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5 Best Ways to Get Proof of Onward Travel (Free & Paid)

13 min read
5 Best Ways to Get Proof of Onward Travel (Free & Paid)

No matter how accustomed I am to travel, that feeling of anxiety as I approach ANY immigration counter always persists. Thankfully, I’ve never been denied boarding (*knock on wood*), I have a clean record, and I’ve also done this process for probably thousands of times with nothing to hide or lie about… Yet my fear persists, and if I think about… I guess the feeling is partly due to my weak third world passport and the natural complexities imposed by many countries upon entry — or even upon exit. (Proof of Onward Travel)

Now, one of those things that immigration and even airline counters ask about would be proof of onward travel. Certain countries require this for entry, some airlines during pre-boarding, and certain consulates as a component of visa applications. That being said, for flexible travelers, the prospect of booking a return flight beforehand feels restrictive as it goes against the idea that they want to make no distinct plans. This becomes even more frustrating for digital nomads with open-ended plans, unsure of which country they will go to next…

Despite the seeming absurdity, backpackers, digital nomads, and all types of travelers will eventually face requests for proof of onward travel as part of a country’s legal ingress or egress procedures. (In fact, your own country likely imposes the same process to prevent foreigners from illegally staying).

Rest assured, there’s NO need to worry! Providing proof of onward travel is easy and the 5 best methods listed below guarantee a hassle-free journey, helping you avoid last-minute disputes at immigration or check-in counters anywhere.

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What is a Proof of Onward Travel?

Proof of onward travel is essentially a document or piece of evidence demonstrating that you have planned and confirmed arrangements to leave your destination country within a specified period.

This document doesn’t have to exclusively be a ticket to your home country; it can also be a ticket to a neighboring country or just about anywhere as long as you have transportation reservations that confirm your plan to leave your destination country at some point.

“Who usually requires proof of onward travel?”

There are primarily 3 places that this is often asked for:

  1. At the airline check-in gate or desk
    For international flights, the agent at the check-in counter will usually request proof of onward travel before issuing your boarding pass. Even if you check in online or at a kiosk, you may still be summoned to the gate to present your proof of onward travel before boarding.
  2. At the immigration counter
    Before stamping your passport and granting entry, an immigration official may request a valid ticket showing your exit from the country. This requirement applies not only at airports but also at land borders or sea ports. (Even if you’re departing from your home country, immigration officers may still ask for proof of onward travel.)
    • The countries I’m aware of that explicitly demand proof of onward travel include the following. However, be aware that a country not on this list might still have such a requirement, so it’s essential to conduct thorough research in advance: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the United States.
  3. At an embassy or consulate
    Numerous countries require proof of onward travel for visa issuance — but it’s actually usually referred to as a flight itinerary or flight reservation for visa applications. For a more detailed discussion about this, you can read this article: [click].

“What are the types of documents that can serve as proof of onward travel?”

Common forms of proof of onward travel include a booked return or onward flight ticket, train ticket, bus ticket, or any other type of transportation reservation — as long as it’s to another country that’s not your destination country.

Just ensure that this document clearly indicates your intention to leave within a specified timeframe, meeting the entry or visa requirements of your destination country. As always, please check specific regulations for the country you’re visiting, as the requirements may vary.

“Why do they require proof of onward travel?”

For immigration: Naturally, countries aim to prevent visitors from overstaying, and it falls upon immigration officers at border control to ensure that visitors leave at the end of their permitted stay as per their visa or entry privilege. As such, a key element to prove this intent is a return or onward ticket. Notably, bus, train, or boat tickets are generally not accepted as proof of onward travel; immigration authorities typically require a flight ticket due to its higher verifiability.

For airlines: It’s crucial to understand that airlines share the responsibility of ensuring that visitors won’t overstay at their destination. If an airline neglects to verify your proof of onward travel and you board with just a one-way ticket, subsequently facing denial of entry by immigration, the airline incurs fines in addition to the possibility of covering your deportation or repatriation costs. Airlines are keen to avoid such scenarios, leading them to strictly enforce the proof of onward travel rule. Non-compliance can result in denied boarding or the immediate purchase of a return ticket, often at a considerably higher cost.

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How to Get Proof of Onward Travel?

