The Philippines – One-Way Tickets & Entry Requirements

I used to love one-way tickets. Right up until the check-in lady at the airport told me I couldn’t catch my flight to the Philippines because I didn’t have an onward ticket. In this post, I’ll share my experience when I was denied boarding to the Philippines. Then I’ve listed 10 things to check before traveling to the Philippines including visas, onward tickets, vaccinations, and registering with the eTravel system.

Denied Boarding To The Philippines On A One-Way Ticket

I’d booked a one-way ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Manila. As a digital nomad, I’d been bouncing around Asia, making my travel plans on the fly. I’d already traveled through Hong Kong, Japan (trying the local foods: Kobe beef, fugu, and okonomiyaki). Things were going well until the lady at Air Asia introduced me to the stringent entry requirements for the Philippines

I’m normally diligent with formalities like entry requirements. I’d heard enough travel stories from tourists who’d had trouble at borders (my friend Tim ended up in a prison in Panama!).

But, as with most places, I focused on the Philippines visa rules. I knew I’d get a free 30-day visa on arrival so I went ahead and booked my ticket. What I failed to check was the onward ticket rules.

Having traveled to over 60 countries across 6 continents, I’d gotten complacent. Sure, many countries list having an onward ticket in their entry requirements, but it’s rarely checked in practice. (Note: Panama and Costa Rica are two other countries where I’ve since been checked).

Manila skyline

Prove You’re Leaving Or You Won’t Be Arriving

On the day of travel, I turned up at Kuala Lumpur Airport in good enough time. At the check-in desk, the conversation went like this:

“How long are you staying in the Philippines?” Check-in lady.

“Not sure yet,” I answered a bit too honestly.

“So you don’t have a ticket leaving the Philippines?”

Damn.

“Yes,” I bludgeoned the truth. I did, technically, have a ticket leaving from Bangkok to London in 3 months. So, I did have a return ticket out of the continent but Air Asia wouldn’t accept it. What I needed was a ticket that showed me leaving the Philippines.

I politely argued my case. I clearly wasn’t planning to move to the Philippines. Worse case, I was a flake who had no idea where she’d be next week, let alone the week after. I was appealing to her inner free spirit. But rules are rules. No proof of a return journey. No flight.

Double damn.

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The Quick Fix: Buying A Ticket At The Airport

Not wanting to miss my flight, I had no option. I had to buy an onward ticket to board. My goal: buy the cheapest ticket that departs the Philippines within the next 30 days. Normally, I use my list of tips and tricks for getting cheap flights, comparing deals and routes and dates. But with no time to spare, I went straight to the Air Asia website, one of Asia’s best low-cost airlines.

Ideally, I wanted a flight to somewhere on my ‘next destination shortlist’. If I was being forced to book a ticket, it made sense to book one I might take. But the prices were not in my favor for Cambodia, Thailand, or Vietnam. Time was ticking on. And I was getting desperate. I searched and searched until I found Kota Kinabalu, on the Indonesian side of Borneo. The flight was under $50 leaving within 30 days. It was as close to perfect as I was going to get. I booked, making sure I didn’t pay for any extras like baggage or speedy boarding since I probably wasn’t going to take the flight.

The story ends reasonably well. I checked in just in time. I boarded my flight to Manila. And over the next few weeks, I got to explore the Philippines, wonder at the Batad Rice Terraces, and learn that I don’t like Filipino food nearly as much as the food in Japan (except the Sofitel Sunday Brunch in Manila).

Yes, it was a stressful experience and by the time I boarded the flight, I felt exhausted. But it was my fault.

A little part of me remains bemused by the bureaucracy. I was forced to buy a ticket for a flight I didn’t end up taking. As my visa period ended, I left the Philippines to visit Italy. I didn’t feel bad about skipping Kota Kinabalu, a place I loved when I visited the first time.

On my first night in Manila, watching the sunset over the city’s skyline, I cracked open a beer and let out a huge sigh. The more I move around, the more I accept these bumps in the road. I’m writing this so you don’t have to have the onward ticket stress I had.

