I recently got this question via e-mail from a reader:
“How strict are the immigration officials and/or the airlines about the required return/onward tickets? I’ll be going travelling for a long time (open end) and am trying to decide whether to buy a RTW or single tickets and this is a crucial point for the decision.”
This is a great question. Unfortunately, this is an issue you could face anywhere when flying internationally, and the answer is not always so clear-cut. Let me explain.
The problem with one-way tickets
Here’s the reason why airlines can often throw up a fuss when you try to fly on a single ticket to another country:
Technically speaking, immigration officials can deny you entry to a country for all sorts of different reasons. If that were to happen, the airline would be liable for flying you back to your point of origin.
Airlines don’t want that!
So, even though it’s them who sold you the one-way ticket in the first place, they might have questions for you once you get to the check-in desk.
For example, they might ask you about your return ticket or proof of onward travel. They don’t want to risk having to fly you back if there’s an issue.
You can travel internationally on one-way tickets many times and not get asked anything, then one day you can be denied boarding. The reality is that a lot depends on the airline’s policies, where you are trying to fly, and if you are unlucky that day.
Quick solution: onward ticket
With Onwardticket.com you can get a legitimate temporary ticket for proof of onward travel, which expires after 48 hours.
Here’s what happened to me
Since I often visit multiple countries on one trip, I routinely fly one-way. This lets me start in one country and end my trip in another.
A few times, I’ve had difficulties in flying one-way. I’ve never had issues with immigration, always with the airlines.
One time, I was going to fly one-way from London to Mexico with Virgin Atlantic. Immediately, I was asked why I didn’t have a return. I explained I was a backpacker heading off on a long trip, with no return booked yet. I also explained I’d not be in Mexico for longer than the 90 days given by the visa-on-arrival. This was enough for the staff to drop the subject.
Another time, I nearly missed my flight. This was flying one-way from Singapore to the Philippines. Only 15 minutes before check-in closed, I was told I couldn’t board without proof of onward travel.
I still got on my flight, but not without running around the terminal like a headless chicken looking for a WiFi hotspot where I could book the cheapest possible flight out of the Philippines. I was the last passenger to make it onto the plane, sweating heavily and out of breath.
When flying from Miami to Honduras, I ran into the same issue. This time, the staff at the check-in desk kindly booked a refundable return for me. They gave me a phone number I could call as soon as I’d landed to cancel the return. That’s the only time I was offered such a service.
How to avoid problems
Of course, if you’re flying domestically, you don’t have to worry about taking one-way flights. The same goes if you’re flying within the same travel jurisdiction, like the Schengen zone in Europe.
Otherwise, you may want to reduce the risk of any issues when flying one-way in one of these ways:
- Arrive at the airport early. If they refuse to check you in, you’ll still have time to buy a (throw-away or refundable) ticket in a pinch.
- If asked, buy a refundable return ticket. If the staff doesn’t give you issues, great! If they do demand to see ‘proof of onward travel’, go online at the airport and buy a refundable return ticket. If none are available, consider getting a super cheap morning flight with no luggage. You’re not going to use this ticket, it’s only to satisfy the bureaucracy, so just get whatever is cheapest.
- Book a cheap bus or train. It’s best to have a return flight, but a cheap train or bus ride out of the destination country may work too. No guarantees, but I’ve heard a few travelers use this successfully.
- Buy a temporary onward ticket (easiest solution). The best way to avoid problems is to simply create a temporary return ticket. It will cost far less than buying any other ticket and give you valid proof of onward travel.
Keep in mind the goal is just to show you can leave the destination country. You don’t need a return ticket all the way home, it can be enough just to have a flight to a neighboring country.
Buying a temporary onward ticket
If you choose the solution of buying a temporary return ticket, I recommend using Onwardticket.com. They’re a travel agency that will book you a 100% real flight ticket that is valid for 48 hours. Instead of paying the full price for a return ticket, you only pay a $12 service fee.
This is different from other services found around the web that will create a fake ticket, just to use as ‘proof of onward travel’. Of course, the legality of this is questionable… in that it’s absolutely not! I don’t recommend such services that promote fraud, some of which are even known as scams.
To be clear, Onwardticket gives you a complete and real ticket, for a fee of $12, that they cancel after your one-way flight is completed. You can see that Onwardticket has a 4.7 rating on TrustPilot, and I know some of the people who work for Onwardticket, which is why I’m happy to recommend them instead of other providers.
Flying one-way is often necessary, especially if you travel long-term, are a digital nomad, or simply flying back from another country. It would be crazy to have to pay for a return flight you’ll never use, so using a cheap disposable ticket for your proof of onward travel is the perfect solution.
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