When Your Flight “Aller Simple” Isn’t So Simple

“Are you sure you can get into the country with a one-way ticket?”

When my mum initially asked me this question two days before my flight was scheduled to depart, I brushed off her concerns. She asked what seemed like a million other questions about my semester abroad in Paris leading up to my trip and I was getting lazy about responding.

But about 15 seconds later, when it hit me that I didn’t actually know the answer to her question, panic set in.

I bought a one-way ticket to France because I intend to travel around France for a week or two after my final exams, but I’m not sure when my last exam will take place. I found a travel agency that offered me a $500 one-way ticket to Paris from San Francisco — near impossible to find, by the way — and gladly purchased it in late November of last year.

The question remained: Would I be denied entry into France or onto the airplane because I didn’t book a round-trip flight?

And so the roller coaster of emotions and the Google searches commenced. I tried typing “one way ticket student visa” and “france border entry requirements” and everything in between in French and English with very little luck. I browsed through travel forums and looked through the French Embassy’s website and couldn’t find a conclusive answer. My heart sank.

Luckily, I found some solace on an FAQ web page for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. Under the question, “What are the border controls going to ask for when I arrive in France?” it lists that holders of long-stay visas, which include student visas, will only be asked to show their passport and visa upon arriving at customs. I breathed a sigh of relief.

However, If your mother is anything like mine, she didn’t think this web page was enough — she wanted written or verbal confirmation from a real person. I wrote e-mails to the Washington, D.C., and San Francisco French General Consulates, but didn’t receive a response. I called my airline and the travel agency that I used to book my flight and their responses were either uncertain or suggested that I might not be allowed to board my flight. Panic ensued once again.

By the time my departure date rolled around, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know what to expect when I got to the airport. I printed out as much proof as I could that I only planned to stay in France until the end of this semester and intended to return to Georgetown to complete my studies and practiced explaining myself in French.

It turns out that I didn’t need to. No one batted an eye at my lack of a return flight to the States. Not the persons working at the check-in counter, not the TSA, not my airline. Two flights and one quick trip through customs later, I entered France without having to apologize profusely for failing to book a flight back to the States.

I got lucky. And while I’m grateful that I am safe and sound in Paris, the stress ensued reminded me about how I need to be much more careful when I navigate my way through rules and systems that I am not familiar with. I’m more mindful than ever of anticipating possible consequences while I’m abroad, being sure to ask questions well in advance of any situation and booking round-trip tickets. No more billets aller-simple for me for a while.

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