Problems Caused By One-Way Tickets for Everyone Including Round the World Travelers

by brian on January 28, 2010

We talked previously about one-way tickets and the problems they may cause, which seemed to cause more confusion than anything else.

Some people have had no problems entering a country. Someone else may have to buy a departure plane ticket or has been sent straight back to the originating country.

Nothing is consistent.

I reached out to travelers all around the world for stories when they were prevented from entering a country…or at least asked more questions than usual about their one-way tickets.

These are their stories…(Cue the Law and Order sound)

From Edward:
I read about people traveling from the UK (London) to Mexico with a plane change in Atlanta. At Atlanta, United States customs sent them back to Europe, forbidding them to travel to Mexico, because they had not decided which Latin American country they would go to from Mexico on their holiday. Hence they had no onward ticket from Mexico. A personoid from Triton, a moon of Neptune, might ask “But isn’t that the Mexican government’s business?” A personoid from Nereid, another moon of Neptune, might ask “Why did they have to go through US customs at all?” When I traveled Detroit-Istanbul via Amsterdam, I did not have to enter/exit the Schengen area in Schipol Airport — that airport is laid out so cleverly that the Schengen passport control area is NOT between the arrival gate from Detroit and the departure gate to Istanbul. The passport control area IS between the arrival gate from Detroit and the departure gate to Helsinki — Helsinki is in FInland and Finland is in the Schengen area. How clever!

So understand that passing through a country can be an issue. But you’re never sure where that can happen. This is exactly what happened to me. I switched from Vietnam Airlines to Thai Airways, which means I had to pass through the regular screening process.

From Joe:
I was in Brazil & had to return to the States for work during the middle of my trip to Salvador. So I purchased a ticket SSA (Salvador, Bahia)- MIA (Miami International)- SSA (Salvador, Bahia) on American Airlines When I went to return to Brazil, the ticket agent in MIA made me show evidence that I had a return ticket back to the US before he would give me the boarding pass to use this return ticket to Brazil. Fortunately, I had this other trip’s itinerary with me since it was on another airline.

This example supports your point about using one way tickets internationally. And even traveling in the US, when I am flying only one way, I’m more likely to be selected for extra screening.

From Traveling G:
I was in Vietnam and had a one-way ticket to Manila on Cebu Pacific, but they wouldn’t let me check-in because I didn’t have an onward ticket out of Manila. No problem, I said, I’ll just buy one now since I’m at the airport, but they said they couldn’t sell Cebu Pacific tickets. It was around midnight and the only ticket counter open was Vietnam Airlines. So I went over there and they told me I had to buy a full-fare one-way open ticket from Vietnam Airlines to go from Manila to Hong Kong even though Vietnam Airlines didn’t fly that route and even though I wasn’t planning on going to Hong Kong. They tried to explain that somehow the ticket could be used on Philippine Airlines but couldn’t offer me any printed information that stated that.

I said, instead of that, why don’t I buy a ticket either to where I’m planning to go next or to somewhere that your airline flies, but they said that I should buy this specific ticket and just get the refund later, minus a $15 fee. So I went ahead and got it so I could board the flight. After I arrived, I went to the ticket office to get the refund, and they gave me a refund receipt but, as I found out later, they didn’t actually credit it back to my card. It took another 3 months and many phone calls, but I’m happy to say that the refund was finally processed.

Read on so that this does not happen to you

donotenter Problems Caused By One Way Tickets for Everyone Including Round the World Travelers

