Friday, January 2, 2015

Philippine Travel: Understanding the Onward Ticket Rule

Although little known to most Filipino travellers, the first impression that many foreign travellers encounter when heading to the Philippines is often an inhospitable one. It's usually a rude shock and a far cry from the warm hospitality that most have come to expect of the Philippines. The "Proof of Onward" ticket is an entry regulation imposed by the Philippine Bureau of Immigration that catches most foreign tourists by surprise.

philippine onward ticket
Image Source: mariodian.com
Seasoned travellers that have explored extensively through Southeast Asia are often puzzled by this mediocre policy as many are accustomed to wandering freely throughout Asia without any definitive itinerary or schedule, pending the acquisition of the relevant travel visas. But is this "Onward Ticket" policy truly necessary and is it something that enhances the appeal of the Philippines or makes it less competitive with competing tourist destinations in the region?

This article serves as a warning to potential tourists to the Philippines that an onward return ticket out of the country is required before you can board a flight to enter the country. While it is not uncommon for many countries to require proof of an onward journey, the reality is that the vast majority rarely check. In fact, Philippine officials rarely check and it is usually left up to the airlines flying to the Philippines to enforce the rules.

If you are boarding a flight to the Philippines from within Asia, it is quite likely that you will be questioned, though if you are boarding a connecting flight to the Philippines from a different continent, there is a strong chance that the airline agent will be unfamiliar with Philippine protocol and overlook the need for a return ticket. However, it is best not to be caught at the airport without an onward ticket. Otherwise, you may be forced to buy an expensive last minute ticket in a desperate attempt to board your flight.

WHAT IS AN ONWARD FLIGHT TICKET?

An onward flight ticket serves as proof that a traveller will be leaving the country on a specific date after gaining entry into the country. This is problematic for many travellers, particularly backpackers, that are not sure how long they need to fully explore the country. The irony is that Philippine immigration officials rarely ever ask for an onward flight ticket. In addition, if one is extending their tourist visa in the Philippines, immigration officials rarely ask for the onward ticket.

This raises the question as to why the country forces people to waste money purchasing an onward airline ticket that they may never use -- especially when there is much revenue to be earned by tourists extending their stay. Furthermore, an onward ticket is by no means a guarantee that a tourist will leave the country on the specified date as many of these tickets are bought so cheaply that they can be considered "disposable" by many. It is usually a strategy that many tourists employ to get around this issue, particularly those that are applying for a tourist visa at a Philippine embassy.

WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE AN ONWARD TICKET

There are indeed many ways to avoid this issue especially if one arrives prepared. If you are truly unsure when you would like to leave the Philippines, the best thing to do is to purchase a one-way ticket out of the country from one of the low-cost carriers such as Cebu Pacific or Air Asia. In general, the cheapest foreign destination to fly to from Manila is Kota Kinabalu. It is quite common to find one-way fares for as little as US$50 -- sometimes even less if you book far enough in advance. If you get caught last minute without a ticket out of the Philippines, the same strategy applies. Check the low-cost carrier websites and don't necessarily purchase a ticket back to the country you are entering the Philippines from as there are cheaper destinations such as Kota Kinabalu. You can also consider flights from Cebu or Clark, which are often cheaper than Manila. As an alternative to the low-cost carrier option, you could also purchase a refundable ticket, which will cost more up-front but you can get your money back.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

There are countless stories from other travellers that have been faced with this problem. It is recommended to research the immigration requirements for your country of origin and read some fellow tales from travellers that have been in a similar position. The Philippine Bureau of Immigration outlines all of the entry requirements for a number of nations around the world. The vast majority of countries now receive 30-day visa free entry to the Philippines, which places the country on par with places like Thailand. However, tourists from Israel and Brazil get the privilege of a 59-day visa free entry to the Philippines.

IS THE ONWARD TICKET NECESSARY?

Most countries implement an onward ticket requirement as a measure to prevent travellers from remaining in the country past their visa expiry date undocumented. While it is not meant to discourage travel and tourism, it is usually targeted at those who plan to work in the country illegally or cannot support themselves financially. Unfortunately, the reality is that it does have an impact on travel and tourism, especially when competing against other countries in the region, which are less strict with such policies. In the Philippines, the requirement helps to address on-going issues such as drugs, child prostitution, sex tourism, and human trafficking among others. But is it effective?

A CALL TO ACTION

Given that Philippine officials themselves rarely request proof of onward ticket and that low-cost carrier tickets are cheap enough to be disposable, one could easily argue that it is doubtful that this policy is effective in any way. If anything, it could be viewed as counter productive for a country that is trying to increase its competitive edge in tourism and attract more tourists.

