What Is Proof of Onward Travel?

A few weeks ago, I flew out of Fort Lauderdale airport with a one-way ticket to Lisbon. When I got to the ticketing booth, the agent asked, “Do you have a return flight to the US?”

For a moment I panicked - but fortunately, I work well under pressure. Truth is, I didn’t have a return flight to the US because my plan was to fly from Lisbon to Mallorca and maybe somewhere else, and I wasn’t sure when I was returning.

But really what she meant to ask was, “Do you have proof of onward travel?”

Proof of onward travel means pretty much what it sounds like: you have to show proof that you plan on leaving the country you’re visiting … basically, because every country wants to thwart illegal immigration and discourage people from overstaying their visas. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to return to your home country! You just need to fly somewhere else. Where that somewhere else is will be totally dependent on visa requirements, though. For example, if you have a passport from the USA, you can only stay in the Schengen Zone for a total of 3 months in any 6 month period. That means that you have to show proof that you’ll be leaving the zone entirely at some point within that time frame. Sometimes you can get lucky and fly, say from Portugal to Spain, and no one will ask any questions, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and not get caught looking like you’re trying to overstay your welcome.

So how do you show proof of onward travel if you’ve got no real plan or end in sight for your travels? You know, if you’re just going with the flow and globetrotting?

There are a few tricks of the trade that you can follow:

  1. Buy a flight out of the country you’ll be visiting from a site like Expedia or from an airline with a 24-hour refund policy. Once you land at your destination airport, you’ll have proof in your pocket in the form of a flight leaving on a future date. Then, when you’ve made it to the other side of customs, cancel the said flight and voila! You’ve bought yourself more time to figure out where your adventure will take you next!

  2. Use a proof of onward travel service like Onward Flights or Nomad Proof to get your hands on a not-quite-real-but-also-not-totally-illegal ticket that shows flight details but doesn’t actually allow you to board a plane. These services can be free or upward of a few dollars and will spare you from running the risk of buying a real ticket that ends up not being refundable.

  3. Buy yourself a one-way ticket via bus, train or boat to another country. These tickets cost less than a flight, so it won’t hurt your wallet if you miss your ride. Depending on the country you're in, these are usually enough proof to show that you plan to get out of dodge.

Regardless of how you plan your travels, make sure you know the visa requirements of everywhere you go and whether or not they require proof of onward travel. Without that knowledge, you can easily be barred from boarding your flight and even be deported back to your home country direct from your destination airport - and that is an expensive mistake to make.