When to Bribe, How to Bribe, Do you Bribe? » Lifestyle Strategies, Travel, Adventures--Todd's Wanderings

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Should I pay a bribe

Are bribes necessary sometimes?

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If you travel long enough eventually you face the dilemma of how and when, or even if to bribe. But before we get into the nitty gritty of corruption I want to state right off the bat that corruption, the giving and taking of bribes, is an insidious practice that destroys the very fabric of the rule of law in countries and the trust between citizens and those elected to positions of authority.

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Now that I’ve sounded off on my public service announcement let’s have a discussion about the realities of travel in potentially unsafe areas, in countries where the rule of law is loosely followed, and situations where it is in your interest to hand over $20, not because it doesn’t do any harm (it does) but because that $20 could save your skin.

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Shake Down by Local Cops

The year was 2008 and I was traveling through Indonesia with my best friend. We were on the Island of Lombok after spending the past 4 days on the Gili Islands, paradise on earth, and beyond the reach of local law enforcement. I was living in Timor Leste during a time a lawlessness and my perceptions on danger was skewed…enough said. We were flying down the Lombok coast in our rented Jimmny on our way to a hidden reef. Twenty kilometers over the speed limit and suddenly we were caught in a police trap. A motorcycle cop waved us over and with his cheap Tom Cruise aviator sunglasses, leaned in and said, “Drivers license and papers.”

I handed him my American drivers license. It was all I needed to show to the rental company. OK, “company,” might be going to far. It was all the random guy on the street asked for when I handed him my money.

“No, give me your International Drivers License.” Shit.

“I don’t have one. But the license you’re holding is international.” He didn’t look happy, he put the license in his pocket and told us to follow him. He sped off at double the speed I had originally been caught for. Five minutes later we reached a small converted bus stop where the chief of police was hanging out with 7 other officers. It was converted into the local shake down station. The cop explained the matter to his boss, stepped aside and the chief, with a big belly and even bigger aviator sunglasses waved us in.

The Negotiation

We sat, the chief sat, the other 8 cops stood close to use, surrounding us, compressing us. “You broke the law. You need an international drivers license to drive in Indonesia.” I tried to explain that I thought my license was OK as the rental company only asked for that. It didn’t work.

“We will need your passports and then you can see a judge after the weekend to pay your fine. ” We didn’t have 2 days to wait, as our flight was leaving soon. He had us. Shit.

We talked back and forth for a little while until we came to that point. The point of silence where someone was expected to say something. We both knew what that something was…the bribe. I had never offered a bribe before, but as a negotiation specialist I knew exactly what was happening. I was not going to offer him money, that could very quickly go down a very dark and dangerous path.

“So, is there any way to settle this without having to wait until Monday?” I put the burden on him.

Well, if you trust me I’m sure we could work it out for you. You could pay me the fine and I’ll appear in court for you. Twenty dollars.”

The truth is that I had no choice. I broke the law (maybe, I had no idea what Indonesian law said about this), and I had a time pressure to make my flight. He had us and there wasn’t anything I could do about it without more information.

The Deal

Everyone was tense. The cops all had big guns. I had a mask and snorkel. I was nervous. My buddy was nervous. “OK, that sounds fair. I trust you’ll pay for me. Thanks for the help.” Everyone relaxed. The cops, expecting a cut of the bribe broke out into smiles. Jokes flowed and slaps on the back echoed out of the shack. The only problem was we had no agreement, nothing to show for our bribe. We were on vacation and our plans for the day were ruined. I decided to take a chance.

“Just so I can be clear. How long will this 20 dollars last? I mean, we are headed down the coast and we might get stopped again.”

The chief leaned forward, I sweated. “I’m on duty until 6 pm, be back at your hotel and off the roads by then.” I smiled sweetly and handed over my $20. To our surprise the motorcycle cop jumped on his bike and led us down the road for the next 20 minutes, waving to other cops, smiling at his profit, until we reached another check point. Our situation was explained and we were given a pass for the rest of the day.

We swam, it was fun. We returned to our hotel and booked our boat off Lombok for the next morning cutting our trip short by one day. Corruption cost us $20 but it cost the economy of Lombok two tourists and a promise never to go back.

