Having traveled to over 50 countries, I've learned that it's wise to check country entry requirements before hopping on a plane. One that I often forget, is that most countries require the visitor to have a confirmed outward plane ticket.
When I arrived at Fiji immigration, I was well prepared. I had even made a screenshot of the confirmation on my iPhone in case the immigration officer would ask. Besides, it's Fiji! Known for it's super friendly people, who would expect trouble here. Right?
The immigration officer did indeed ask for my outward ticket. I politely showed her the confirmation. My flight was booked for a week later, going to Vanuatu, another island group in the South Pacific. "Where are you going after that?" was the next question.
"Hong Kong," I answered a little surprised. "Why does she care where I'm going next," I wondered. As soon as I'm out of the country it shouldn't matter where I go. "When are you going back home?" the immigration officer followed up. "I...don't ...know," I stuttered as I was completely caught off guard by her question. I hadn't thought about my return date yet.
The officer left her cubicle and walked away. When she returned, she ordered me to follow her into a small room. A grumpy, middle aged looking man sat behind a desk. He raised his eyelid and checked me out for a few seconds, after which he yelled "When are you going home?" "I don't know, I haven't booked a ticket back to Holland yet," I replied.
"Fijian law dictates that all visitors need a ticket home," he replied. "What???" I replied in amazement, "I've been to around 50 countries and I've never heard of such a rule!" The officer wasn't impressed. "That's ok, you book a ticket or we put you on a plane back to your country!" It didn't make any sense to me. He wanted me to book a ticket from Hong Kong to Holland.
I quickly considered my options. If I can get on the internet, I could book a refundable ticket and cancel it later. I got my laptop out and looked for a Wi-Fi network. Fortunately, the local provider accepted my Boingo account. I booked a ticket to Amsterdam and showed it to the immigration boss.
As he looked over the confirmation, he sat back and looked at me for a while, seemingly thinking about another way to make my life a little harder. "Give me the flight number to Vanuatu", he ordered. He then picked up the phone and started mumbling some words. After a few minutes, he turned to me again. "I just called the airline, you are not confirmed on the flight. You will have to buy a new ticket."
I was speechless. I showed him the screenshot of my confirmation again, including e-ticket number. He just sat there and shook his head. I spotted the room for hidden cameras. "This must be some candid camera joke," I thought. "It won't be long until a a TV host will walk in followed by a camera crew. I'm probably the 10 millionth visitor or something. I'll get to meet the King and I'll win a two week stay at some paradise island resort.
A few minutes passed. No camera crew yet. "If you don't book a ticket, we'll have to detain you and deport you back to your country," the officer brutally disturbed my dream.
"I have a bloody ticket!" I repeated, getting a little agitated by the situation. "I'll call the airline, this is insane", I yelled as I logged into Skype and asked for the number. "Give me the confirmation, I'll call again," the officer refused.
After a ten minute conversation in some Fijian language, he admitted that I did have a ticket. He stamped my passport, threw it back to me and with a big smile on his face he said: "Welcome to Fiji."
*Aftermath: I asked several tourists in Fiji and none had similar problems. I also looked up the entry requirements online. I have yet to find the law that dictates visitors to possess a ticket to their home country. All sources cite any outward ticket suffices. Why this particular immigration officer gave me so much trouble remains a mystery.