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I'm a travel newbie but I do want to travel to a lot of places.

It seems that I could book flights to where ever I want to go, but some countries have visa requirements.

What happens if you do get a flight, arrive at the destination, and then realize that there's a visa requirement that you don't have?

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I had a funny situation where I was flying to country X, and literally as I was checking in, the check-in staff realised I did not have a visa for it. In short I rushed over to a computer (in the airport hotel lobby) and was in this case able to get some sort of visa online for country X. I rushed back to check in, incredibly it worked, and just made it through check-in. {Then, incredibly, while rushing through security there was A MASSIVE BOMB SCARE at this airport and everything was delayed for hours with 1000s of people out on the street! heh!} –  Joe Blow Sep 1 at 7:08
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Not just a visa; most airlines will also require you to present proof of onward travel unless you are a resident of the destination country. –  todofixthis Sep 1 at 15:27
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Just to clarify, that "booking a flight" (as mentioned in the title) and "boarding a flight" (as assumed in the question) are two different things. –  w3d Sep 1 at 17:44
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It's quite normal to book a flight before getting a visa. In fact (as I had to last week) you may have to produce the flight booking in order to secure the visa! As the accepted answer indicates if you don't have a visa (and you do require some kind of visa to land) they'll generally prevent you from boarding. I've heard of a couple of exceptions where they missed it though, and sometimes people were able to make ($$$) arrangements without being sent back on the next flight. I would not expect this kind of accommodation to ever happen with US arrivals. –  Spehro Pefhany Sep 1 at 19:06
    
travel.stackexchange.com/questions/36027/… may be of interest. –  pnuts Sep 1 at 21:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 38 down vote accepted

In general, the airline won't let you get on the plane. If you are refused entry to a country upon arrival, it is the airline's responsibility to return you to your place of origin, so they have an interest in confirming that you hold the correct visa for your destination (if required).

Airlines frequently use a system called Timatic for this:

IATA Timatic is the industry standard used by airlines and travel agents to verify passengers travel document requirements for their destination and any transit points. Airlines use this information to ensure their customers are compliant with border control rules and regulations. Timatic delivers personalized information based on the passenger's destination, transit points, nationality, travel document, residence country etc.

It is your responsibility to make sure you have the required visa for your destination. The airline is unlikely to offer you a refund if you show up for departure with no visa.

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Awesome. Fast, informative answer. Thanks for this. –  Mark Gabriel Sep 1 at 3:28
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Been there, done that. My Hong Kong girlfriend and I boarded a flight to Canada via Detroit. I am Canadian so needed no visa, but we were told at the ticket gate that my gf couldn't take the flight. We ended up getting her a same-day direct flight that avoided the US. The entire pre-booked ticket price was lost :( –  tar Sep 1 at 5:49
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Airlines can be wrong though - in the EU it's legal to travel with a non-EU spouse (as long as you are an EU citizen) under Directive 2004/38/EC with no visa. However most airlines are unaware of the law will prevent you from boarding. –  Ash Sep 1 at 11:08
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Almost been there. They tried to deny us boarding on the basis of expired visas. Yeah, there were expired visas from a cancelled trip, there were also current visas. –  Loren Pechtel Sep 1 at 16:30
    
@tar: Canadians tend to forget that almost everybody else needs a visa or ESTA to travel to the US! –  Greg Hewgill Sep 1 at 19:38

To add to Greg's correct answer about boarding a flight without a visa, the airline won't care if you have a visa when booking the flight.
They will probably remind you to get one before departure, but on booking you don't usually have to produce a visa or even passport. Not surprising as you can usually book a flight far in advance, and getting a new passport or visa issued in between booking and travel is not at all uncommon/

And then there's the visa on arrival procedures for some countries. Airlines will then just check whether you have the required documents needed to get such a visa issued. Nothing more they can do...

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I don't recall ever being advised to get a visa, just a form e-mail that didn't address anything about where I was heading. –  Loren Pechtel Sep 1 at 21:39
    
@LorenPechtel on the booking page there's usually a reminder that you need to have valid travel documents for your destination... And last few times I'd to fill out all kinds of forms supplying passport numbers and stuff like that before they'd let me check in online. No visa required for those destinations, but there were fields to enter those as well for people that do need them. –  jwenting Sep 2 at 6:23
    
Yeah, there are generic reminders, but nothing specific about your destination in my experience. –  Loren Pechtel Sep 2 at 17:34

This check is made at origin boarding point itself, and then verified at destination point. At time of booking VISA is not considered as a requirement.

There could be an issue if the country you land in transit has you move out of airport to a different airport (be it even in same city), and that's when you would need to have a transit visa. As long as you stay within the departure gates this issue should not arise.

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Not so. Some countries (for example, Schengenland or Australia) require (at least some) travelers to have transit visas even if they don't leave the airport. Some countries' airports are even designed in such a fashion that direct connection between international flights is not possible (the best known example of such a country is the USA). –  Andrey Chernyakhovskiy Sep 2 at 11:05
    
Ah. I didnt know this. Never flew via australia. Mostly my transit was via Asian or European countries, and destination was almost always US. –  Sri Sep 2 at 11:42
    
in fact in the US you need a transit visa even if you never leave the aircraft, if it's just a tech stop. Or at the very least an approved ESTA (which is effectively the same for people under the VWP). –  jwenting Sep 3 at 6:12

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