off to visit New York for the first time, you don’t have this problem. You get to the NYC airport, you show your passport and your onward ticket if needed, and that’s it! But for all the backpackers and long term travelers with no fixed plans, how to travel without a return ticket!? You need proof of onward travel!
Frustration of long term travelers
Those who always traveled and/or went on vacation in a more classic way don’t think about it because they never faced this reality. But it’s a great frustration among long term travelers.
“I don’t know yet where I’m going after my trip to Myanmar. I don’t want to pay an onward ticket” “I’ll go to Central Asia after my trip to Iran but I don’t know when exactly” “I don’t know when I’ll leave Japan nor where I’ll go next“. Therefore you want to travel with no onward ticket in order to be free. Unfortunately it’s not possible. But there are solutions. First off…
What is proof of onward travel
A proof of onward travel, sometimes called return ticket or onward ticket, is a ticket proving you’re going to leave the country before the end of your visa. Governments want to make sure you’re not illegally immigrating to their country. They don’t want you to work and they want to make sure you have means to leave the country.
So they ask a proof of onward travel, no matter which destination, as long as you won’t stay there. This return ticket doesn’t have to be a ticket to go back where you arrive from. It is an onward ticket showing you’re about to leave the country.
Therefore you understand why long term travelers don’t want to buy an onward ticket from the country they’re about to visit. We don’t even know what will be the next country of our trip, when we’re about to leave and if we’re about to leave overland.
Risks if you don’t have proof of onward travel
This proof of onward travel can be asked at the airport at the check-in, or at the immigration at the arrival airport. If you don’t have an onward ticket, you can be denied boarding (at the check-in), or entering the country (at the immigration). It happened to me, I didn’t have an onward ticket and I was denied entry to the Philippines…
There’s another risk. You can be asked to buy a plane ticket straightaway in order to board or enter the country. But you know, officials asking to see proof of onward travel is very random. It’s mainly asked at the airport but sometimes officials want to see your onward ticket when crossing a border overland (they’re more lenient when traveling overland). Officials usually don’t ask anything but it happens and if it happens, you need to have an onward ticket.
As I said, you just have to prove you’re going to leave the country. Theoretically, a bus or train ticket going abroad should be accepted. In fact, it’s not often the case. Employees at the check-in or at the immigration mostly want to see a plane ticket.
Airline flying requirements
You may believe the immigration officials only want to see proof of onward travel. But even before boarding, when checking in your luggage, an airline employee want to see your onward ticket. How come?
If you get to your destination, the immigration officials ask proof of onward travel and you don’t have one, they may fly you back to your departure country. But above all, this “return” ticket is at the airline’s expense!
They want to avoid this, so they also want to see your proof of onward travel before boarding. No onward ticket, no boarding for you! Or they ask you to buy one straightaway!
How to react if you don’t have proof of onward travel
They ask for proof of onward travel and you don’t have one? You’re wrong and you know it, therefore don’t lose your temper. If you’re asked this proof of onward travel at the check-in, try to bluff and say your ticket is on your phone but the battery is dead. Otherwise you’ll have to buy an onward ticket to board, eventually buy a refundable ticket or rent a ticket confirmation (more on that later).
If you’re asked proof of onward travel at the immigration, stay calm. Do not say you have no plans, no money, that you’re about to find a job, that you don’t know you’re going to stay… Look confident and say with precision what you’re going to do and when you’re going to leave, it helps!
Explain that you plan to leave the country overland by bus or by train and this is the reason why you don’t have proof of onward travel. If you’re a long term traveler, show your previous stamps to prove your good faith. If the immigration official doesn’t want to listen, ask them if you can buy an onward ticket straightaway! Some of them refuse, but sometimes it works! Above all never lie to immigration officials!
The thing is… You probably don’t want to be “stuck” by a return ticket. You probably don’t want to buy a plane ticket you won’t even use. You want to go wherever the wind takes you, that’s what beautiful about traveling, spontaneity and the joy of discovery! Fortunately there are solutions and ways to provide proof of onward travel.
How to get proof of onward travel
Rent a ticket confirmation
I’m gonna start by the most popular solution among travelers, and one of the most effective: rent a ticket confirmation. What’s the principle? A website is going to “rent” a real confirmation ticket in your name, usually valid for 48 hours, and will send it to you. This is actually a booked ticket, but not paid. Who cares, nor airline or the immigration officials know it.
Hand them this ticket, they can check (with the PNR number), the flight does exist and the ticket is in your name. They’ll let you take the flight and enter the country smoothly. The ticket will be cancelled 48 hours (usually) after booking. It gives you enough time to enter the coveted country, and be free! I tried several times, successfully!
In concrete terms, how does that work? There are several services renting these ticket confirmations. Onewayfly is the most famous but there’s also Onwardticket, Bestonwardticket or Onwardticketvisa. A few years ago, Flyonward was very popular but it doesn’t exist anymore.