If the goal of the nation is to create an impression of being warm, hospitable, and fun for tourists, then it might be a fair consideration to revisit the enforcement of the onward ticket policy, which often causes the country to stand out in the minds of world travellers for all of the wrong reasons. The Philippines is one of the few nations in Asia that actively enforces this onward ticket requirement.

Overall, this can be viewed as a deterrent to tourism growth as it discourages travellers that prefer to be spontaneous in their travel plans. This is particularly true in the case of backpackers and even foreign volunteers. It is a nuisance as it forces people to waste money purchasing a ticket that is likely to never be used. While the airlines may appreciate this, it does nothing for the Philippines. In addition to not offering any real guarantee that a traveller will depart the Philippines at the end of their stay, it uses up valuable financial resources that would have otherwise been spent directly in the Philippines. Moreover, with less freedom and flexibility, it discourages travellers from staying longer in the country, which would earn the Philippine government additional revenue in visa extensions.

As one traveller shared with Philippine Flight Network, "It is such a pain to have an onward ticket," wrote the traveller. "Sometimes I am travelling to the Philippines for medical treatment and I am never exactly sure how long it will take. Sometimes I am travelling as a tourist and I like to leave my departure dates open. With budget airlines, changing flight departure dates can be costly and time consuming."

FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT

Many tourists have been denied boarding due to the absence of an onward ticket. Many have scrambled to purchase a last minute ticket at an exorbitant cost, which has been taken directly from their spending budget for the Philippines. For many, it is a terrible experience and not the first impression that any first-time visitor to the country should have to endure. Is that the image that Philippine tourism would like to project to the world? To add further insult to injury, travellers get slapped again with the hair-raising experience that is the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Both experiences can combine for a terrible first impression of the Philippines.

SHOULD COUNTRIES REQUIRE AN ONWARD TICKET?

All states reserve the right to determine whether a tourist can support themselves financially in the country they are visiting. This is also to ensure that they have the necessary financial means to depart the country at no expense to the state. Naturally, it is the priority of any country to protect its borders and its citizens first and foremost.

Although the vast majority of states are casual in observing the requirement of an onward ticket, they do have the right to deny entry to an individual at any time that is unable to show proof of adequate funds or an onward ticket out of the country. In recent years, countries have also been requiring visitors to demonstrate proof of adequate medical coverage so that the visitor does not become a burden to the state. There have been cases of foreign tourists getting sick in the Philippines and accumulating sizeable hospital bills without the ability to pay.

DO AIRLINES BENEFIT?

While many may believe that the enforcement of the onward ticket rule is a means by airlines to generate revenue, it is actually a means to protect the airline from incurring the cost of deporting someone that did not satisfy the nation's immigration regulations. Some airlines even hold seats for deportees, which ultimately costs the carrier money.

CHANGE IS NEEDED FOR TOURISM GROWTH

After considering all sides of the issue, the reality is that Philippine immigration laws, like so many other laws in the country remain archaic, having been authored before 1950. Many of these laws could never envision the world that we live in today with the advent of budget travel and cheap airfares. In many cases, these laws and policies are unfair to lawful residents of the Philippines that are burdened with horrendous fees from travel taxes to immigration fees and terminal fees. Tourists that spend more than six months in the Philippines actually need to pay an immigration fee for clearance to depart the country. Even foreign volunteers that are serving in the Philippines are often forced to pay fees. It is an abusive form of indirect taxation, that is not generally found in other countries.

These fees discourage travellers from either coming or extending their stay in the Philippines, which hurts the local economy, which could benefit from tourist spending. Not only are the fees and taxes unfair and abusive, they are also absurd given the poor services and infrastructure that is delivered in exchange. What is even more insulting is that the burden of these fees does not just affect foreigners but locals as well that are forced to pay the TIEZA Philippine Travel Tax for every Filipino citizen that is departing the country on a holiday.

If the Philippines wishes to become one of the top tourist destinations in Asia, there are a number of issues that it must address, which currently discourage tourists from visiting the islands. In addition to fees and taxes, the country suffers from poor infrastructure, terribly managed and poorly maintained airports, not to mention the individuals that lurk in front of the airports there to harass tourists. From taxi drivers to corrupt politicians, there is often a perception of "seediness" in the country. The situation is as bad departing as it is arriving, with the final "punch" in the stomach coming in the form of terminal fees, which are paid for what has been described as one of the world's worst airports. It leaves a bad taste in the mouths of most tourists -- locals included. It raises the question as to why one should make the effort to gain lawful admission into the Philippines only to be grossly imposed upon by various government agencies that should be there to serve, rather than suffocate people with fees.

