Do I need a return ticket to enter Ecuador?

Last Updated: 1st September 2020
Written by Jason Scott
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Ecuadorian immigration officers are unlikely to need a return or onward ticket, but your airline might!

Don't get caught out. Especially with all of COVID related airline rule changes, I wouldn't risk turning up to the check-in counter without some type of proof of onward travel. 

I've been caught out a couple of times trying to enter Ecuador without a return or onward ticket and the airlines were less than supportive. JetBlue, in particular, was very strict and slow (over 1 hour) to check me in even when I had an onward ticket. Without it, they showed no empathy. 

Note, this is for visitors to Ecuador. Residents of Ecuador (temporary or permanent) don't need proof of an onward ticket, but they'll likely need to show their Ecuadorian Cedula or Passport as proof of residency. 

Do Ecuadorian customs officers require proof of onward travel? 

Like many Ecuadorian laws, there is a difference between what is technically required and what is enforced. 

By the letter of the law, customs officers may request to see both proof of onward journey & financial means to support yourself during your stay. You'll also need a passport with 6 months expiry. 

In reality, immigration officers rarely request an onward/return ticket or financial means. This is true not just for me, but for all ex-pats in Ecuador I've encountered. This is handy to know when crossing the border via land at the Colombian or Peruvian borders. 

Why do airlines care if I don't have a return ticket? 

If you're a masochist, I suggest having a conversation with your airline check-in agent about Ecuadorian immigration officers not caring about their legal duty of enforcing their country's immigration rules...  

Your check-in agent may have very little wriggle room to go against their company's onward ticketing policy. The reasoning is that if they fly you into Ecuador, and then immigration doesn't let you in, then they'll be stuck with trying to find a way to get you back to your origin. 

It also won't help to offer a guarantee or provide proof of finances to book your own onward ticket should the unthinkable happen and Ecuador doesn't let you in. I've tried many similar lines of argument, and all to no avail. The general response is firm; policy is policy. 

What are my options for providing proof of onward / return travel? 

So, we've established that you're a visitor to Ecuador without a return or onward ticket. What are your options for acquiring proof of onward travel? 

1. Buy a return ticket

Even if you aren't planning on returning, we suggest checking out prices for a return ticket. You see, the price of one-way tickets can be pretty expensive to many South American destinations. So you might be able to pay a little more for a return fare. 

The return fare also acts as a sort of insurance policy should you need to leave for whatever reason. 

2. Buy a refundable onward ticket

If you've already got a one-way ticket to Ecuador, then this may be your best option. You can purchase a one-way ticket from Quito or Guayaquil to a close destination such as Peru, Colombia, Panama or anywhere really so long as you're leaving Ecuador. 

 The easiest platform I've used to purchase refundable tickets is Expedia. Here's how: 

  1. Wait until there are less than 24 hours until your flight departs for Ecuador. This is to comply with Expedia's refund policy
  2. Go to the flight section of Expedia
  3. Enter flight details, ensuring you've selected 'one way' and 'refundable flights only'. 
  4. Purchase ticket
  5. Print out ticket, ensuring you have the booking reference number as the airline may use this to check you're actually on the flight. They did this to me. 
  6. Request a refund through Expedia after you've arrived in Ecuador. Ensuring this is less than 24 hours since you purchased the ticket. 
Expedia Refundable Flights Ecuador

Expedia is generally pretty good with quick refund turnaround times, but during busy periods you may need to wait a couple of more days. 

This is my preferred method because I'm able to control the timings without having to rely on a third party to buy/cancel the ticket for me. 

3. Use an onward ticket buying & canceling service

Niche businesses have popped up that effectively do the exact same thing as the above method. The key differences are that you don't need to purchase the ticket yourself. You pay the company a service fee and they then buy a random onward ticket for you and cancel it afterward. 

I've used several of these services in the past and whilst I've never had any problems, I always feel a little uneasy trusting a 3rd party company to do this on my behalf. 

The service that has provided the most efficient and punctual response has been Onward Ticket. You can read more about how they operate on their site. 

The biggest pro of using a 3rd party service is that you don't have to worry about refunding the ticket. I have to admit I've come within minutes of missing my Expedia refund window because I flat out forgot and almost wasted a few hundred dollars.  

Final Words

If you're a visitor to Ecuador that does not have a return ticket, we recommend buying yourself via Expedia or via service like Onward Ticket.

Oh, and don't forget to check what electronics we recommend to bring to Ecuador as it's definitely worthwhile maximizing your baggage allowance.

Have you had a nightmare experience missing a flight to Ecuador because of the onward travel requirements? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below. 

Happy flying!

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