"Where's Your Return Ticket?" — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Janiece, who missed an important change to entry requirements before a recent trip:
In 2014, as a wedding present to my husband and I, his parents graciously paid for a six-night stay at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Due to wedding expenses, we decided to spread out our costs and buy one-way tickets there, with a plan to purchase our return flights while we were on the island. We did our homework in checking the country’s regulations and made sure flying one-way was allowed before securing our flight.
We got to the airport in Denver early in the morning, and we checked and rechecked that we had everything (tickets, passports, etc.). As we got to the ticket counter to check in, we handed our tickets and passport to the ticket agents. They asked if we had secured a flight back to the US, and we told them our plan to purchase our return flight when we got there. That’s when they dropped the bombshell that Jamaica’s policy had recently changed: they now required us to have a return flight in order to enter the country.
We were shocked because we had checked that we were clear before booking our flight. Mind you, that was five months before the wedding; the policy changed the month following our purchase. We were not made aware of the changes, nor did we check to guarantee nothing had changed since then. Now panicking, we stepped out of the line to figure out how to buy our return flights, worried our honeymoon plan might end before they began.
At that point we only had about 40 minutes to get to our flight, and we still had to get through security. I called my father and explained what happened, and he quickly bought us return tickets and forwarded them to my email. We rushed back to the ticket agent, and we made it to our flight with just minutes to spare. Our lesson to everyone is to check policies for entering and exiting other countries frequently, because they can change with no warning.
Checking entry and exit requirements is vital anytime you travel internationally. In addition to the usual passport, visa and vaccination requirements, you'll have to show proof of onward travel before you'll be allowed to enter some countries: New Zealand, Costa Rica and the Phillipines are a few examples apart from Jamaica. Without that proof, you'll likely be unable to board your outbound flight — that's just as well, since you'll be denied entry upon arrival anyway unless you can secure onward travel while in transit.
Proof of onward travel doesn't necessarily mean a return flight. Bus, train or cruise reservations may also suffice, so if you book a one-way flight and want to keep your travel plans flexible, you may be able to satisfy the entry requirements by booking any cheap or refundable ticket out of the country, even if you don't intend to use it. Keep in mind you may need to show proof of onward travel if you have a return ticket booked beyond the permitted duration of your stay (if you're hopping between countries, for example), and that you may need to demonstrate you're eligible for travel to your next destination (e.g., that you have a visa where one is required).
The timing of Jamaica's revised entry requirements was unlucky for Janiece and her husband, but her story is a good reminder to stay vigilant. Customs and immigration laws can change anytime and without notice, so it's worth double checking that you have everything in order before departure, especially when you book far in advance.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Janiece a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
(Featured photo by Peeter Viisimaa/Getty Images)