Although this article does not answer all the questions that require probing on this topic, it highlights a number of important issues that need immediate attention and a call to action. At the end of the day, it is a mere addition to the many areas of the country that require reform, maintenance, improvement, and development. It is with hope that the Philippine government will begin making some serious changes to the benefit of tourists and locals alike.

-Contributions from Travelling_BK and Tamarind Walk

HAVE YOUR SAY! Do you think that the Philippine government should strictly enforce the onward ticket rule for foreign tourists?

44 comments :

  1. Great article! I have been both a visitor to and a resident of the Philippines and this onward ticket thing has always been a sore spot.

    I have seen a girl break down in tears in the Bangkok airport because they wouldn't let her on the flight without an onward ticket. I have seen a business traveler blow up at the counter telling the agent that he could not possibly know when his meetings would be finished and therefore could not buy an onward ticket. In neither instance did the airline back down. They suffer big penalties when someone gets caught entering without an onward ticket.

    As the article states, SE Asia is very much a long stay tourism area in which people leisurely hop from country to country. If they like a place they will stay longer. They have more of an open plan. This requirement certainly kills that dream.

    One thing of note that the article didn't mention is medical tourism. The Philippines is really trying to grow in this area and it seems to me that the onward ticket requirement would hamper their efforts. I mean, how can you be sure how long your procedure will take, what kind of complications can arise, what the exact recovery time will be?

    So again, I thank the Philippine Flight Network for bringing this situation to light. It is an old requirement which serves no purpose in the modern paradigm.

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    1. Hi does anybody know if my re entry card (from Thailand)will allow me to board a flight to manila ???

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  2. Filipinos travelling to SEA and Hong Kong availing Visa-free are required to produce an onward ticket. Why is there a double standard for foreigners visiting the Philippines?

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    1. Philippine Immigration Officers are educated and they know outright the visitors who can become liabilities to the country. Example, a lady or young ladies (looking extra attractive) who have not indicated "their profession" in their passports; old people from third world countries who appear "penniless"; young people who appear like hippies and drug addicts, among others. Thank God, there is still mandatory education in RP!.

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    2. Looks can be deceiving, unless the said officers are clairvoyant one cannot determine someones risk factor outright. Many countries including mine do not have a place in our passports wherein one can state profession. If a given country for whatever reason places too many burdens on a visitor, it is very likely to lose that visitor as a repeat visitor. There are many countries that do not have the onward ticket requirement and are doing much better than the Philippines. Potential tourists will vote with their feet and take the path of least resistance.

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    3. I visited Hawaii for the first time in 1961. Hawaii had it right then and still does with a warm welcome at the airport and generally throughout the islands. Hawaii grew it's reputation out of Aloha and being friendly. Sure there are isolated problems in Hawaii but overall they have the best treatment of tourists I have seen. My visits extended to me living there for 26 years from 1970 to 1996. As I resident I also toured the islands exploring virtually every tourist destination available and always found people friendly and with great service. The Philippines needs to follow Hawaii in their effort to be a destination with a reputation.

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  3. Interesting! I showed my U.S passport to a young Argentine Immigration Officer in Buenos Aires and laughed so loud because all but one of the passport pages are stamped out from different countries including Brazil, their neighbor, which requires visa secured in the visitor's country of origin (Los Angeles, for my example). I asked him why (in Los Angeles Spanish accent) and he replied in an Italian/Argentine accent: "Bienvenidos,senor, usted es un viajero profecional". ("Only in the USA", my teenage American-born daughter quipped over the phone when I called her long distance later).

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  4. True. Visiting the United States by people (particularly by unaccompanied jobless young generation) from third world countries have all the hassles at every immigration counter from Guam to Maine. It's Uncle Sam's rule, sir!

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  5. Is someone can go back here even if he deported because he doesnt have onward ticket?

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  6. Im just so curious and worried. My bf is just arrived last night at manila airport,upon entering the arrival hall,the immigration ask about the onward ticket and he doesnt have it. The officer advices him to go back in dubai,is this their way of saying ur being deported? Can he still go back here in the philippines? Is he not blacklisted? Im just worried.hope someone cud clarify it

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    1. Hi Joyhen,

      Sorry for the late reply. There are several grounds before a traveler can be deported by the immigration based on The Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 Section 37. But definitely not having an onward ticket is a ground for deportation.

      To make sure, you can consult the Bureau of Immigration and they would be more than happy to assist you and your bf.

      Hope this time he will be allowed to enjoy the Philippines.

