Providing proof of onward travel is something that many countries around the world require from visiting tourists. Countries do this because they want to avoid illegal immigration from people who enter the country on a tourist visa and simply choose not to leave it.
Requiring visitors to provide proof of onward travel is similar to requiring them to get tourist visas ahead of time, but they are separate because even if you are allowed to enter a country visa-free, you may still be denied entry or even denied boarding for your flight to that country if you are not prepared with this proof!
For most travelers, providing proof of onward travel is as easy as showing their return flight ticket home, but for others such as long-term travelers, last-minute planners, digital nomads, or country-hoppers, it’s a bit more complicated than that since more often than not, you only bought a one-way ticket!
On this page, I will tell you everything you need to know about providing proof of onward travel, including all the possible ways you can do it.
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Which countries require proof of onward travel?
Most countries around the world have it as an official requirement to enter the country, but not all of them enforce it. There are however a few countries that are almost guaranteed to ask you for proof of onward travel every time and they are Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, the UK, and the US.
That being said, I was also asked for it before visiting Hong Kong so you never really know when it’s going to happen as oftentimes, it all depends on the immigration officer or airline check-in agent you interact with. Many of them will let you enter the country without it, but others won’t.
To reduce your chances of getting asked for it, try to avoid dressing like someone who looks like they have no money. Appearances matter, especially to immigration officers and airline check-in agents who have to make decisions based on what they see, so being well put-together goes a long way.
You can also do a google search ahead of time to find out if it’s common or not for people to get asked for proof of onward travel when visiting the country you plan to travel to, but if you really want to be prepared, the best thing you can do is have proof of onward travel for every country you plan to visit regardless!
When do you need proof of onward travel?
Proof of onward travel is needed at every port of entry to a country that checks for it. When entering via land, more often than not it will be the immigration officer at the border crossing who asks you for the proof, but when entering via sea or air, it is actually usually the airline or ferry agent who will ask you for it before allowing you to board.
To make it easier for their immigration departments, most countries have placed this burden on the airlines and ferry companies that take you there meaning that it probably won’t be an immigration officer who asks you for proof of onward travel, but rather the airline or ferry company’s check-in agent at the airport or ferry terminal before you board your flight or ferry to that country.
They make sure the airlines and ferry companies enforce it too by slapping them with fines and forcing them to cover the cost of deporting you back to your home country if it is discovered that they let you board your flight or ferry without proof of onward travel so don’t expect to get off easy if it’s not an immigration officer checking.
That being said, just because you got checked by an airline or ferry official doesn’t mean that you won’t also get checked by the immigration official when you arrive. Therefore, it is extremely important that you are prepared with this proof of onward travel to avoid having to buy an expensive last-minute ticket or getting denied boarding to the flight/ferry or entry to the country because you don’t have it.
What qualifies as proof of onward travel?
For most travelers, simply showing the airline check-in agent and/or immigration officer your return flight ticket or confirmation does the job. Most of them prefer seeing it in paper form, so I recommend printing it out and keeping it on you if you can, but it’s not always a dealbreaker. In addition, the ticket or confirmation must be for a departure that occurs before your visa expires.
However, if you don’t have a return flight ticket because you are entering the country by land/sea or you only bought a one-way ticket, then you will need another form of proof. Some countries will accept bus, train, or ferry tickets to your next destination as proof of onward travel, but most will require flight tickets or confirmations as they are more easily verified.
Most of the time they just want to see some kind of indication that you are planning to leave the country at some point so that means all they will do is take a quick look at your flight confirmation and let you go, but sometimes they will actually check their systems to make sure the flight you’re booked on actually exists so it’s important to be prepared.
How to get proof of onward travel?
The problem for long-term travelers and most people who like to travel spontaneously and/or without planning everything in advance is that they don’t always have proof of onward travel available like the average short-term, return-flight traveler does.
Luckily though, there are ways to get this proof without having to pay for return flights you don’t need and/or planning your whole trip in advance. Here are the best ways you can do it:
1. Use Expedia.com to book a fully refundable flight within 24 hours
Using Expedia.com to book a fully refundable flight within 24 hours is the best way to get proof of onward travel as it gives you a legitimate flight confirmation which you can show to any immigration, airline, or ferry official and which they can cross-reference for verification if needed.
It’s also the most flexible way to get proof of onward travel as well since you can simply wait until an official actually asks you for it before getting it, as long as you have an internet connection.
