Proof of Onward Travel

One of the annoying worries is the possibility of an airline asking for “proof of onward travel” before checking you into your flight. Airlines do this theoretically because they may be liable for getting you back out of the country. Airlines also check that you have a visa for the new country for this reason (which also confirms you have a passport).

It makes sense that they check that you have a passport with a visa for the destination. Still you could be rejected from entering even with the visa. If that happened I don’t see what good it would do to have a plan reservation in 50 days going somewhere. I suppose the country might push the responsibility for getting you out of the country to your departing airline but I seriously doubt it. If you claim you can pay to leave I would have to imagine if some other party gets stuck with the bill it is likely the airline that delivered you.

photo of Air Asia airplane at Yogyakarta, Indonesia airport

Air Asia airplane at Yogyakarta, Indonesia airport

I suppose it could also be the airline only gets stuck if you don’t have proof of onward travel. And if you have that proof they are still responsible for getting you back but someone else pays until someone can collect the money from you (and gets stuck with it if you never pay). This seems pretty unlikely for most “normal” travelers from rich countries that have credit cards which would just be billed for whatever cost there is.

It sure seems to me that credit cards should add a perk to “gold cards” (or even less fancy card types) that promise to bill whatever costs accrue due to you being forced out of the country to you (and just like other costs the credit card issuer is stuck paying the cost if you don’t pay them back).


On a related matter it would be nice if they added coverage for health care insurance (either to platinum cards, gold cards or something). There is a less common issue of “proof of health insurance” that can sometimes be an issue with visas. Though usually that is for longer term visas.

Another matter that such a card could be part of is the ever more common electronic visa. One of the issues countries have with visas is accessing the financial resources of the applicant. This is more visible in long term visa options but it is really usually the biggest part of the reason people from poor countries have much more trouble getting visas. If they could be given a stamp of “financial solvency” by a credit card verification service it would make things much better for them (not only is it harder for them to get visas – often no visa on arrival options – but also the time of stay can be shorter).

In any event it seems to me this whole area is one that we have much better ways to deal with today than historical legacies such as “proof of onward travel.” A credit card could pretty easily deal with taking responsibility for the costs of getting you out of the country. And my guess is the costs to the card companies would be tiny (and they woudl bill any cost to you anyway).

The world is complex and so this would only be a partial solution but still it would be useful for many people.

image of passport pages with visa stamps

Most people realize the proof the airlines get is most often not proof at all. Maybe they only require some fig leaf in order to claim they made an effort to get proof so they don’t get stuck with the bill? I can believe when you look at the entire globe for an entire year there are many cases of people ending up in a country they shouldn’t be (or shouldn’t be any longer) and they are completely broke and have noone to pay for them so someone is stuck paying to remove them. And I can believe airlines would be a favorite target of the countries (they don’t want to be paying for it themselves).

But what is needed is proof when you need to leave the country that it will be paid for. An obvious answer to proving this is a guarente from (Visa, American Express, Master Card…). That would be much more effective proof than some printed out “proof of onward travel.”

Granted this might only solve the problem for people with the right credit cards. But it is a constantly an issue raised on travel, nomad etc. web discussions and such a solution would have a ready made market I believe. It would have me, and my guess is many others also. It would be enough of an advantage to get me to get a card that offered this (even getting a gold card if that was the only option to get it). For long term international nomads dealing with proof of onward travel is just an annoying thing that should be eliminated.

In my personal experience I have only been asked for proof of onward travel once in maybe 10 times of flying on a 1-way ticket. The 1 time I was asked I just said I would be leaving the country in 1 or 2 months to the neighboring country but hadn’t decided on my plans yet.

My guess is my USA passport is a big part of the reason I was rarely asked. Also the travel was in SE Asia (and also Korea) and for SE Asia at least it is so common to travel without a long term itinerary it is likely SE Asia is one place this issue is enforced less than elsewhere. Also the flight costs are so cheap that it seems the airlines don’t really risk much. Also I probably look fairly respectable and so that decreases the odds they are going to worry about my proof of onward travel (that may not be fair but the reality is people making judgement will judge people by how they appear).

Related: Leaving on a Jet Plane (getting started as a digital nomad)Health Insurance Considerations for Digital NomadsTransfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers Not Banks And SaveFinding an International Business Bank as a Digital Nomad

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