From Katia:
Well I went to South Korea in 2008 with a round trip ticket. I decided to stay in Korea more time but I lost my return ticket. I go out from South Korea and come back every 3 months to get a new visa (tourist). So one day I go to Japan on Asiana Airlines and back and they don’t allow me in Korea, because I’m living in Korea , not just a tourist there. I go to this migration room. They asked me everything!! What I’m doing in Korea etc. They even checked if my boyfriend is in Korea or not.
I was forced to stay in a room at the airport for ONE WEEK. They pushed me to buy a ticket to MEXICO. I said everyday that I don’t have any money. The airline tried to sell me a ticket and when I said again I couldn’t pay, they came back with a free ticket to Mexico.
If the country you go to doesn’t allow you to enter, you are the problem of the airline. Those are the rules between the airline and the country. The airline gave me free food all that week. They have instructions not to give a boarding pass if you don’t have a valid visa or a return ticket. If the airlines don’t follow the instructions of the country, they have to take care of you.
From Q:
I did not have problems per se, but leaving HK for Ho Chi Minh City, I had to provide detailed information as to where I was staying and why I only had a one way ticket. It was because I was traveling with Intrepid Travel through Vietnam, through Cambodia, ending in Thailand.

I never felt hassled, I felt it was just routine questioning. I did not have to go through extra security or anything like I have in the US, but then again, I was flying Business class. The airline was Cathay Pacific.

From Gary:
I wasnt denied entry, but had issues entering French Polynesia from Easter Island. I was going to buy my ticket out of Tahiti from Easter Island, but they only issued paper tickets at the time.
When I went through immigration, they made me purchase a $1,000 ticket to LA which I could refund the next day (which of course raises the question, if I could refund it, why bother making me get it??)

French territories in the Pacific are the only places that I’ve had check on my outbound tickets.

From Stephen:
What country gave you problems?
Flying from Paris to New York in 1995

Were you told at the airport when you landed that you would be denied? At the airport of departure?
At the point of departure in Paris

Were you forced to buy a departure ticket or if you already landed in the country in question, were you forced to take the next flight out?
Yes

Were you questioned by airport security or airline desk agents? How did you verify that you had a departure ticket or had legitimate reasons for being there on a one way ticket?
No – simply told to buy a return ticket from New York back to Paris before I could leave.

So what did we learn?
Get the visa in advance
This is something I tried to do before I left on my round the world trip. Not only does it save time when you land at the airport, it seems you had your name run through databases before you were issues a visa. This is no guarantee they’ll let you enter but seems to better the odds.

I did this for Ethiopia even though I could of gotten it at the airport. Thinking back on the LONG line for Customs/Immigration when I arrived in Addis Ababa, I’m glad I did it before I left.

I recommend a site like Project Visa to figure out the requirements before you arrive. Unfortunately I found no such resource for one-way tickets and whether it was a requirement of the country or the airline.

This is also a problem if the country does not have a visa requirement for your nationality. Sometimes all you get is a stamp in your passport when you arrive. No formal application or large sticker that goes in your passport.

Cross borders over land

Crossing borders on bus or by foot does not seem to be a problem. Only if you decided to go by air did the lack of a departure ticket cause a problem.
I felt like if things were not in order at a border crossing, things can happen for “an extra price”, especially in Southeast Asia. I would not expect for that to happen at an airport where there is more scrutiny and accountability.
Forced to buy a ticket? Get a refundable ticket or ticket where the dates can be changed
This was the strategy of a few of our travelers. The airlines tried to work with them and show them ways they could fly.
Airlines seem to want to help the customer, but they have regulations to follow set by governments. So they try to tell you ways around the conditions while satisfying the departure ticket requirement. Fortunately for airlines it means you need to buy that ticket.

Any more suggestions on one-way tickets? Been held up at an airport because you had no proof you were going to leave?
Let us know in the comments below.
Good travels everyone!

Photo Credit: striatic

468x60 Problems Caused By One Way Tickets for Everyone Including Round the World Travelers

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Mosher January 29, 2010 at 12:16 PM

Having a "busy" passport with lots of stamps helps.

On my first visit to Oz I *had* an onward ticket (I was passing through from Singapore on the way to NZ). What I didn't have was a visa… "I'm British – I don't need one". WRONG.

Nobody queried me when I checked in or boarded. I was taken politely to one side when I arrived, asked how I'd boarded the flight and given a standard tourist visa free of charge (at the time it was around £30). The airline I flew with, Tiger, will have received a bill for $10,000 for allowing me on the flight, I believe. Ow.

Nobody asked for my onward ticket, though I did volunteer it.

