Fake Onward Ticket

Fake Onward Flight Tickets
     Many people freak out when I start talking about this, that I am aiding and abetting in a serious crime and afraid that if they try it, they will get thrown in some dank airport gulag. What I am proposing isn’t for everybody and I will address the common concerns, but I advocate making fake onward flight tickets. These fake travel tickets can come in handy at border crossings and for visa applications, but they are most useful in conjunction with taking one-way flights.

No, not this kind of ticket---an e-ticket!

     No, not this kind of ticket.

The Situation
     When you check in for an international flight and the agent notices in the reservation system that there is no return or onward ticket, they might ask if you have a ticket for your next flight. They will say that it is an immigration requirement. For a long time I have always been able to brush this aside by explaining that I would buy the next ticket when I am there. If they look skeptical, I try and alleviate their concerns by saying I have money, I have credit cards, I have been there before, I would open my passport to show I travel a lot, and it has always worked.
     However, about five years ago I was in Hong Kong for a Cebu Pacific Air flight to Cebu, Philippines, and the check-in agent wasn’t having any of it. I said I had sufficient funds––which was good enough for United Airlines to hear when they let me on a one-way flight to Hong Kong in the first place—but in the end I was forced to buy a refundable, onward ticket from them.Singapore to Malaysia ticket
     Of course, when I arrived in the Philippines, immigration in Cebu could care less and never asked for it. This is usually the case. Immigration officers rarely ask; it’s the airlines who enforce this. Whether it’s the airlines or immigration, they just want to see a piece of paper. I’ve never had anyone literally check to see if my bogus reservation was valid. I have been asked to show a reservation on maybe 15-20% of the one-way international flights I’ve taken, and each time it has only been glanced at.
     You never know when you will need to present it. I flew into Singapore once and immigration asked where I was going next. I said Malaysia and they asked to see a ticket. I said I was going by public bus—not a ticket you can buy ahead of time—and that was that, but I have read of other travelers not getting off so easily. (When dealing with immigration, generally, it is always good to be polite and have a quick, confident answer for everything, even impertinent questions such as your occupation. I also dress reasonably well and smile a lot, both underrated things.)

The Motivation
     The reason I find myself making fake travel tickets is because I never know how long I want to stay in a country. I like traveling with one-way tickets in an open-ended, go-where-I-feel style. I rarely plan anything when I travel; more often than not, I don’t know where I am sleeping from night to night. (I try and wax poetic about the beauty and philosophy of one-way tickets here.)
     For other travelers it can be as simple as wishing to stay longer or shorter than they intended. This undervalued reason, serendipitous travel, is in direct opposition to the airlines’ policies of charging an arm and a leg to change flight dates—if they allow any changes at all.

The Background
     The reasoning behind the onward ticket requirement is that the destination country doesn’t want you to overstay your visa, search for work, or run out of money and become their problem. An onward ticket acts as a sort of bond that you really are a tourist and are leaving. Sometimes they will ask for a return ticket to your home country, but that’s rare and I’ve always argued successfully that I’m not heading directly back. (A fellow traveler describes the problem he had in Barbados where “proof of onward journey” wasn’t enough.)
     I don’t know if it is a law or rule or regulation, but “law” sounds harsh, and breaking the law sounds, well, illegal. Let’s call it a regulation but let’s also use this as the page theme song since no one can get enough of cheesy 1980’s metal videos.
     I believe that the regulation is intended for people with lesser means; they generally aren’t worried about relatively rich westerners staying longer than allowed who can easily pay a fine upon leaving if they overstay, but towards citizens of poorer countries more likely to look for work and become a burden. Of course, with cheap airline tickets these days, an onward ticket isn’t much of a barrier to overstaying.
     I’ve heard that airlines do this because they are liable for flying you back if you are denied entry or they must pay a fine for allowing you to board the flight. I don’t know what’s true, but I do know it is the airlines who have the opportunity to profit from it and they do have the power to deny you boarding.

     No, not this kind of ticket, but an e-ticket.

The Solution
     How do I make the fake? I simply take an old e-ticket reservation and edit it as a Word document. I find a real flight with a real departure time and flight number, preferably a smaller airline that doesn’t fly from the place you are flying out, so it will be harder to confirm. For example, at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, when I was checking in to fly to Recife, Brazil, I had a printout for an onward flight two months later (Americans can stay in Brazil for three months) from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Montevideo, Uruguay, on PLUNA, Uruguay’s national airline. It was perfect because PLUNA doesn’t fly from Recife nor Frankfurt and wasn’t in the same alliance as the airline I flew with, meaning it might be hard to verify quickly.
     I sometimes invent an old-school email confirmation. Again, I have done this many, many times. The most it is has ever been more than mildly scrutinized is by Cebu Pacific. On my last flight to the Philippines with them a few months ago, the agent had a good look at it, but I could tell she was checking that the flight was within the 30-day limit of my tourist visa.
     Since I’ve never had anyone challenge me on my printout, I don’t know what wouldn’t work. A friend told me he got caught out this way at an airport once when checking in, but the airline agent took pity and told him to simply go to the airline office in the airport and get a printout of a schedule so the agent could say he was presented with something tangible.
     Instead of worrying about this nonsense, one semi-sensible solution is to do what Air Tahiti Nui did when I flew one-way from Los Angeles to Paris ($269 on Airtech––cha ching!) long ago: have me sign a release of liability saying it is my problem if immigration in France has any issues with me.

