Flying Travel Tips
Planning to travel internationally on a one-way flight? You might have a problem. Some airlines and countries require proof of onward travel. Here’s how you can get it.
“Before you can board this flight, I need to see your proof of onward travel.”
What?! But I’m traveling on a one-way ticket!
I remember the first time this happened to me. I was checking in at Boston’s Logan Airport for an international one-way flight to Bangkok, Thailand.
Excited to visit Southeast Asia for the first time, I was planning to spend a few months living in Chiang Mai and backpacking around Asia as a digital nomad.
I was flying there on a one-way flight ticket because, you know, I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay…
One month? Three? Would I even go back to the United States? Maybe I’ll travel to a different country after Thailand… overland. I simply hadn’t planned that far ahead yet.
However due to my American privilege and my inexperience with international travel, it never once crossed my mind that this would be a problem.
Can’t I just buy another ticket when I’m ready to leave? Nope.
What Is Proof Of Onward Travel?
Basically, some countries want to make sure you aren’t attempting to move there on a tourist visa and never leave. It happens all the time here in the United States, and other countries too.
They are trying to prevent illegal immigration.
Government officials need to see proof that you plan on flying out, respecting the rules of their tourist visa.
They want to see proof of onward travel to another destination.
So while you can technically travel on a one-way ticket, they also need some kind of official return ticket confirmation showing that you are leaving the country eventually.
They won’t necessarily care where that ticket goes, just as long as it’s out of their country.
Airline Flying Requirements
Many countries actually pass this responsibility on to airlines, meaning that it’s the airline check-in desk who will ask to see proof of your onward travel before they let you board the flight.
Because if they don’t check, and allow you on the flight with a one-way ticket, but immigration officials refuse to let you in, the airline will be responsible for the costs of flying (deporting?) you back to your home country, along with possible fines.
Some airlines are very strict about the proof of onward travel rule.
If you can’t provide proof, you won’t be allowed to board your flight. Or they’ll ask you to buy a return ticket from them right then and there — which can often cost hundreds of dollars more than you want to spend.
Onward Travel Rules Suck!
I feel your pain. Why can’t they just make it easy and allow me to travel on a one-way ticket, trusting me when I tell them I plan to leave in two months?
Some of us prefer to travel spontaneously, without plans!
Most backpackers, long-term travelers, and digital nomads are on a tight budget, trying to make their money last as long as possible. Or they aren’t exactly sure which country they want to visit next. Or they want to travel overland by bus.
Buying round trip tickets just isn’t in the cards for everyone.
Don’t take it personally though. These are their rules for onward travel, and we have to respect them. We have similar laws for foreigners attempting to visit our own countries.
Luckily there are a few easy (and legal) ways to get around this proof-of-onward-travel requirement, so you can travel on a one-way ticket, and not be forced to pre-plan your entire trip down to the last detail.
5 Ways To Get Proof Of Onward Travel
If you think you may need proof of onward travel during your travel adventure, there are a few legal ways to get around the rules without having to buy round trip tickets everywhere you go.
1: Buy A Refundable Ticket
If you don’t mind waiting a while (sometimes months) to receive a refund, buying a fully refundable second one-way return ticket is definitely possible.
To make it work, you’ll need to buy that second ticket before you leave for your destination.
Once you’ve entered the country, cancel your exit ticket, and wait for the refund.
Just make sure to read the fine print — because some airlines charge cancelation fees, or only refund tickets using flight vouchers instead of cash.
2: Rent A Ticket Confirmation (BEST)
The safest/cheapest option is to “rent” an airline ticket confirmation from a real-life travel agency. This is what I usually do.
OneWayFly.com is a service that books a real return ticket in your name, then cancels it for you later.
It only costs $19, and you’ll get your official ticket confirmation within hours. It’s cheaper than buying your own ticket and safer than trying to forge one (don’t do that!). This is the option I recommend.
3: Book With Your Airline Miles
If you are a travel-hacking whiz and have accumulated a ton of points or miles on your travel rewards credit cards, you can use those points to book a one-way return flight and then cancel it later.
Most of the time you’ll find that your points or miles are refunded right away, making it a no-brainer.
4: Buy A Cheap Ticket On A Budget Airline
Extreme budget airlines around the world can have some amazing flight deals. While the airline itself might not be the best — if you don’t plan on actually using the ticket, who cares!
Find the cheapest one-way ticket to a major city in the country next door, and eat the cost. Maybe $50 or $100.
This works best in cheaper areas of the world, like Asia or Latin America. Some examples of budget airlines include EasyJet, AirAsia, Volaris, etc. Click here for a full list.
5: Buy A Bus Or Train Ticket Out
Some airlines might be placated if they can see you have a bus or train ticket that leaves the country. This is obviously much cheaper to buy than a plane ticket ($50?), and you don’t even have to use it.
In my experience, sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think it depends on the mood of the check-in agent. It’s a risky option.
What About Forging One?
I do not recommend forging your ticket confirmation. If you get caught, it could end up badly.
Especially if you try to show a fake piece of paper to actual immigration officials rather than airline employees.
Lying to immigration officials is illegal, and could land you in jail.
Some people do this, but it’s extremely risky, and can get you in a lot of trouble!
Which Countries Require Proof?
Many countries technically require proof of onward travel, however, they don’t always enforce the rule.
To reduce your chances of them asking, it’s wise to avoid dressing like a bum/hippie/vagabond with no money.
Business casual always works best at airports if you want to avoid questions.
A few countries definitely require documented proof of onward travel. They include New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Peru, and the Philippines.
However, depending on the airline you use, you might also get asked for proof before visiting countries like Thailand, Mexico, and Panama. Do some research on your destination country to be sure.
Or, just rent a ticket confirmation in advance, to cover your bases. It’s super cheap.
Don’t Get Caught Off Guard!
Even though this rule might seem ridiculous, if you are a backpacker or digital nomad who prefers to travel on one-way tickets, you will eventually get asked for proof of onward travel.
I’ve probably been asked at least 10 times over the past few years.
Luckily there are legal loopholes around it. You just need to remember to get everything sorted in advance before you find yourself stuck arguing with the airline check-in agent, about to miss your flight! ★
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READ MORE TRAVEL TIPS
I hope you enjoyed my guide on how to provide proof of onward travel! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:
Have any questions about proof of onward travel? Have you ever been asked before a flight? Drop me a message in the comments below!