On another visit I landed in Perth from KL on a one-way as I wasn't too sure where I was going next (it ended up being Japan). I got the usual questions from the nice man at the desk until he reached:

"How are you funding your trip?"

Well, I sold my house and I'm using the cash to backpack around the…

"You sold you *house*?!"

Never tell an immigration official that you've sold your house and have no other source of income.

This time, the passport full of stamps worked in my favour as I'd been travelling for almost 3 years at that point. It seemed fairly obvious that I was an "experienced" traveller and I was ushered on my way.

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davestravelgear January 29, 2010 at 8:04 PM

I had an episode traveling to Mexico a few years ago, couldn't find a direct flight for a 6 month trip, so had to settle for one stop in Houston!
While going through passport control in Houston, I was abruptly told that I could not take the follow on flight, as my return was in 6 months, apparently, America only allows 3 months, even though I was not leaving the airport or going anywhere in the US, so I had to go to another part of the airport to change my ticket for a flight in 3 months time, at my expense!
My suitcase had already been transfered and I was not sure that I would make the flight in time, which changed gates 3 times, luckily, due some frantic running on my part, I just managed to make it………….but never again!!

If you do have a round the world ticket (or more like, multiple tickets!), check that your luggage allowance is valid for every flight, I had an 8 month, 10 country book of tickets, which amounted to 12 flights (ended up doing 18 with side trips), that stated that my weight limit was 23kg, which I managed with no problem, until I got to Melbourne, Australia, and had an internal flight to Hobart in Tasmania, where the limit was no where near that, so had to pay the excess!
It clearly stated on my ticket my allowance was 23kg, and give the stewardess her due, she was going to let me off, but her supervisor was watching, and he wouldn't budge!
On the flight back to Sydney, I thought I would run into the same problem, but I had a great chat with the guy who checked me in, and he let it go….good man, sometimes common sense prevails!!

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brian January 30, 2010 at 11:38 AM

@Mosher
Only problem is, what happens if you have a 'virgin' passport because you're a new traveler.

The fact that the airline was fined points that the airline is responsible for enforcing the rules. That makes sense in my case since Thai Air put the clamps on me.

@davestravelgear
So if I understand correctly, you were forced to purchase a 3 month return FROM Mexico as opposed to a 6 month because the US does not allow stays longer than 3 months, even though you were not stopping in the US?

Regulations like this are rumored to be part of the reason why the US lost out on the 2016 Olympics. Many have complained of problems just passing through the US to connect to other countries, even when they had no intention of leaving the US airport.

Good advise about the luggage limit. The carrier with the most restrictive weight requirements is the one you should using as guideline.

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Anonymous January 30, 2010 at 2:46 PM

I am a virgin traveler planning an RTW trip US–>SE Asia–>S. Asia–>Africa–>Middle East–>E. Europe–>US. I plan on using surface transit as much as possible and getting tickets as I go. I have wondered and worried about this issue. One thing I am doing is using TripIt to create and update an itinerary (have on hand at entry/departure points). Most destinations want those flying in to have a RT ticket, forwarding ticket OR an itinerary. I know that usually refers to a tour group itinerary but I have read others who used this or something like it with success. TripIt uses confirmations to create the itinerary so it has some degree of verification and looks business-like (this is not a promo, honest). Also, I will bring any info about next leg travel with me such as reservations (bus/ferry/train) where possible or print out of the planned transit (when no reservation exists) and proof of funds (bank acc’t balance print out). I will, of course, dress to impress, or at least ditch the shorts and tee for pants and collar shirt, and be polite and patient on travel days. Hopefully the combination will do the trick. As far as visas go, I will be on the road for 12-18 months so I can't get all of them before hand, many would expire, so I will get some as I go as well. I'm putting together a detailed spread sheet on visa requir. to be prepared and will update along the way.

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Mosher January 30, 2010 at 3:23 PM

Anon, honestly I think you're being over-cautious… but it can't hurt.