And since it is fully refundable, all you have to do is cancel the ticket within those 24 hours (ideally after you’ve already passed through immigration and entered the new country) and after a few business days, you get all your money back meaning it’s a completely free way to provide proof of onward travel!
Note: this can only be done by using the US version of Expedia (i.e. the ‘.com’ version and not any others). This also means that you will not be able to change the currency you pay with meaning that you will lose money on the foreign currency conversion fee if your card’s currency isn’t USD. Either get yourself a good no-FX fee debit card and/or credit card for traveling or try method #2 below for more currency options.
How it works:
The way it works is that you just travel as you normally would, not worrying about having proof of onward travel, and if/when you do get asked for it by an official, just tell them to give you a sec while you book it right now.
Note: if you want to play it safe, you can also do this at your hotel, or wherever you have an internet connection, right before leaving for the airport every time you travel to a new country, but as long as you have internet at the airport, that’s not necessary.
Then pull out your phone, go to Expedia.com, and search for any one-way flight from the country you’re about to enter, going anywhere outside that country, and that departs anytime before your visa would expire.
Make sure to pick a flight that has the green text “Free Cancel w/in 24 hrs” next to the price.
Once you pick one, first check that there is no booking fee in the Trip Summary since that’s non-refundable (if there is, go back and pick a different flight), and then scroll down to click on Continue Booking, making sure that it still says “Free Cancellation within 24 hours of booking!” underneath it.
Note: don’t get confused by what it says in the ‘Important Flight Information’ section as this only applies to the booking after Expedia’s free 24 hour cancellation period has ended.
Fill in all the information required and make sure that it still says “Free cancellation within 24 hours of booking!” underneath ‘Review and book your trip’ before clicking on ‘Complete Booking’, then make the booking.
Note: ignore what it says in “3. Review the terms of your booking” since again, that only applies to the booking after Expedia’s free 24 hour cancellation period has ended.
Take note of the exact time that the 24-hour cancellation period expires and set a reminder for yourself on your phone to cancel it before it does. You can find this by clicking on “View my Itinerary” and then “Manage reservation”. Remember to also take note of the time zone and factor it in your reminder if you will be crossing any on your flight.
Make sure you received the confirmation email for the flight booking and then show it to the official that requested it. Once you’ve passed immigration and entered the country, either click on “cancel my reservation” in the confirmation email or go to “Manage Reservation” via “My Trips” on Expedia.com by using your itinerary number (also found in the email).
Click on “Cancel Flight” and confirm that you want to cancel it. Once it’s cancelled, verify that the full amount will be refunded to you. Then verify that the reservation was successfully cancelled by going back to “My Trips” and checking the reservation. It should say cancelled and the “New Total” for the trip should be $0.00. You should also receive a cancellation confirmation email.
Check your bank account or credit card for the refund and enjoy your flexible time in the country you’re visiting! If you ever run into any issues during this process, just contact Expedia support: 1-877-227-7481.
2. Use United.com to book a fully refundable flight within 24 hours
While the Expedia method is a good one, it does have a few disadvantages, one of which is the fact that you can’t change the currency you pay with, meaning that you will lose some money on the foreign exchange fee, both when paying for the flight and when getting your refund, if you don’t have a no-FX fee debit card / credit card and your card’s currency isn’t in USD.
Luckily however, you can use the exact same method when booking a flight via United.com as well since US law requires all US airlines to provide free 24-hour cancellation (or holds*) to any flights booked through them as long as the flight was booked at least 7 days before departure.
*A hold is similar, but the difference is that in a hold, a booking is created without you actually paying for it and then held for you for 24 hours, after which it gets automatically cancelled if you don’t end up paying for it.
The cool thing is that the flight you book on their website doesn’t even have to be a flight operated by United as it can be one of their codeshares meaning as long as you use their website to book it, it falls under those rules. It won’t show you as many flight options as Expedia will, but it still has quite a few available.
United isn’t the only airline (US or not) to offer 24-hour free cancellation, but it is one of the few that will let you book flights using their website (and cancellation policy) for other airlines meaning you can use it to book a flight on the other side of the world that’s operated by a totally different airline. In addition, United lets you pay in many different currencies, helping you save on foreign exchange fees.
How it works:
Similar to the Expedia method, when you need a refundable ticket to show to an official, just go to United.com and search for any one-way flight from the country you’re about to enter, going anywhere outside that country, and that departs anytime before your visa would expire.