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  7. You are allowed to stay in the Philippines for 16+ months (at least as a British citizen). The rule is silly, a bank statement should be required instead.

    Even worse is when leaving to Thailand you need another onward ticket if applying for a Thai tourist visa. It is not a requirement to have an onward ticket when getting Thai visas from other countries.

    The most ridiculous rule of all is that all Filipinos are forbidden from leaving the country. They are not allowed the freedom to explore the world unless they meet two requirements; a bank statement with loads of money in it, plus a return ticket from wherever they are going.

    The rules are rigid and like many official regulations in the Philippines, lack common sense.

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  8. ps. I should just add that for Brits to stay for 16 months, you do need to extend your visa every 2 months. You initially get 30 days. You may be able to stay longer than 16 months if granted a letter of extension.

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  9. Most foreigners (Including Brits/US/Aus) can stay in the Philippines for 36 months with regular visa extensions. I do regular 6 monthly extensions.

    Any Filipino can leave the Philippines as along as they have a passport, a ticket (return) and evidence of funds, sponsor, work etc. Not necessarily a bank account with loads of money. Just sufficient for them to be safe. This is to safeguard girls leaving with nothing and being targets for human trafficking. This is actually a bit odd, as a young Filipina leaving with an older Westerner on a holiday is allowed to leave with no real problems, just a few simple questions.

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  10. I have been caught out a couple of time on entering the Philippines with a single ticket. Now I purchase an onward flight from www.onwardflights.com for just $5. I have used them a couple of times to show proof of onward travel and it worked both times without any problems. Through the web site you enter the travel dates and destination and they email through a flight confirmation. Its only the deposit of $5 you pay so you can't actually use the flight but the ticket they send you will be fine for the purpose of showing proof of onward travel and it's cheaper than paying for an actual which you are not going to use.

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    1. Interesting to note, Jim, that a Martin posted an identical comment to you (word for word the same) on http://www.wanderingearl.com/proof-of-onward-travel-a-story-and-a-solution/ the day after you. ??

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  11. Good article. I've given up going to the Philippines because of this outdated rule and the fact that I basically have to forfeit money to an airline - its nigh impossible to get a refund.

    Many other countries that used to have the same rule have stopped it. And yes, its an unfriendly starter.

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  12. I was deported last year for not having a return or ongoing ticket.

    Total Gong Show !!

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  13. First off, what difference does it make if a traveler ends up financially unable to leave? It cannot be a burden to the state as there is no welfare other financial assistance from the government for anyone for any reason. And, one thing not mentioned here is that a foreigner married to a Filipino can enter the country without a forward ticket. Upon arrival in the Philippines the Filipino spouse just requests a "balikbayan" visa for the foreigner at immigration and it is stamped in their passport. It is good for one year. The airline that flies you into the Philippines will ask why you have no forward ticket but all you have to do is tell them you will request the balikbayan visa upon arrival and the airline will not require you to purchase that ticket.

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    1. Thx DONDON for the info. Im married to a Filipina, but she will not be traveling with me from LAX to MNL. Do you think bringing a copy of our Marriage License (issued in the Phils), would suffice? Thx!

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    2. No, my understanding is that your wife MUST be with you

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    3. I was searching the comments to let everyone know the exact same thing about balikbayan. My wife and I have done this for the past 6 years with no problem.

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    4. Bagman is correct. The former Filipino must be present to receive the stamp. Also you should always bring your marriage certificate and any birth certificates (for the kids), but they don't always ask for it. Of course the first time you don't bring it, they will.

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  14. I agree 100 % with you. Yours, on my opinion, was one of the best articles on Philippines Immigration and its senseless laws\regulations I ve ever read. the other crazy point about the immigration you haven't talked about and maybe could seem a bit off topic is the practice of offloading Filipinos\as travellers wanting to travel abroad. that's a real shame, the same filipinos are hostages in their own country and continuosly scammed by their own people with the wrong excuse of defending them. for people that don't know please google "Offloaded at NAIA"

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  15. I wanted to clarify. when you buy the onward ticket, can the ticket be for any dates in the new 36 month window, or does it have to be within the first visa free entry part? This is my first time leaving the Philippines since I moved here 3 years ago and will be making a visa run next month.

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    1. im not the author of the article but i think according to the rules you should have an onward ticket out of the country in the period of 30 days from arrival. for example i bought a return trip at 2 months and i still had to purchase a ticket out at 27 days (in my case) even if i will never take it. stupid rules, luckily there is air asia and throwaway tickets are 30-50 $ only to kota kinabalu, kuala lumpur or hong Kong. the airlines often\always check at check in so you better have it...thing is what to say when you arrive in manila? they usually dont ask for it in manila....so stupid, useless because when you want to renew they never want to see it and its not even required

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  16. Reading the Consulant requirments it states posessing an onward flight out of Manila.I will be leaving out of Cebu.Is that going to work?

