Don’t you find it a nuisance when a country’s entry conditions require you to buy an onward ticket out of that country? If I am travelling in a country on say, a ninety-day visa, I have no idea when I will be leaving, nor from where or to where. It’s three months away for chrissake!

They tell me an onward ticket acts as an assurance that you will leave the country in good time? Sounds like the onward ticket is muscling in on the visa’s job, a job it does quite well. I’m not about to overstay a visa; it can be costly and damage future entry chances. If I was planning to overstay my welcome in a country, having to buy a cheap onward ticket would not deter me. So, the onward ticket is a pointless measure, isn’t it? Unless the point is in fact to handicap your otherwise freestyling itinerary or to generate some extra cash for the airlines for a ticket that will see a trashcan before it sees a check-in counter, well, then it is an effective measure.

I don’t plan my travels far enough ahead such that an onward ticket makes sense. But, it is a sometimes-enforced measure that would screw things up for me if I ignored it. I’ve heard of folks being denied entry into countries. And more commonly, I’ve heard of and witnessed passengers-to-be turned away at the airline check-in counter. Supposedly, by law, airlines are required to ask for a return ticket on international flights. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. If they don’t and you are not permitted entry at your destination, the originating airline must fly you back.

But have no fear, there are many ways to work around this nonsense and most of them are legal enough. I’ve listed some of them below, in decreasing order of cost, and increasing order of risk.

1.     Buy the damn ticket

I won’t buy an onward ticket (even if I DO know my travel plans) primarily because that’s just what they want you to do. It’s a sometimes-annoying aspect of my character. But if you know when you’re leaving and your arrival and destination ports, then what the hell, buy the damn ticket. If you’re unsure of these details, just search the internet for the cheapest ticket out of the country, to anywhere. Look for flights and bus tickets. Often you can find a bus ticket for next to nothing that does not much more than cross a border. You might even use it! Even if you don’t, it is a safe option, you do indeed have an onward ticket, even if it doesn’t get used, and your problem is solved.

2.     Buy a ticket and cancel it

Upping the effort level slightly, you can buy an onward ticket and cancel it soon thereafter. There are two ways to do this. The first is to buy the ticket as close as possible to, and before your inbound flight and then cancel it at some point during or after your journey. You can cancel it immediately after check-in, when you’re waiting for take-off, or after you’ve arrived and cleared customs in the target country; each option here being progressively being less risky. You’ll need to be mindful of the refund policy of both the booking agent or website and the airline itself. offers a 24-hour refund policy, so you will have to front the cash, initially, but you’ll get it back when you cancel. And as you are going to cancel anyway, just buy a cheap onward ticket.

The second option here, for the risk-takers and those who won’t have an opportunity to cancel the ticket within 24 hours after checking in, is to cancel right after you have the printed or stored onward ticket in your hands. You will be able to show the ticket, but it won’t be valid, so it is a good idea to book your onward ticket with an obscure local airline that is unlikely to share the international booking system with your inbound airline.

3.     Pay someone to handle it all for you

There’s a few online outfits that exist solely for folks in this predicament. They’ll book an onward ticket and handle its cancellation for you for a small fee. I’ve recently used successfully. They charge $12 USD for their service and the ticket turns up in your inbox in under an hour (in my experience). They then cancel it within 48 hours, so you get a bit more time in transit, usually enough to clear customs at the other end, than you would with Expedia for example. I’ve not come across any negative feedback with this company, unlike what I have seen for another mob, I have read many bad reviews and cases of no ticket provided and no customer service. Those negative reviews often said that this service worked the first and maybe second time, but on the third, the cash was fleeced and there was nowhere to turn.

4.     Wing it

In many cases, even where onward tickets are specified as required, they are not checked at check-in. The “wing it” option is for the risk takers hoping for this. The first thing to do here is to check-in online if this is possible. You want as little contact with airline staff as possible. If you are asked for an onward ticket, then say you have one, be confident, rehearse the flight date and details and perhaps turn up at check-in with some nasty breath so they move you on as quickly as possible. Do not quote a fictional onward ticket with the same airline you are using for your inbound flight. It might be a safer bet to quote a bus ticket that you have booked so there is no chance that they can verify it. If it all falls apart, then you’ll need to revert to one of the options above, so arrive at the airport early enough to shift to Plan B, if you need to.

5.     Fake it

You didn’t hear this option from me. I am not recommending it. Let’s just say this option is here, more so for the purposes of interest only. There are those who will create a fake ticket and cross their fingers with that. There are even websites that will help you do this. Check out for details.

What do I do?

I occasionally hear and read other travellers’ stories about the airlines tightening up and checking the onward flights on a common international booking system such as AMADEUS. But I also hear stories of uninterested check-in staff who could not care less whether you were packing an onward ticket or not. For me, I use as it is easy, cheap, stress-free and as far as I know, legal.

Let me know if you know of other options, and I shall update it here.

Also, check out my latest book, The Anatomy of Escape, for loads more interesting ways to travel for next to nothing.