Is a one-way ticket to Europe my best option?
April 16, 2007 4:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Europe in about 5 to 6 weeks and about to purchase the airline ticket. Problem is, I dont know when I will be coming back nor where I will be when I return.

I will be purchasing my ticket through as a one-way ticket going into London. Should I be worried about having any issues with customs in England since I dont have a return flight booked yet?

I was thinking about doing a round-the-world ticket or just buying a round trip ticket and later postponing (or just plain cancelling) my return flight but I would like to look at the cheapest option. My departure date is anytime during the last two weeks of May and I am actually willing to fly into any major European city. London just happens to be the most inexpensive (to fly into) and seems like as good a place as any to start my backpacking trip. The cheapest ticket I found is around $225 flying out of New York going into London one way.

So any suggestions on purchasing this ticket given the above details? Is a one-way ticket my best option and what should I do to ensure I dont have any problems going through immigration? Your advice is greatly appreciated!
posted by Gaiwan to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Should I be worried about having any issues with customs in England since I dont have a return flight booked yet?

No, but you should be worried about issues with immigration control, which occurs before you pick up checked bags and go through customs. The immigration officer will be concerned with several things:
* you are genuinely seeking entry as a visitor for up to six months
* you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit
* you do not intend to take employment in the UK
* you have enough money to support and accommodate yourself without recourse to public funds or taking employment
* you can meet the cost of a return or onward journey.
Having a return or onward ticket in hand satisfies the last one and is good evidence for the first two. I'd imagine it's on the unusual side for a visitor not to have one, so you need to look into bringing some proof that you can support yourself such as bank statements.
posted by grouse at 5:06 PM on April 16, 2007

I can speak to London with the greatest amount of personal knowledge. If you do not have a return ticket and are not a UK citizen, you are almost certain to have trouble at UK immigration.

You will probably be allowed in, but you may be detained in the meantime, and if so you will have an uncomfortable time. This is especially true if you are coming to visit for more than a week or two.

If you cannot afford a return ticket, or cannot buy one for whatever reason, you will need to provide evidence that you plan to return to the US, such as pay slips proving that you have a job, or a lease perhaps. The immigration agent is only worried that you will stay in the country illegally for more than six months. If you can convince the agent with using documentary evidence that this is not the case - you should be fine. You will be asked if you have permanent employment in the US, it will help very much if you do.

If you decide to do this, make sure you are friendly and forthcoming with the immigration officials. Do not, under any circumstances look nervous. My experience with the UK immigration is that can be very hard on non-citizens.

I have traveled into Amsterdam as well, and they did not seem to be nearly as difficult. It is almost certain that other European countries are a better bet for this type of plan than the UK.

In the absolute worst case scenario, the immigration agents can attempt to send you back on the next flight at your expense, but I imagine this is fairly unlikely. And, of course, in the best case scenario you will waltz through immigration and wonder what the heck that random mefi denizen was babbling about.
posted by yoz420 at 5:08 PM on April 16, 2007

Also, what grouse said. Bank statements help if they show some savings.
posted by yoz420 at 5:09 PM on April 16, 2007

I bet proof of travel insurance/or other applicable health insurance would be a good thing.
posted by grouse at 5:12 PM on April 16, 2007

I moved to Berlin last year and found the cheapest way to do it was to book a ticket to London and then catch an EasyJet flight from London to Berlin. In retrospect, it probably would've been easier to just pay the extra money and fly into Amsterdam, because London was a pain. We had printouts of our bank accounts, proof of return tickets (though they were like six months in the future), proof of continuing flights out of London later THAT DAY and they still were trying to hassle us about moving to England to work illegally.

In fact, in my extensive travels through Europe, it was the only place where I or any of my friends (who also all traveled a lot) were ever harrassed (and we were, on a regular basis).

If you must fly into London, just make sure you have all the necessary documentation printed out and on hand.
posted by atomly at 6:05 PM on April 16, 2007

You may want to see if you can instead get a ticket from STA Travel - as they have lots of offices around England. They often offer Flexible fares; which you can change your return date - pending availability - for a very small fee; like about $30.

This way you could book the return leg for approximately when you'll be coming home, and just visit STA once there to make alterations to the itinerary.

I would recommend calling or stopping into an office though; I'm not a huge fan of their website.
posted by heh3d at 6:07 PM on April 16, 2007

When I've gone through immigration in London I've had a departure date on my landing card and the official just looks at it and lets me pass without question. I think suspicion will be raised if you either leave the departure date blank on the landing card or sound like you're lying when asked how long you're staying in the UK.

I've never been asked for my itinerary or paper ticket at any passport control in any country I've visited.

If you're going onto continental Europe -- which is sounds like you are -- and you're worried about an outward ticket to prove you're leaving the UK. Buy a ticket onto the continent and have it the itinerary handy.

I've found flying into Frankfurt for a US citizen is easier than going to Canada. At passport control, they inspect your passport and let you pass. No landing card. No asking when you're leaving. Just a friendly hello and you're on your way.

Unless I'm specifically going to visit London and England, I'll go straight to Brussels or Frankfurt.
posted by birdherder at 6:20 PM on April 16, 2007

Buy a ticket onto the continent and have it the itinerary handy.

Seconding, especially since it sounds like you're going to be traveling outside of the U.K. as well.

