For those of you seasoned travelers and digital nomads, you’ve probably found yourself in this situation at least once in your traveling career. You want to visit a foreign country but in order to enter the country in the first place, you need to proof that you will eventually leave again. Since a lot of the time we travel on one-way tickets, not sure when we want to leave, or where we want to go next, this poses a problem. With our limited budget, we don’t want to pay for tickets we’re very likely not going to use. So how do we get around this requirement to provide proof of onward travel?
When on our big trip through Asia, we encountered this problem when we wanted to travel to Sri Lanka. We read on the internet that we needed to show proof of exit to enter the country. But how do you do that if you have no idea about your future plans? We really didn’t know how long we wanted to stay, so this posed a problem. After searching the internet we found an easy solution: find an airline which will give you a 24-hour time period to pay for the booking you make with them.
What is proof of onward travel?
Proof of onward travel, an onward ticket, proof of return travel or proof of exit, however you want to call it, means that you can show evidence that you’re leaving the country. In some countries, proof of onward travel is a visa requirement or otherwise required by immigration, but it might also be that the airline requires it and won’t allow you to board the plane without it. Airlines want to avoid having to pay for your return trip if you’re denied access to the country for whatever reason. If you can’t provide proof that you’re leaving again, they could think you’re planning to overstay your visa.
Many travelers found themselves having to buy super expensive onward tickets just so they could enter the country. Sometimes it’s enough if you can show a ticket out of another country at a later date (if you’re planning to travel there overland) or a train or bus reservation to cross the border. Please, do your research!
Finding an airline that allows reservations with delayed payment
So how do you go about finding such an airline? We used Skyscanner to check which airlines were flying from Bandaranaike International Airport (Colombo) and then we checked the payment options for each one. Cathay Pacific was the first one we checked that allows ‘book now, pay later’. They give you the possibility to pay for your ticket within 24 hours after you make your booking (they call it Pay Later). One thing to note is that this only works if the departure date and time for the ticket you want to reserve is at least 72 hours away.
UPDATE June 2019: Cathay Pacific doesn’t offer this option anymore. There are other airlines that still allow you to pay later. It’s also good to know that US law allows you to cancel your flight to or from the USA at no additional cost (even non-refundable flights!) withing 24 hours of booking, provided it’s booked seven days or more in advance.
Book now, pay later. How does it work?
There are more airlines out there that offer this ‘book now, pay later’ option. Just Google it and you’ll find them. When you have found the airline of your choice, go to their online booking page and find a flight for the latest date that your original visa will allow you to stay in the country. Price or other details don’t matter, you won’t be using the ticket. Proceed with making the booking, include some nice food and seat choices if you like a comfortable flight with a nice dinner (you’ll never use it, but still…).
After filling in all your details and passport number go to the payment page of your booking. Check the box that gives you the option to makes it possible to pay for your booking within 24 hours of your initial booking (don’t put any payment information, they don’t need it). Finish the rest of your booking and check your e-mail. In your inbox you’ll find a message from Cathay Pacific with your full booking information just like you would get if you already paid. Print the details out and put them with your other travel documents and you’re good to go. You can now forget about Cathay Pacific because after failing to pay for the booking within the 24 hours they will automatically cancel the booking.
Renting an airline ticket
We provided a free solution for your ‘onward ticket’ problem. Another option is to use a service such as FlyOnward or BestOnwardticket and rent an airline ticket. What? Rent a ticket?? Yes 🙂 An airline ticket rental service, brilliant, isn’t it? You pay them a fee and they buy a refundable airline ticket for you with their money. You use the rented ticket, and the ‘proof of onward travel’ it provides, to enter the country and after a maximum of 48 hours the ticket is canceled.
Super cheap or refundable tickets
Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable with either of the two solutions above, you can always book a super cheap ticket out of the country. Depending on which part of the world you’re traveling at the time, there are always budget airlines like AirAsia or Easyjet that offer tickets that don’t break the bank. Since you won’t be using the ticket anyway, things like flight time or departure time don’t matter. Just select the cheapest option available. Make sure to check multiple dates using Skyscanner or Kiwi to see which option is the cheapest.
Another thing you could do is buy a refundable ticket. It often happens that you have to wait a long time to get your money back though, so this is only an option if you don’t have any money issues. Also, make sure to check the small print, so you know that you’ll actually be refunded in cash instead of flight coupons or such.
Using a fake onward ticket generator
This is something we thought of before we knew any better. Obviously, this could get you into real trouble if you have to show your ‘ticket’ to an immigration officer. Lying at immigration could have you end up in jail. We wouldn’t recommend this solution, but it IS an option so we thought we should include it. Services like ReturnFlights.net let you create a fake flight itinerary. Use at your own risk!
Did this post help you solve your “proof of onward travel’ problem? Or have you already found your own solution? Let us know in the comment section and help your fellow travelers.