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Proof of Onward Travel – a Story and a Solution

You’ve just spent two months traveling around Australia and now you’re about to spend another two months in Southeast Asia. And while you enjoyed every single minute of your stay in Oz, you’re ready to explore the intriguing cultures of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

You arrive at Melbourne’s International airport 2 hours prior to your direct flight to Kuala Lumpur and you quickly join the long check-in line at Malaysia Airlines. Thirty minutes pass until you are the ‘next one in line’ and you then eagerly hand over your passport and ticket confirmation number to the airline agent.

She types away on her keyboard, asks if you have any luggage, checks to make sure you packed that luggage yourself and then goes back to typing away on her keyboard again. At that point, clear visions of the Malaysian jungle slowly begin to materialize in your head and you smile widely, unable to hide the thrill of traveling to unexplored lands.

And you remain in that blissful trance, right up until the moment you hear the airline agent say…
Can I please see your onward flight ticket?

You now stand there confused, unaware of what she is trying to ask you. You hear the question repeated and yet you still cannot grasp it’s meaning.

“In order to enter Malaysia, you must provide proof of an onward ticket out of Malaysia. You only have a one-way ticket,” she explains.

“What? I’ve never heard of that,” you reply, and a most unwelcome fear begins to swell up inside.

“We cannot let you board your flight without proof that you will be leaving Malaysia.”

You had planned to fly into Kuala Lumpur, to cross into Singapore by land, take the ferry to Indonesia and then return to Malaysia several weeks later before traveling by bus into Thailand. Why would you need to purchase an onward plane ticket for that?, you think to yourself. You don’t plan on leaving Malaysia by plane.

After an unsuccessful attempt at wooing the airline agent, the visions in your head are now of a plane taking off without you. You even check your pockets to see if you have enough Australian money to get you back into Melbourne.

And then the airline agent offers a suggestion. “If you go over to the Qantas office at the other end of the terminal, you can buy an onward ticket and then hopefully get a refund once you arrive in Asia.”

Off you go, running across the terminal with your backpack dancing off one arm, and with only an hour and fifteen minutes to go until your flight to Malaysia is scheduled to depart. As you approach the small Qantas ticket office, you want to scream. The man behind the counter is in the midst of pulling down the shutters as the clock outside strikes 5:00pm.

You call out to this man and he immediately tells you that the office is now closed. And then you do the only thing that comes to mind. You beg him to listen to your situation. Twenty minutes later, you’re running back across the terminal building towards the check-in counter, this time with a $585 refundable airline ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, held firmly in your hand.

The airline agent finally checks you in now that you have your onward ticket and without hesitation you rush off to immigration, through security and towards your gate, arriving with only a few minutes to spare. And as soon as you buckle your seat belt and settle into your window seat, you lean your head back, wipe the sweat from your forehead and take a deep breath. You’re on your way to Asia.

Getting The Refund

As you could have predicted, obtaining a refund for your fully refundable onward ticket was not exactly as straightforward as the Qantas ticket man had promised. On your second day in Kuala Lumpur, you trek across the city to the Qantas office, which is closed for no apparent reason. The following day, you go there again and even though it is open, a Qantas employee informs you that the refund process will require two more visits to their office during the following week.

Just thankful to be in Malaysia in the first place, you accept their seemingly unorganized system and plan your time in Kuala Lumpur around your necessary trips to the Qantas office. After your third visit, you’re finally informed that the process has been completed, but, and you just knew there would be a ‘but’, you will not see the refund on your credit card statement for 6-8 weeks.

At this point, you just don’t care. You know you’ll get that $585 back someday and now all you want is to forget about onward tickets and refunds and concentrate on the fascinating culture around you.

The Reality Of Onward Tickets

The above is a true story of course and one that happened to me exactly as I wrote it, about 7 years ago. Perhaps you’ve experienced the same thing, as dealing with the issue of onward flight tickets is something that many travelers face during their adventures.

If you spend a lot of time reading up on the visa/entry requirements for countries around the world (as I do), you’ll realize that a high percentage of countries do require visitors to have an onward ticket in order to be granted entry. However, this is a rule that is often not enforced by immigration officials.

In addition to Malaysia, I can remember being asked to show proof of an onward flight ticket in several countries, including Australia, Singapore, Jordan, New Zealand, Myanmar and the UK. So it definitely does happen and unfortunately, there is often no way to know ahead of time if the rule is going to be enforced. And this is a problem for any traveler whose travel plans are open-ended or mostly overland, and therefore doesn’t involve any onward flights.

The Solution

In order to avoid a similar situation to the one in the Melbourne airport, I now make sure that I’m always prepared. But that doesn’t mean that I’m purchasing onward tickets all of the time. Instead, before I fly anywhere, I actually ‘create’ my onward tickets these days.

