Faux Onward Tickets
Sandy Bay (St. Vincent), St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Immigration control for some nations insist you to show them when and how you'll be leaving their country—an annoyance for many backpackers who intentionally travel without an itinerary.
Proof of onward travel is a safeguard used to keep a host nation from absorbing the deportation costs of a tourist/visitor who has depleted their funds while visiting the country. A simple and reasonable request for most travelers, this requirement can add stress and unnecessary expenses for an independent, budget-conscious backpacker.
Those travel guides that touch on the subject seem to hint (ever so subtly) at buying refundable tickets from a trusted airline, leaving the traveler to reclaim their cash once across the border. This always seemed like an awful headache to me, so I devised a simple alternative that should work most of the time.
Imagine yourself at the Customs and Immigration checkpoint of a typical developing country. There's a queue behind you of more than a dozen people, all waiting to get their entry stamps. These officials don't have access to flight reservation databases, and even if they did, verifying onward travel would only mean that much more work.
What would you want to see if the roles were reversed? Probably just a simple, legitimate-looking piece of paper with your name and flight information on it. There are two quick ways of producing this.
A brief stop into a travel agency can yield you an unpaid reservation/flight itinerary for the airline(s) of your choice. Simply tell the agent that you need to free up some funds (or whatever), and leave the office with an official looking, printed copy of your flight information. Walk back or phone later to cancel it if you're so inclined.
If you don't feel like manipulating a travel agent—which you probably shouldn't—the Internet provides the same opportunity for deceit. Create an account on Expedia and compose your own itinerary. Push ahead with the purchase until you see the credit card field you won't be filling out. Look around for a good screen to print out—just make sure you name's on it someplace.
In this age of electronic tickets, everyone is used to seeing shoddy inkjet printouts of travel arrangements, government officials included. If your ruse doesn't work, apologize for your lack of acceptable paperwork and get ready to for whatever awaits—remember, it's all a part of the adventure!
Update: Expedia.com Creation Tutorial
- Create an account on Expedia with the name indicated on your passport (note: this single account can be used to create profiles for more than one traveler)
- Search for a one way flight that will take you out of the country with the onward travel requirement. Some governments will not accept an onward ticket to a neighboring country as proof of onward travel, while others insist it must return you to your home country—so it's best to pick a destination that's very recognizable (such as Seattle, London, Berlin, Melbourne, etc). A recognizable destination will also aid in the manipulation of the airline/immigration official, as discussed later. Additionally, research the maximum number of days you can be granted upon arrival and push your fictitious departure ticket out to that future date.
- Select a flight path that works for you—regardless of the cost. I personally select flights with more connections, as they fill up a printed page with more detail (but don't select the wildly overpriced fares simply because they have more connections).
- Agree to the terms and conditions and proceed to the booking/payment screen. This page allows you to review your itinerary before payment, and is what will ultimately be printed out. You won't be entering any credit card information, as you won't actually be purchasing this ticket.
- Under the second numbered bullet, entitled "Review the charges," click on the hyperlink labeled "Show Flight details." This will expand the box containing the link, revealing the details of the itinerary you won't be buying.
- Check to make sure your name is listed next to the "Traveler name" field, and that the departure date and airports are those desired.
- Use the mouse to highlight the section of the page starting with bullet number two, and ending after bullet number three.
- Print just the highlighted selection, and only the selection—on a PC this will be an option on printing dialogue box that is displayed before printing. Printing in grayscale (black and white) is recommended. Note: I've found the the Firefox browser needs some tweaking when printing—under Setup, adjust the document to print at 88% (instead of shrinking to fit).
- Use a bright highlighter (not yellow, which can be lost under florescent lights) to accentuate the most important areas of the document (such as the traveler name, departure date, departure airport, arrival airport, and the cost of the flight—reinforcing the illusion that you've paid for the ticket). Drawing the eye of the airline/immigration agent to what you want them to look at is a crucial part of this process. It's a subtle manipulation tactic, but very effective.
- Finish up by folding up the document and putting it in a pocket before checking in at the airline counter or passing through an immigration checkpoint on the ground. If you're at an airport and have a real printout that you're going to hand to the airline agent, be sure to highlight and store the legitimate document in a similar manner for consistency.