Proof of Onward Travel – a Story and a Solution

Derek Travel Tips & Advice 227 Comments

Proof of Onward TravelYou’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 proof of onward travel?

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 onward travel 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 (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.

Proof of Onward Travel - 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?

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Comments 227

  1. Zac

    Hey, so In a few days I’m flying to Bangkok and with no outbound flight I do have a outbound flight from Singapore though would this count or not? What do you think? Plus the out bound flight is after the 30 day visa

    1. Post

      Hey Zac – There really isn’t any way to know ahead of time if that works since the rules aren’t exactly set in stone. It’s really up to the person who is checking your documents before you get on the flight and/or at immigration upon arrival in Bangkok. Let us know how it goes though as it can be helpful for other travelers.

      1. Zac

        So when in china I managed to show her the Singapore ticket 6 weeks from now she nearly did it! then she asked for a ticket for leaving Thailand where I simply said bus and that worked she typed away and let us board without and outbound flight 🙂

  2. Jeanne Crump


    I am moving to Cambodia and therefore have a one-way ticket. I called Malaysian airlines already to ask about the requirement, and they confirmed I would need to show proof of an onward ticket. My main question is whether this specifically needs to be a flight, or if it can be a bus ticket. Bus tickets to Vietnam are insanely cheap and I am actually planning on going there for a visit, so it wouldn’t be a waste. But I’m wondering if bus tickets are accepted as proof.


    1. Post

      That’s a tricky one. I’ve heard of some people getting away with a bus tickets and I’ve heard of some being told a plane ticket was the only acceptable option. There really isn’t one right answer unfortunately and it will be up to the person you get when checking in for your flight.

  3. Sarah

    I’ve just come across your post whilst doing some research as a few days ago Bangkok Air tried to stop me boarding my flight to Hong Kong with a one way ticket. I told them that it’s ridiculous and quoted my entry requirements as a British passport holder, she then let me sign an ‘indemnity form’ allowing me to travel without buying an onward ticket but I was basically just agreeing that if HK deported me, I would have to take full responsibility.
    I wonder if you, or any other travellers, have been offered this form?

  4. milly

    Hi Earl,

    We are Brits also with the travel bug with a penchant for oneway air travel.

    Do you have experience of entry requirements for Jamaica? It seems Brits are VISA free as are Canadians, US, Australians and Japanese citizens.

    Do we need a mock up Ticket for entering Jamaica as proof of onward travel?

    1. Post

      Hey Milly – In theory, all countries have the rule of needing an onward ticket but it’s the airline that checks, rarely the immigration officers. So it depends on your airline when you check in as to whether or not they are strict when it comes to Jamaica. But I don’t have any experience flying to Jamaica so I can’t say unfortunately.

  5. Brett

    Derek, The key question is surely, how much ability do the airlines have at check in to check the validity of your ticket if it’s with other airlines and from a different airport ? For example if I’m travelling from Mexico city to Lima with Avianca and i have an onward reservation with British Airways from Lima to London on a later date how easily can Avianca validify that ? Let’s assume I’ve ” created ” this reservation as well !!!

    1. Post

      Hey Brett – From my experience, unless you use the same airline or one of their sister airlines (such as the budget version of a major airline), they are unable to look it up. I don’t think I’ve ever had an airline check-in agent actually look it up since I started doing this with booking an official ticket that can be cancelled within 24 hours.

  6. Brett


    Thanks for your reply. I was considering Orbitz ( Expedia i didn’t know had that facility) but if you use the 24 hour cancellation , does it truly refund everything or is there fees and hassle involved. I heard stories where you had to phone them and couldn’t get through etc how does it work ? Have you done it frequently ? Thanks in anticipation.

    1. Marie-France @bigtravelnut

      I tried the 24-hour cancellation with Orbitz a couple of years ago, and there were no hassles involved in getting the refund, but I think they kept $14. This wasn’t mentioned anywhere. If your flights take more than 24 hours though (like flying to NZ from Canada), this option doesn’t work.

      1. Post

        But for an onward ticket you only need to buy a ticket to somewhere close to the place you’re arriving into. So if you’re flying to Peru, you just need to book a ticket to Ecuador, which shouldn’t be more than 24 hours.

    2. Post

      Hey Brett – I never had any trouble. Most of the time I try to do it through the airline’s website directly (Delta, American or United) and with that, I’ve also never had any issues. If you’re heading to Central/South America, Jetblue is another good one to try. Their 24 hour cancelation system is super easy and hassle-free, takes just a few clicks and you’re good to go.

  7. Brett

    Derek. I haven’t read all the replies to this thread but I’m guessing you have heard of the website which supposedly remedies this situation at avert favourable cost. Can you verify if it is legitimate ( the site)? . I’m facing needing an onward ticket into Peru next week.

    1. Post

      Hey Brett – I think it’s legit but I’ve never used them. These days, if you book tickets through Orbitz or Expedia or any US airline, they are required to give you 24 hours to cancel the ticket at no charge. So you can book the ticket a few hours before your trip and then refund it when you arrive. That’s the easiest and I think that’s all that is doing, buying refundable tickets.