While these all might sound overwhelming, the reassuring news is, as mentioned earlier, there are five (5) FREE and paid legal methods available for obtaining proof of onward travel, mitigating the risk of deportation.

#1. (BEST / Paid) Ticket Booking Service

Numerous websites offer the option to ‘rent‘ a plane ticket, valid for approximately 48 hours, in exchange for a fee. Such reservations are commonly utilized as proof for onward travel and my go-to platform for this is OneWayFly, which I’ve consistently relied on for various trips in the past years.

Priced at a reasonable $16 price, this platform is absolutely affordable and ideal for those in a hurry; after all, the entire process can be completed online, with the added convenience of receiving your reservation in just a minute. There is also an automatic cancellation after the designated validity period—thus, requiring no further action on your part.

Moreover, this service accommodates individuals of any nationality and boasts an impressive 4.8 rating on TrustPilot!

⚠️ Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Book a Flight Reservation on OneWayFly

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#2 (FREE) 24H Ticket Cancellation Or Hold Option Service

Some online booking platforms and airlines provide the convenience of FREE cancellation on flight tickets within 24 hours of booking. Some airlines also have a “hold” option in which they allow you to reserve a flight itinerary temporarily without completing the actual purchase.

To secure this kind of proof of onward travel, consider booking a flight right before you head to the airport and obtain a printout or copy of the booking. Upon arrival in your destination country and passing through immigration, you MUST remember to cancel the booking for a full refund! This makes it a reliable method to demonstrate your onward travel plans; but given the limited number of airlines, it might make more sense still to just book via OneWayFly so that you can also save time and effort.

Nevertheless, here is a list of websites and airlines that you can check out:

PRO TIP: Exercise caution when booking with platforms marked with an asterisk (*) above, as while they provide a 24-hour cancellation service, certain budget airlines, such as AirAsia, may not be included in this scheme. Therefore, it is crucial to meticulously review the fine print on the checkout page to ensure you are well-informed about the cancellation policies applicable to your specific booking.

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#3 (FREE) Book with Airline Miles, Hold Awards, or Credit Card Points

Are you enrolled in any frequent flyer programs? Here’s a valuable tip: though limited, there are certain airlines that provide the option to hold a flight reservation for up to 5 days using your accumulated airline points, miles, or through their hold award program.

Upon availing of this service, the reserved booking can serve as a printable itinerary, fulfilling the criteria for your need of proof of onward travel. Currently, frequent flyer programs offering this feature include:

Meanwhile, some credit card providers offer you the option to book refundable tickets through their rewards programs using your accumulated points. This is definitely a viable option, but be sure to contact your provider first to confirm if this service is available.

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#4 (PAID) Book a Cheap Budget Airline Flight

Explore incredible flight deals from budget airlines worldwide! In regions like Europe and Southeast Asia, airlines such as AirAsia, EasyJet, RyanAir, Volaris, and WizzAir can offer tickets at such low price points.

So what should you do? Locate the most affordable one-way ticket to a major city outside your destination country to find airline ticket prices that can range from $50 to $100 — though, if you look hard enough you can possibly find one for only $20 — and then book it. Print the flight itinerary and then use it to show to any immigration or airline agent who will ask for your onward travel document. That being said, yes, you’ll just have to shoulder the cost you’re paying for this budget airline ticket that you don’t plan on using.

PRO TIP: Read the fine print if in case the budget airline might impose penalties or fees for no-show. Most of the time they don’t, but it helps to be vigilant so you don’t spend more than you need to.

Personally, I do find this a good option, but compared to OneWayFly‘s $16 cost, it’s not only cheaper but also saves you the time of looking for that elusive $20 ticket from a budget airline.

Nevertheless, if you still choose this method, to look for the cheapest flights, use Skyscanner because it can help you do a swift search for the most affordable flights across various cities in any region.

ANOTHER PRO TIP: Once you’ve gone through immigration, consider contacting the budget airline to inform them of your inability to make the flight. Although the ticket may be non-refundable, you might still recover a portion of your payment, receive a refund on specific taxes, or even secure a partial refund or voucher, depending on the airline’s policies. It never hurts to inquire!

