What is a “proof of onward travel”
A proof of onward travel is “just a piece of paper”!
More seriously, it is a ticket that prove you will leave a country. Period. Whether you go back to where you came from or going to another country does NOT matter. Although you might want to choose a country where you can easily get a tourist visa.
This proof of onward travel can be either a ticket for:
Who checks for the “proof of onward travel”
The proof of online travel is known to be a huge problem at airports. It might be something asked when you cross border by land too, but I never came across this.
At the airport of departure, if your airline is serious they will ask you for a proof of onward travel. They know it’s a bit of a bad joke, but they can decide to refuse you on the plane if you don’t have this document.
At the airport of arrival, the government officials of the country where you land will ask you for this proof of onward travel.
Why you need a “proof of onward travel”
Many countries will refuse you entrance to their territory unless you have a proof of onward travel. Resulting in you getting a flight back to where you were before. This may involve paying this extra flight on your own as well as other issues (visa fees, hotel booking, & so on).
The exact and up-to-date list of countries requiring an onward travel might be very complicated to get. In doubt, just get a proof of onward travel.
As you can see on these many “proof of onward travel” related questions on travel.stackexchange, it is very common to get rejected from a country for this silly bureaucratic measure.
Is this legal?
We enter a grey area here. But one could argue that you break the law from the moment you show any proof of onward travel that you will NOT actually use.
From that point onward, anything goes for some as they use any strategy. But for others (most people I suppose), they use what seems the lesser of several evils (the most legit-looking strategy).
But unfortunately, if you travel for a while & have no exact schedule, you have no other option and are constrained to use one those strategies below as being plain honest might get you sent back home.
How to avoid wasting money
You can use different strategies to avoid spending much on that proof of onward travel. They are discussed in details below, but here is the summary, you can:
- rent a plane ticket
- buy a cheap ferry, bus or train ticket
- buy a fully refundable plane ticket
- create your own fake plane ticket (risky!)
Rent a plane ticket
EDIT: FlyOnward.com stopped working in 2018
I love the concept as it provides the best of both worlds: the “official feeling” of a plane ticket & a low-cost. All these do under the hood is to buy a fully refundable ticket, but at their own risk, as claiming a refund can be rather complicated.
Are these reliable services?
I have NOT yet tried any of these companies but there is a thread on NomadForum.io where several valuable community members testify using those services.
Buy a cheap ferry, bus or train ticket
I bought cheap onwards bus & ferry ticket several times. These can be as low as a few US dollars per journey.
I even used this trick to have a proof of travel to and back from Indonesia when applying for an Indonesian visa at the Indonesian consulate in Singapore. In that case I bought ferry tickets to and from the small tiny island only 2 hours away from Singapore.
Buy a fully refundable plane ticket
A solution if you have the cash in the bank & feel confident with the risk as getting your refund may be troublesome.
This strategy comes with a few issues though:
- Finding a company providing a decent & reliable cancellation policy might take hours
- You expose yourself to the multiple (endless?) terms and conditions coming with a company’s cancellation policy
- You most likely only have 24h to cancel your flight, you lose all your money otherwise!
- You may have to risk a significant amount of money, buying plane tickets can be expensive.
- Many companies will not refund you some of the fees you paid when booking your flight.
- The refund may take weeks to be processed
- What if you are not able to do the cancellation somehow? broken booking website, or you have no internet, or else.
Orbitz for instance says “The refund amount will include the cost of the airline ticket only. Service fees do not apply” and carries on another page by writing “Refunds for Flight bookings can take up to 6 weeks”.
As seen on this TripAdvisor discussion on flight cancellation policies, this topic is a headache. You might just find a simpler & more reliable strategy.
Create your own fake plane ticket
Not a solution for the faint hearted, it has the pro of being free.
However, you better be good at this because you will have to show this plane ticket to government officials and airline employees!
I would definitely not take this risk but hey, it seems like Wandering Earl has done it several times as well as other people I talked to.