10 Checks Before You Travel to The Philippines

Here are 10 checks to make before traveling to the Philippines. Of course, for the most detailed and up-to-date information, also check your home country’s government website. For U.S. Citizens, check the State Department and for the UK it’s the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

1. Visa Requirements

International travelers from most countries get a free 30-day tourist visa on arrival if you’re visiting for tourism purposes. Those countries include the countries of Europe, the UK, the United States, Canada, and Australia. Here is a full list of countries. If you want to visit for longer, you can apply for a tourist visa extension. If you intend to work or live in the Philippines, you will have to make a visa application for a business visa or residency.

2. Travel documents

Your travel document is your passport issued by your country of origin, which must be valid i.e. not expired. In addition, your passport must have at least 6 months validity left before its expiry date. I got wrongly denied boarding in recent years because the airline crew got the 6-month rule wrong (I don’t have much luck with airports!). Double-check your passport before you book your tickets.

3. Space for entry stamp

Most people have plenty of spare pages in their passport but do make sure you have space for your entry and exit stamp at immigration. It takes up less than half a passport page per stamp.

4. Onward ticket

This is the requirement that caught me out. You must have a ticket for your departure, i.e. an onward ticket, to enter the Philippines. The Philippine Government is very strict on this rule. In fact, most airlines won’t let you board the plane unless you can show evidence of your outbound flight. Things to know:

  • If you get this wrong (and are reading this at the airport), you can buy a quick ticket online if you have time.
  • Your onward tickets don’t need to be back to your home country.
  • Your ticket can be to any place outside the Philippines. If you do want to travel one way and plan your return later, book the cheapest flight you can find.
  • Your onward ticket must show you leaving the Philippines within your visa period.

Tips for booking a last-minute onward ticket

  • The best option is to book a refundable ticket via Best Onward Ticket. They buy a ticket on your behalf which is valid for 48 hours. You pay a fee of $12. After 48 hours, they cancel the ticket. I’d be nervous using this service at short notice e.g. at the airport in case the ticket didn’t come through quickly enough. But it’s reliable a couple of days before travel.
  • If you are at the airport searching for a ticket, head to Skyscanner and book the cheapest onward ticket you can find. Search from ‘the Philippines’ to ‘all destinations’ in the next month.
  • Remember: destination, date, and time don’t matter if you don’t intend to catch your onward ticket flight.
  • Make sure your onward ticket departs before your visa expiry date.

5. eTravel registration (72 hours before arrival)

Foreign tourists must register with the e-travel Philippines Travel Information System within 72 hours of travel to the Philippines. It’s an online application form that is designed to speed up the process with immigration officials. It replaces the old paper form system and incorporates the health declaration (One Health Pass). There is no fee to register. Don’t get caught out by agents wanting to make money. Here is the free, official eTravel website. You will receive a QR code. I recommend taking a screenshot of the code in case your email doesn’t load offline when you land.

6. Covid vaccinations and testing

There are no longer any requirements related to proof of COVID vaccination status, COVID certificates, testing, or quarantine to enter the Philippines.

7. Declare over 50,000 pesos or $10,000 cash

Like most countries, there are restrictions on how much cash you can bring into the Philippines. If you plan to take more than 50,000 pesos (just under $1,000) or $10,000 in USD into the Philippines, you must declare it to customs.

8. Yellow Fever Certificate

While there is no requirement to get vaccinated against yellow fever to enter the Philippines, you will need to show a certificate of vaccination if you have recently traveled to a yellow fever zone. This mostly means Africa and South America. Here is a full list of Yellow Fever Zones.

9. Departure taxes

Most airports in the Philippines charge an airport tax. For domestic flights, it’s just a few dollars. For international departures, it’s closer to $10. The administration is improving and many airlines now include this tax in your ticket price. However, double-check before you leave so you’re not surprised by a last-minute tax.

10. Booking Flights & Things To Know Before You Go

There are three main international airports in the Philippines:

  • Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila.
  • Mactan–Cebu International Airport.
  • Clark International Airport (Manila’s low-cost airport north of the city).

International flights are increasing to popular tourist destinations like Bohol and Boracay. However, the airports above typically offer the best routes and prices. I have more tips and destination information including the best places to visit in my Guide to the Philippines – Know Before You Go.

My go-to flight search website is Skyscanner where I check routes and prices. Do a broad search e.g. the month you want to travel and the whole country of the Philippines to get the best overview of prices. Since I was already in Asia when I booked my flight to the Philippines, I paid just $50 for my flight to Manila. However, that was a one-way ticket and therefore a bit of a false economy in the end.

Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.