Proof of onward travel is always such a tricky one for land 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).
One 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 team over at the Panama airlines had no idea just how helpful the idea of ‘reserve now and pay later’ would help 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 reserve a flight and holds on the system for 48 hours.
No credit card and no personal information needed.
After 48hours and no payment received, your reservation will be cancelled and seats released.
Two days prior to your planned border crossing; log on to book and reserve a legit flight. Receive an email with the flight itinerary attached and just print or screenshot.
A little trick that worked for us is to do both. A printed copy to carry around with us, and a screenshot to play dumb with.
Before heading to Immigration, we stuffed the printed copy in the bottom of our carryon bag. Don’t have it freshly printed and ready in hand. Play dumb!
When asked to present proof at immigration, take a minute to “search” for it in your bag.
We stuffed ours with old bus/flight/visa tickets, which made it a bit worn abd torn looking. Think like a tea-stained page!
Don’t ask us why, but our awful acting idea made us look a little less prepared thus a little more innocent and a little more legit. WHERE’S MY OSCAR?!
This method cost us nothing, no risks involved and worked on three seperate occasions; one being an airport.
If immagration officials search for your flight there and then in the office (which some of them do) 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 yiu 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. Print the itinerary and then cancel your flights. You should be fully refunded within 24-48hours.
What we will suggest is to triple check Expedia’s T&C as we didn’t do this option, but this a common option among travellers, and we met people who have succeed with this method.
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 tru.
Either way be sure to book and print your flight the night before you leave, book a flight that is leaving within 90 days (generally you will be granted 90 days in a country) so book as advanced as you can and cancel it at your earliest convienance.
#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.
FlyOnward.com is highly reputable and comes with many glowing reviews, charging $9.99.
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 optipn, 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 Nicaracua 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 I’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 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. Never have we seen printing facilities at a border!
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 me anxiety and considering there are better ones out there, as mentioned, we wouldn’t recommend this at all.
To reiterate, we tried option #1 and it 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 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, 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.