Pick the cheapest flight you can find and scroll down to check the terms and conditions. Make sure it says “All customers booking at united.com may request a 100% refund within 24 hours of ticketing.” In addition, make sure it says “Book without worry. Cancel for free within 24 hours of booking” underneath the ‘Continue’ button, then click it.
Fill in your information and press ‘Continue’ again. Say no to the added insurance and make sure “pay in full” is selected. When you get to the payment screen, make sure it still says “You will have up to 24 hours to change your mind” under the Terms & conditions.
Note: don’t worry about the line that says “This ticket is nonrefundable, and a fee may apply for changes” as that only applies to the booking after United’s free 24 hour cancellation period has ended.
If you want to change the currency, just click the country and language at the bottom of the screen (if on mobile) or the top (if on desktop) and select the country you want to change the currency to.
Click on ‘Purchase’ and take note of the exact time that you made the booking, setting a reminder for yourself on your phone to cancel it before the 24-hour period expires. Remember to also take note of the time zone and factor it in your reminder if you will be crossing any on your flight.
Make sure you received the confirmation email for the flight booking and then show it to the official that requested it. Once you’ve passed immigration and entered the country, either click on “Manage Reservation” in the confirmation email or go to “Find a Trip” via “My Trips” on United.com by using your confirmation number (also found in the email).
Click on “Cancel Flight” and confirm that you want to cancel it. Once it’s cancelled, verify that the reservation was successfully cancelled by going back to “My Trips” and checking it. You should also receive a cancellation confirmation email.
Check your bank account or credit card for the refund and enjoy your flexible time in the country you’re visiting! If you ever run into any issues during this process, just contact United support: 1-800-864-8331.
3. Use your travel points/miles to book a fully refundable flight
This method is quite similar to the previous two, however it has one major difference and it’s that you’re not actually spending any of your actual money to do it (even though you should be getting that money back with the first two methods anyways).
Instead, you use the travel points/miles that you’ve accumulated with whatever program you use to book your fully refundable flight and and follow the exact same procedure as outlined in the previous two methods to get your points back once you’ve passed immigration.
Oftentimes, booking with points comes with longer free cancellation periods and the points usually get refunded instantly instead of having to go through a waiting period of several business days as you would if paying with actual money.
If you have enough travel points/miles to do this, then it’s highly recommended.
How it works:
Since there are many different travel points/miles programs out there, I can’t provide exact instructions on how to do it with them, but the process should be very similar to the Expedia and United methods so just follow the instructions laid out above.
Note: make sure to read all the details for your program before using it to buy any tickets to ensure that you will get all your points back after cancelling your ticket.
4. Use an Onward Flight Ticket Service
If you don’t have enough travel points/miles or you just don’t want to spend real money on a flight booking by using the Expedia or United methods just in case something goes wrong and you don’t get your full refund, then using an Onward Flight Ticket Service is a good alternative.
What these services do is essentially follow the same procedure that the Expedia and United methods follow, except they’re the ones that actually make the booking (under your name), pay for it, and then cancel it after a period of 48-72 hours (depending on the service) only charging you a small fee for this.
And since they are real reservations, you can verify them yourself by using the PNR number provided to check your reservation on the airline’s website. This also means that immigration and airline officials can verify them in their own systems too.
You still have to pick the departure date and in some cases, the destination airport for the flight, but the service spares you from taking the larger financial risk involved with booking your own ticket. You also benefit from a longer cancellation period that you don’t have to set a reminder for meaning you can have more time to use your ticket before it gets cancelled automatically for you.
Most of them also allow you to choose a specific time/date that you want the ticket to be delivered (for an extra fee), meaning you can plan ahead to have the 48-72 hour timer start on the same day that you plan to enter the country that asks for proof of onward travel.
However, it’s also important to note that most of these services won’t provide you with an e-ticket number and some travelers have reported that some officials require it for valid proof of onward travel so if you want to avoid running into this situation yourself or you just need another solution, then try method #5.
Which service to use?
There are several different websites out there that provide this service and it’s important to do a little research on them before you give them your money since some of them either provide poor service or just take your money and run (such as flyonward.com which is no longer in business), but here are a few that I found:
This service costs $12 USD and provides you with a real ticket that is valid for 48 hours. What makes this service stand out is the fact that they are the only ones to actually give you the ticket instantly meaning that you can wait until you are asked for the proof of onward travel by an official before actually paying for it. Every other service has a waiting period varying from 30 minutes to 12 hours.