The easiest way would be to visit someone like EasyJet or RyanAir and purchase the ticket for the next leg of your trip. A Eurostar ticket should work as well if you're planning to take the train. It is possible that passport control in your destination might want proof of onward travel, but in my own experience it's very unlikely.

see if you can instead get a ticket from STA Travel

If you know what country you want to fly back from, this should work pretty well. As long as you can find a flexible fare and follow the restrictions associated with your ticket, you should be able to change your return date for as little as $30.
posted by timelord at 6:48 PM on April 16, 2007

passport control in your destination

Meant to say destination country i.e. the next European country you plan to visit.
posted by timelord at 6:49 PM on April 16, 2007

I posted this question almost a year ago...

I eventually did go into London with no return ticket, no bank statements and all that jazz. Needless to say I was detained for 3 hours, had my photo taken by Customs people and also was informed that I was going to be sent back on the first flight to America. My heart dropped, to say the least.

After the three hours of uncertainty they were able to talk with my girlfriend who was waiting for me at the airport and confirm that, well confirm nothing. For some odd reason they relented and let me into the country. It left an unpleasant feeling in my stomach for the rest of the day [it's painful to watch your medium-term life plans nearly get crushed], thankfully I had wonderful vegan thai for 3 bucks that night and all was well.

A week later or so I was working illegally as a bicycle taxiist. HAHAHAHA FUCK YOU IMMIGRATIONS!

Eventually I sorted things out and got legalized through BUNAC, but only after I took a one hour vacation to France and got my passport restamped.

So what am I trying to say... um, don't fly over without serious documentation and itinerary unless you have a deportation fetish.
posted by cloeburner at 7:00 PM on April 16, 2007

Oh, and when I said 3 bucks I meant to say 3 pounds... seems all my British inclinations have now disappeared.
posted by cloeburner at 7:03 PM on April 16, 2007

Response by poster: Excellent suggestions!

Yeah you guys got it right, im not planning on staying in England for too long, maybe a night or two. The rest of the trip will be in Europe and northern Africa. Only reason I want to fly into London is because it seems to be the cheapest to fly into and I would like to at least get to know it before I continue my trip as I probably wouldnt visit it otherwise (too expensive).

It does sound like quite a hassle to go through London but hopefully it will be worth it.
posted by Gaiwan at 7:08 PM on April 16, 2007

northern Africa

I'm pretty sure you'll need proof of onward journey here as well. For example here's a page on Morocco.
posted by timelord at 7:41 PM on April 16, 2007

Some (often, not always) low-cost ways to get there/back:

Air India (Paris CDG-EWR, London LHR-JFK)
FlyGlobespan (Liverpool-JFK)
Aer Lingus (Dublin/Shannon-JFK/BOS/BWI)
Zoom (London LGW-JFK)
Kuwait Airways (LHR-JFK)
Pakistan International (Manchester-JFK)

From that list, Air India from Newark to Paris means you land in the Schengen zone and basically avoid the UK immigration scrum. Every time I've landed in Paris, I've been smiled at, stamped, and sent on my way. Landing in Glasgow from Poland on my way home to California meant a ten-minute grilling about which bus/ferry combination, exactly, I was taking in ten days to get off The Sceptered Isle; apparently the immigration guy wasn't happy that I hadn't booked the tickets yet even though I had my tickets from France back to LA!

Another thought - if you land in one of the Schengen countries (dark blue as of right now on this map), would you not just need evidence of leaving the Schengen countries, not going back to America? Perhaps a ten-euro Ryanair flight from the boonies of France or Germany to a non-Schengen destination (light blue/gray countries), which you actually never use?

Finally: never buy a plane ticket without checking ITAsoftware. Never.
posted by mdonley at 8:08 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've flown into Europe via Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, and Zurich, and crossed borders in a dozen other airports, and not once have I ever been asked for proof I was going to leave. The closest I've gotten to being hassled was a Lithuanian border guard asked me for proof of health insurance, but everyone else just scanned my passport and waved me through.

So it sounds like you should just avoid flying into the UK.
posted by cmonkey at 10:25 PM on April 16, 2007

I've flown into Europe via Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, and Zurich, and crossed borders in a dozen other airports, and not once have I ever been asked for proof I was going to leave.

Same here, except I can also add Heathrow and Glasgow to the list of places that didn't hassle me at all, so it's clearly not everybody.

That said, you could always buy a fully refundable return ticket, and then just cancel it and buy a cheap one instead, later.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 11:13 PM on April 16, 2007

Fly on a Tuesday (usually) for the lowest fare. And there may be better deals out there. A cursory glance found a Round Trip ticket on LTU from JFK->Dusseldorf/Frankfurt/Munich for $318 . Not sure if that helps any, as you don't know your return date, but there are always other options.
posted by stovenator at 2:44 AM on April 17, 2007

Forget all the legality issues that everyone is referring to. A one way ticket is typically on average double the amount of a round trip ticket. Buy the round trip ticket, save yourself the money, and you will also have simple solution for getting through immigration. Win win.
posted by wile e at 3:38 AM on April 17, 2007

One way tickets are more expensive and will subject you to some nasty security-related inspections. It's not worth the headaches. Buy a cheaper round trip fare and toss the return ticket.
posted by JJ86 at 6:51 AM on April 17, 2007

Folks, one-way student tickets are usually quite cheap, unlike regular one-way tickets. Check out or to see for yourselves.

Gaiwan, I agree with those who are saying buy a (refundable) ticket on a low-fare airline flying out of the UK. That'll be your easiest way to handle queries from HM Customs. Otherwise, prepare to bring a lot of documentation.

(I despise Heathrow, so my real advice to you would be to fly into France or Germany and start there, then visit London on your way back to the US.)
posted by armage at 1:23 PM on April 17, 2007

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