The one question that could ruin your dream vacation. (And how to avoid it)
You are beyond excited..You have planned this trip for months. Just winging your way through Europe (or Central America or Southeast Asia, etc.) No worries, just stay for as long as your visa allows and then onward to your next location. Maybe sooner, who knows? After all isn’t that what travel is all about? You bound out of the plane and wait in queue at the “New Entries” until it’s your turn at the immigration desk. “Passport please” the immigration officer says in that matter-of-fact way immigration officers around the world are known for. You smile broadly and hand him/her your passport. They open and look your passport and then look back at you. They reach for something, but instead of it being a stamp to welcome you in, it is a metaphorical pin, to pop that balloon of hope you’ve been carrying around with you. And they do it all with just one question: ” May I see your proof of onward travel?”. You stammer “Uh, I don’t have one” The immigration officer’s face gets even more dour than before.”We are denying entry. You’ll need to buy an outbound ticket or go home” ….Sorry my friend, you just got POOT-ed.
“Proof of onward travel/ticket” or “POOT” as it is known in the biz, is the bane of many travelers. It can ruin a dream vacation or at the very least send you scrambling through an airport looking for a hot-spot and shelling out all your hard earned beer money on a ticket you probably won’t actually use. Many people seem to be able to take their chances that the immigration officer is having a good day, and often they are fine. Also, remember if you have a round-trip ticket, the immigration officer will see it, that’s is almost always sufficient as POOT so, if you normally always do short term, return ticket travel, then you are POOT-free when it comes to worries. But like travel insurance for me at least, the one time I don’t have a round-trip ticket, will be the one time they ask. So today, I thought we would look into the POOT and discuss some ways around it, or at the very least find a less painful way of dealing with it.
How prevalent is POOT?
Technically, any immigration officer in any country can ask for a proof of ongoing travel. They have been charged with being the official gatekeeper of their nation and can ask any question that pertains to sizing you up to see if you are a risk, or a potential burden on society. More often times, they may simply ask how long you plan to be in the country, if you have any friends and family that live there, and maybe where you will be staying and your intentions of visiting. usually those are the standard questions i have usually gotten. Some counties are getting a reputation for pretty much always asking for POOT such as The US, The UK, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Indonesia among others. In other countries it really could depend on such seemingly arbitrary factors such as the mood of the officer, how you are dressed, if you seem to him/her as somehow “dodgy” or if your story doesn’t seem to match with someone else in your party.
Why is there POOT anyhow?
POOT can fairly dampen a traveler’s savoir faire. It seems to be more of a nuisance than anything else, so why do countries even ask? The countries that are POOTing usually do so to clamp down on visitors overstaying their visa. Often the number one source of ‘illegal immigration’. They want to make sure travelers leave before their money runs out, and they don’t want a traveler who is broke trying to secure work or resorting to something unseemly to stay afloat. It’s about self-preservation and the people they are primarily targeting are not long term tourists, they just usually become collateral damage.
What’s the problem with a one way ticket?
Domestically one way tickets are fine, Internationally they are often problematic. Many countries now force airlines to pay for a person’s unplanned trip home if they are denied entry for failing to produce a POOT. Consequentially, airlines often won’t sell a one way ticket to a foreign country anymore. If they do, they will question the purchaser to see if they are staying with a family or friend or are they authorized to work in the country. Purchasers of one way tickets have even had to sign waivers saying that the purchaser assumes full financial responsibility if they are denied entry. The upside is that since airlines are being more careful, it MAY mean the immigration officer assumes you have already been scrutinized and won’t ask any additional questions. A risky option, but perhaps if you’re a gambler it might be of interest to you.
How to avoid stepping into a big pile of POOT
I am so sorry for that title. (Well mostly sorry.) You do have a few options to avoid an embarrassing POOT situation.
1) Don’t buy a ticket and cross your fingers.
You may be lucky. This is especially true if it is a country you have already visited in the past (and your passport reflects this) The officer can see that you have been here (and left) before. You are a low risk. If it is a smaller country they may figure you’re passing through (especially if you have a lot of stamps. on your passport) The truth is as long as it isn’t in one of the countries that are listed above that almost ALWAYS ask you might be OK. But you always run that risk of having your luck run out. Remember, any officer, at any time, and in any country can ask. That’s part of their job description.
2) Buy a ticket and just get a refund.
Many airlines offer twenty-four hour refunds. Just make sure you ask in advance, Then maybe re-ask a time or two just to be safe. Then after you clear immigration call the airline and cancel. Of course this requires having the capital upfront to pay for a ticket and remember that the airlines and your credit card company may take a while to release the funds. Also you’re going to be first day in an exciting new country. Don’t get so busy that you forget or you’ll end up with option 3 by default:
3) Buy a ticket and take the hit
You buy a one way ticket from a border town that has an airport to the closest city in the closest country that also has an airport. And then just eat the cost. I admit i did this one to the UK and it worked. If you are in Europe make sure it is a country outside of the Schgen Zone because a ticket to a city within the zone is not considered “out of the country”
A variation on this that HAS worked for me, is buying a bus or train (whichever is cheapest) ticket from one border town to another border town in a neighboring country. Depending on the country, its cost me anywhere from 10-30 dollars. A small price to pay to avoid embarrassment. If you are in the Philippines, (a country notorious for asking for POOT) obviously a bus or train ticket can’t be found (unless you are exceptionally good at holding your breath) but since it is Asia the region has a lot of cheap options (Manila to Bangkok ticket one way is about $50)
4) Rent a ticket Service
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with these companies, I do not endorse them, I am not making any money from them (or anyone else). I have not used these services, but have read reviews of those who have and it seems to work out fine for them. Okay, glad that’s out of the way.
There are a some companies that will buy a one way ticket for you, and then cancel it. They send you proof that a one way ticket has purchased. You show it to the immigration officer, they are happy and permit you entry and the company automatically cancels the ticket. No muss, no fuss. The fees aren’t too bad usually less than $10. The two companies that seem to be the most popular are flyonward.com and Bestonwardticket.com. I’d love to hear from any reader’s that has some first hand experiences with either of those companies or any other rent-a-ticket service.
So have you avoided the POOT? What has worked or not worked for you? Do you normally carry any POOT when you do long-term travel? I’d love to hear your stories.