  8. Jay

    I’m backpacking through Central America this summer. I’m entering through Costa Rica and hoping to exit home through Belize. Would a plane ticket home from Belize be good enough proof of onward travel for Costa Rican officials/airlines?

    1. Post

      Hey Jay – Usually that would work. There are no set rules though so what works and doesn’t work isn’t exactly official. But that kind of set up does usually work when faced with this situation.

  9. Greg

    I was looking for information about that. I’m wondering, is an open jaw ticket valid as proof for onward travel?
    I’ll be heading to KUL from BRU and returning to BRU from HKG.

    1. Post
  10. Rainiero

    Hi Earl – I assume the answer to this is going to be a big NO, but have you ever tried to use your blog as proof of your plans to leave a country? It’s probably a stupid idea, but I was wondering if it could work 😛

    1. Post

      Hey Rainiero – That would never work. It always needs to be actual proof in the form of an actual ticket. Without that kind of proof, just a blog is not sufficient.

  11. Betsy

    Hi Earl,

    Any suggestions on how to stay in the Schengen countries for longer than 90 days? If traveling within Europe, do we need to show an onward ticket? How often — any idea? Thanks for your help! We will be traveling indefinitely and want to stay within Europe as much as possible but we’re trying to figure out how we can do that given visa/onward ticket restrictions. Thanks for your help!

    1. Post

      Hey Betsy – That’s a tough one but in general, it’s hard to stay more than 90 days unless you get a residence permit. This is possible in a couple of European countries for freelancers if you can prove x amount of income per month. As for an onward ticket, sometimes they will ask to see it but it’s not as common as other parts of the world.

  12. Christopher Fernandes

    Hi Earl,
    I was planning to travel for the Chinese exhibition Guangzhou this October16. I am from India.
    While checking the rates by AIR ASIA,
    I found it was vastly cheaper to buy a flight from Kochi, (India) to Kuala Lumpur , (Malaysia)
    and then book a second flight for KUL to Guangzhou

    I need your guidance…
    1)Would I need a visa for Malaysia .. just to change flights.
    2) Am I allowed to book in this fashion… since they are charging me in MYR for the second flight
    3) Which ticket should I show as my “onward journey” when touching malaysia??

    You could email me also on my personal email ID..


    1. Post

      Hey Chris – You can book any combination of flights you want, there’s nothing wrong with that. As for your onward ticket, it would just be your next flight to China, that’s enough since it is proof that you are leaving Malaysia. As for whether or not you need a visa, you need to research that as it’s different for every nationality. You need to look up whether Indian citizens need a visa for a stop/change of airlines in Malaysia.

  13. Charlotte Little

    This is a great tip and one I never would have thought to try (probably being too worried to cheat the system) but I’m travelling The Philippines and southeast Asia for a year and this makes a good backup to have in case I’m asked ! Thank you

  14. Kyle Fates

    A little late to the conversation but thought I’d share a trick thats been working for me.

    Cheapoair has a free fully refundable cancellation fee, if cancelled within four hours of purchasing the ticket. In my case I travel to the bahamas alot and leave by boat so have a ticket out is a waste of money and time waiting on a refund. I have not flown anywhere across the pond therefore cannot verify its effectiveness across the Atlantic or pacific.

    I purchase my ticket just before I check in get a conformation email. Get to my gate and cancel for the full refund. Not sure how much longer until someone catches on but worth a shot if you’ve run short on options and time.

  15. Sarah H

    this is actually very interesting… but frankly speaking, im looking forward to go to Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia with one way ticket… what are the odds of me passing throught the CBP/Immigration or air-line check in staff with just a one way ticket? Will i be forced to buy the onward ticket? im really lost now.

  16. raz sells u a pro ticket for 10 usd. for the usa, they checked my reurn confirmation code in the computer somehow, at jfk. no flyonward or copy/paste will work.

  17. Pingback: Onward, Oh?! | Gone John

  18. Rony Mahmud

    Its an interesting article for a really irritating issue for long term travelers. I have even refused to purchase a one way ticket at a Airline office without a proof of onward journey. How weird is that!!
    The solution you provided is probably workable and I am thinking of using it next time. But I have a question, is there any way for the airport staff or the immigration officer to check the validity of the onward ticket, or they are just okay to see something in paper? What if they can check the validity of the purchase?

  19. Tom King

    The onward ticket thing is sooooo old thinking. Decades ago it was common, but now I’ve only experienced it with Philippines airlines (but never asked for it on arrival). It could be a kind of scam for the airlines to relieve you of more money. Somewhere like Japan which is pretty strict don’t want to see an onward ticket when offered. Certainly China doesn’t and they’re pretty strict.

    I often travel by boat, especially in Asia, and therein lies a solution. I’ll leave you to figure it out lest it gets too popular!

    1. Wandering Earl

      As you can see, this post is a few years old and as I’ve mentioned in the comments, there are other ways to handle this now that are much easier. Simply purchasing a fully refundable onward ticket and then getting the refund as soon as you arrive (by just jumping online for a few minutes) is about as easy at it gets.

