Flying On A One-Way Ticket: How To Avoid Problems

When trying to fly on a one-way ticket you could be denied boarding. Here's why (and how to get around it)...

I recently got this great question via e-mail from Viky from Germany:

“In your experience, how strict are the immigration officials and/or the airlines about the required return/onward tickets in Central and South America? I’ll be going travelling for a long time (open end actually) and am currently 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, not just specifically with regards to Latin America, but it’s really an issue you might face anywhere. Travellers wanting to visit multiple countries in a convenient route (start somewhere, end somewhere else) often have to deal with the potential problems of flying on a single ticket. I wrote Viky a response, which quickly became quite a lengthy one as it’s a complicated subject. It seemed like it should be tackled properly in a post!

The problem with one-way tickets

So here’s the issue: technically speaking, immigration could deny you entry to a country for a range of different reasons. If that were to happen, the airline would be liable for flying you back to your point of origin. That’s why airlines can sometimes get a little fussy when you’re trying to fly on a single ticket. Even though they sold you a one way ticket, once you actually get to the check-in desk they might start to ask you about your return ticket or proof of onward travel. That’s because they don’t want to risk having to take you back if there’s any issues at all at immigration. 

Now, one of the frustrating things is that the rules are inconsistantly applied across the board. Nearly all of the time flying on a one-way ticket is no problem whatsoever, but then occasionally you end up facing some difficulties. This is why when you’re researching this issue online, you are sure to find lots of different opinions. The truth is that it’s impossible to say anything with complete certainty, because a lot of it just depends on individual airlines’ policies, where you are trying to fly, and whether you happen to have any bad luck.

So here’s what happened to me

As a traveller who often visits multiple countries on one trip (starting in one country and ending in another), I routinely fly one-way.

Predictably I’ve never had any issues with domestic flights as you can take these one-way and never have any questions asked whatsoever. Often you don’t even need to show your passport to go on a short haul domestic flight. Don’t worry about these.

A few times I’ve flown on an intercontinental flight one-way. Once, when flying with Virgin Airlines one-way from London to Mexico, I was actually asked about why I didn’t have a return. I explained to the lady at check-in that I was a backpacker going on a longer trip, and I don’t yet know when I was going back. I also said that I was planning to be in Mexico for about 60 days (the visa-on-arrival gives you 90 days). This was enough for her to drop the subject, and she promptly checked me in.

There were two times when I had some actual issues. Once was when flying one-way from Singapore to the Philippines with AirAsia. I was told that immigration requires proof of onward travel. There were only 15 minutes left until check-in would close, so I ran around looking for an internet cafe at the airport, and then booked the cheapest possible flight out of the Philippines with AirAsia just in the nick of time. It cost about 30 Euros, and I booked it not actually expecting to use it (and I ultimately didn’t). Showing this booking let me get on the flight with no further questions asked.

The other time was when flying from Miami to Honduras with Spirit Airlines. I was again told that I’d need proof of onward travel for immigration. This time, the lady at the check-in desk actually booked a refundable return for me, and gave me the phone number I could call after I’d landed and crossed the border to immediately cancel and refund this flight.

How to avoid problems

Understand that first of all it’s the airlines occasionally being difficult. While travelling on an EU passport, I’ve never had any issues with immigration itself.

Also know that they’re not necesserily asking you to have a return ticket back to your starting destination. This is really just about immigration (and by extension the airline) being comfortable that you have proof of onward travel, i.e. you have plans to leave the country again before your visa runs out, and you are able to leave the country when you have to. That doesn’t have to be a return all the way home; it can just be that you’re moving on to another country on your trip.

My advice is to simply fly one-way whenever this makes sense for your travel plans. Issues are very rare. But if you want to be a bit more prepared, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Arrive at the airport early. If they refuse to check you in, you’ll still have time to buy a ticket in a pinch. When I had to run around like a headless chicken trying to sort out a flight booking it got a little stressful. Make sure you’ve got at least an hour to spare.
  2. If needed, get a fully refundable ticket. Ask the check-in staff if they have any. Otherwise, ask at service desks at the airport, or go online at the airport and find one. If you can’t get a refundable ticket, get the cheapest one you can find (assuming your plans are fluid and you don’t know for sure when or where you’re moving on to the next country). It actually doesn’t even have to be a flight out of the country–I’ve heard of many people who booked a super cheap train or bus ticket out of the destination country, and bizarelly this was enough to satisfy the airline staff.
  3. If you’re really worried, bring paperwork. Print out a recent bank statement and a destination plan or itinerary (this can even be a made up one). This can demonstrate to anyone that a) you have enough money to get out of the country and b) your intention is to travel onward.

