Dreaming of booking that one-way flight to paradise? If it’s an international destination, keep in mind that you may have to provide proof of onward travel before the airline will allow you to board the plane.
5 Ways to Provide Proof of Onward Travel
Say you want to keep your options open. Flying to Paris? Maybe you want to go to Italy afterwards, or maybe Africa. Going on a long trip to Southeast Asia? Maybe you want to start in Thailand, leave the country by land, and aren’t sure from where or when you’ll fly back.
This is an exciting way to travel, but it does require going through a few hoops to satisfy immigration requirements. To ensure you have intentions (and funds) to leave the country you are flying to within your allotted tourist visa, many countries require you to provide proof of onward travel. Since airlines have the burden of paying hefty fines for transporting passengers without this documentation, it is usually required to provide proof of onward travel at the airline check-in counter.
If you’re traveling roundtrip on the same ticket, this is easy for the airlines to verify and there is no need to do anything special. For one-way tickets, it's best to be prepared with proof. Here are 5 ways to provide proof of onward travel.
Book a Refundable Ticket
One of the easiest ways to get around this conundrum is to book a refundable airfare ticket. A full fare refundable ticket will be quite pricey, but if you have some wiggle room with your bank account, this could be the best option. Just make sure to read all the rules regarding any refundable ticket and make sure there are no cancellation fees.
An even better option is to take advantage of the 24-hour risk-free cancellation policy. This is a D.O.T. rule for flights to/from the U.S. but it can sometimes work for other flights booked on some popular third-party sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, or Priceline. To do this, you’ll want to book a one-way ticket out of the country you are traveling to. For instance, if you’re traveling one-way to Colombia, book a one-way flight back to the U.S. before you head to the airport to check-in for your flight to Colombia.
It can be any flight that is at least one week away from the date you are booking. Before you purchase, make sure you read the fine print stating that your flight is free to cancel within 24 hours. This may not be the case for flights that do not involve traveling to/from the U.S. so it’s best to stick to those to be safe.
Print out the confirmation or save a screenshot on your phone to show the check-in agent when you check in for your one-way outbound flight. It’s best not to cancel the ticket until you clear customs and immigration in the country you are traveling to just in case an agent decides to actually look to see if the ticket is still valid. If you will arrive at your destination within 24 hours of checking-in, purchase this refundable ticket just before checking-in for your flight and then just cancel it for a full refund after clearing immigration.
That’ll give you some flexibility to figure out your plans as you go, but don’t overstay your visa and never lie to an immigration officer. If you’re traveling long-haul and won’t be able to clear immigration before the 24-hour period, you’ll likely be ok just showing the original confirmation email, if asked, but it may be best to try one of these other methods.
Book an Award Ticket
If you have a stack of award miles or points to use, try booking an award flight out of the country and then either change or cancel after you arrive. Award tickets often have more lenient change/cancellation policies than paid tickets so you may be able to get a full refund. And you can usually put award tickets on hold for multiple days, which is likely sufficient enough proof of onward travel.
Rent a Ticket
For those short on time or who don’t want to deal with figuring out cancellation policies, there are a few agencies who will allow you to rent tickets for the sole purpose of showing proof of onward travel.
For as little as $12, BestOnwardticket will purchase an onward ticket for you, which will be valid for 48 hours or more. You don’t even have to choose a destination. Just simply fill in your name, email, the airport you want the flight to depart from (i.e. the airport you are flying into), and departure date (make sure it’s within your allotted visa time frame), and they will send you a valid ticket within the hour. For extra fees, you can add a specific destination, or choose to receive the ticket at a later date in case you want to set this up in advance.
That’s it, you’ll get a valid confirmation of a flight and the service will automatically cancel the ticket after 48 hours. This is the easiest way to obtain proof of onward travel if you don’t mind paying the small fee for the service. Another reputable company that offers this service is OneWayFly.
Book a Cheap Flight
Of course, another method is to book a cheap one-way flight on a budget carrier to a neighboring country. This is a very cheap and easy way to satisfy proof of onward travel in Southeast Asia. With so many discount airlines flying in this region, you can often get a one-way international flight for around $20. Choose somewhere you’re thinking about going anyway and you can either use the ticket or just decide to eat the cost if you want to change plans.
Do a simple google search for “budget airlines” in the region you are traveling to in order to find out which airlines may sell the cheapest international flights. If you don’t plan to take the flight, make sure to avoid adding on any extra fees for baggage, seat selection, etc. that the airline may trick you into purchasing.
Buy a Cheap Bus or Train Ticket
Many long-term travelers prefer to travel by land and this can be one of the cheapest and easiest ways to provide proof of onward travel. Bus companies also sell tickets in advance online so you can secure a confirmation email before traveling.
A bus ticket may be cheaper to book than an onward flight and it’s likely that the bus company will have a more flexible change or cancellation policy than an airline. For instance, if you plan to travel by land out of the country anyway, book a flexible ticket with a bus company that serves most of the country as well as international routes or routes to a border town, and you may be able to change dates or itinerary for little or no extra fees.
Featured image by Olena Yakobchuk via Shutterstock.