The Alternatives
     Some people suggest buying a full fare (i.e. expensive), refundable ticket and then cancelling the ticket and getting a refund after you have arrived. That is a valid option, but often it isn’t easy to get the refund, it takes time, there could be fees, and it’s a lot of money up front for a refundable ticket. In my Cebu Pacific Air experience, after a couple of lengthy visits to their crowded office and long waits on the phone, they said it would take months to get a refund. I then had to get my credit card company involved because it would be too late for me to file a claim…it was a pain.
     Another alternative that I do not recommend is bribery. For me, that’s crossing the line unless you are able to read the situation very clearly to know that a bribe is expected, but I’m an idiot and the last to figure these things out. It very much depends on where you are, what the specific point of contention is, who you are dealing with, etc.
     I can think of only two times I blatantly passed along a bribe. Once was long ago when I flew into Bali on a one-way ticket and the guy told me I had to go to an airline counter on the spot and buy an onward ticket or else he wasn’t going to stamp my passport in, but US$10 in my passport solved this problem. Other travelers told me they had done the same thing, so I anticipated it.
     Another time I was going overland from Costa Rica into Panama and they wanted to see an onward ticket. I showed a ticket leaving Costa Rica two weeks later, but, inexplicably, this wasn’t acceptable. After much polite arguing, I asked if I could pay a “fine” for my transgression and I believe it cost me $10. Both were cheap solutions, but are much more fraught with risk.

No, not this kind of fake ticket either

     No, not this kind of ticket!

The Exceptions
     Who maybe shouldn’t try this are people from developing countries who are more likely to have their information vetted and could suffer the consequences. Also, I doubt all countries react the same. The country with the most high-strung immigration is probably my own: USA, but the European Union could be prickly, too.
     If someone ever took the time to look in a computer for the ticket (I’m not sure they can check beyond their own airline or another airline with whom they have a codeshare agreement, which is why you need to take care about how you go about this as I showed in the PLUNA example above) and said something’s amiss, I would say that someone else booked the ticket for me because I was having a problem with my credit card. If they didn’t blink first, I don’t know what I would do at that point, maybe buy a refundable ticket.

The Last Word
     I understand some people feel uncomfortable doing this. I do it reluctantly. It’s not my nature. I’m not a person prone to deception—I get a guilt trip jaywalking—but my conscience is clear in this case because I am respecting the spirit of the law—I mean, regulation: I’m not looking for work and I don’t intend to overstay (though I wavered in Brazil; it’s that good.) I merely wish to have the freedom to leave the country when I want to within the time limit of my visa.
     Someday soon I may get caught and something bad might happen as a result. All the naysayers will gleefully gloat at my expense, but I consider it like hitchhiking: it has worked so well for me for so long, that if something bad were to happen, all the good that came before still makes it worth it.
     Right. Um, you’ll visit me in the gulag, won’t you?

     What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Different approach? Any interesting immigration stories? Don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts.


Fake Onward Ticket — 39 Comments

  1. …an old e-ticket reservation, a Word document, and you’re ready to go. I do exactly the same and so far there were no interesting immigration stories. I hope you notice that there’s a slight disappointment here. Well, maybe at least. So Kent, don’t worry, you won’t be alone out there in the labor camps…

  2. I didn’t bother with the Word document. I simply took a confirmed-via-email *reservation* and forwarded it to myself–but first, because I could then edit the original message after prompting the forward, I over-wrote the word “reservation” and typed “confirmation”. This was then automatically in the same unique font as the airline. I sent it to myself and printed it minus the headers.

  3. Great blog post! I was about to write about something similar since I WAS denied boarding before on a one-way ticket. I managed to get around it as well, though it was the ticketing agency who suggested the alternative for me: to issue me another ticket which then they’d cancel later and I only had to pay the cancellation fee of 40 USD. I was then young and skeptical but too broke for my own good. So I did was told and managed to arrive in Amsterdam, unscathed. However at transiting in Cairo (it was Egypt Airlines), the officer there did ask me to dig out my ‘real/fake’ ticket and examined it… and then, he nodded (cue the Hallelujah chorus) and let me go. If not, I guess, I’d probably be your cellmate…*shrugs*

    Anyway, I’ll definitely link you back since I think this is a great resource for wanderers on a very thin shoestring… 😉

  4. can someone contact me and help me create a fake ticket? email me and I will tell you what i need. Thank you so much!

  5. Awesome, I work as an executive assistant, my bosses travel a lot, so maybe I have found a market to sell their confirmation emails from CWT – any takers?? 😉
    Just kidding, great post and useful to know,thanks!

  6. Expedia booking. You can cancel within 24 hours but still have your ticket confirmation. I guess the risk of this is if they actually want to confirm your ticket which has not happened to me yet (knock on wood)

  7. All Expedia bookings are like that? They never loudly announce these customer-friendly policies, do they!
    Are you just trying this now? Let me know what happens?

