What happens when you book a flight to a country you don't have a visa for?

  • I'm a travel newbie but I do want to travel to a lot of places.

    It seems that I could book flights to where ever I want to go, but some countries have visa requirements.

    What happens if you do get a flight, arrive at the destination, and then realize that there's a visa requirement that you don't have?

    I had a funny situation where I was flying to country X, and literally as I was checking in, the check-in staff realised I did not have a visa for it. In short I rushed over to a computer (in the airport hotel lobby) and was in this case able to get some sort of visa online for country X. I rushed back to check in, incredibly it worked, and just made it through check-in. {Then, incredibly, while rushing through security there was A MASSIVE BOMB SCARE at this airport and everything was delayed for hours with 1000s of people out on the street! heh!}

    Not just a visa; most airlines will also require you to present proof of onward travel unless you are a resident of the destination country.

    Just to clarify, that "booking a flight" (as mentioned in the title) and "boarding a flight" (as assumed in the question) are two different things.

    It's quite normal to book a flight before getting a visa. In fact (as I had to last week) you may have to produce the flight booking in order to secure the visa! As the accepted answer indicates if you don't have a visa (and you do require some kind of visa to land) they'll generally prevent you from boarding. I've heard of a couple of exceptions where they missed it though, and *sometimes* people were able to make ($$$) arrangements without being sent back on the next flight. I would not expect this kind of accommodation to ever happen with US arrivals.

    I have never been asked for a visa. I know it was required for Turkey, and I think I had to show it on arrival, but I have never been asked for a visa at any departure point. And never asked for proof of onward travel at either end, even when my tickets were one way.

  • In general, the airline won't let you get on the plane. If you are refused entry to a country upon arrival, it is the airline's responsibility to return you to your place of origin, so they have an interest in confirming that you hold the correct visa for your destination (if required).

    Airlines frequently use a system called Timatic for this:

    IATA Timatic is the industry standard used by airlines and travel agents to verify passengers travel document requirements for their destination and any transit points. Airlines use this information to ensure their customers are compliant with border control rules and regulations. Timatic delivers personalized information based on the passenger's destination, transit points, nationality, travel document, residence country etc.

    It is your responsibility to make sure you have the required visa for your destination. The airline is unlikely to offer you a refund if you show up for departure with no visa.

    Awesome. Fast, informative answer. Thanks for this.

    Been there, done that. My Hong Kong girlfriend and I boarded a flight to Canada via Detroit. I am Canadian so needed no visa, but we were told at the ticket gate that my gf couldn't take the flight. We ended up getting her a same-day direct flight that avoided the US. The entire pre-booked ticket price was lost :(

    Airlines can be wrong though - in the EU it's legal to travel with a non-EU spouse (as long as you are an EU citizen) under Directive 2004/38/EC with no visa. However most airlines are unaware of the law will prevent you from boarding.

    Almost been there. They tried to deny us boarding on the basis of expired visas. Yeah, there were expired visas from a cancelled trip, there were also current visas.

    @tar: Canadians tend to forget that almost everybody else needs a visa or ESTA to travel to the US!

    @Greg: Yeah, and a permanent record of our fingerprints :( I'm still waiting for the day that they show up, thousands of miles away, at some crime scene...

    Not just Visas - I have been turned away from check-in when I did not need a visa at my intended destination, but I did need proof of an onward journey, which I did not have. Difficult situation in airport at midnight, with all booking facilities closed.

    What is the basis for your assertion that 'most airlines are unaware of the law' @Ash? Airlines have staff whose job it is to ensure that laws regarding travel documents are complied with. The 11 year old Directive 2004/38/EC is hardly a secret.

    @Craig Welch - Personal experience. I've contacted easyJet here in the UK who told me I'd need a visa to travel with my non EU wife to the Netherlands. The Dutch embassy confirmed this is not the case. You don't need a visa but they will deny you travel because they aren't aware of the directive.

    Fair comment on EasyJet @Ash, but I'd hardly say that qualifies as 'most airlines'.

    @Craig Welch Ok to list airlines I've had problems with: easyJet, Ryanair, Flybe. Which covers most budget flights to Europe from the UK.

    Dear answerer: the question is poorly written. It asks one question in the title, and a different question in the body. May I suggest you [edit] your answer to answer the question posed in the title also. May I suggest you mention that _nothing_ will happen at the time of booking: the airline will be happy to take the OP's money and sell him a ticket without telling him anything about the destination country's visa requirements.

    @Ash non-EU/EEA spouses, and indeed certain other family members, are exempted from the visa requirement only if they have an EU residence permit that identifies them as the family member of an EU/EEA citizen.

    @phong But there is no requirement for that residence permit in the directive. It just makes things easier because you have a document.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM