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

  1. Rony Mahmud says:

    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?

  2. Tom King says:

    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!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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.

      • Howard Huxter says:

        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.

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

  4. David says:

    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.

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

  6. matt marshall says:

    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.

  7. Galen says:

    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.

  8. Martin says:

    I have been caught out a couple of times on entering the Philippines with a single ticket. Now I purchase an onward flight from OnwardFlights.com 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.

    • Malin says:

      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.. :)

      • Dario says:

        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.

  9. Stephenie says:

    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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