“Proof of onward travel.” It’s a phrase that can cause serious anxiety for international travelers. Worse, lacking such proof can result in denied boarding at the airport or denied entry at the immigration control of your destination.
‘Proof’ usually means possession of a valid departing airline or sea vessel ticket. Sometimes, departing train or bus tickets are acceptable. Check the immigration website for the requirements specific to whatever country you are visiting.
Countries require proof of onward travel as a way of discouraging ‘overstays’ and abuse of visa policies, which are often very liberal for Americans and other westerners.
But enforcement of the proof of onward travel requirement is known to be spotty. Of course, most vacationers and business travelers have round-trip travel arrangements — so confirming each person’s exit plans would be cumbersome for immigration officials facing long lines of harried travelers.
As a result, countries have largely shifted the responsibility for checking proof of onward travel to transport providers. In fact, air and sea carriers can be required to ‘re-transport’ any person denied entry by an immigration service. Thus the carriers have financial incentive to ensure all their passengers have proof.
Still, in our four years of international travel experience in early retirement, we’ve never been asked for proof of onward travel until we flew from Indonesia to the Philippines.
Fortunately, although we are long-term slow travelers, and had no definite plans beyond the Philippines, we did have acceptable proof of onward travel thanks to a company called Best Onward Ticket.
Best Onward Ticket, and a handful of other online companies like them, have sprouted to fill the niche needs of one-way travelers like us. Basically, for between $10 and $15 per person, these organizations will rent you a valid airline ticket departing from any airport on any date that you request.
Best Onward Ticket charged us $24 for two tickets departing Cebu, Philippines to Bangkok, Thailand on December 9, 2019 (a date we selected and within our automatic, 30-day, Philippine visa on arrival period). The electronic tickets were delivered to our email account within 30 minutes of the credit card purchase. The tickets would automatically expire 48 hours after issue – a day after our scheduled arrival in the Philippines.
In truth, we have used Best Onward Ticket several times before when taking one-way flights. But never have we been asked about our onward travel at the airport or immigration window. This time, as we checked in at the Cebu Pacific Air counter in Bali, the clerk asked, “Do you have onward travel tickets?”
When we answered yes, she asked to see the tickets. We produced our smart phone, showed her the rented tickets, and continued with our check-in. Minutes later, we were on our way through security towards our departure gate.
Obviously, we don’t know what would have happened had we not had those rented tickets. We suspect we would have had to immediately make future onward travel arrangements from the Philippines if we wanted to be permitted to board our scheduled flight. We have traveled without ‘rented tickets’ many times in the past, and we do have ‘backup plans’.
Options for proof of onward travel
Use a ticket service
The cheapest option would be to immediately rent departing tickets from Best Onward Ticket or a similar company. This would require stepping away from the check-in counter and using a smart phone with local SIM card minutes (or WiFi) to make the purchase – then wait for the ticket delivery.
In our experience, Best Onward Ticket has always delivered tickets within one hour. (The most recent purchase was much faster). Their website has been recently updated to say, “We promise to email your ticket within of your booking. We are working 24/7.” Depending on how much time there is before your flight, this should work while at the airport.
Buy ‘fully refundable’ tickets
The other option would be to purchase a “fully refundable” ticket either online by smart phone at the airport or at the ticket counter with a credit card. Of course, the price of that ticket would likely be hundreds of dollars. But “fully refundable” should mean exactly that. Whatever you pay should be refunded. Still, we would advise checking the fine print.
Further, the fully refundable ticket does not have to be to your home country — just anywhere you could legally enter without needing a pre-approved visa. In our case, a fully refundable flight from the Philippines to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, would have been the lowest cost.
Incidentally, another option – which we did use one time – is to buy a fully refundable ticket in advance, and have that as your proof of onward travel, then cancel the ticket at your convenience. We did this and it cost nothing but time. We weren’t asked about proof of onward travel during that trip, but it turned out to be a pain to get the refund. We probably spent 30 minutes on hold and being transferred around explaining we wanted a refund before we were actually credited. Airlines are obviously reluctant to issue refunds even when warranted. And we highly advise using a credit card as a backstop in case of dispute.
Buy tickets, eat the cost
The final option: for whatever reason, while at the airport you could buy the very cheapest departure ticket that fulfills the ‘proof of onward travel’ demand – then just eat the cost. Not an ideal situation, but likely better and cheaper than being unable to board your current flight and having to rearrange your immediate plans, including another flight.
Honestly, the rented ticket seems worth the money.
If you decide to skip proof of onward travel, we suggest you allow extra time at the airport in case you get into one of the situations described above.
Finally, be advised that there are stories circulating on the internet of companies selling rented tickets who don’t deliver as promised or who are simply selling ‘fake’ ticket documents. Consumers should be aware of these schemes and only do business with those outfits that get excellent reviews.
Full disclosure: we get nothing from Best Onward Ticket for this article.
They had good reviews when we first discovered them and we’ve had no issues with their service or prices. We can’t speak to the business practices of any other such service. No doubt there are good and bad operators.
To sum up, we are glad that these ‘airline ticket renting’ companies exist. They do give us peace of mind and save us untold hassle due to our perpetual travel lifestyle. What’s more, the tickets they provide ARE actual tickets – issued in our names. As such, we are comfortable answering YES if asked about onward travel by airline and immigration personnel.
Using fake tickets or lying to an immigration officer is highly inadvisable, might be a crime, and could lead to denied entry or even detention. Don’t do it!
Obviously, all countries have laws requiring visitors to comply with immigration and visa terms. Those terms imposed on us are far easier than what our home country has set for others. And for that we are thankful. While we don’t like having to spend extra money for rented proof of onward travel, it is a small price to pay for the otherwise easy entry to the places we dream of seeing and living in.
As always, happy trails & more beer. Life is now!