Proof of onward travel is always such a tricky one for overland crossings, especially if like us, you have no official itinerary and certainly no onward travel planned as of yet.
There are simple ways around this. Some that may cost you a little, others that may be risky and one that has a 100% success rate (we’ve used it three times). Those times being from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, from Costa Rica to Panama, and from Panama to Colombia (via Viva La Colombia airlines)
We have not been asked for onward proof of travel in any other Latin America country, however we didn’t go to Belize or Honduras.
#1 Reserve flights via Copair Airlines
We’re pretty sure the team over at the Panama airlines has no idea just how helpful their ‘Price Lock’ feature is for the free spirited, or better yet, disorganised backpacker, such as ourselves.
An option unheard of in our part of the world, Copair allows you to “price lock” your flight to allow you some time before making the decision to complete payment… in a nutshell, both a seat and your quoted cost will be reserve on their system for 24 hours!
No credit card, and no personal information needed! After 24hours, and no payment received, your “reservation” will be cancelled and seats released.
So, at least 1-2 days before your planned border crossing; log on and reserve a legit flight. Receive an email with the flight itinerary attached and just print or screenshot – but always check and crop out anywhere that states it’s reserved. Just in case you have an immigration official with a known eagle eye and ability to spot this!
Step #1: Visit Copair.com
Step #2: Via their booking portal, select and search any “flight” but ensure the dates are not beyond the visa expiry date of the country you are trying to enter (i.e within the 30, 60 or 90 day limit depending on the country and your nationality!). You will then be brought to a ‘selection’ page. Here, click any option i.e ‘Economy’, ‘Business Class’ etc.
Scroll down under the itinerary summary and total price to find the ‘Price Lock’ option. When you click this option, the price will show Pay Now: $0.00. Click ‘Next’
You are then redirected to a Flight Itinerary page, scroll to the bottom (ignore the fact that it now displays the price) and click ‘Next’. On the next page, fill out your details as you would if genuinely booking a flight. Ensure your name and date of birth match those on your passport! Click ‘Hold Reservation’
You will receive a ‘reservation confirmation’ to the email address you included. On your phone, scroll down and screenshot the entire flight itinerary from where it says ‘Confirmation Number’. This is to ensure the screenshot includes the confirmation number, your flight details and the price – just to make it look legit!
DONE! Happy fake flying!!
This method costs nothing, there are no risks involved and worked for us on three separate occasions; one being an airport. If immigration officials search for your flight there and then in the office (which some of them do depending on how hi-tech that border crossing is) they can see its a genuine flight!
If said officials remark on the fact it’s a reserved flight (which they didn’t and most likely won’t!) just explain that you’re credit card was scammed, you’ve spoken to the airline who confirmed you can pay with cash on arrival to the airport, so you need to get there ASAP.
Keep scrolling for alternatives that have worked for many people we’ve spoken to along the way but the above is #1 for us.
#2 Book Flights
Search for the cheapest flights you can find on Expedia and book them. Screenshot the itinerary and then cancel your flights. You should be fully refunded within 24-48hours.
As another Ungraceful heads up, we have heard whispers that at certain borders, such as Costa Rica, border officials are now checking booking confirmations. We didn’t come across this but at the most efficient borders, officials have better facilities i.e. computers, so this could very well be true.
For full details on how to book and cancel flights via Expedia, please follow this the following link. We have used this method to travel through Southeast Asia and again, it has worked a charm and never let us down! See – here!
#3 Use Third Party Site
Ah the internet! What would we do without you?! There are a number of third party websites you can use to which the site will book and cancel your flights for you, at a small fee.
Its competitor BestOnwardTicket.com does the same at the slightly cheaper price of $7.99.
Both of which we have heard are as good as each other, although the former has been around for longer thus has more reviews. Not only is this way much cheaper but also less risky than booking and cancelling your own flights, considering you could be subject to a non refundable ticket (check the T&Cs remember!).
#4 Buy a Bus Ticket
Definitely our least favourite option, and the most expensive, for $20-$30 you can buy an official bus ticket leaving the border.