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#5 (PAID) Buy a Bus or Train Ticket

Most airlines and immigration do accept international bus or train tickets as proof of onward travel and this can cost you about $20 to $50 — or more.

It’s ideal for budget travelers and it’s easy to acquire too because most buses or trains can now be booked online; as such, just book a route that leaves your destination country at a certain date, and then print it or keep a copy. You don’t have to use it if you don’t have to!

⚠️ However, please take note that this method can be quite unreliable, if not risky, because some airlines and officials may still insist on an airline ticket for verification, citing database limitations for buses and trains. That being said, acceptance varies based on location, entry point, and the immigration official’s discretion — and in my experience, this kind of proof is only mostly accepted for overland entries but inconsistent at airports.

PRO TIP: Given the uncertainty, I would recommend option still for OneWayFly‘s service. Not to mention, it’s cheaper too!

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BONUS: Sign a Waiver or Talk it Out

First, a disclaimer: I do NOT recommend these methods but they can still be viable options especially if you find yourself in a bind.

So first and foremost, in situations where you lack proof of onward travel at an airport and the airline check-in agent is hesitant to allow boarding, you can inquire about signing a waiver. This document releases the airline from any responsibility if in case immigration denies your entry at your destination — this means that the airline won’t cover the cost of your return ticket (which they would be glad about).

By signing this waiver, you confirm your financial ability to leave the country and take responsibility for your return ticket if your entry is denied. It’s technically a legal contract, and if agreed upon, the check-in agent will provide a printed waiver, a practice followed by many airlines. However, not all airlines offer this option; some may still insist on proof of onward travel before boarding (which will usually be the case). So if a waiver isn’t feasible, the next best step is, of course, to secure one via the other methods I’ve listed above.

Meanwhile, sometimes, you might be able to negotiate your way out of providing proof of onward travel. If questioned about it, explaining that you plan to leave overland or haven’t purchased your return ticket yet could sometimes suffice. However, the success of this approach depends on various factors such as your destination, appearance, demeanor, the immigration official’s mood, and a bit of luck.

Being articulate and appearing well-off may increase your chances; while looking like a budget traveler might not be as effective. I’ve found this method to be more successful at land border crossings, especially when stating an intention to depart overland by bus. However, at airports, success is absolutely less predictable, making it a riskier option that could result in the airline denying boarding or immigration refusing entry or deporting you. That being said, the surest way then is to just follow the other options above.

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Do proof of onward travel and flight reservation mean the same thing?

Yes, “proof of onward travel” and “flight reservation” essentially refer to the same concept. Both involve demonstrating that you have a planned and confirmed departure from the destination country. If any distinction exists, it’s that the former is commonly requested during immigration processes, while the latter is typically a requirement for visa applications.

How strict are immigration or airline officials about proof of onward travel or return flight tickets?

Quite strict; after all, no country would want any visitor to overstay. Now, while international travel on one-way tickets might go unquestioned at times, denial of boarding can occur unexpectedly for various reasons and it’s always an unpredictable situation. As such, a practical solution is to secure proof of onward travel beforehand at all times!

What happens if I show up with no proof of onward travel?

In such a scenario, you may encounter one of three possibilities. Firstly, a ticketing agent or immigration official might insist that you purchase a ticket on the spot. This will entail heading to an airline ticketing counter or making an online purchase. Alternatively, you could face denial of boarding if you lack the financial means to buy a ticket, leading you to leave the airport or immigration checkpoint. In this case, you might be refused entry, prompting the airline to organize your return to your home country, resulting in deportation. On a more fortunate note, there’s a possibility that you might be allowed entry without a return ticket, although this could still involve thorough questioning and scrutiny based on the discretion of the airline employee or immigration official.

Can I just forge or provide a fake proof of onward travel? It looks easy!

I highly advise you NOT to do this. Providing false information, especially for official purposes like visa applications, is against the law and can lead to serious consequences, including visa rejection, legal action, and travel bans. That being said, it is essential to maintain honesty and integrity in all aspects of travel planning and document submission. So if you require a flight reservation, consider using legitimate services or actions such as those that I have listed in this article.

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I hope this list of the 5 best options to book a flight itinerary or reservation for a visa application will help you save time, money, and effort — much like how it helped me!

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