Shake Down by the Cops in Sri Lanka

I was driving back from the airport after dropping off my now wife. We were leaving Sri Lanka after 3 years and she was off first. I was around the corner from my home when a police officer, walking casually down the street, waved me over. He asked for my license and registration. I had a local license, yes, I do learn my lessons. But the registration was a different matter, it was expired. I had no idea it was expired as I was borrowing the car from a friend. She also had no idea.

“That’s a $100 spot fine.” The skinny cop said, his brown uniform wrinkled from a day’s work under the muggy tropical sun.

I smiled. “You mean you want me to pay you?” He nodded. “Sure, I replied, but I’ll need a receipt.” He paled and tried to recover.

“I can’t give you a receipt. I’ll have to confiscate your license and you’ll have to pay at the court. It will take weeks to sort out. ” I smiled. He frowned.

“OK, that’s fine. Give me the fine and take my license.” He straightened his back and frowned further, probably wondering what went wrong. He grumbled, handed me my license back and walked away without another word.

Unfortunately for him I worked in the legal sector and knew my rights. He was not a traffic cop, and couldn’t give out tickets. I knew it, he didn’t know I knew it. I had learned my lessons well. Don’t drive in a foreign country without knowing the laws.

Guides looking for bigger tips

I stood on the side of a cliff, a thousand feet in the air at one of Sri Lanka’s world heritage sites, Sigyria, admiring frescoes painted onto the rocks over a thousand years ago. The paintings are protected by ropes blocking access. It was an honor system as no guards where around. I looked to my left searching for my guest from Japan, it was his first trip to Sri Lanka and he wasn’t used to the loose rules.

I found him. He was with our guide BEHIND the ropes taking pictures with a flash despite a “do not enter” sign and an equally large “no photographs” image. I pulled him over and asked him to stop. In response he answered innocently that the guide had said it was OK if he gave him a $1 tip. He didn’t have the money I had to lend it to him. This pissed me off and I chastised the guide for taking advantage. The guide got upset, I got upset, and the guide lost any chance of getting a final tip.

I hate it when guides threaten the places that provide them with jobs just to earn a few more dollars. I equally hate tourists breaking the rules because they can. Yes, this includes me and my first cop story as well.

3 Rules to Not Paying Bribes

I have only paid a bribe that one time in 11 years of wandering. I can’t promise I won’t have to pay one in the future but I have learned these three rules to minimize the chances:

  1. Know the laws. The more information you have the better position you are in to resist the fear that can lead to a bribe.
  2. Never give a bribe to someone just to gain a free or exclusive benefit. You end up contributing to the ruin of that which you came to see in the first place.
  3. Don’t put yourself in a compromising situation to begin with. Follow the laws, avoid driving when you can, and put the burden of responsibility on locals who understand the situation better.

Have you ever given a bribe? When do you think its OK? Share your stories below?

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64 Responses to “When to Bribe, How to Bribe, Do you Bribe?”

  1. RushwaNo Gravatar says:

    Your Experiences above are so low comparatively with mine. I have been practicing bribery since 1995 and I was 13 years. In 1995 I was going to Tanzania without documents. I had to bribe immigration Officers with Us $40. They then let me in without even searching my bag. The man who was trafficking me paid Us $70 to border control. I late went to Mozambique in 2007 where the Border control officer told everyone that no money no stamp, no extra money no visa and that no excuses, he needed Cash. When it was my turn, I just stated clearly to him that I had no papers. He then told me that I must pay Us $50 to him. As soon as I payed the money, he ordered guards to let me in the country. I spend 3 years there without any document. In 2007, I decided to shift to South Africa. It was easy as 1,2,3 to enter the country as well thanks to money. Immigration Officers grouped all travelers into 3 queues. Those without any document, those with valid documents and those with expired documents. They said that people without documents have to pay Us$60 while those with expired papers ought to pay Us $40. Since then, I have been in and out of South Africa more than 6 times without documents. I like south Africa and Mozambique because all the Officers are hungry for money- I have been living abroad almost 15 years without any legal documents, offering bribe any where at an time. When a police officer arrest me for legal papers, I have to talk cash-because money matters. I hate people who hate money. In 2012, I had an accident when my car bumped a man crossing the road. His femur got completely broken. I took him the hospital with my car immediately. When I arrived there, there was this poor Traffic Officer waiting for me. He was so collaborative. He just told me to pay him only Us $50 so that he can make up a story to protect me from being guilty. And he did it. I didn’t even went to the court. The case was dismissed due to lack of evidence, again money saved me. The same year, I was caught offering driving lesson to my friend. Money talked its language and I was free without jail. There is nothing I can compare to the way I use money to defend my life on daily basis. In October this year Business Taxi collectors came to my work place asking for government revenues. I hadn’t paid a cent for four years. They asked me to bribe them with Us $100 or face a fine of Us $ 600. I gave them the money and gave me a fake paper to show other officers should they come to bother me. Corruption is our African way no matter what. It will never be eradicated.