I'd not worry about wearing smart clothes for arrivals. Most 12-18 month travellers *look* like they're travelling! But, yes, always be polite. Most arrivals staff are fine, but some can be really officious. They do have to "randomly" pick a certain number of people for extra checking – don't give them an excuse for it to be you.

When I started travelling I carried an itinerary, booked in advance, kept printouts of my bank balance. And I honestly don't think I ever had to produce them.

Most often I was asked where I'd be staying. If you're crashing with friends, have their address. Heck, if the immigration card asks for somewhere – put *anything*. They only seem to pull you up if you leave it blank. Punishment for honesty – got to love it.

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Shannon OD January 30, 2010 at 10:52 PM

Great post Brian – it's one of those hassles that you just don't hear talked about. I nearly had a break down on my trip when the Melbourne airport wouldn't let me file into Thailand because I had a one-way ticket. It caused a huge issue and ended up costing me a good deal of money to find internet and buy a one-way out of the country!

I feel lucky though because some of these are truly horrendous stories!

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brian January 31, 2010 at 1:38 PM

@Anon
For me, the bank account statement is just too much. If I was going to stay for months or apply for residency or citizenship I understand. But not if I'm just passing through.

You seem well prepared. The ground transportation option seems like a better way for one-way travel. The govt can't fine a big airline for breaking rules.

@Mosher
Yeah I would not worry about dressing smart more than being annoying or making a ticket agent or Customs agent angry.

Humans are funny like that. Piss them off and they'll want to take revenge anyway they can. If that means holding you up in a detention room because things aren't perfect in your story or paperwork, they'll do it.

Be polite, calm and smile and that is half the battle.

@Shannon OD
I felt compelled to investigate further because there have been previous commenters who said you won't have a problem if you're dressed well and polite. From the variety of people this has happened to and the places it has happened, it all could be who is looking at your ticket and whether they want to be a stickler for the rules at that particular moment.

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Cheap Amsterdam Hotels February 1, 2010 at 6:14 PM

I always prefer return ticket as it offers more value for money.I plan my travel well in advance so getting a return ticket is not a problem for me.

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Budget Your Trip February 1, 2010 at 11:47 PM

Great post! I had been nervous about buying one way tickets on our round the world trip but we were lucky and had no problems. We mainly spent time in Africa, the Middle East and India/Nepal. I think some of the problems are very country specific.

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brian February 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM

@Cheap Amsterdam Hotels
Understandable. But sometimes the best laid plans means suddenly having to take a one-way trip somewhere.

@Budget Your Trip
Indeed some of the problems are country specific but what we are finding it that it is not consistent. Seems more like who the airline is or customer agent has more to do with it than anything else.

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Katie February 4, 2010 at 6:50 PM

I am currently investigating this problem as I want to fly into South Africa & then travel overland to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda. I then want to fly to either the West Coast or Morocco. I would like to hear from anyone who has managed this & whether they had any problems with no proof of onward travel. I am thinking I will have to buy a bus ticket before I get to South Africa as I know they won't let you in. Has anyone tried this & does it work?

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Reggie Willett April 15, 2011 at 11:45 AM

Greetings Everyone!
I am trying to get a one way ticket from Miami, Florida stopping in Manila, Philippines for about 21 days ending in Hong Kong after my stop in Manila. I appreciate any input on this
Thanks in advance,
Reggie

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brian April 16, 2011 at 8:25 PM

I really don’t know what to tell you. Policies are very inconsistent from government to government and airline to airline. You can call the airline and ask if the return ticket is required by the government of the final destination. Since you’re going to Hong Kong I would get a return ticket since I got stopped in Bangkok on my way to Hong Kong. You can even buy a cheap ticket on AirAsia for $40-$50 just to show you plan on leaving at some point. You could be forced to by ticket at the airport before boarding the flight which could cost an arm and a leg.

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John Peden October 19, 2011 at 5:18 AM

A truly fascinating post, I travelled extensively around SE Asia but thinking back many of my one-way trips were internal. I found that it was often cheaper to buy a return ticket anyway so I never encountered this problem.