Usually touts will sell them prior to leaving the current country you are in. For example, from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, there are an overwhelming amount of touts selling tickets at both Rivas and Penas Blancas.
However, this is hassle as it’s expensive and most likely you won’t ever use this ticket. So we’d exhaust all the above options first.
#5 Fake It ‘Til You Make It
This really should be your last option, one we don’t really condone.
If you have or know anyone who has decent computer and design skills, you could either edit an old flight itinerary you have lost in your emails, or Google search airline itineraries and copy.
If you do this, be sure to source genuine flights, times and dates. Add the correct logos, crosscheck all info and for any typos.
This is the most risky, as we are pretty sure most border officials may have seen fakes thousands of times. Again, we did hear that certain borders are more competent lately but look, if you are caught you won’t face jail time.
Worst case you’re refused entry where you’ll have to face it and buy genuine flights or bus ticket onsite meaning even higher costs and lots of stress.
This will be the biggest pain, especially if you do book a genuine flight or bus there and then. Take note that you may be asked for printed copies. You could get away with showing them on your phone but maybe go to a different immigration officer, one who didn’t just refuse you entry.
The very idea of this option gives us anxiety and considering there are better ones out there, as mentioned, we wouldn’t recommend this at all. 100% DO NOT attempt this via an airport. You can face fraud charges!!!
To reiterate, we tried option #1 and option #2 and both have worked successfully on more than two occasions.
When crossing into Costa Rica from Nicaragua, we had reserved flights leaving Panama thinking it was the less obvious choice. The official asked us for proof leaving Costa Rica and thanks to Luke’s Spanish speaking skills, we could explain that to make our flight leaving Panama, we would have to leave Costa Rica. I mean… Duh!
He then happily stamped our passports, but only gave us a 30 day entry visa.
So bear this in mind whatever option you try. If you want a longer visa maybe “reserve/book” your flights at least a month in advance and say you plan to spend minimum 6 weeks in Costa Rica.
It just goes to show these officials mean business.
So now you are armed with the information, we wish you a successful border crossing and as always, if we can help further, feel free to pop us an email to katie [at] theungracefulguide.com or comment below.
Join the discussion 6 Comments
Hey! Just wanted to let you know that the method of using pricelock with Copa Air doesn’t work anymore. I tried it, but they no longer send you a confirmation number until it’s actually paid. I just got a reservation number and figured I’d still try to use it, but it wasn’t sufficient at the airport (at least with Avianca). I had to buy a bus ticket to Nicaragua at the airport instead. A tip for others is that you can book a bus ticket through Bookaway.com and pay a few dollars extra to get free cancellation. All the other bus tickets I found were non-refundable, so even though this method is not completely free, it’s still cheap in comparison to buying a full ticket.
Thanks a million for the update. That’s a shame but must be specific to the airline as we used this method in September 2022 when entering Mexico and had no issues with it. Also, when we download the reservation number, we crop out the reservation part and if questioned we mention that we plan to pay at the airport on arrival as we don’t have a credit card. Brilliant suggestion about Bookaway, we will add this! Thank you so much. Happy travels!
Hey, just wanted to say a massive thank you for the advice as it saved me at the check in desk having the price lock flight confirmation! I didn’t realise how strict the airline would be and thanks to you I had my flight confirmation ready and no need to mess about with refunds etc. Saved me a load of stress and probably money too. Cheers!
Absolutely DELIGHTED to hear this!! Thank you
Hey! Thanks for the smart tip with Copa PriceLock!
This happened to me a week ago on a flight to Costa Rica. Sadly, I wasn’t so lucky!
I only had five minutes before the gate closed so I bought a ticket to Guatemala on my phone… ‘It’s too late, the gate is closed,’ was the response the woman at the desk have me when I showed her the email. So in a rage I accepted my fate, paid $200 for a new flight to Costa Rica for 8 long hours time. The funny and equally, infuriating thing is, on the next flight no one even asked to see my outbound ticket!