Proof of Onward Travel: Part 1

In the previous post, I outlined the visa requirements and costs for US citizens to all the countries I intend to visit on the RTW trip. To sum it briefly in this post, countries that require visas typically charge a flat fee for a fixed duration, require a few passport photos to process, may either allow visa on arrival or make you get it at an embassy abroad before hand, and typically make you choose between single entry, double entry, or multiple entry which all vary in price for most places. Most travelers have some sort of idea on their relative length of stay and if they would leave and possibly come back, so these are hardly an issue. What can be an issue for many long-term traveler's is a tiny rule many countries have thrown into their visa language, proof of onward travel.

Why is Proof So Important?

This requirement is vaguely outlined for most countries and can cause a lot of trouble if not followed properly. What proof of onward travel entails is just proof that you are going to leave the country before your visa or free visit period expires instead of staying and trying to find work. In most cases this can be proven by a plane, train, or bus ticket booked in your name to another country, although in some extreme cases I have read that agents have asked for a ticket to your home country or out of the continent entirely. This can pose a lot of headaches to those who want to do an overland adventure and are not sure what cities they want to visit or the duration they want to stay.

There are many countries around the world that have the stipulation and include Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and most Central American countries to name a few.  Many of these the rule is loose and rarely enforced depending on the country you are coming from.  I can personally say that Japan, Thailand, and Singapore gave me no issue after returning from my first RTW trip. Others like Brazil, India, and some of the Central American countries have reported interactions requesting proof of onward travel and some pretty severe consequences for those who do not have it including deportation or not being allowed pass the border if traveling by land.  While this is still minimally enforced in countries that are on the stricter side, you would not have a good day (or week) if you were the unfortunate one who was asked for proof and didn't have something to show for it.

Airlines are the Strictest

The one major fear with proof of onward travel is with the airlines. They appear to be more controlling than the border agents themselves, who most of the time are happy you are coming in to spend your dollars in their country. Airlines are very particular due to the fact that if you arrive, get denied entry, and are subsequently deported the airline is required to foot the bill to send you back to your originating country and likely pay a fine as well. If you try and check in and don't have proof they might sometimes force you to buy a very expensive plane ticket out of the country that you do not intend to ever use. Stories I have read suggest that the airlines will check and argue with you vehemently, but when you finally arrive the immigration officers wont even ask.

So the question is, what is the best course of action to get around this? Here are some of the tips that I have found to be somewhat reasonable to cover the vast majority of cases for those of you with no return ticket.

Proof of Onward Travel Tips

Based on my research for my own long-term trip, I've discovered several tips that would be worth trying if you find yourself requiring proof of onward travel while abroad.   These tips were developed based on the requirements of various different countries through their state departments.  While these may work in one country, they may not work in another; so it is best to try a combination for the best results.

  • Get your bank to give you a notarized form before you leave illustrating that you have sufficient funds of a few thousand dollars.  This shows border agents that you have enough money to cover your stay and will not be seeking work.  (Likely not to work as well with airlines)

  • Have an official looking itinerary printed out in full with dates and maps of where you are going to go.  A planned route takes time and shows that you have no intention of staying.  (Again, likely not to work well with airlines)

  • Book a cheap bus ticket to a neighboring country from a city close to the border from a major company online. It is cheap if you decide not to take it, and could possibly be changed if you decide to stay longer.

  • Book a refundable plane ticket to a neighboring country and then attempt to get all or some of the money back when you arrive in the country.  This is the best way to have proof if you are caught at the last minute without any documents and need to book something quick.  Be warned that you will have several hundred dollars sitting on a credit card for a few days while you wait for a refund if the ticket is completely refundable.

  • If you attempt to cross required borders without proof dress somewhat nicely, be polite, and do not give the agent any reasons to deny you entry. It might be common sense, but if you look and act responsible you will get less hassle.

  • When you get your visa at an embassy ask what their entry requirements are. If it is something other than a plane ticket, such as proof of sufficient funds only, get it on an official letterhead to use as leverage with any airlines that might give you hassle.  Being stopped by an uneducated gate agent that is afraid of losing their job would make for a bad day if you had all of the official proof you need and they did not know any better.

  • If you have a ticket leaving from another country within the period of your visa activity (say 90 days later on a 90 day visa) then this should be sufficient proof in most cases as you have to be out of one country to catch a flight in another.

  • One final attempt, if you have no problem lying through your teeth, is to try and pass off a sample plane ticket itinerary as a booked one. My one suggestion would be to do this on an airline that is not in the same network as the flight you are taking into the country so it makes it harder for the airline agent to try and confirm the reservation if they so choose to try.

I have been in correspondence with the Brazilian embassy and British Airways to ask them their requirements for proof of onward travel for flights into Brazil as it is one of the few that I am having most difficulties trying to figure out. I will put my emails and their responses in the following post to illustrate the kind of run around you get when addressing this situation.

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9 comments:

  1. Ecuador is one of the most fascinating countries in South America. Hope you decide to visit it. Including the Galapagos Islands of course.

    Zuri

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  2. While I would love to visit Ecuador and the Galapagos on this trip it definitely is going to be purely based on money since it would be one of the last countries I would visit on my route. I will get there eventually for sure though.

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  3. I searched exactly for this reason. I am planning a South America adventure. I don't have any dates set. Thankfully I don't have to worry about airlines, since I'll be land traveling but I do worry about "proof of onward travel". I don't want to pin down my schedule.

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  4. Yea I am very worried about that in South America more than other regions mostly since information on it is very scarce. I can pin myself down a bit in Brazil, but once I get towards the Peru and Ecuador area I am a bit worried.

    Probably will be working on that fake airline ticket route a lot at land crossing where they don't have capacity to check if I have it booked.

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  5. I was in Peru and Ecuador (entered both by land) just this past November 09 and was never asked for proof of onward travel. So there is hope! Argentina (by air) didn't ask for it, nor did Chile (by land), Uruguay (by sea), nor did Bolivia (by land). The only country I encountered that required it was Paraguay.
    Happy travels!

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  6. @Anon - I have been reading that overland travel is far less predictable than what airlines are. I still don't think the odds are favorable enough though. What is worse? Stuck at a small border town with no way to book onward travel, or stuck at an airport where you have to buy ridiculously expensive airfare?

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  7. We were worried about this too but we weren´t asked for proof of onward travel when we entered Brazil or Argentina recently.

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  8. That's good to know Erin! Did you go overland or enter via plane? I think there is a big difference between airport checking and overland checking for sure!

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  9. The airlines are covering their own behinds. Not only do they have to foot the bill if you get refused entry, I read somewhere else they can get a $5000 fine...

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