Getting Proof of Onward Travel (Even at the Last Minute)

Physical and digital plane tickets with cash.

The moment when an airline springs the “we can’t let you on the plane without an onward ticket” can be a stressful one, especially if you arrive at the airport at just the right time (well, what otherwise would have been perfect).

Signing Liability Waivers

A good tip is to ask them for a liability waiver at the check-in counter, which they are not obliged to provide, but have the option to.

Liability waivers basically say that you have the means to pay for a flight out of the country, and you release the airline from having to pay to fly you out you if you can’t.

Sometimes, this requires showing them proof you can afford a ticket (like having a credit card) but aren’t buying one due to reasons of uncertainty (like waiting to get a better deal on a flight, or not knowing the exact date you will leave but being aware of the visa restrictions) or unavailability (like there is no internet, or there is a legitimate issue with the booking site).

One important thing to keep in mind in this situation is that they are doing you a favor.

Sure, there is a business motive behind helping you: they don’t want the bad customer experience, or whatever potential publicity – probably more the former, since they’re totally within their rights to deny you both boarding and the waiver.

Of course, the financial burden of them footing the bill to deport you is also a contrasting business motive.

What to Expect After Asking

In the end – as has been my experience – the balance between those two motives is settled by the people on the ground.

Not necessarily the ones right at the check in, maybe their managers – I have even had some cases where it wasn’t decided by the supervisor, but they had to call around both in the company, and even with officials of the destination country.

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In these cases, it pays to always start with kindness.

They understand the situation you’re in.

They deal with harried travelers day in and day out, and also relaxed ones – and guess which they prefer (no surprise: the same you would).

I know it can be tempting to get indignant – “I didn’t know! I’m going to be late for the flight! This is Unfair! I’m not a criminal!” – but keep that in your back pocket. Remember, a Liability Waiver isn’t a sure thing, but when you can get it, it’s a very nice thing to have.

Despite the natural tendency to focus on your own issue here due to its intensity and immediacy, it actually helps that cause to have some empathy for the airline staff.

This is not a pleasant situation for either of you, and nobody wants to have to deny you a flight.

They’re just doing their job, and if you understand what they’re looking for and trying to prevent (you staying in the country longer than you’re allowed), you can approach it from the perspective of working together to find a solution to fulfill their requirements.

If You’re Unable to Get a Liability Waiver

I’ve had a variety of circumstances occur around ongoing flight requirements.

The “Confidence” Waiver

Sometimes, depending on how you carry yourself, you can just do the informal equivalent of the aforementioned: explaining and being readily able to demonstrate that you have money – e.g. one or multiple credit card(s), even being ready to go so far as to open up your mobile banking app, though that’s never been requested of me, I have offered and been ready to demonstrate it – and that you are more than capable of buying a ticket out when required.

Simply remaining very calm about the whole situation as they figure out whether they believe you, and then whether they’re allowed to just believe you, can go a long way.

When All They Really Want is a Ticket

Other times, their policy might be simply set in stone, with no liability waiver nor leniency – and often, with very little time to boot.

You may have to be aware of or figure out how long you’re allowed to stay based on your initial visa duration, and buy a ticket right then – regardless of whether that’s how long you’ll actually be staying.

It’s beyond their scope of responsibility to verify your eligibility for any visa extensions or renewals, or whether you plan to change your visa type later on. Period.

Getting That Last Minute Ticket

Mostly, the situation when it has come to you having to show proof of ongoing travel, is about your intention (and means) to leave the country.

Since they don’t know you, the only way to really demonstrate that is through an ongoing ticket.

Does It Have to Be a Return Flight?

This does not mean you have to buy a return ticket – neither to the place you’re coming from, nor back to your home country – just to another place which you are able to enter given your visa situation there.

That last point is key – and you can expect them to check – so if you don’t have a visa-exemption, or visa-on-arrival, you’d better also have a visa.

For both the reason of potentially saving time at the airport, plus not having your ongoing ticket turn out to be worthless (because you don’t have a visa and can’t automatically be granted one), it’s useful to do a bit of searching beforehand, so you are aware of the rules and what your options might be.

Here are both (a) the important things to do a quick search on before you go, and (b) the steps to take when confronted with having to buy an ongoing ticket (whether it’s at the airport, or in advance).

“I guess I’m going to Antarctica then”

If the situation has caught you off guard – and you’d be amongst the majority in that case, in whose company I count myself more often than not – you may not yet have decided where you would like to go next.

If you “force your own hand” by picking your next destination without too much time to decide – i.e. you will be buying a ticket that you will use – the important thing to know more than anything (except the visa status for the next country), is how long your current visa will last.

Obviously, if your intended trip is shorter than your visa length, that’s the timeframe to use, but if you’re not sure, you can just get a flight a couple days before your visa expires (which is important in case you also don’t know if that country starts counting visa days from the day you enter, or the day after – something our Visa Exit Date Calculator is very useful for calculating).

At worst, there you have a marked point for your next destination; if you intend to extend your visa in some form or another that requires going to another country to process (like changing your visa type), that trip could become useful for doing so (especially if it’s a nearby country with an Embassy/Consulate of the country you’re currently flying to – though some visas require processing in your home country)

“Maybe I’ll go, maybe I’ll not”

If the above “easy out” option doesn’t work for you (in terms of just spending the money), one option is purchasing a refundable ticket.

These will always cost more, but since the main idea is to refund them, that’s not a big deal besides understanding that much of your balance may be tied up for a while (and that depends on the airline, their payment processor, and your credit card).

