It’s all been building up to this moment. You’re at the airport, backpack slung over your shoulder, ready to embark on the trip of a lifetime. Then you hear the dreaded words: “Can I see your proof of onward travel?”
It’s a bureaucratic pain in the backside but for many countries, proof of onward travel is a legal requirement. Attempting to travel to these countries without onward travel plans is breaking the law. Plenty of backpackers get caught out every year – either forced to buy an outbound ticket online while waiting in the airport or forbidden from boarding the plane altogether.
But don’t worry, there are ways to get around this problem!
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What Is Proof of Onward Travel?
Proof of onward travel is exactly what it says on the tin — evidence that you have the intention and means to leave the country you’re trying to enter. Proof of onward travel is a legal requirement in some countries and it’s the responsibility of the airline flying you into said country to check you have onward travel arrangements. You can also be asked for proof of onward travel by the immigration officers at your destination airport.
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How to Get Around Proof of Onward Travel Requirements: Quick Answers!
In our opinion, the most pain-free way to get around proof of onward travel requirements is to use a ticket rental service (read on to see how these work). Our favourite ticket rental services are:
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Do I Need Proof of Onward Travel?
In some countries, proof of onward travel is a legal requirement. For others, there’s no such rule. To make things more confusing, some nations only want proof of onward travel if you’re entering on a specific visa or for a certain amount of time. And finally, in countries where proof of onward travel is a legal requirement, you might not even be asked for it!
So, as with all complicated bureaucratic nonsense, the answer to whether you need proof of onward travel is… it depends.
Read on to see a country by country break down of onward travel rules in Southeast Asia.
How to Get Around Onward Travel Rules
There are several ways to get around proof of onward travel rules. Many we’ve used with no problems, others we wouldn’t dare try. However, different members of our South East Asia Backpacker Facebook Community have used them and claim they had no issues in doing so.
1. Wing It
The entire South East Asia Backpacker team has used this method on different occasions — and we’ve all had varying success!
Just turn up at the airport and hope you don’t get asked to show proof. If you’re friendly, don’t look like an international criminal and remember to smile, this might just work. However, there’s no guarantee.
If you’re going to attempt this method, we suggest you have a way to access the internet so you can book a ticket at the airport if you get stopped. This can end up being costly if there’s no cheap ticket available in the moment!
Our Verdict: Unadvisable but doable
2. Buy a Cheap ‘Throwaway’ Ticket
Let’s face it, there are enough planes in the sky without us paying for airlines to fly with empty seats. We struggle to recommend this method because it massively increases your carbon footprint and leads to more planes pumping exhaust gases into the atmosphere.
However, it is the safest option when trying to get around onward travel rules. Ensure the flight is booked for before your visa expires or it won’t count!
Just because you have the ticket, it doesn’t mean you have to get the flight. No one is actually checking that you’ve left, they just want to know you can leave.
The downside of this method, aside from the environmental impact, is the cost. While you can generally find flights out of some countries for less than $50USD — especially when you book in advance — that won’t always be possible and there are cheaper ways to do it.
However, this is the most reliable method as you have a legitimate plane ticket that cannot be contested and you could use it if required.
Our Verdict: Safest but most expensive and most polluting option
3. Use an Onward Ticket Rental Website
This is another method that the South East Asia Backpacker team has used without incident. Renting an onward ticket is an excellent way to get a ‘real’ flight booking for a limited amount of time. They work by actually booking you onto a real flight for around 48-hours — giving you a real ticket and confirmable flight number.
After the time limit, your spot on the flight is automatically cancelled. Tickets tend to cost anywhere from $7-$20USD. Some rental websites offer tickets with a longer shelf life than 48 hours but they tend to be the more expensive options.
Our favourite ticket rental sites are:
Be aware of scam sites. Over the years, various fake ticket rental sites have popped up and disappeared, along with their customer’s money. Only use sites that have a good reputation.
Our Verdict: The best option for now (but airlines are likely to get wise to this travel hack eventually)
4. Book and Cancel a Real Plane Ticket
This is by far the most economical way of skirting onward travel requirements. However, it’s a little more complicated than using a ticket rental website, taking an element of research and preplanning.
Using a flight comparison website that offers free cancellation, book your outbound flight before heading to the airport. You can either print off the ticket at home, rely on a booking confirmation email or get an e-ticket sent to your phone. After you’ve cleared immigration, cancel the ticket!
Expedia is the favourite site for doing this as their cancellation policy is excellent. Just make sure you’re using the .com version of the site!
Our Verdict: The cheapest option but it takes some pre-planning
5. Fake It (Actually, Don’t)
You wouldn’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last backpacker to fake a ticket. You can purchase fake tickets online for a few dollars, or make them yourself in a few minutes with some basic computer knowledge.
This method has worked for travellers, including some of those in our Facebook group, and will probably continue to do so. However, the risk of getting caught out is much higher than with rented or cancelable tickets — which will have a real paper trail.
We don’t recommend this method as it involves not only actively lying to immigration officers (a serious offence in many nations) but also leaves you more likely to get caught!