If you want to save some money or get a little extra ticket time, then this service is another alternative. They only cost $9 USD and their tickets are valid for 72 hours, but they do not provide instant tickets meaning that you can’t get them spontaneously as you could with OnwardTicket.com. Their waiting period is only 30-120 minutes however, so it’s not too bad. If you aren’t in a rush, then you can save a bit of money with them!
However, if it’s more important that your ticket is valid for even longer than 72 hours, then this is the best service you can use since their tickets are valid for 14 days. This is especially useful for visa applications since you don’t know when they will check your flight reservation validity during your application. This comes at a higher price though, either $19 USD or 19€, and their waiting period is between 30 minutes to 12 hours.
5. Book the cheapest onward travel you can find
If none of the previous solutions work for you, then you will have to book some form of onward travel that you just have to essentially sacrifice. Try and see if the immigration or airline official will accept a bus, train, or ferry ticket out of the country as those are typically cheaper than flights (especially buses).
If that’s acceptable to them, then book the cheapest ticket you can find. I tell you how you can find the cheapest bus, train, and ferry tickets in their respective guides:
However more often than not, they will require a flight ticket out of the country and if that’s the case for you, then you will have to find the cheapest one-way flight possible. The best way to do this is by using Google Flights’ Explore Map feature. Learn how to use it in Part 2 of my Guide to Google Flights.
To increase your chances of finding a cheap flight, use the Flexible Dates feature to show you the cheapest flights in a particular month (that departs before your visa would expire) and make sure to look for one-way flights leaving the biggest airport in the country (which you can find in its Destination Guide).
Sometimes the tickets you buy will even be partially refundable, letting you recoup some of the losses you’d incur, but at the end of the day, you are still losing money by doing this so it should only be a last resort should any of the previous methods not work for you.
6. See if they will accept a signed liability waiver instead
This is something you could try before any of the previous methods, but it doesn’t always work. Essentially, it involves asking the airline official if they will accept a signed liability waiver instead of an onward travel ticket.
This liability waiver basically removes the responsibility for the airline to ensure that you have the means to leave the country before your visa expires and puts it all on you. It takes form as a contract that you have to sign, which the airline will use if they’re ever questioned by immigration as to why they let you board the flight without proof of onward travel.
Not every airline will offer this as an option, but it’s worth asking because you never know! This may sometimes also work with immigration officials in certain countries, but not always.
Note: if you decide to try this, it should not be your only option and you should always have a plan B available in the form of one of the previous methods discussed here.
7. Create a fake travel itinerary (RISKY)
This method is a very risky one and not one that I would recommend considering all the other legal options available above, so doing it is at your own risk.
What makes it risky is that by doing it, you are lying to an immigration official which is considered to be a crime in most, if not all, countries around the world, and can lead to much worse situations than simply getting deported.
In addition, although lying to an airline official is not technically a crime if they’re the ones that ask you for the proof, it’s still risky since they have the ability of verifying your itinerary in their system.
Most of the time if the itinerary is done well, they won’t notice that it’s fake since all they do is just glance at it and don’t actually verify it, but some of them will check that the flight on your itinerary actually exists or that you’re actually booked on it, so you need to make sure you’re prepared for that if you do decide to go this route.
How it’s done:
To lower the risk of getting caught, you need to make sure that the fake travel itinerary you create is with a different airline (and ideally, one that’s not part of the same airline alliance) than the one that you are flying with since they cannot check your status with other airlines.
In addition, you have to make sure all the flight information on the itinerary corresponds to real existing flights on that day so when an immigration official checks that it actually exists, they will be able to find it.
If you’re a photoshop whiz, then you could attempt to edit an old itinerary of yours, but if you don’t want to take the risk of messing that up, you could also use a fake online ticket generator.
There are a few on the web, but the itineraries some of them produce aren’t super well done and others have started to become recognized as fake by border officials around the world.
The best one out there is FakeFlightTickets.com which generates a convincing Expedia flight itinerary for you based on real existing flights and your information. It costs $5 USD for the service and is delivered to you instantly. Again, using this service is done at your risk.
And that’s all there is to it!
Getting proof of onward travel is an annoying nuisance that many long-term travelers have to deal with, but with this guide, you should be able to handle it stress-free!
And while some may argue that all of the methods presented here are still cheating the system (and not just method #7), that’s simply not true since you are still planning to leave the country at some point (hopefully), you just don’t know when or how that will be! Just remember not to overstay your visa and you will be fine.
Let me know if this guide helped you out in the comments below and if you want to know what else you should bring with you on your travels, be sure to check out my Guide to the Top Travel Accessories!