Can I fly into the U.S. on a one-way ticket?
May 21, 2006 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I would like to know if it is possible to fly from Canada into the United States with only a one way ticket. I have searched many U.S. government web sites and have been unable to find any information. Will customs let me through, or will they deny me access?
posted by vansly to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Customs doesn't have anything to do with it, it's immigration services (USCIS). I'm assuming you're a Canadian citizen. Timatic says:
If not holding tickets and documents required for return/onward destination entry may be refused and deportation may follow. This depends on the Immigration Authorities.
I would not attempt this without getting a visa at the embassy or consulate first.
posted by grouse at 1:36 PM on May 21, 2006

It's the border guard's call. You could get lucky - or not.

I'm assuming you are not a US citizen/permanent resident. (If you are, of course, re-entering the country should pose no problem with proper documentation of your status.)

I have entered the U.S. with no return ticket, though by land rather than air. I was searched, my luggage was searched, my diary (which was in my luggage) was read from start to finish, and I was told to obtain proof of my financial ability to get a return ticket (which just meant that I walked back to a Canadian ATM and got a receipt saying what my balance was). I was detained at the border for about three hours (if I were flying, I would certainly have missed my flight). They eventually let me through but it was touch and go.

Basically they want to see that you have a compelling reason to leave the country again. You are not supposed to immigrate to the US without an immigration visa, and having a one-way ticket suggests you may be trying to do so.

The risk you run by doing this without first obtaining a formal visitor visa from USCIS, is that if you are denied entry, it will make all subsequent attempts to enter the US problematic, and you may end up going through a lot more trouble to get the denial-of-entry struck from your record than you would have had to get a visitor visa to begin with.

If you decide to do this (and I am not recommending it) be sure to carry proof of your intention to return - if you rent, ask your landlord for a letter saying how many months you have left on your lease; if you own a house, get a letter from your bank or mortgage holder saying so; ask your employer for a letter saying you're expected back to work on a certain date; etc.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:04 PM on May 21, 2006

You know, you don't have to use the return portion of your ticket if you don't want to. Just get a round trip ticket and discard the second half.
posted by delmoi at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2006

It depends on who you are, where you are flying to, how plausible your story about why you don't need a return ticket is, and the whims/willingness of the authorities to believe you. With a heavy emphasis on the last factor. It seems much more likely that a Finnish heavy metal group will win Eurovision than an average Canadian can pull this off without extreme hassles, so why try. Buy a round trip ticket.
posted by dness2 at 2:27 PM on May 21, 2006


i've done this before (in 2003 or so) and encountered zero problems. i am, however, an american citizen and was traveling on a US passport, so there was no concern of me trying to immigrate illegally.

you don't say what your citizenship is, but it (and other features, including your appearance) will bear greatly on whether you get hassled or not, or admitted or not. a one-way ticket held by a white canadian who has gone back and forth between the US and canada many times, and a one-way ticket held by an arabian guy from turkey who has never entered the US before, will quite simply be treated very differently. fair? no. fact of life? yes.

as others have said, one-way tickets imply several things that the us government is concerned about. one, you are trying to immigrate illegally. two, you are a terrorist and expect to die in carrying out some nefarious plot.

there are certainly no regulations that say you will not be admitted because you only have a one-way ticket. that is not policy and you won't find it on any website. however, traveling on a one-way ticket will get you flagged, and you'll be subject to extra inspection by the border agents.

what i suggest is to document everything you plan to do in the US, how and when you plan to leave and why you don't simply take a return flight. (e.g., your hotel reservations, rental car reservations, the email with your buddy where you agree to drive back across the border, whatever). you need to show that you have a good reason to do what you're doing. if you're canadian it's highly unlikely that you'll be turned back, but do prepare for a delay at the inspection.

also, as delmoi's pointed out, you could just use half of a round-trip ticket. roundtrips are often close in price or sometimes even cheaper than one-ways, if you look hard enough.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 2:45 PM on May 21, 2006

As the people above say. If you are brown or wearing a turban, you will receive much hassle about a one-way ticket. If you are white and upstanding, and you tell a convincing story about how you're going to drive back with some friends in their new car or whatever, you'll be waved on through. (I'm assuming you're not only entering from Canada, but also traveling on a Canadian passport.)

If you were flying from Mexico or South America on a one-way ticket, even being white and convincing wouldn't save you from the body cavity search. Be warned, as the people above say, that if they search, they will actively read everything in your possession looking for evidence that you intend to stay in the United States for an extended period.
posted by jellicle at 2:57 PM on May 21, 2006

My younger brother did this two years ago. I was working in San Francisco for four months on an exchange visa and I had driven my car down. He flew from Toronto to San Francisco on a one-way ticket, visited me in the city for a week, and drove back with me.

He said the customs guys were very suspicious and asked him all sorts of questions. They tried to trick him - one guy asked out of the blue "so tell me about the time you were arrested in Canada", even though he'd never been arrested. In the end they let him through with no problem. But of course your results will depend on your story, what sort of image you project, and the mood of the customs officer.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:23 PM on May 21, 2006

Round trip tickets are often cheaper than one-way tickets, or is that not the case any longer?
posted by caddis at 4:09 PM on May 21, 2006

I think all you will need to have is a plausible reason for flying one-way, such as plans to travel back by car, or train or canoe. You can be in the U.S. for quite some time without a visa, provided you can demonstrate an ability to support yourself.

So have some story in place, and documentation of an ability to support yourself.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:29 PM on May 21, 2006

Yes, you can get a round-trip ticket as easily as (or easier than) a one-way ticket, so it sounds like you're just making this more difficult than it has to be. Unless you have some reason to only get a ticket one way, in which case, you should tell us what it is.
posted by bingo at 2:16 AM on May 22, 2006

Get a round trip ticket and save $100.
posted by JJ86 at 5:28 AM on May 22, 2006

I don't have any specific examples of this getting me out of trouble (or helping me avoid trouble), but I strongly recommend that if you have any sort of doubts about crossing the US/Canada border, DRESS NICE WHEN YOU TRAVEL!

Figure out which stereotype you best fit (like "kindly old man on a long trip", "successful businessman conducting complicated affairs", "fresh-faced youngster looking to see the world", "hot chick") and dress the part as best you can. As you walk up to that counter at Pearson, you want them to be thinking, "What a nice fella. It would make me happier to speed them through."

And smile and nod whenever you are speaking.
posted by hammurderer at 1:02 PM on May 22, 2006

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