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I recently heard that some airlines refuse to let you fly to Japan (from Europe), if you don't have a return ticket. Since it is possible to buy one-way tickets, I guess this is utter nonsense, but just to be sure I wanted to ask anyway.

Is there anything that might prompt this (supposed) urban legend? Any grain of truth?

Bonus: What about other countries?

Update: Just occured to me I might add my experimental data point to this. Of course I might have just been lucky, but I had a one-way ticket (Emirates) and I had no visa at the time, was not refused boarding, and was also not refused entry in Japan. I don't really remember now, but I think they didn't even ask me a lot of questions at immigration.

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Any particular airlines mentioned? – Karlson Jan 13 '14 at 15:42
I many countries, particularly in Asia, will want you to prove you have onward travel. I can say that I have been challenged to prove outward travel before I could board a flight to the Philippines (on a local low cost airline, can't remember which one) but flying in on KLM they ask you to talk to someone in Manila airport if you don't have onward tickets -- I'm assuming they'll give either a fake onward ticket or some other sort of paperwork, I've never had to ask. You could build a list of visa requirements from Wikipedia, but airline policy is another thing. – SpaceDog Jan 14 '14 at 3:56
@SpaceDog: I sent an email to the embassy, and their response was something along the lines of: No, you don't necessarily need onward travel to enter Japan (on a visa waiver), but some airlines might refuse to take you there. – fifaltra Jan 14 '14 at 10:31
I was challenged at the start of this trip too when boarding my flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur. Luckily, I'd asked about it here and bought a train ticket online to Singapore as a contingency ($10). It was accepted with no problems. – hippietrail Jan 16 '14 at 14:19
BTW, I'd assume only visitors to Japan have this burden of proof. Therefore one-way tickets are perfectly fine for Japanese citizens living in Europe, returning home. – Sam Feb 10 '14 at 10:36

6 Answers 6

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Unfortunately this is not an urban legend. By the information provided this is individual or corporate stupidity or basic case of CYA taken too far so they don't have to carry you back in case you're refused entry to Japan.

At issue is the proof of onward travel, which you need to provide to the Japanese border control if you don't need to have visa prior to arrival.

So if you can provide reasonable proof of onward travel such as return ticket or another ticket that can prove that you will leave Japan they should not refuse to honor the one way ticket you have bought.

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The funny thing is that the people at the embassy which I asked didn't seem to know about this proof of onward travel thing. But better safe than sorry... – fifaltra Jan 14 '14 at 10:28
@fifaltra It's not an embassy matter. It's an airline matter. – Pitarou Feb 10 '14 at 1:15
@Pitarou yeah, but you'd think that airlines only care about this if the countries tell them to care. So the countries (represented by the embassy) should know they told the airlines to care. – fifaltra Feb 10 '14 at 7:35
@fifaltra In my experience, the information published by the Japanese embassies and the Immigration Bureau can be very misleading and / or out-of-date. So I fully understand why airlines would want to cover their ass. – Pitarou Feb 11 '14 at 3:26
What is very much an urban legend is that proof of onward travel is required to enter Japan on a visa exemption. It's just one of the many ways in which you can demonstrate your intent to leave Japan by the due date. The TripAdvisor link, by the way, says that "visitors not holding return/onward ticket could be refused entry", not "will be refused entry". – fkraiem Mar 8 at 17:22

It's true, with the proviso that this rule doesn't apply to people who are already entitled to live in Japan. For instance, last time I flew to Japan one way, I had to show my Japanese residency visa before they'd let me board. I've heard stories of people being forced to buy onward tickets from Japan to Korea at the airport.

One trick I've heard of to get around this problem is to go on-line and buy a ferry ticket from Hakata, Japan to Busan, South Korea before you travel. Once you arrive in Japan, you can cancel the ticket and get most of the money refunded. I can't vouch for this method myself, but other people claim to have used it.

But, of course, that still leaves you with the problem of being in Japan with neither a residency visa nor a ticket out of there. Overstaying your visa is not recommended.

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Not everyone can plan a six-months period (which is how long some nationalities can stay in Japan without a visa) precisely beforehand and wants to buy a ticket for a flight back or onwards which will most likely be at an inconvenient time to an inconvenient place (probably according to some variant of Murphy's law). So, no plan to overstay visa but also not much of a plan at all. – fifaltra Feb 10 '14 at 7:32

Not an urban legend - my friend tried to travel from Glasgow airport on a one-way ticket and was forced to buy a one-way ticket to anywhere out of the country at the airport (he chose South Korea) before he was allowed to check in.

Of course if you have a valid visa / special re-entry permission then you'll be fine.

Regarding other countries: I also had to prove I had onward travel from Vietnam before I could board the outbound plane.

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Being allowed to enter, depends on the Airlines, and migration officials in both countries. I took a ferry from S. Korea to Japan and back again. When I tried to leave Japan, migration didn't want to let me on the ferry because I didn't have other tickets. I had to explain I had a Korean work visa. In Fiji, Korean Air didn't want to let me board the plane because I didn't have on proof of further travel, and I had to explain to them about my visa. Being a middle-aged U.S. female, they tended to believe me. IF you are an E.U. citizen, and can tell them about further travel plans you should be able to enter Japan.

Hint: There is a ferry that goes from Fukuoka to Busan S. Korea, but make sure to hide your tatoos going through Japanese immigration.

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With British Airways I had to prove onward travel from Israel (USA Passport), which I did by purchasing on the spot a return one-way refundable ticket that I had refunded on arrival in Israel. British hit upon the profitable idea of selling it to me in GB Pounds and refunding the same quantity but in US Dollars; it took a few weeks but the credit card company fixed it.

At the same time I was flying into Israel on TWA (RIP), Air France, and Air Canada, and a small Israeli charter airline, none of which enforced a return ticket requirement.

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As the various examples people have given show this really does happen.

What's going on here is that the airlines are subject to substantial fines if they bring in a passenger which is obviously inadmissible. Thus if a country requires a ticket for onward travel the airlines are very likely to ask to see this ticket before boarding you.

You'll find the same thing with visas--they check your passport and visa before allowing you to board. Usually this is a good thing, getting tossed out as inadmissible isn't a good thing. Unfortunately, it sometimes involves airline employees who either think they know the rules and won't check (China always needs a visa....but these days you can do a transit without visa, in some cases for 3 days on the ground) or they don't understand the TIMATIC printout (it's written in legalese) or even when TIMATIC doesn't make it clear exactly how the rules work (That Chinese transit without visa must be a transit--you must leave to a different country than you came from. However, they only look at the airplanes, not the whole itinerary--a flight that goes A -> B -> China -> A qualifies. Enter the whole flight into TIMATIC and it says you need a visa. Enter only the two flight segments and it correctly permits the transit.)

(I'm not picking on China as a weird case, it's just one I've been in many times and thus pay attention to the rules.)

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protected by Mark Mayo Jan 16 '14 at 8:56

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