While some might think this is a bit ‘questionable’ of a trick, it is a workaround that saves me a great deal of hassle by eliminating the fear involved with hearing those dreaded words – ‘where’s your onward ticket?’ Here’s what to do:

  1. On your computer, open an old Travelocity.com (or similar) flight confirmation that you may have and copy and paste the contents into a Microsoft Word document.
  2. Search online for an actual onward flight from the country you’ll be visiting. (For example, if traveling to Brazil, look for flights from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires, Argentina on a date before your Brazilian visa expires.)
  3. Write down all of the flight information for one of the suitable flights, including the flight #, dates/times, duration, total miles of the itinerary, airline and type of aircraft.
  4. In the Word document, replace the old flight details with the new details you’ve just written down and update any other dates found on the confirmation.
  5. In the “Cost and Billing Summary” section on the Word document, change the price details to match the actual cost of the flight you found during your online search.
  6. Convert the Word document into a PDF file (for a cleaner look) and print out a few copies.

*Alternatively, you could just sign in to Expedia or Travelocity, search for a flight and proceed all the way up until the ‘purchase’ stage. Then print out the final itinerary that displays on the screen and use that as your confirmation. I prefer the above method as it uses an actual paid confirmation format.

This a cropped version of what you end up with…if you click on the image you’ll get a clearer view.

Flight Confirmation

And then, when an airline check-in staff, or even an immigration officer, asks for proof of your onward ticket, simply hand over your confirmation and you’ll quickly be on your way.

Well, can I really guarantee the success of this trick? Nope. So you’ll have to use it at your own risk. However, it’s worked for me each and every time, although the number of occasions that I’ve actually needed to show this proof is tiny compared to the number of countries I’ve entered on a one-way ticket. You just never know.


Have you ever run into any problems with not having an onward ticket during your travels? Anyone with different advice to share?

“And when looking for low prices on airfare, be sure to check out websites such as CheapOair.com which offers cheap flights to destinations around the world.”

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122 Responses to Proof of Onward Travel – a Story and a Solution

  1. Can’t you just book a flight before you go to the airport with a 24 hour cancelation policy and then just cancel it right after you land? No money spent and no risk of being denied?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey William – Sure, you can do that if you can find such a flight. For some destinations, it’s a bit harder to get a flight with a 24 hour cancellation period but now you can try using something like Orbitz which offers 24 hour cancellation period for many flights booked on their site.

  2. Ricardo says:

    Thank you Earl i have been reading your blog for hours!!;

    I would like to do this but I dont have any flight confimation layouts… Im planning to go to Thailand this month. Someone have any idea of how i can make this? or any cheap alternative to fill this requirement?

    Regarts.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Ricardo – Another option is to simply purchase a fully refundable one way onward ticket and then, once arrive in your destination, just hop online and get the refund. That might be easier.

  3. Sean says:

    Hi Earl,

    Our experience was pretty similar — leaving the US to Ecuador for a four month South and Latin American tour, and we ran into the airline agent requesting proof of return. Having heard about this, we had an itinerary mocked up, but unfortunately, without a ticket number (important — they must have a field in a database to fill in!), it was no good. We ended up having to buy two refundable tickets as well. We’ll be using your technique moving forward. For people who are concerned about the “legality” of this option, I have also heard of people buying low-cost bus tickets onto a neighboring country as proof of exit. Haven’t tried it, but it would likely be far less expensive.

    • Sophia says:

      Hi Sean.

      Thank you for your post.
      I too, am flying from the USA to Ecuador (currently on a one way ticket) in late April, 2014.
      I would be ever grateful if you could tell me the name of the flight company (I’ll be flying with Copa Airlines)?
      And where to/ and via what website you bought the fully refundable air tickets??

      It would be incredible for my own peace of mind to hear what you have to say, to save me the stress. Thank you :)

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  6. Tom says:

    would this be considered illegal? am going backpacking around Asia for a year, and will most likely do this, what would the consequences be if the ticket was fake, and they realised.

  7. Dana says:

    I have a friend in Kula Lamur,Malaysia and he out staid his visa. After paying the fee required by immigration; his ticket is now out of force. They will not exchange it to allow him to leave the country; isn’t there a way to have the airline refund then issue a new ticket? I am stuck as what to do to get my friend out…Any suggestions?

  8. Jennifer says:

    I recently flew standby to Beijing. In order to pass through the airport or stay for a free 72 hour period during which a visa is not required, you need a confirmed ticket out of Beijing. I wasn’t sure I’d get on the Beijing flight until the time of boarding, so I waited until entering through SFO security to purchase a connecting flight to Siem Reap via Kayak that I had pre-selected and was luckily still available. However, the agent at SFO insisted that I needed this itinerary printed. I had a screen shot of the ticket confirmation on my phone and had no way to print (being I was already at the airport). The agent agreed to print out the confirmation. My question is, do you need a physical copy in hand of your confirmation or should a digital copy on your mobile device work just as well. When I got to Beijing, they confirmed my onward ticket before allowing me to leave customs.

