Proof of onward travel was the last thing on my mind. I was in my free spirit mode when I arrived at the airport in Santiago, Chile. I was heading to the final country on my 3-month South America Itinerary.
My travel plans that day from Valparaiso to Santiago had gone perfectly so I patiently waited for my flight to Colombia via Panama. The wifi was terrible so I surfed the net trying to use up my data on my Chilean SIM card which would be useless once in Colombia.
Asked To Show Proof Of Onward Travel
I didn’t rush to check in as I already had an assigned seat and was travelling “a mano,” hand luggage only.
As I placed my passport back in my bag, the Latam airline official leaned forward and asked to see my proof of onward travel. My heart sunk. I knew I didn’t have any onward travel proof. I hadn’t really decided when I was leaving Colombia to return to the Canadian winter.
I explained in Spanish that I was definitely planning to leave Colombia but I just didn’t have an onward travel ticket yet.
I explained again in English. I asked to see the manager. I was promptly shown Colombia’s immigration rules on a computer screen in English clearly stating the need for proof of onward travel.
The manager told me I could book a bus ticket to Ecuador. I could leave Colombia however I wanted but I needed a confirmation number and an onward travel ticket to prove I was actually planning to leave the country.
Seated on the floor of the Santiago airport I scoured the internet, thankful I still had some data left. Some kind of onward travel solution was needed. Bus tickets to Ecuador. Not available online.
Sailings to Panama. Mostly booked. Expensive. Non-refundable.
Time was ticking away. I did not want to miss my flight to Colombia.
I had a lot of decisions to make. Which city would I leave Colombia from? Where was I even going in Canada? Were there any deals?
I finally decided on an onward travel ticket and tried to book it but everything froze on my phone. I took a screenshot and went back to the counter, budged the line and told the airline employee that I intended to leave Colombia on this onward travel ticket but my phone had frozen. She called over the manager. He looked at me point blank and said, “You need onward travel proof. The doors of your flight are closing soon.”
I started all over again. Right in front of the agent I bought my expensive Delta ticket, my proof of onward travel, and finally got a boarding pass handed to me.
I raced down the halls of the Santiago airport and realized I still had to make it through the L-O-N-G line of Chilean customs. The hands on the clock were moving much faster than the customs line. Was I going to make it?
Once through customs, I barrelled through security and ran to my gate. Not a soul in sight.
Needless to say, I made the flight, barely, but gave myself a boatload (planeload) of stress not having proof of onward travel.
The thing is, I do know better about proof of onward travel.
Everything You Need To Know About Proof Of Onward Travel
1. What Is Proof Of Onward Travel?
Proof of onward travel requires the traveller to show that they have fixed travel plans to leave the country which they are hoping to enter.
This is not a problem if you are on a vacation with a set amount of time. Chances are you will have a return ticket booked. Long term travellers and digital nomads like to travel with less of a fixed itinerary. Flexibility is key to this kind of lifestyle. Onward travel tickets can be a challenge.
2. Why Is Proof Of Onward Travel Necessary?
Here are the facts:
- Countries want to make sure that you do not overstay your visa or allowable days to visit.
- This law also tries to prevent illegal immigration, although I would hazard a guess that most travellers are just wanting flexibility in their travel plans.
- Countries also want to confirm that you have enough money to actually purchase a ticket and leave the country.
They are very valid reasons.
And the airlines are held responsible and are required to check for proof of onward travel.
If you slip through the airlines, immigration officials at your final destination might also ask to see your onward travel ticket. Without one, you run the risk of being sent back to your point of origin.
3. Which Countries Require The Onward Ticket?
If you are planning long term travel, research the countries you are travelling to and find out their immigration rules.
Countries that absolutely require proof of onward travel are:
- New Zealand
- the United Kingdom
- the U.S.A
- the Philippines
- Costa Rica
This is not an exhaustive list. Check the countries where you are going.
I have entered three of those countries without being asked by airline employees or immigration officials for proof of onward travel.
So what are the rules? Is every traveller asked? Did I just slip through? Do they ask every tenth traveller?
The bottom line is, especially after my last experience, be prepared with onward travel proof.
4. Be Prepared With Proof Of Onward Travel Plans
Smile and hope for the best. I don’t think I will be trying this again. If you decide to use this method, I would advise doing some previous research so that if you find yourself on the floor of an airport booking proof of onward travel, you already have dates, destinations and flights in mind.
5. Onward Travel Solutions: Book A Refundable Flight
Once again, you need to do your research here. Read the small print very carefully. Airlines, such as Air Canada and Westjet, offer refunds within the first 24 hours of purchase. I realize now that the Delta airline ticket I bought under duress was also refundable for 24 hours. IT NEVER CROSSED MY MIND TO CANCEL IT…
After talking to fellow travellers, I discovered that it is possible to get an airline ticket refunded if booking through expedia.com. I have not personally done this. Yet.
Some airlines will refund flights but only issue flight vouchers. So do very careful research if you plan to purchase a ticket and then cancel the reservation within 24 hours.
6. Onward Travel Solutions: The “Throw-Away” Ticket
Buying an onward travel ticket that you know you are not going to use, is not a cheap option. I did once buy an onward ticket as proof that I would be leaving Thailand.
When asked if I had an onward travel ticket at check-in, I confidently stated the airline, date and destination even though I was not asked to show my ticket confirmation. Was it worth it? I felt it was.
7. Solutions From Other Travellers (Not Yet Tried By Me)
- With this company, Onward Ticket, you can “rent” a ticket for $12 which is good for 48 hours. They send you a confirmation to show to the airlines/ immigration and then the onward ticket is cancelled once you have arrived. Woah.. I wish I had known this before arriving at the Santiago airport.
- Book an onward flight the morning that you are travelling and pick “pay in person/ at the airport.” The onward travel ticket is legitimate and saved for 24 hours. The ticket automatically cancels when you don’t show up. I have never noticed this payment option, possibly it is only for certain airlines. Worth keeping in mind for sure.
Flexibility in travel is a tricky business but clearly, there are onward travel solutions. Hopefully, you will not find yourself sitting on an airport floor purchasing a last-minute onward travel ticket.
Do the same rules apply when entering countries by bus or crossing borders on foot? In my experience, I have only been asked once to provide proof of onward travel when entering at a land border. Crossing from Costa Rica into Panama on foot, it is common knowledge that you need to provide proof of onward travel.
Entering other countries, such as Nicaragua, Bolivia and Chile. I was not asked at all.
Immigration is a serious business.
As for me, I will be confidently strolling into the next airport with an onward travel solution already planned.