I should mention that the immigration policies of certain countries is particularly stringent, for instance in Costa Rica and Panama, and here you actually need a bank statement or itinerary plan anyway. But normally, you don’t need this in actual practice. Basically use them as props to show airline staff that you’re prepared.

Generally speaking, flying on one-way tickets is fine, and if it makes sense for your trip, just do it. If you’re nervous about facing any problems, be sure to show up early and remember you can always get a cheap disposable ticket for your proof of onward travel.

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38 comments

  1. Virginia Reply September 9, 2017 at 7:23 am

    Hi
    I’m flying from New Zealand to the UK (only there for a few days, got a Kiwi passport only) and on to Europe and was wanting to fly on a one way ticket to keep my return options open…Anyway what reception am I likely to get on arrival at Heathrow? Going onto Morocco, Portugal, Spain etc after that.
    Cheers
    Virginia

  2. Kim Reply August 20, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    My son and his friend are going to finland to stay with family for a month and then backpack through europe, will they have a problem with buying a one way ticket. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

  3. John Reply June 15, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Here’s my recent experience. Flew from Penang to Phnom Phen via Singapore using JetStar. The Airline check-in was adamant that I couldn’t fly as I didn’t have a return ticket to Australia. I said was traveling on to Vietnam by road, and showed my detailed itinerary, but they wouldn’t budge. But then I showed them that I was booked at a Cambodian hospital for dental work, which would requite a long stay (eg Business visa, rather than Tourist) and they happily waved me through. The really weird thing was they were insistent that I show return to my home country, not just travel onwards. And they wouldn’t accept my proof of funds (eg bank statement).

  4. Christopher Jackson Reply April 22, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I know I’m unquestionably late to the gathering, however I’ll be traveling to the Bahamas this winter and have a snappy question. I’m flying on two one-route tickets rather than a round excursion ticket, as it’s less expensive and more advantageous for all gatherings included. I’m remaining for seven days, and I simply need to show them evidence of the booked flight ticket would it be a good idea for them to ask, revise? This is my first time flying anyplace, and obviously it happens to be abroad.
    Keep Posting

  5. Nick Molnar Reply April 21, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    http://bestonwardticket.com
    Ticket costs only $7.99 and has value for 48 hours or more.
    I had heard about this type of service which was necessary for me with my one way flight, and was about to book with a more popular company, then these guys popped up in my spam email, and I was skeptical at first, as it is a new business. But I took the chance as it was cheaper than the others and the ticket lasted for 48 hours, not 24. When I was checking my baggage, they asked for proof of onward travel, and even looked up the flight online, and let me through without question. These guys delivered the ticket very fast, and even communicated via email with 1 hour response times. Very happy with this company. Highly recommend.

  6. Lori Reply March 29, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    Hey all,

    I am to fly back to Glasgow at the first of June, 2017. I want to fly on a OWT as it is cheaper (and funds are very limited) and then buy my return flight within the 6 month allowable period I can stay. I have fallen in love with a man there and am desperate to get back. I DID have issues with immigration last time and don’t want that again. I would welcome any and all advice. Thanks, Lori

  7. Stu Reply March 2, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    This probably won’t come through soon enough but hey, you never know!

    I’m flying out to India within the next 10 days or so. As I’m heading out for 4-6 months I’d much rather not have a return ticket as I dont want to have to pay the high fees to change the return date. The multi city flight I looked at was £385, with a minimum of £150 change fee (plus any additional cost if the return leg is a higher value ticket) but a one way is only £199.

    I understand that these things seem to hinge on who you get at the check in desk, with the exception of a few airlines that take a solid stance on these matters.

  8. Lauren Reply January 28, 2017 at 3:24 am

    Hello! My name is Lauren.. I have just booked a one way ticket to Canada… I was invited by family friends to go visit some provincial parks and do some hiking! I’m worried that the border will give me troubles for this… I didn’t book a flight back because I wasn’t sure if I would be flying out of Vancouver or Seattle because I have a friend in Seattle and my grandmother lives in Washington as well. I could explain this to the border patrol and then tell them I would only be staying for a couple weeks. As well as, I would have to return for college any ways… I would have no intention of staying.

    I keep reading things online.. good and bad.. it’s making me a bit anxious. Some people have even said if you have a one way you need to prove you have the money to get out of the country… but the family that invited me has told me not to worry about it.. they will support me food wise and get me a ticket when it is time to leave. Is it bad to say that the people I am staying with offered to support for the time I was there?