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  17. 2 years ago I was returning to PH from Madrid with my filipina gf and our daughter (born in PH but travelling with EU passport only). I had my onward ticket but my surprise was when they asked for the onward ticket of my daughter, 1 year old!! We had to wait in the check in counter for 2+ hours until the airline could confirm that a 1 year old Philippine girl doesn't need an onward ticket...
    PH is tricky, try to avoid...

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  18. Really confusing. I want to go from the UK on a 30 day no visa required and extend for at least 6 months while there. Do I get an onward flight to somewhere nearby as suggested and just dump the ticket?.. What a waste! Im not an experienced traveller so dont know wether the other option of buying a refundable ticket and getting it refunded is an easier/cheaper option. Definitely dont want to take the risk of being deported or refused at the airport and having to buy an expensive ticket that i might not be able to get refunded.
    What a mess! I have plenty money to spend there and maybe eventually make a life there with my gf and give employment to locals but Im faced with barriers. The Philippines is a beautiful country but also an archaic unprogressive country and needs to make the leap into the 21st century in many many ways. Maybe Duterte will make a difference. We can only live in hope!

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    1. Yep...regulations challage all logjc

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    2. Not really helpful to you now I guess but something to keep in mind if purchasing a refundable onward ticket is that the airlines will typically not process that refund for 4-6 weeks.

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  19. I am visiting the Philippines soon and i am wondering about the situation with onward ticket. I am eligible to stay in the Philippines for 29 days but i plan on getting an extension on my visa. So does the onward ticket have to show that i am leaving within them 29 days or can i book a longer stay before i get there?

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    1. There is a maximum number of visa extensions that travellers are permitted up to a maximum of around 18 months. You just need to ensure that your onward ticket is not past the maximum allowable stay. You just need to prove that you will eventually leave the country.

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  20. Most cruel and insensitive rule. Arriving to Zamboanga by ferry from Malaysia Filipino immigration does not allowe you to book onward ticket on the spot instead they deport you back and you have to wait one week for the return ferry in the international port. What do you say about that?

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  21. I got caught by the Manila immigration yesterday. I stayed in Philippines for 3 years and had to renew my visa. So after I arrived from Thailand they didn't let me in Philippines because I don't have a return ticket. So they send me back to Thailand and said that I have to clear my record in Manila immigration. Lucky for me I have a friend in Philippines who can help with that. I'm not blacklisted, just need to pay 500 pesos fine. Hope that everything will be fine and and finally can go back to Philippines.

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  22. Those who are travelling from on country to another country they have to know each and everythig. US visa immigration update will let you know about everything like immigration process time, procedure etc.

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  23. Im just so curious and worried. My korean bf and i arrived at manila airport last Sunday morning from Bangkok for a week vacation. He actually stayed here in the Philippines for long over a year so his return ticket to korea expired. So he doesnt have a return ticket to korea. Upon entering the arrival hall,the immigration ask about the return ticket of my bf and he doesnt have it (expired). The officer advises him to go back in Singapore to get a return ticket, and Singapore immigration said he should go back to bangkok where we come from. So he went to bangkok and he got onward ticket to kuala lumpur. Now the question is, will everything be okay when he arrived in the Philippine immigration. Can he still be accepted here in the Philippines, i mean he has onward ticket instead of return ticket? Is he not blacklisted? Im just worried.hope someone cud clarify it.

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  24. Hello. Me and my wife and 4 kids are travelling to Buenos Aires in December on a one way ticket with LATAM Airlines. Me and my 4 kids are South African Passport holders but my wife is an Argentina national has a Argentine passport. We wil then shortly after arriving in Argentina travel to Montevideo, Uruguay as my wife who is part of my father in laws death policy has some documentation to sort out as he passed away last year. This does not allow us to determine an exact date to return as we need these documents to be finalised before we leave. I just need advise on whether I will be allowed boarding when going from Johannesburg to Buenos Aires.

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  25. Hello, So I see that if I have an Onward flight, which I do, but it is at 52 days from my arrival not 30. Will I encounter any problems? Just realized I need a tourist visa to say 59 days but I am leaving in a week. I am stressed out now and not sure what best plan of action is? Do I purchase an onward ticket within 30 days now? If so will there be punishment when I leave the country at 52 days instead of 30?

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