  9. Hey Earl,
    I had the same dilemma trying to check in at LAX to go to New Zealand- my heart dropped. I actually bought a refundable onwards ticket using American Advantage miles… which ended up being easily refunded, and took no precious dollars out of my pocket. Of course a few hours after landing my working holiday visa finally went through.

  10. Bjorn says:

    I have encountered this problem many times, so I started having a friend of mine, who owns a travel agency, to email me “fake” tickets. It worked for a while, but it doesn’t anymore. The airlines have caught on to it. At the check-in counter they will check the ticket number in their computer, and if it isn’t valid they will refuse you. This has happened twice to me, almost making me miss my flights.

    It is not immigration who require an onward ticket, it is the airlines. When immigration refuses someone entry for what ever reason, it is the airline’s responsibility to take them out of the country. So the airlines are just covering their losses. At land border crossings no one has EVER asked me for an onward ticket, so clearly it is not the immigration office who are pushing for this.

    This is silly and very inconvenient for us travelers. I wrote to IATA and suggested that travelers without onward tickets should instead be able to deposit $500 at check-in, which the airline can use if the person gets refused at immigration, and the traveler can then reclaim the $500 at the ticket booth in the destination airport. No reply and Im not surprised.

  11. ariane says:

    Hi there! I need some help, I’m holding a Philippine Passport. I already have my tourist visa to Dubai, but haven’t purchased my ticket yet, It should be manila-dubai-manila, but since im flying to other countries, I’m going to base my departure to Dubai in the country of my final destination. I’m flying to SG with RT tickets Manila-SG-Manila for 4 days, I’ll be in SG for 2 days, a day in Malaysia (train), then fly to Bangkok for 2 days with one way ticket AirAsia KL-BKK. I have a problem in entering bangkok, lets say I’m planning to fly straight from BKK to Dubai? Can I just buy a one way ticket to BKK and show my ticket to Dubai as my onward travel or exit ticket to their country? or I still need to buy RT tickets BKK-kuala lumpur-BKK and just use my bkk-dubai-manila when departing from bkk?

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  13. Ken says:

    I got stopped by jetstar in darwin airport on a 1 way flight to singapore. So much rubbish. My solution and to purchase a train ticket out of singapore, but only 1km out of singapore making it as cheap as possible. It worked, althought i was lucky there was reasonable internet at the airport and i turned up early enough

  14. Lemmi says:

    Hi Earl!
    I,m traveling North/Central/South America over a year now and I,m planning to hitch a boat trip from Brazil to Africa so I,m wondering if I can do the same and when I enter Africa by boat present an onward travel confirmation?…..
    Thxs,Lemmi

  15. Hannah says:

    Ha yes i felt this may have been a bit of a dumb thing to do. I shall try and wing it with ryan air! Cheers Earl :)

  16. Hannah says:

    Hi Earl!

    This article is a bit of a life saver -thank you!

    I’m just creating my own ‘proof’ now for a trip to Jordan. I’m wondering if what I have done will be ok, because the template I am using is from the flight I will actually be on (i’ve got confirmation from Iberia for a Royal Jordian flight. And i’m using a royal jordinian flight as my fake flight.) My worry is that becuase I am on a royal jordinian flight and am providing ‘proof’ of another flight, they can easily spot or find out that I have made up my ticket number or confirmation number. So do you think I have been ridiculous? Or do they just cast an eye at the onward travel document?

    The other template I could use is a ryanair one.. but you cant really get rid of the Ryanair branding from the rest of the confirmation, and the company doesnt sell flights out of Jordan, so i kind of think that would be even less convincing?!

    What do you reckon?

    Cheers for your help! Happy travels.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Hannah – I’d be careful with using a template from the same airline that you are flying with because they can easily look it up in the system and see that it is not real. The idea is to use a completely different airline so they can’t do that!

  17. lindsay says:

    Hi Earl,

    Earl i was just wondering why the need to convert the document into a pdf file?

    I realize you say “for a cleaner look” but seeing you’re providing the authorities or airline with a printed version (hard copy) I’m of the understanding that once printed it would appear identical regardless of whether it came from a pdf file,word document or some other source. Could you please elaborate for me?

    It’s been on my mind for a while now & I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts.

    Cheers & All The Best.

    Lindsay

    The only reason I can see is if you show the airline or others directly from your smart phone or lap top? Is this the case as I don’t travel with either.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Lindsay – It’s not vital but I just prefer to use a pdf document as to me, it looks a little neater and more official when in that format. It’s probably not a huge difference but it doesn’t hurt either I guess.

  18. lindsay says:

    Hey Earl
    Great advice thanks & happy travels.

    Cheers Linz

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