    I obviously have money saved up- not thousands but a good amount.

    NEED ADVICE.

    • Cody Reply March 30, 2017 at 1:18 am

      I would do the same as SE Asia and just book a greyhound/bus out of Vancouver to show proof of exit and you’ll have peace of mind. This is a much cheaper option than a flight and it gives you more freedom to make a different choice if you need it.

  9. Kenji Reply November 4, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Hey!
    I’m in Nigeria right now and want to go to India. Getting out of Africa is a pain in the butt and very expensive,so I thought to fly from Abuja to Dubai (one ticket that is roundtrip) and then Dubai to India (another ticket that is also roundtrip). Can I do this? Would officials have issues? I know I have to pick up my check in luggage and very likely go through immigrations (would I need a visa for this). I don’t even want to exit from the airport.

    Kenji

  10. Kenza Reply October 26, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Hi Marek
    I’m planning to backpack to Central/South America – starting in Mexico all the way to Columbia through Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, and then Bolivia/Chile/Argentina. Is there a list of countries you know of in that region where proof of onward travel is required? as many participants on this blog, I also would like to take a one way ticket and decide as I go / feel. Thanks!!

    • Marek Reply October 27, 2016 at 10:26 am

      Hey Kenza. I believe Costa Rica is particularly stringent with this — they might ask for onward travel and/or proof of sufficient funds. I’ve not heard of (or experienced) issues with this in the other countries you mention when overlanding.

  11. Cody Reply October 26, 2016 at 6:31 am

    A great tip for rookie backpacker’s is to just book a cheap bus ticket to Laos or Cambodia when you buy your one way. Cheap proof of exit.

  12. Nandi Reply September 30, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Hi, Marek.

    I’m a backpacker. I’ve been travelling around East Asia foe one year alone. By the way, I’m from South Africa. However, Last week in Thailand I was flying to TEL Aviv, in Israel the airline refused me because I didn’t have a return ticket. I explain to them that I’m doing the road trip and I will leave Israel to South Africa by road so I don’t need air ticket. Before I purchase my flight ticket I went to Israel Embassy in Bangkok and I explained to them that i’m planning to backpack in Israel, but I don’t have a return because I will travel back to my home county by road because I want to see more countries, they said It’s OK that’s not a problem. Guess what, I’m still in Thailand and stuck because they refused to return my money.Now I’m planning to buy a new fly ticket to Jordan.

  13. Kantan Reply September 21, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    Absolutely brilliant post Marek. I was just asked this by a few friends who are traveling to SE asia with me and even after explaining it in detail they were still asking questions so we found this post on google. Basically if you have no solid plans of dates or locations to travel to just get a one way and as marek said, if you are told you must have an onward flight ticket out of the country just go online and purchase the cheapest one to the next neighbouring country to show as proof. Air asia I have found very cheap onward flights from the closest airport to a neighbouring country arriving at the closest airport in the next country for less than £15. This is really not a huge issue at all and its what a lot of people need to do if they plan to travel and want to have maximum flexibility

  14. Emma Reply August 28, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    Hello
    If you are a US resident and buy a one way ticket to the UK (I’m a citizen of the UK), when do I ha to return so I don’t loose my residency?

    • Marek Reply August 28, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      I’m not sure, that’s more of a US residency than a travel visa issue. You should probably check the US immigration authority for the answers to that.

  15. Vilma Reply August 21, 2016 at 9:35 am

    Hi, I’m planning a few month trip to Southeast Asia. I was wondering if i buy just a one-way ticket, wouldn’t it be hard to find cheap return flights since i would book them just weeks/days earlier and would probably be using my phone, so it’d be harder to play with dates etc.

    Also, if I already book a two-way ticket, would it be risky to carry it around while backpacking in case it gets stolen or lost?

    Thank you for your help, your blog is awesome! 🙂

    • Marek Reply August 21, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Hey Vilma. Plane tickets are electronic these days, so there’s no risk of a physical ticket getting stolen.

      You could book your return from a computer at a hostel or internet cafe (of which there are many in Southeast Asia).