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brian October 20, 2011 at 10:32 PM

It may be the bigger airlines or certain countries enforcing it, but it definitely happens. I got into trouble trying to get from Cambodia via Vietnam and Thailand to Hong Kong.

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Larry Young November 16, 2011 at 11:39 PM

As a US citizen traveling from Hong Kong to Manila on Cathay Pacific, the Cathay Pacific folk told me I couldnt board for Manila without showing an onward ticket leaving Manila. I in fact -had- an onward ticket booked with Asiana airline, and could show my printed itinerary, but Cathay Pacific said they needed a -ticket-, and that a printed itinerary was not sufficient.
I pointed out that I havent seen a physical ticket in years …. its always an e-ticket …. but they wouldnt let me board until at the very last conceivable moment they managed to get ahold of Asiana airlines and confirm my onward ticket. This took hours, partly because it was too early in the morning and Asiana’s desk wasnt staffed, and in the end I had to sprint a long way to the airplane, with a Cathay Pacific employee along helping me cut through to the head of the queues.

They told me that there was some sort of printout that they could have accepted, which is more official than an itinerary, and they claimed I should be able to get such a printout on the airline’s site. I have no idea what they were talking about, and I just talked to both Delta and Continental about the problem because I am about to make a similar trip with a Hong Kong-Manila leg and my onward trip is again with another airline. Both Delta and Continental told me they can only provide the itinerary. Cathay Pacific now says they will check it with the airline … apparently they still can’t accept an itinerarary and now its two years later.
Fortunately this time my trip is at a reasonable hour and it should be checkable.

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brian November 19, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Good to know Larry. A printed itinerary may not be enough anymore, at least for Cathat Pacific. Thanks for commenting.

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Matt b December 17, 2011 at 9:27 PM

This was interesting. Im planning on going to malaysia for 5 myhs for school plus as much travel as possible. So was debating

One way to cambodia for $850 and have freedom

$1350 round trip thailand. Cheaper but then i have to leave from thailand.

Thoughts?

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brian December 21, 2011 at 9:25 PM

I don’t know if Cambodia will let you in with a one way ticket. You may want to call the airline and just ask.

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hannah January 17, 2012 at 5:03 AM

Hmmm! I’m a bit concerned. I’m Canadian and traveling into Canada on a one way ticket. I know I won’t have any issues. However, my boyfriend, who’s Australian, will be arriving in Vancouver on a one way ticket, also – and a day before me. He’s already had issues checking in at Sydney, the airline made him sign forms to verify that he was not ‘the airline’s responsibility’ once he lands in Canada. They told him that without a RT, he might have issues getting through immigration in Vancouver. But if he has Canadian connections (myself and my aunt who we’re staying with in Victoria) will he really have issues? Will he be forced to buy a RT? Our story is that we want to decide where to go next once we’re together in Canada, thats why we haven’t got any outgoing ticket yet.

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brian January 17, 2012 at 1:33 PM

Yep you might have a problem. I don’t think it’s going to make a difference who he is staying with to Border Control. Someone staying with a trusted friend/family/bf/gf can easily disappear when the visa expires. Immigration has seen/heard that line before.

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Hannah January 17, 2012 at 5:22 PM

so you think they might force him to buy a ticket out of Canada? The thing is, this is the first time I’ve ever come across this issue. Border control – in other countries – have never asked me for proof of return, they just ask me how long I intend to stay. Are they going to demand proof from my boyfriend? How often do they do that?

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brian January 17, 2012 at 5:49 PM

I have no idea if he will get through or not. All I’m saying is that he could have a problem. Or Canada could greet him with open arms and not ask him anything.

You may want to call Canadian Immigration/Border Control. I would do so anonymously so they can’t look for you!

I will say that the fact that the airline has had him sign waivers is not a good sign…

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Hannah January 17, 2012 at 5:57 PM

:( Sadness. If they don’t let him through, can he buy a ticket out of Canada for the future? Then will they let him through? Say he buys a ticket to a city in the states for 2 months after staying in Canada, would that mean he could be allowed through? Sorry for all the q’s, I’m freaking out a little bit – and time is running out as he should be arriving there within the next 12 hrs.