  2. wanderernotNo Gravatar says:

    “I handed him my American drivers license. It was all I needed to show to the rental company. OK, “company,” might be going to far. It was all the random guy on the street asked for when I handed him my money.

    “No, give me your International Drivers License.” Shit.

    “I don’t have one. But the license you’re holding is international.”

    Dear Todd, in order to drive in a foreign country, you need THE International Driver’s License (not ‘an’). I’m sorry to say that American Driver’s License is definitely not THE international license, and not everything American is ‘international’

  3. JakeNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Todd,

    I stumbled on your site while searching the internet for advice on bribes. I am going to travel abroad soon, and wanted to have some advice on how to approach people looking for bribes and possibly how to avoid them, since I have been in bribe situations abroad before. I am aware this post is quite old already, but I wanted to share my experiences with you nonetheless.

    After reading your story I realized your views on bribing are quite different from my own views. Although my experiences have been much like the first story of your post (the Lombok one), I experienced them quite different than you did.

    After being forced to pay a bribe for the first time I was baffled how friendly the police officer was once I paid the bribe. He shook my hand, smiled, asked for how long I was staying and made some small talk. I cut him off pretty quickly as I was pretty angry at him for having me pay a bribe and because I was angry I wanted to continue my way as soon as possible.

    When recalling and thinking about the event later that day, I came to the conclusion bribing is just part of their job and they don’t really view it as cheating theirselves. Police officers usually earn very low wages and they try to make some extra on the side by having rich tourist pay bribes ( I think they justify it for themselves that way). I think you can’t really blame them for it, in my opinion. They don’t condone your actions and would rather have the bribe take place in a pleasant fashion than not. In your instance they even escorted you through next bribe checkpoints, so you could make it to your location further-hassle free.

    After having to pay my first bribe, which was for not owning a native drivers licence ( I knew I needed one, but it was practically impossible to get one, so I took the bet) and one for driving with my low beam on during daylight (which sounded quite ridiculous to me) I didn’t have the feeling of “I’m not coming back here again” at all. I had to drive the same road again a couple of times a day, and just drove into an alleyway when I saw police officers standing next to the road the times after, trying to avoid the bribes that way (which worked).

    I felt it as being more of a friendly not-so-voluntary transaction than anything else. Since you are usually overpaying for about everything you buy in those countries anyway, and have people trying to get money off of you all around the place, it didn’t seem such a big deal to me, especially since we could be friends after the transaction had taken place. I’d rather have to pay a bribe than have someone sell] me fake boat tickets and really ruining my day. Perhaps I’m showing the bribers too much empathy, but I haven’t really mind being bribed since the first time it happened to me.

    Thanks for posting your views on bribes, and advice on how to avoid it. It was an interesting read and it could prove useful some day, although even I hope that day wont come.

    Jake

  4. AdeNo Gravatar says:

    Like your writing style …it’s very funny and irreverent…fun to read. I had an experience in France. I was living there at the time and my car got impounded. I had to go to the Police station and provide my details to get the car back. Apart from the ownership papers, I had to show my driving license. I only had an Australian drivers license which I showed to them. They didn’t even bat an eyelid and I got my car back. It didn’t even dawn on me until afterwards that I should have had an international driving license. Maybe I was lucky or maybe my ignorant confidence got me through it.
    Ade´s recent [type] ..Should You Focus On Keywords When Writing Your Blog Posts ?

  5. SimonNo Gravatar says:

    What the fuck is wrong with you? You asked a cop for a receipt? Just get off your holier-than-thou horse and pay the man. They get paid very little from the government, and thus deserve a little gift every now and then. You sound like a despicable goody-tooshoes arrogant prick.