  16. Alice Calder Reply August 4, 2016 at 2:27 am

    This is a great post….i’ve heard a great deal of conflicting information about this issue. Here’s my situation: I’m travelling from Canada to Hong Kong on Air Canada or United for a few months to stay with family friends (i was born in HK and can prove that with a birth certificate) also planning to do a bit of travelling around se asia but so far only want to book a one-way Canada-HK as im not sure of exact dates. I’m also planning to take a train back to Europe instead of flying from Asia. I’m also a British citizen and have a British passport. Do you have any insight about those airlines or this trip? I’m considering booking a one-way HK to Thailand in case of trouble for a couple months after I arrive in HK. I can stay there for 6 months as a tourist visa-free as a British citizen. Do you think my birthright would mean anything to the airlines?

  17. Alfredo Reply July 26, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Hello there!
    I m planning a sabbatical time(1-3 years) where I plan to travel in countries like Indo esia,Vietnam,Cambodia,Laos…

    I would fly from Europe to Bali and then fly into the other countries.
    Anything should I be worried about?

    I checked on internet the visa requirements for some of this cpuntries and all of them want the proof of a return ticket.
    What about renewing my visa if I will be there backpacking and not for work..etc?
    Is it easy to renew it as I will stay more than 90 days in Indonesia at least…?

    Thanks for your help.

    Alfredo

    • Marek Reply July 26, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      Hey Alfredo. Last time I checked most nationalities get a free 30 day visa for Indonesia, which you can extend once, for a total of 60 days. I’m pretty sure you can’t stay longer than 90 days on a tourist visa, and I’ve heard they’re cracking down on visa runs in Indonesia (due to foreigners working illegally), so you may want to look into that carefully.

      The one-way flight is unlikely to be an issue though. Just give yourself enough time at the airport, so that if there’s issues with it (unlikely, but you never know) you can just buy a very cheap ticket online from Bali to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur for example (e.g. with http://www.airasia.com).

  18. Amelia Reply July 14, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    I know I’m certainly late to the party, but I’ll be flying to the Bahamas this winter and have a quick question. I’m flying on two one-way tickets instead of a round trip ticket, as it’s cheaper and more convenient for all parties involved. I’m only staying for a week, and I just have to show them proof of the booked departure ticket should they ask, correct? This is my first time flying anywhere, and of course it happens to be abroad. Thanks for your help!

    • Marek Reply July 17, 2016 at 11:10 pm

      Yep, just print out (or have on a device) the booking confirmation for your one-way return flight and you will be fine. Most likely, you won’t even be asked about it though.

  19. George Reply July 6, 2016 at 3:46 am

    Cheers bro. Was stressing for nothing apparently lol. Appreciate the informative post.

  20. Karla Reply June 16, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you for the great advice!

  21. Kat Reply June 8, 2016 at 2:01 am

    Awesome! This was so useful, I have been stressing about my one-way ticket to Italy in 2 weeks and this has helped me out a lot. Love the idea of printing out an imagined itinerary or booking a refundable ticket. Cheers for this!

    • Denisse Reply January 20, 2017 at 8:31 pm

      Please Kat, how that went? I’m going to have a Eurotrip and wanted to start in Italy, please tell me !

    • Marek Reply February 26, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      That’s a golden tip! Thanks for sharing

    • jenni Reply July 4, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Is this legitimate?

  22. stanley Reply February 10, 2016 at 4:54 am

    I want to buy one way ticket to lima peru flying with air canada… any potential issues with airline or peru immigration?

    • Shobhit Choudhary Reply February 26, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      Airline might ask for the tickets. Immigration at Peru doesn’t.

  23. Hayden Reply December 26, 2015 at 5:57 am

    Great post, I’ve been stuck a few times! Stumbled across this site for preparing a travel itinerary (PDF format) without buying a ticket. I was asked for my itinerary at check-in when flying from Columbia to Panama. Credit card(s) help as proof of funds, and a copy of your travel insurance can’t hurt…
    http://itinerary.zerofomo.com

  24. David Reply November 3, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Planning a trip SE asia, flying into Bangkok with probabl air china on a one way from London. What are the chances do you think of me getting restricted access?

    • Marek Reply December 7, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      Hard to say. Thai immigration is usually pretty lenient with small stuff, but it depends on the airline. I’m guessing though you’ll probably won’t have huge issues as a fair number of people go to Thailand on a one-way – lots of backpackers do this.

  25. Elina Reply October 6, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Hi! Thank you for this post. I’m about leave for a longer trip to Southeast Asia and Oceania and I’ve been stressing quite a bit about my one-way ticket. This helped me answer the questions I had. Thank you and regards from Finland! 🙂

    • Marek Reply October 6, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Glad to hear it’s proven useful! Have a good trip 🙂

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