Jenny April 8, 2012 at 12:28 AM

Thanks for a great post. I’ll be teaching in Thailand for 6 months and will get my work visa beforehand. I don’t know when the teaching semester is over and I want to have enough time to explore SE Asia before flying back to the US. Do I risk the freedom of a one-way ticket for $775 or pay $1800 for round trip? I assume the US will let me depart and that Thailand will let me arrive, so are the layover locations where I may have issues? I’m flying from Pittsburgh to BKK and there will be at least 2 stops.

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brian May 28, 2012 at 11:11 AM

It is always tough to predict in advance what will happen. If you have the work visa in hand before you leave the USA it should certainly make things easier but there are no guarantees. Make sure you have a note from the school/agency too if you can. Once you get in Asia and the school semester is over you should not have a problem because you’re going to have a departure ticket to the USA anyway, right?

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A July 7, 2012 at 8:15 AM

Leaving from US to Bahamas on airtran, continental, bahamasair all have forced me to show a return ticket before departure. When flying from US into Bahamas from smaller ”charter’ airlines they don’t ask for proof of return. Bahamas customs officials have not asked for proof of return, either.

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brian August 2, 2012 at 9:18 PM

I would say the larger airlines know what could happen if caught with someone who does not have a return ticket. Perhaps the smaller airlines are “flying under the radar” so to speak.

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Kurawa July 10, 2012 at 2:56 AM

I wanted to know if I went to Mexico (I’m a US citizen) on an one way ticket would they stop me from doing so at the airport. Do I need a round trip ticket?

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brian August 2, 2012 at 9:22 PM

No idea. But the US and Mexico have a strange relationship. Don’t people cross the US-Mexico border (the legal way I’m talking about) all the time? Do the border agents ask how/when you are returning? Do Mexican citizens get more scrutiny than Americans? Asking more questions than answering I know…

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Kelly November 9, 2012 at 12:33 PM

Great post, really helpful.

I just recently booked a one way ticket to London, I have a place to stay there as my best friend has been living there for four years. I didn’t book a return ticket because I knew wanted to travel around and wasn’t sure where I wanted to leave from. I was thinking of booking a bus ticket or train ticket out of the UK just to show proof that I’m leaving, do you think that would work in case I get questioned..?

Kelly-

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brian April 21, 2013 at 8:18 PM

It certainly would not hurt. You’ve got to prove that you are leaving the country in some way. Doesn’t have to be by plane or to country you arrived from.

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darwin March 7, 2013 at 8:39 AM

i’m planning to travel to manila with a round trip ticket back to the the US. However, I wanna take side trip in SE asia. I will be buying a one way ticket from Manila to Cambodia. Another one way ticket from Cambodia to Hong kong. Another one way ticket from Hong kong to Thailand. And another one way ticket from Thailand to Manila then my original return ticket from Manila to the US. Do you folks think I’ll run into some problems with some other one way already purchase and show them the itinerary?

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brian April 21, 2013 at 7:54 PM

If you have the itinerary that will help. I would think you just have to prove that you are leaving the country. It should not mean that you have to return to the country you just came from.

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brian January 17, 2012 at 9:09 PM

You mean buy it at the airport once he arrived and they refused him. They might. He’s on the plane already??? There are stories of other people who have been put on the next plane out of town. Sorry I can’t be more helpful but the rules and regulations vary from country to country and airline to airline. Like the post says, some people have problems and some don’t.
If you want to be absolutely safe, find the cheapest ticket out of Vancouver for a few months down the road. Even Seattle will do. When/If you need to show proof you can show the ticket for Seattle. But then make sure you have a ticket leaving Seattle!

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Mike G June 7, 2012 at 10:44 AM

I guess the problem might have been how she could get the ticket to bf, who was flying from OZ to Van and had to pass through immigration before having a chance to give him the ticket. Gf could have emailed e-ticket to him provided he had int’l cell service.

Intrigued to learn how this turned out.

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