Let’s say you’re in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and you want to go to Bali, Indonesia, not knowing how long you’re gonna stay there (but leaving before the end of your allowed length of stay, 30 days).
Visit the website you chose, type your departure city (in our example Bali), your arrival city (for instance Bangkok) and the departure date (pick a credible date, for instance two weeks later!). And of course your info (first name, last name, passport number…).
Depending on the websites, this services costs between 10 and 20 euros. Wait for a few hours and you’ll receive a real confirmation ticket, valid between 24 hours and two weeks. That’s long enough to get to the Bali airport and go through immigration if they ask for proof of onward travel!
I tried with Onewayfly several times without issues! It’s actually an agency booking a real ticket for you, but it’s not paid. It works almost every time, and you avoid paying a real plane ticket (more expensive) you won’t use. If you don’t want to rent a confirmation ticket, there are other ways to provide proof of onward travel!
Buy a round trip ticket
Let’s keep our example, you’re in Kuala Lumpur and you want to go to Bali. Sometimes, when looking for cheap flights, you realize paying a round trip is actually cheaper than a one-way trip. You’d rather buy this round trip then even if you won’t use the return ticket. At least you’ll have a return ticket to show the immigration officials.
Buy a refundable ticket
Another way to show proof of onward travel is to buy a refundable ticket. Why not, at least you’ll have an onward ticket to show immigration officials. But I guess you already know how hard it is to get a refund after buying a plane ticket… Sometimes it takes months…
Before buying a refundable ticket, check thoroughly the fine print in order to be sure you can get a refund. For your information, most flights booked on expedia.com (not .uk, .ca…) are refundable for 24 hours after purchase. Oh and all the business class flights are refundable. But they’re very expensive…
Don’t forget, your flights have to be booked separately if you want to get a refund for your return ticket! Likewise, forget about the cancellation insurance. It works in case of force majeure only (serious illness, death of a relative…).
Forge a ticket
First thing first, I’ve never done this and I strongly advise against doing so. But I met a few travelers who did it successfully. Take an old confirmation ticket in your inbox and Photoshop it, using real information of an upcoming flight.
It works sometimes, but it’s not always the case. It’s rare but the airport employees can check the information and find out it’s a forged ticket! You can get in big trouble if it happens: a huge fine, even jailed for forgery and fraud! Do it at your own risk…
Some countries require a proof of onward ticket to get your visa to enter the country. I’m thinking about China or Russia. Some travelers showed forged tickets in their application, and it worked. But I wouldn’t do it…
Buy a cheap ticket
Maybe you don’t want to buy a refundable ticket, nor rent a confirmation ticket or forge a plane ticket. Find a cheap flight going to a neighboring country and buy it. It’s easy with Skyscanner and its “Everywhere” function as an arrival city. It hurts when you know you won’t use this ticket, but sometimes it’s necessary….
Buy a bus or train ticket
You can try to show them a train ticket or a bus ticket leaving the country. It’s not always working because usually, the officials want to see a plane ticket.
You can also show the officials a hotel booking in a neighboring country to prove you’re not going to say. Or a plane ticket leaving from another country. It works sometimes at the immigration but rarely if you’re asked a proof of onward travel before boarding.
You don’t have an onward ticket and you don’t plan to buy one, nor rent a confirmation ticket… You’re counting on your luck! Indeed, they don’t always ask to see proof of onward travel. But if they ask one, you’ll have to be very effective.
Some travelers hope employees will feel pity for them, they start crying, they act like they’re anguished, they say they absolutely need to take this flight, etc. I’ve never done this, anyway my face doesn’t inspire pity usually. That’s what I call traveling while black.
Others say they have an onward ticket, but it’s on the laptop, its battery is dead, and the laptop is in the luggage anyway, etc. It works sometimes. It depends on the mood of the officer, but winging it is risky.
I did it successfully in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I didn’t have an onward ticket. I made a few jokes and I asked them relevant questions about the country. They loved it and they stamped my passport! Five minutes earlier, they were categorical “If you don’t have proof of onward travel, you can’t get in the country!“
Which countries require proof of onward travel
There are no predefined rules, you can potentially be asked for proof of onward travel no matter where you go. But some countries are known for being stricter than others: the USA of course, but also the UK, the Philippines (where I was denied entry…), New Zealand, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Panama, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Oman, South Africa, Mauritius and Seychelles.
In Thailand, they ask for proof of onward travel, but they also ask sometimes to show them you have money in your bank account. They do this to avoid the invasion of begpackers in the country. Usually, check the IATA website to have information regarding the policy of the country you’re going to.
That’s it! I think you know everything about proof of onward travel now! I wish I knew all this a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been denied entry to the Philippines. What about you guys? Have you ever been asked proof of onward travel? In which country? How did it go? Let me know in the comments!
- Traveling soon? Check out my travel resources page! This list of travel accessories can also help you out!
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- Always use a VPN when traveling. I use ExpressVPN and I love it! Here’s why use a VPN when traveling.
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