      1. Howard Huxter

        Not if you use budget airlines such as Tiger airlines. I made a mistake when I filled in the form on line and they flatly refused to take this into account. This contrasts with EasyJet who were fantastic in responding to and fixing my error.
        Other budget airlines – and there are now many in Asia which I use -pretty much refuse any refunds whatsoever.

  20. Pingback: Do You Need Proof of Onward Travel?

  21. David

    This was a great posting as I was just denied boarding a Singapore Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur via Singapore. They told me that Malaysian law says you have to have proof on onward travel – which is true…but no one enforces it. I’ve flown Qatar, AirAsia, Cathay Pacific and others, all on one-way tickets to KL and have never been asked for proof of onward travel. Nor, have I have been asked by the Malaysian Immigration officers. So I think it’s just S’pore Air’s following rules to the T – it is Singapore after all…a place where it’s illegal to have chewing gum. So anyway, you can fly most airlines without hassle on a one-way to KL. Just don’t fly S’pore Air. And don’t worry about thru-travel proof with immigration.

  22. Pingback: How to Get A 60 Day Indonesia Tourist Visa in London

  23. matt marshall

    If booking a refundable airfare you should really check the penalty rules. I was just doing a quick practice on Expedia (without actually booking) and found that for a lot of Asian carriers in particular, even though the airfare is Refundable there is often a USD penalty fee, sometimes up to USD75!!

    Just to get to the full fare rules requires getting to the payment page. So a bit annoying.

  24. Galen

    Had the same experience a year ago. I booked a one way ticket on-line for a flight on Bangkok Air to Manila. When I arrived at the airport to pick up my boarding pass, I was simply refused with the only explanation that I had to have an onward flight. I was dumbfounded. The agent was so rude about it I had the feeling he wanted to hit me for even asking, so I just walked out of the Bangkok Int’l Airport with my mouth open. Anyway you look at it, it was a dirty trick by both the agency for selling me the ticket, and the agent with Bangkok Air for being so rude for not permitting me to board. No, not Bangkok Air anymore. I’ve learned my lesson, and will book with a better airline in the future.

  25. Martin

    I have been caught out a couple of times on entering the Philippines with a single ticket. Now I purchase an onward flight from for just $5. I have used them a couple of times to show proof of onward travel and it worked both times without any problems. It takes two minutes to enter the travel dates and destination and they email through a flight confirmation. Its only the deposit of $5 which you pay so you can’t actually use the flight but the ticket they send you will be fine for the purpose of showing proof of onward travel and it’s cheaper than paying for an actual flight which you are not going to use.

    1. Malin

      Hi! Me and my friends have the same problem, tho flying to Brazil on a one way ticket. Never heard of onwardflights before but it sounds like a really good solution!

      I read this tho,

      “Are you obligated to purchase the full value of the flight through Smart Traveller?
      -No. You can decide to purchase another ticket when you know for sure which dates you want to travel.”

      Does this mean that I still need to purchase a ticket throuh them later, just on another date, or how does it work? didnt quite get it.. 🙂

      1. Dario

        Malin, what they say is that you purchase an actual airline ticket from another company once you will know your travel dates. OnwardFlights doesn’t sell airline tickets.

        1. Dario

          While doing more research on the subject, I found out that is probably a scam, phishing for your credit card details. I wouldn’t take the risk.

          1. j. lowe

            they only accept pay pal so most you can lose is 5 bucks. worth a try or make your own from any old flight itinerary just change flights,times, dates, cost, destination and departure. It works, just be sure the phony ticket is not on the same airline you are about to board.

  26. Stephenie

    Hi Earl,

    I recently came across your article from 2010 about the “confirmed onward travel” that is required when you apply for a Transit visa. I was recently refused by China Eastern Airlines to board my flight to Shanghai, where I was supposed to be allowed to stay for up to 72 hours with a Transit visa. It was my mistake to not get a VISA before entering China (For some reason it slipped my mind, because I always had a study visa in China), but I bought a ticket from Shanghai to Hong Kong as the airline employees suggested and showed them the confirmation email. They still refused to let me through, saying that that was no e-ticket number. The confirmation email did have my flight number, departure time, booking number, and payment confirmation. I’m wondering what the “Proof of confirmed onward ticket” specifically means and whether or not they had the right to keep me off that flight.

    I actually received the itinerary just a few minutes after they refused to let me through and closed the ticket counter, but I don’t understand why the confirmation email I received was not enough, especially after they suggested me to buy the ticket and watched me do it. There was one employee who seemed extremely adamant in not allowing me to board the flight. I called a few days later and the same employee picked up the phone and hung up on me after telling him his name was asked. I don’t know what to do now, because they want me to pay a rebooking fee, which I don’t think is fair since they should have allowed me to get on that flight.

    I did quite a bit of research about the 72 hour Transit visa in Shanghai and nowhere does it give a specific explanation of what a confirmed onward ticket is. Would my confirmation email with all my flight into and payment summary have been sufficient?

    Thanks for your time!



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