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. Since it can be a bit complicated, I thought I’d answer this question here.
The problem with one-way tickets
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 throw up a fuss when you’re trying to fly on a single ticket to another country.
Even though it’s them who sold you the one-way ticket, they might start asking questions once you get to the check-in desk. They might ask you about your return ticket or proof of onward travel. That’s because they don’t want to risk having to fly you back if you can’t get into the country.
One of the frustrating things is that the rule is inconsistently applied. Often, flying on a one-way ticket is no problem whatsoever, but then occasionally you end up facing some major difficulties.
This is why when you’re researching this issue online, you are sure to find lots of different opinions based on many individual experiences. 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 legit temporary ticket for proof of onward travel, which expires after 48 hours.
Here’s what happened to me
Since I’m a traveler who often visits multiple countries on one trip (starting in one country and ending in another), I routinely fly one-way.
When it comes to intercontinental flights, I only had an issue once. When flying with Virgin Airlines one-way from London to Mexico, I was asked why I didn’t have a return. I explained 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 the staff to drop the subject and wish me a good trip.
I’ve run into issues more often on medium-range flights with budget airlines. 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 a WiFi hotspot and then booked the cheapest possible flight out of the Philippines with AirAsia just in the nick of time. I didn’t end up using this flight, and it still cost me a lot, but at least it got me onboard.
Another time I was 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 staff at the check-in desk offered to book a refundable return for me. They also gave me the phone number I could call after I’d landed and crossed the border to immediately cancel and refund this flight. This was really nice service — but the only time this solution was offered to me.
I’ve never actually had problems with immigration. It’s only ever been the airlines creating issues.
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.
How to avoid problems
If you want to reduce the risk of any issues when flying one-way, then I can recommend a couple of things:
- Arrive at the airport early. If they refuse to check you in, you’ll still have time to buy a (preferably throw-away or refundable) ticket in a pinch. You don’t want to be running around like a headless chicken trying to sort out a flight booking at the last minute.
- If needed, buy a separate fully refundable return 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 return ticket, then see if there’s just a cheap one you can find (that you might not actually use).
- Book some cheap overland transportation. While it’s probably best to have a return flight ticket, it may be sufficient to book a cheap train or bus ride out of the destination country. No guarantees, but I’ve heard some travelers who successfully submitted this as proof of onward travel.
- Generate a fake airline ticket. There are various services around the web that will create a seemingly real airline ticket. The legality of this is a big question though — basically you will be giving out fake information, which is fraudulent and could come to bite you back if you run into any issues. I would probably advise against taking this approach.
Keep in mind the goal is just to reassure immigration (and by extension the airline) that you have plans to leave the country again before your visa runs out, and you are able to leave when you have to. You don’t have to show a return all the way home; it can be enough to just have a ticket to another nearby country.
Buy a temporary onward ticket
Finally, if you want to be totally sure you won’t have problems, the best solution is to simply create a temporary return ticket. This will give you valid proof of onward travel.
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 the ticket, you only pay a $12 service fee.
Similar services in the past have had a bad reputation (and you may still read about some scam sites that used to exist), so it’s great that Onwardticket has finally provided a legitimate temporary ticket service. Full disclosure: I know some of the people involved in Onwardticket, but this is also why I’m completely comfortable recommending them. If you’re still in doubt, Onwardticket.com has a 4.7 rating on TrustPilot. Because they’re real tickets being issued to you with Onwardticket.com, there won’t be problems if any staff try to verify them.
Flying one-way is often necessary, especially if you travel long-term, are a digital nomad, or if you simply plan to fly back from another country during your holiday. Obviously, it would be crazy to have to pay for a return flight you’ll never use. But if you’re worried about facing any problems flying on a single ticket, remember you can always get a cheap disposable ticket for your proof of onward travel.
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