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Monday, February 20, 2006


Travelling on a one-way ticket

When I came to Thailand at the end of 2002 I had a 12 month work visa in my Australian passport. This entitled me to enter the country on a one-way ticket with no questions. But if you don't have such a visa and only a one-way ticket, they won't let you leave the airport. Actually, you won't get that far—the airline won't even let you on the plane. Other countries, however, have different regulations.

When I left Thailand at the end of '02 I bought a one-way ticket to take me to Singapore. I could not see that there would be any problem with that as I could easily leave Singapore by road and travel to Malaysia. I turned up at Bangkok airport without a care in the world (well, not too many, anyway) until Thai Airways told me I couldn't board the plane unless I bought another ticket to take me out of Singapore. Well, I calmly argued my case and eventually they relented. When I got to Singapore it was a non-issue. I only wanted a one-month visa but they stamped it for three and no questions were asked about how I was leaving the country.

Having had this experience, when I returned to Asia from Australia last year I asked a few questions of the airlines I was considering travelling with. In the end I chose to travel to Singapore by Malaysian Airlines. My intention was to then travel overland (well overbridge) to Malaysia. The MAS booking staff told me to check with the Singapore Embassy about what the requirements were. When I rang them we both agreed that the simplest way around it was to buy a cheap Air Asia ticket from Singapore to Bangkok and use that as proof that I had the means to leave the country. I had no intention of actually flying on this ticket.

When I arrived at Brisbane airport the woman who checked me in said that I could have got on board without it—she checked this with her boss. And when I entered Singapore, once again, the ticket was not requested and my passport was stamped without any questions.

Last year I flew from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia, with Bangkok Airlines. I flew on a single ticket without an advance visa and with the intention of returning to Thailand overland. There was absolutely no question about this from either the airline or Cambodian immigration.

When I was almost ready to book my ticket back to Asia from Australia this year I went along to Flight Centre to see which airline was cheapest. When I said I wanted a one-way ticket the young woman became quite officious and gave me a lecture about entering a country without permission to stay there. In this sort of situation I always think later of what I should have said: 'Are you talking from experience or is this what they've taught you to say?'

Anyway, she gave me the information I wanted—the currently cheapest airline. When I was ready to book, I rang the airline, Malaysian once again. And once again the sales consultant was not recommending that I arrive at the airport without either a visa or an onward ticket. I rang the Cambodian embassy in Canberra and was told they'd never heard of such a problem. They could give me a visa but as I wanted a business visa they would need a letter from someone in Cambodia.

This was not going to be easy to organise so to cover myself for all possibilities I bought an Air Asia ticket online to take me from Phnom Penh to Bangkok one month after my arrival. It cost me $A40, two thirds of which was taxes. I showed it at the airport when I boarded but it was not requested by immigration when I entered Cambodia.

I was still not certain about how I would go with the business visa. Cambodia issues two types of visa. A tourist visa lasts one month, costs $US20 and can be extended for one month. A business visa lasts one month, costs $US25 and can be extended indefinitely. That's the one I wanted as I am hoping to stay and teach English at Wat Xan in Kompong Chhnang. But would they give it to me on entry without a letter from Wat Xan?

They did. The only requirement was that I pay the $25 which I was carrying in my pocket. So I was in and that was the first of the challenges in relation to Cambodia resolved. In a few days I'll be off to Kompong Chhnang to see how I go with the other challenges. Watch this space.

And as for the need for an onward ticket—my experience is that as far as both Singapore and Cambodia are concerned it really is not necessary but is needed to keep the airline happy.

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