    • Really? Why the hell should I pay someone for being corrupt? If i had done something wrong fine… maybe, but not wanting to be taken advantage of and not contributing to a bad system is my choice. Just like coming on here and throwing insults is your choice. Personally, I could care less how I come across. I’m sharing my perspective and what I have learned from living, working and travel in developing countries for the past 10 years.

      Sure there are times when you have to pay a bribe. But an argument of they don’t get paid a lot doesn’t do it for me. Too many systems are corrupt from the ground up, which locks countries in a cycle of poverty. I’d rather spend my time and money helping other people who get paid less than someone who tries to take advantage of me or cheat me.
      Todd @ Todd’s Wanderings´s recent [type] ..Trusted Travel Questions and Answers

  6. mattNo Gravatar says:

    you kind of didnt answer any of the questions in the title

  7. RussianNo Gravatar says:

    Hey guys. Well I live in Russia so obviously(stereotypes are true) I did give bribes. Once when I needed to pass the exams for my drivers license. Second was when I wanted to buy a exam at my college. Third was when I wanted to buy an exam for IT in my college and had to buy a pepsi for the tutor for it… Stupidest bribe ever, and the only one we got caught for. Third was when me and my friends were celebrating something and the cops got us, of all 6 or 7 people me and one other guy were the unlucky ones to get our documents taken so we had to go with the cops to theyr post and had to pay 500rubles for it. The original price was 1000rubles but my friend bargained it down to 500 saying that today is a holiday and 1000 is to much ahah. And then I payed for my exams in another university. But that is very common here in Russia so no big deal about it

  8. ThomasNo Gravatar says:

    I’m off to Honduras soon and this post was a big help in kind of getting my head around what to do when the inevitable stop happens. Thank you.

  9. Great stories!

    Thank you for sharing them with us :)

  10. Oh man. I don’t know WHAT I’d do in this kind of situation. I’m not very good under pressure, so I’d probably buckle immediately. It’s good to have this info though, just in case! Thanks for sharing your experiences. :)

    Heidi

  11. What a great post! I hadn’t a clue how to bribe- now I know, don’t make an offer, get them to do it. Brilliant. I hope I never have to use this info, but glad to have it.

  12. CraigNo Gravatar says:

    Our first and only bribe story happened last year, leaving Laos for Thailand. It was a simple scheme: Border guard took our passports, checked our stamps, asked (illegally) for money. We refused to give him any … he put our passports in a drawer.

    We waited … He served other people, who paid without compunction.

    As the only way to leave was by a train that was about to go, and we had fifty or more kms to travel to get away from the border on the Laos side, we eventually paid up, got our passports back and left.
    Craig´s recent [type] ..Five years of full-time travel

  13. JeremyNo Gravatar says:

    Our bribes were mostly only to get into an open tourist section in the temples in Egypt, but I will keep a lot of these in mind in the future because I have a feeling im going to have to do this a few times.
    Jeremy´s recent [type] ..Travel Site Review- Roomorama Apartment Rentals

  14. ReneeNo Gravatar says:

    Really great info, Todd…..good reminder that there is always an underbelly to everything including travel. It’s good that you kept your cool and your wits about you the next time they tried to do a shake down.
    Renee´s recent [type] ..Never put off tomorrow what you can do today – Traveling on your own terms

  15. Damn Todd, this is the most indispensable blog I have read in a long time!

  16. BennyNo Gravatar says:

    Oh, this brings back memories.

    We’ve had our fair share of these kind of encounters overland through Africa – Here are our top 10 tips for keeping your hard earned in your own pocket… http://www.amateursinafrica.com/featured/how-to-beat-a-bribe/
    Benny´s recent [type] ..How to beat a bribe

  17. Great post, and great advice! I strongly second the admonishment at the outset. That said, we’re just wrapping up our first visit to India, and have had to face this dilemma several times. The first time, I paid the “fine” without knowing entirely that it wasn’t proper (at customs, in the Mumbai airport – I wrote a blurb about it if you’re interested), though I had my suspicions and was very reluctant.