Whereas getting a cheap ticket out will be the fastest option – and even though for a refundable ticket you still have to purchase it to a country for which you have the visa-exempt or visa-on-arrival options – doing a refundable ticket requires a bit more research, as the availability of refundable tickets can vary by region, and by carrier within that region (e.g. a carrier that is required by law to offer refundable tickets to certain consumers and/or within a geographical region, may not have to above by those regulations in other regions).

This kind of booking is almost always done on the carrier’s website directly, as it’s a higher tier fare that often doesn’t make it into most flight aggregators.

As such, knowing in advance what carrier(s) to go to check directly – for the region you’re traveling in – is a key part to this option.

Importantly, checking the fare conditions as to:

  • How long you have to get a refund.
  • Whether there is a fee to get a refund.
  • Whether actually you can get a refund direct to your payment source, or if it’s only an airline credit.
  • Whether the ability to get a refund is protected by law (e.g. in the US), if it’s only common practice (e.g. in the EU), or if it’s the airline’s own policy (e.g. most other regions) – as the more common it is, the easier (and quicker) it may be to get the refund in practice.

These terms are often linked to the specific fare type, so the quick way is to just look at the most expensive one from whatever carrier you’re booking with.

“The Real Fakes” – Don’t Do It.

On the subject of refundable ongoing tickets, though, a word of caution:

One aspect of this in particular I would caution against, is using “fake ticket” services.

First of all, in the last minute, they’re not relevant, because they’re often not instant. In fact, many of them will be at least relatively straightforward – in much the same way that your loathed cable company is when they give you egregious hours to stay home and wait for their technicians – and say upfront that tickets may take anywhere from whatever amount of time on the low side (usually not realistic, but there to get your desperate hopes up), up to 12 or more hours.

The fact they don’t guarantee a speed of issuance at a time when speed is key, makes them non-starters for when you’re in the airport.

In the bigger picture, though – and even with a bit more time to spare, like preemptively getting them in advance – this is just too important a thing to leave in the hands of what often turn out to be fly-by-night services, selling “real fake tickets”, which to me is just as sketchy a proposition as it sounds.

The reality is that ongoing tickets are just one of the “traveler tolls” – something you have to get used to paying more for by virtue of the logistical requirements of this lifestyle – and proving your legitimate intentions in entering (and leaving) a country is just not the time to cheap out.

“Fine, just take my money”

If you intend to just buy the cheapest flight out of the country, it can be exceptionally inexpensive in some cases, and it can be worth it to just buy that ticket no matter where it’s to or when the date is, and leave it at that.

In that, you’ve demonstrated that you have the money to buy one (or more) flights, have proven your intention and ability to leave the country, and unless there are other red flags (like previous overstays marked in your passport), you’ve given them what they’re looking for in terms of you being responsible to the temporal limitations of your visa.

From there, you can decide your actual plans later based on how you progress with your intended visa type & duration – even if this ticket initially is irrelevant to you, later you may find it a welcome reason to visit that country.

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Most important here, is understanding your visa status for the next country.

A simple search ahead of time on flight aggregator that has “cheapest flights from X” like Google Flights, SkyScanner, momondo, or Kiwi.com can give you a shortlist of what are likely to be the cheapest countries (just make sure to select the same date or next date from when you’re searching – as this is likely going to be the case if you need the ticket), from which you can quickly Google “{country} visa for {your passport’s country} passport}” and (e.g. “Thailand visa for German passport”, without the quotes).

Then, if that search yields results from reputable sources that say something like “visa-exempt”, “visa on arrival”, “visa not required”, you know that’s one possible option. Whether it is or it isn’t, a good idea is to then move onto the next one, so you have at least a couple of options notated somewhere that you can easily access (e.g. the Notes app on your phone), as the results (meaning availability and price) may not be exactly the same when (if..) you’re actually put in the situation of having to book that ongoing flight at the last minute.

Take 5 Minutes to Make a Plan in Advance

All of these situations have their respective reasons and potential benefits from at least knowing in advance where to look, but also what your general options are, and what to look for, respectively.

Remember that in the moment, you’ll only have a short amount of time before your flight, and sometimes limited or no internet despite having a SIM (e.g. airports are sometimes outside of the coverage areas, or some parts of them, especially the further in you go, can have poor reception).

What is valuable to find out though, are, on a regional level:

  • What nearby countries (more than one) you are able to enter with a visa-exemption or visa-on-arrival.
  • What carriers offer refundable tickets that meet the above criteria (if you plan to use refundable tickets).

Then, for each country:

  • A quick search for same-day tickets (before your flight) to make sure those nearby countries will be ones with last minute ticket options that are affordable to you.
  • If you will be aiming to change your visa type after entering, what country you’d be doing that process in.

While you may want to search whether you will require ongoing ticket prior to your flight – and even arrange your ticket beforehand – this can vary based on the strength of your passport/visa type (or even the airline and perhaps your relationship with them, since I’ve traveled to the same country on different carriers, where one has asked me for proof of ongoing travel while the other hasn’t), and possibly even where you’re coming from.

It’s also possible that it’s required but not readily documented online (or, precisely because there are different situations, that there are conflicting stories as to whether it’s required).

If, however, there is official documentation (i.e. from a government-run website) that states ongoing proof of travel is required – the safe bet is to assume you will be asked for it, and prepare accordingly.

Then Save It & Be Stress-Free

Making a quick plan to know what you’d do in these situations takes the stress out of them, as you’ve eliminated most of the variables, and familiarized yourself with both the realistic expectations, and the actual process, of what to do in case you need proof of ongoing travel – whether that’s last minute at the airport, or in advance.

Save that plan in a way you can access easily (e.g. on your phone) keep a link to this article alongside it for reference.

In this type of scenario, you’ll be really glad you know what you’re doing, if you ever need to do it – and when it comes to ongoing flight tickets, that’s not an “if”, but a “when”.

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