  8. Does anyone know how to create a fake one way for national travel within the USA?

  9. Oops sorry, it’s a fake ticket confirmation not a fake boarding pass. Making a fake boarding pass would be pretty stupid and get you in a lot of trouble 🙂

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  12. Anybody can tell me how to create a dummy air ticket,
    Like to give it to a friend as a gift for Xmas towards a trip next year,
    Please email me

  13. I once had the agent in las vegas somewhat threaten me that these things are investigated by some agency(she must have noticed some error I made). I said I glad those guys are around to keep us safe in the air! Of course the final destination ticket agents knew better that there was never a problem with one way tickets and didn’t ask nor care.

  14. “For example, at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, when I was checking in to fly to Recife, Brazil, I had a printout for an onward flight two months later (Americans can stay in Brazil for three months) from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Montevideo, Uruguay, on PLUNA, Uruguay’s national airline.”

    Kindly please let me know when you presented the onward flight to Uruguay, did you also present the visa of Uruguay.
    I will fly from Frankfurt to Mexico. I wanna book an onward flight instead of return ticket. I will stay in Mexcico until next Feburary. So if I apply for the visa of Uruguay right now, it won’t work anymore next year. I plan to get the visa when I am in Mexico. That’s why I am wondering if possible to check in with an onward ticket but without the visa.

  15. You should pick a country where you don’t need a visa, and Americans don’t need visas for Uruguay. Uruguay was just an example, but it is a bad example to use if you are going to Mexico because it is too far away and it will be suspicious. Your situation is a little risky, but the ticket is more important than the visa because the person checking you in at the airport will probably not know visa requirements for third countries for foreigners–but they might ask about it.
    I doubt Chinese (are you Chinese?) need visas for Central American countries.

  16. Yes I am Chinese and I need visa to all the American countries. Actually I haven’t planned the exact country I am going to, but I am pretty sure that I will travel in South America. Costa Rica is pretty close to Mexico. As they do require the onward ticket, so I may have to book one.
    All the countries where I don’t need a visa are as far as my country from Mexico. So does that mean the only chioce for me here is booking a return ticket?

  17. Are you sure about Chinese needing visas to Guatemala and Belize? Panama? I would be surprised if you do for all Central American countries. In Nicaragua the Chinese are building another canal! Yes, Costa Rica is a little tough about the onward ticket requirement, as they asked when I went overland!
    Is a return ticket similar in cost to a one-way?
    If you decide to make a fake ticket and you don’t need a visa to a Central American country, I would make it for that. Let me know what happens!

  18. I have booked the one-way ticket already. And Cause I will travel in Russia first, then fly from Moscow to Cancun, so a round-trip ticket for me also is not a good choice.
    I have checked online, there are a few countries in central or south America where I don’t need visas, such as Bahamas, Aruba. Possible?

  19. or maybe a fake ticket to Turkey? I can get its evisa immidiately. Will they suspect it?

  20. I always make fake tickets when flying into Philippines. The check in counters all demand to see exit tickets out of Philippines

  21. Yes, I learned that the hard way. Do you think it is just a way to make some extra money or are they concerned about people overstaying?

  22. I use onwardflights.com when I have need an onward ticket when ever I travel to the philippines. Works every time without an issue!

  23. can i book the tickets onward to malaysia from philippines for februvary 2017 by onwardflghts.com or i have to do it within 24 to 48 hours?

  24. I’ve never used the service, and I’m not sure if the 24-hour rule applies internationally. The other question is how long is your visa in Philippines good for? If you get it on arrival, usually it is for 30 days only, so a Feb 2017 ticket won’t help.

  25. Some of the immigration rules stem from reciprocity and hurt feelings. Hong Kong is strict about return/onward tickets for arriving Filipinos so to “get even” the Philippines made the same rule. I remember when the US started the rule that Brazilians could only apply for US visas in Brazil and not a third country. Brazil then immediately enacted the same rule for Americans. I was living in Mexico City at the time and it was a real nuisance. In fact I suspect the only reason Brazil requires Americans to have visas at all is because the US requires Brazilians to have them. Too bad because this stuff has a real impact on tourism. From Hong Kong I would go to Vietnam for weekend getaways but the nuisance and planning and cost of the Visa just tips the scales to not going.

  26. I also create fake tickets by editing old real ones on word. It’s getting harder because many tickets are now in highly formatted PDF and can’t be easily edited without special skills. So the old Word plain text format is getting outdated. While the risk is very low, technically presenting a false document to an immigration officer is a serious offense in most countries. That’s why it’s OK to present to an airline check in clerk but I’d think twice about showing to an actual immigration officer. Their systems are getting more sophisticated.

  27. Thanks for writing. Great comments!
    Yes, the Brazil-USA visa squabble is exactly as you describe. It sucks. I wish it was easier for me to go down more.
    I also agree with you about the fake ticket. I would think twice before showing it to an immigration officer. Airline staff are usually too busy to give it much thought.

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