Planning to travel internationally on a one-way ticket? 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 it happened to me. I was checking in at Boston’s Logan Airport for an international flight to Bangkok, Thailand.
Excited to visit Southeast Asia for the first time, and planning to spend a few months living in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad. I was flying one-way 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.
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 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.
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.
I feel your pain. Why can’t they just make it easy and allow me 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 long-term travelers 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, and we have to respect them. We have the same laws for foreigners attempting to visit our country.
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.
If you think you may need proof of onward travel during your adventure, there are a few legal ways to get around the rules without having to buy round trip tickets everywhere you go.
My favorite option these days is to use the online service FlyOnward.com. For about $10, this company will go ahead and purchase a refundable airline ticket in your name, on their dime.
The ticket will then be automatically canceled after 24 or 48 hours.
While it’s active, you’ll be able to view a REAL flight reservation under your name, and show it to the airline check-in agent or immigration officer, “proving” your onward travel. Simple, fast, and cheap.
You can see an example of what the confirmation looks like here.
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.
What about bus or train tickets out of the country? In my experience, sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think it depends on the mood of the check-in agent.
If you don’t mind waiting (sometimes months) to receive your refund, then buying a fully refundable, second one-way ticket is possible too.
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.
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 cancel it later.
Most of the time you’ll find that your points or miles are refunded right away, making it a no-brainer.
First of all, I do not recommend this method. 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.
But if you’re too cheap to rent a real ticket for $10, you can use ReturnFlights.net to create a fake onward travel confirmation. Remember, use this option at your own risk!
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 with no money.
Business casual works best at airports if you want to avoid questions.
A few countries definitely require documented proof of onward travel. They include New Zealand, the 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.
Even though this rule might seem ridiculous, if you are a long-term traveler 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. ★
READ NEXT: How To Find Cheap Flights
Have any questions about proof of onward travel? Have you ever been asked? Drop me a message in the comments below!
This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.