Proof of onward travel?

My partner recently traveled on Cathay Pacific from Toronto to Denpasar via Hong Kong on a Canadian passport. At the check-in desk, the agent demanded proof of onward travel from Bali. While we had something booked, all that information was with me and not with him (he was traveling alone). The agent said “you are not traveling today.” At this point it was nighttime where I was, and he couldn’t get a hold of me and was scrambling what to do. This article will explain the requirement for proof of onward travel, and what to do if you encounter a problem with it, and help you avoid being denied boarding.


Many countries require as part of their entry requirements proof of onward travel, that is, a ticket booked that leaves the country within the regulatory period. Airlines have an obligation to ensure that a passenger complies with the entry requirements for their destination, and if the destination requires proof of onward travel, the airline may ask you to show a reservation to allow you to fly. If you don’t have proof, these are the steps I’d recommend taking in order to avoid being denied boarding:

(1) Make sure you actually require proof of onward travel

While some countries require proof of onward travel, not all do. In my partner’s case, the agent erred, as Indonesia does not require proof of onward travel for Canadian citizens. An agent can only contractually enforce the destination’s entry requirements if they are indeed requirements. In this case, if my partner was actually prevented from flying due to the airline relying on a non-requirement, there’s certainly a case for breach of contract, but that’s neither here nor there.

To check whether your destination requires proof of onward travel, take a look at TIMATIC, the system airlines use to determine entry requirements. A publicly accessible version of TIMATIC is located on the Emirates website. If you don’t actually require proof of onward travel, you may wish to point that out to the agent. However, sometimes agents are stubborn or ignorant, or you actually do require proof of onward travel, in which case…

(2) Book a fully refundable outbound ticket (that you don’t intend to use)

You can easily book a fully refundable onward ticket out of your destination country in order to generate the required booking confirmation, show that confirmation to the agent (and/or border official if needed), and then promptly cancel and refund the booking if you don’t intend to use it. For example, my partner could have excused himself, gone to Expedia, and booked a fully refundable flight from Denpasar to Delhi, shown that confirmation to the agent, and then canceled the booking right away. He would have satisfied the agent, and not lost a penny.


In my partner’s case, the agent was somehow satisfied by a confirmation of a flight much later in our trip (Doha – Berlin), which makes absolutely no sense… anyways, if you ever face a demand for onward travel and you can’t comply, following the above steps will help ensure that you make your flight.

Comments

  1. Once, while enroute from the US to Mongolia with a stopover in Beijing, I realized that I had nothing to show to Chinese authorities to prove that I would be in their nation less than 24 hours (now it’s 72 hours).

    So, I logged in to the airline website during the flight and did a screen capture of my itinerary. Showing that to the passport-control person was adequate proof, and she let me pass.

  2. Like Holiday Baker Man, Tripit has come to my rescue on this a few times now. I always keep everything in there. I have the app loaded on my wife’s phone and my father’s phone so everyone also always knows where I am/where I’m staying, phone # of hotel in an emergency, etc.

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