One of the great aspects of solo travel is that it allows you to be spontaneous. If you find yourself completely enamored with a place, you can stay longer or if you meet a group of people and want to head to another country that wasn’t on your original itinerary, that’s fine too. It’s this freedom that can get us into problems as well when we’re traveling because we don’t always think about the next step. It might just be too easy to take a train or bus into another country that we don’t think that we could be denied entry without proof of onward travel.
Proof of onward travel is basically proof (basically an airline ticket) that shows that you’ll be leaving the country at some point in the future. It does NOT mean that you have to be traveling back to the country of origin but just needs to show that you’ll be leaving the country you’re trying to enter.
Why is this necessary?
Basically, it’s a country’s way of preventing illegal immigration and a fair number of countries have this stipulation. It’s more to curb illegal immigration than curb tourists but unfortunately, tourists can certainly get caught in the wake. Also, you never know when you’re going to get Barney Fife as an immigration officer. In my experience, it’s more of a nuisance than anything because I really like to book flights as a series of one way flights. It gives me greater freedom and allows for spontaneity which is a huge selling point for me.
How will they know?
If a country requires proof of onward travel, the airline will ask to see a receipt for your departing flight out of the country. If you can’t provide it, the airline will typically deny you boarding. This’ll be done as you check in for your flight at the counter so if you can’t produce something, you could be caught scrambling.
I ran into this problem when I visited Peru. I had never heard of needing any sort of proof of onward travel so it completely caught be off guard. Luckily I overheard someone talking about it the day before so I was able to book a flight but I’ll admit it kind of had me worried for a second.
I also ran into the same issue when I visited Indonesia (but this time I had done my research and was prepared). Oddly, I was not only asked when boarding the flight but was again asked to provide proof as I was at the immigration counter (which I thought was odd). Anyways, just know that it’s a very real thing for countries so you’ll want to be aware of it.
What do you do?
So one of the great things about booking airfare on US websites is that you’re allowed to cancel a flight within 24 hours of purchase. However, know that travel must take place more than 7 days from the scheduled departure. Basically, if you’re arriving on the 5th, don’t buy a flight for departure on the 9th and expect to get a refund since you’re inside the seven day window.
I also recommend knowing how long you’re allowed to say in a country before you’re violating your visa. So, if you’re allowed to stay for 30 days, make sure your departure flight is more than 7 days but less than 30 days from arrival. The date of departure doesn’t matter as long as you’re not violating your visa so just push out the departure as far as you can just to be safe.
Another thing to remember is that you don’t need to return to the country of origin. Meaning, if you’re flying from the US to Peru, your proof of onward travel does NOT have to be back to the US, just out of the country. This might be important to remember because you may not want to have a large credit charge for a flight you don’t intend on taking so it might be a good idea to shop around to a nearby country vs. flying all the way back home.
My process for buying a ticket
So, if I know I’m going to need proof of onward travel, I usually start with seeing the ticket I have. Is it a non-stop flight or is there a stopover along the way? If it’s a direct flight, you’ll want to wait until the very last minute to hop on to Expedia to buy a ticket (to account for delays). You might want to purchase the ticket right before you leave for the airport for example.
If you have a stopover, I’ll usually wait to purchase my ticket until I’m at the stopover country. Remember you only have 24 hours to cancel your flight to get a full refund so if there are any delays, you’ll be on the hook for the flight. Of course, the trick it is to make sure you set a reminder so you don’t forget to book that flight!
As soon as I arrive at the country and made it through immigration, I’ll hop online somewhere and cancel my flight. It’s really that simple. Remember the whole point is so that immigration knows you aren’t overstaying your welcome.
Don’t use a fake
This should go without saying but don’t bother trying to fake it. It doesn’t make any sense to fake it since you’re able to cancel a real ticket for a full refund. If the airlines find out it’s a fake, they probably won’t allow you to board and immigration could make you turn around the fly right back to your flight’s origin.
If you’re afraid of canceling your flight or think you’ll forget to cancel in time for a refund, you can also rent a ticket. One Way Fly and Best Onward Ticket are a couple of easy options that will allow you to rent a ticket and then they’ll automatically cancel the flight for you. The process is simple and pretty instantaneous since they know why you’re doing it.
Although I’ve never done this, I see no reason why it wouldn’t work. You should be able to just buy a train/ferry/bus ticket out of the country which would satisfy as proof of onward travel. The main problem I can see with this is that not every country is going to to have train or bus tickets available for purchase that far in advance. Also, in some countries, they may not have tickets for sale online and may only sell tickets in person. However, it’s certainly worth a shot and if you forget to cancel it, it’ll be cheaper than a flight.
Having proof of onward travel may be annoying since it does seem like it’s limiting the spontaneity of solo travel. However, it really isn’t that difficult to find a workable solution. It might seem a little daunting as a solo traveler to have ANOTHER thing to keep in mind when traveling but just leave yourself a simple reminder and you’ll be fine. You’re mature enough to travel solo so you’re mature enough to remember to cancel a flight.