As an international travel blogger, holding a weak Indian passport in hand, I often deal with providing a confirmed return flight ticket when applying for a visa — or worse, providing a proof of my onward journey while getting a visa-on-arrival or a visa-free entry.
I remember the first time it happened to me I was crossing the border into Thailand wanting to continue backpacking into a few other countries in Southeast Asia. Though I was exiting Thailand in just two weeks (as visa on arrival for Thailand for Indians only allows us to stay in the country for a maximum of 15 days) I didn’t have a flight ticket to my next destination Cambodia. I wanted to travel to Cambodia by land and for that, it was only natural to be entering Thailand and then book a bus/train ticket.
However, due to my inexperience with international travel (it was my first ever trip outside of South Asia back in 2016) it never once crossed my mind that this would be a problem. I was asked for a valid return flight ticket back to India or an onward flight ticket to some other country in 15 days. And I didn’t have it. Though I managed to convince the visa officer that I will leave the country within 15 days, I learned a simple lesson the hard way.
Why Authorities Ask For A Confirmed Flight Ticket
In one sentence — because they want to prevent illegal immigration.
With a confirmed return flight ticket, or a proof of onward travel (to another country) they get an assurity that you’re intended to leave their country and not stay back illegally. They won’t necessarily care where that ticket goes, just as long as it’s out of their country.
As an Indian passport holder, I was asked for a confirmed flight ticket in Thailand. It happened while applying for a Schengen Visa from the German embassy in India, while getting a visa-on-arrival in Malaysia and Cambodia borders. Even Hong Kong, despite having a visa-free entry for Indians (for those visiting the country for no more than 15 days) wanted a return flight ticket as a confirmation that I’ve no intention to stay longer in the country.
So yea, pretty much everywhere around the world I tried to visit as a tourist I was asked for a return flight ticket.
Many countries even pass this responsibility to the airlines to check. Eg you may just be asked for a proof of your return/onward travel at the check-in desk before you’re allowed to board the flight as I experienced while traveling from India to Australia last year in 2017. This way the immigration officials can refuse you to let you in and the airline will be responsible for deporting you back to your home country (or from where you originally flew!) but your story is pretty much the same — helpless and brutally dumped kicked out of the country.
Countries That Require A Return Flight Or The Proof Of Onward Travel
For countries like Germany, USA, Japan, and other developed nations with a strong passport, immigration laws are still pretty relaxed — meaning, they may not require a return flight ticket while traveling to many countries. But if you happened to be a little more unfortunate, and you hold a passport that isn’t very strong (just like mine) you must be careful!
Being an Indian passport holder, I am required to have a valid return ticket before applying for a visa for any of the 24 (or are they 26, I cannot fairly remember) Schengen countries in Europe, USA, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, New Zealand… well the list is long!
So as a precaution, I always have a return or an onward flight ticket before traveling to any country and I advise travelers (at least those holding an Indian passport) to do the same to avoid any last minute problems. Often, it will be mandatory to have one before you even submit your visa application.
Why I Hate This Rule
Being a long-term traveler, when I am traveling abroad, I am on a tight budget, trying to make my money last as long as possible. In this case, I try to return to India, when I am broke.
Sometimes, I also try to visit one country after the other when I am in a different region because I am getting cheaper flights/land-transport. Eg, when I visited Malaysia last year, I had planned to fly to Australia next. I wanted to use a fixed amount of budget to stay as long as I could in Malaysia and when I was actually out of money, I would fly to Australia. But because I had to show a confirmed onward flight before I was granted a visa to Malaysia, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t backpack in Malaysia for as long as my budget allowed.
So yea, I hate this rule and so do hundreds and thousands of other travelers wanting to travel the world.
Luckily. WELL LUCKING ENOUGH FOR US INDIAN BUNCH and for those belonging to dozens of other developing nations with a weak passport, there are a few easy (and legal) ways to get around this proof-of-onward-travel requirement:
Providing A Confirmed Return Flight Ticket Or Proof Of Onward Travel Without Risking It
Buy A Refundable Ticket
The safest and most legit way to deal with it is booking a refundable ticket if of course, you don’t mind waiting for a while to get the refund, and booking the flight ticket for a little extra price (Tip: refundable flight tickets are often costlier).
Once you have entered the country, cancel your exit ticket and wait for the refund. Just make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully and the airlines are actually refunding 100% of the original flight ticket cost.
Book And Sacrifice A Cheap Flight
If you can’t find a refundable flight and renting a ticket sounds too unreal for you to be risking your visa at first place, the only way is booking the cheapest flight out there and sacrificing it.
This method is completely ethical and legal and looks more legit than anything else. It does prove that you have the intention to exit the country, which is exactly what the immigration laws are requesting. I mean imagine a really unforgiving immigration officer waiting for you, sniffing your every intention of staying back in their country, illegally. Now he may doubt you for having a refundable ticket at first place, but there’s no chance for him to be doubting you for having a non-refundable (cheap) ticket. This, by far, is the safest way to go ahead when it comes to applying for visas or getting visa-free or visa-on-arrival entries. The only problem is, it is risky.
Further Reading: Finding A Cheap Flight Ticket Online
Rent A Ticket
There are several platforms like RentATicket.com and OneWayFly.com that actually allow you to not book the flight but just rent a confirmed flight ticket for a little fee. These services book a real ticket on your name and later cancel it when you don’t need it anymore.
Have I used any of these platforms? Never. But a friend of mine traveling from India to Singapore once did and it worked just fine for him. It’s cheaper than buying your own ticket and safer than trying to forge one. Most platforms take less than 20 dollars and give a confirmed flight PNR.
Never Forge A Ticket
I have come across some cases where travelers tried to develop a false flight ticket with incorrect PNR using photoshop or some other photo editing tool. My suggestion… don’t try it, you will be caught! It is moreover illegal to do it, giving the visa officer every right to blacklist your passport. And if that happens, it will have a long-term adverse effect on your identification for whenever you will try applying for a visa in the future.
It’s better to not have a return flight ticket at all, honestly admitting it to the visa officer and taking your chances than forging a ticket and committing a crime that can land you in jail. There’s no reason for you to be cheating the system!
Found this article useful? Why not share it and share the knowledge? Come on, the idea of Renting A Ticket was pretty cool, and you didn’t know it, right?