Verdict: An unnecessary risk
Proof of Onward Travel FAQs
Is a train or bus ticket enough to prove your onward journey?
We’ve never tried this but many members of our South East Asia Backpacker Community have used bus and train tickets as proof of onward travel. You may need to smile a lot and be super friendly but by all reports, this method can work in Southeast Asia.
It pretty much comes down to the airline staff when you check in and the immigration officers at the other end. If you look trustworthy, behave in a friendly manner and offer no reason for people to dislike you, you’ll likely be fine. But that’s not a guarantee. If the airline employee or immigration officer is having a bad day, they may choose to take it out on you and not accept anything aside from a flight ticket.
So, it’s up to you… chances are you’d be okay with a bus or train ticket but that’s not a promise!
Will you get asked at land borders for proof of onward travel?
This is a grey area and good luck finding any official information — and no, long term backpackers and expats in Southeast Asia don’t actually count as “official sources.”
I want to stress, this is anecdotal but in our experience, there’s no need to carry proof of onward travel across land borders in Southeast Asia. Most border officials understand the region is a hotbed of backpackers wanting to go with the flow.
We’ve never been asked for proof of onward travel at land borders in Southeast Asia — and in all likelihood, you won’t be either!
Saying that, you should always plan to leave a country a day or two before your visa runs out, just in case something goes wrong. This way, you can book what is necessary; accommodation, a flight or a cheap onward train/bus ticket if required, without overstaying your visa!
Does a boat ticket count as proof of onward travel?
Much like bus and train tickets, using a boat ticket as proof of onward travel will work most of the time but isn’t a guarantee. It will depend on where you are. If you explain you’re taking the slow boat from Thailand to Laos, the border official is likely to let you through as this is a popular journey. However, if you explain you’ve got a ticket for a sailboat they might be a little more sceptical as this is an uncommon way of leaving a country.
So as with bus and train tickets, be friendly, polite and look as trustworthy as you can (whatever that means). And make sure you have a day or two left on your visa so you can make alternative arrangements if necessary!
Proof of Onward Travel: Southeast Asia Country Guide
Officially, Cambodia requires travellers to have valid proof of onward travel. Source. However, this is very rarely enforced — especially at land borders. Most of the South East Asia Backpacker team, as well as a ton of travellers in our Facebook Community, have crossed into Cambodia without being asked to show evidence of onward travel.
Officially, Indonesia requires travellers to have proof of onward travel. Source. This isn’t always enforced but as most travellers enter Indonesia by air* there’s a higher chance than being asked in other Southeast Asian nations.
*Indonesia only shares land borders with three nations: Malaysia (Borneo), Papua New Guinea (Papua) and East Timor (Timor).
You may be asked for proof of onward travel when entering Laos. It’s hard to find any official guidance on whether or not it’s required but we’ve heard plenty of stories of travellers being turned away at airports for not having onward travel arrangements. Anecdotally, it seems less likely that you’ll be asked when crossing a land border.
You may be asked for proof of onward travel when entering Malaysia. Not everyone is asked, but some people are. You’re more likely to be asked at an airport rather than a land border. Official documentation about this is hard to find but plenty of backpackers in Southeast Asia pass through Malaysian land borders each day without being asked.
When entering Myanmar, you may be asked for proof of onward travel. Official sources are hard to find but according to anecdotal experiences noted in our Facebook Community, close to 50% of travellers entering Myanmar are asked. The chances of being asked are higher if flying into Myanmar vs crossing a land border.
You’ll likely be asked to show proof of onward travel when entering the Philippines. Officially they require it. Source. If you are unable to produce this, entry to the country may be refused. Many travellers have been caught out trying to enter the Philippines without proof of onward travel, don’t be one of them!
Singapore sometimes requires proof of onward travel. Source. However, backpackers entering the country are very rarely asked to show it. If you are asked and you cannot provide evidence, you may be refused entry to the country.
Proof of onward travel is required for Thailand. Source. But it’s not always asked for or enforced. Plenty of travellers enter Thailand every day — by land or air — without being asked. I was asked for proof of onward travel when flying from London to Bangkok… I didn’t have any and after a brief friendly exchange, they let me on the flight. However, you might not be as lucky so it’s worth being prepared.
You may be asked for proof of onward travel when entering Vietnam. You’re more likely to need it if you enter the country under the visa exemption scheme. If you’re applying for the VOA (Visa On Arrival) online, you’re less likely to be asked. Many travellers have crossed into Vietnam without having to show anything.
Final Thoughts on Onward Travel
Having to provide proof of onward travel is just another bureaucratic pain in the ass that comes with travel. While most nations in Southeast Asia officially require it, they often don’t ask — and even when they do, there’s a chance you can talk your way out of the issue!
However, if you want to be safe, there are several ways to skirt the onward travel rules. You can book a refundable ticket, which can be cancelled after you’ve entered the country. Or ‘rent a ticket’ from an online provider.
Our favourite ticket rental services are:
Another option is to just find a cheap flight out of your destination country and book that — you don’t have to get on the plane just because you’ve paid for a seat. While this method works, it’s more expensive than just renting a ticket!