    Another incident with the local police, which thankfully ended well for us, leads me to say – even if you’re not clear whether the action they are accusing you of is actually illegal/an infraction, you should still demand to be given a receipt or be taken to the police station to settle the problem (especially if that’s what they’re threatening). If you are in the wrong, no loss really (again, assuming minor infraction). If you are not in the wrong, and they are just corrupt/taking the piss, they will most likely tell you to scram (like they did for us). Or, they could just drop it in lieu of having to fill out the paperwork.

    But yeah, as you said, actually knowing the laws is more effective and vital to your ability to deal with the situation. (On that note, I would not take a bartender’s word that you can indeed take your beer to go and carry it out the door, as he pours everyone’s drinks into plastic cups, as the truth … for example.)
    Chasing Trade Winds´s recent [type] ..Here it is- the famous hybrid Indian toilet Squat or sitAnd

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Yeah, it is so hard to tell sometimes what is and isn’t a bribe. Although I would say bribes help you get something, and when they trick you with fines that is called theft. I have no tolerance for the fake fines from officials (unless they have guns). This is them breaking the law!

  18. Kyle MorganNo Gravatar says:

    Great advice when it comes to bribing. I hate it as well as its a dirty practice that always leads to bigger and bigger bribes for whoever’s receiving them. It’s always good to read up on what to expect in whatever country you’re traveling to.

    I once flew into Mexico with an expired passport. I didn’t realize it, nobody checking me in for the flight in the US realized it, and the Mexican official was threatening to send me back to the US. After pleading with him for a while, I noticed that he kept handing my passport back to me, tapping it, and then taking it back. It dawned on me that he wanted a bribe. I pulled out a twenty, put it in my passport, and slid it back. He opened it, put it back down, and tapped again. So I put in all that I had left, another twenty and a ten. He took the passport, smiled, stamped it, and amazingly discovered his English, saying ‘Welcome to Mexico’. And that was that, I bribed my way into Mexico for $50.
    Kyle Morgan´s recent [type] ..Mischievous Monkey Stealing Trash – Photo of the Week 2

  19. ArtiNo Gravatar says:

    Wow… Thats a quite extensive post… Really nice advise :)
    I have never had such an experience till now!!
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  20. SatuNo Gravatar says:

    In India nothing works without bribes! I don’t just mean for the tourists, locals have to pay bribes as much as tourists, or even more. Everyone bribes, not necessarily to get special favours but to get anything done at all. It’s so corrupted on so many levels, the lower-level official asks you to “give him a present” but he then has to give a part of that “present” to his superior, who in turn gives a cut to his superior. It’s a mad system and thoroughly corrupted. Much of the time travellers have to pay fines if they drive a scooter or a motorbike without an international license or don’t wear a helmet, or get stopped at borders (like on the Goan border) and the border officials go out of their way to ask for all sorts of papers and eventually manage to request something you don’t have. And then it’s time to “make them a present”.
    Satu´s recent [type] ..Is India Safe

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Satu, yeah I know it is ingrained in life in so many places. Sometimes it is just unavoidable, but at other times it is avoidable if we are willing to take a stand, or a bit more time. In Sri Lanka we often had to give some encouragement to get public papers out of the bureaucrats…not happy about it but it was a fact of life and the papers were used to help those facing eviction unlawfully.
      Todd´s recent [type] ..Compromising Travel Photo Contest- Win a 50 Itunes Gift Card

  21. ExplorerDadNo Gravatar says:

    I once had to bride some Russian military on the Tran Siberian railway for what is now a pitiful small amount. And then afterwards they wanted their photo taken… Always carry small bills!

  22. AbiNo Gravatar says:

    I love the way you tackle real subjects, Todd! Yep, I got stung at the crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. Apparently you needed a passport-sized photo for the visa, which we didn’t have (whose fault was that? I had checked but not thoroughly enough…so maybe it was true, maybe not.) The driver said he needed something like $10 to pay to get photos done at the checkpoint. As we were already there, we paid.
    In between the paperwork, we had to sign the documents where we saw our $10 stapled where the photo should have been. That just made me chuckle.
    Crossing back from Zanzibar to mainland Tanzania though? The ferry price was about $5 but the ticket guy wanted $100 each from us. There was stalemate for a while – the price was even printed on the window – but (like you) we needed to get back for our flights. This was our last chance.
    Finally, we handed over the cash and watched the guy put it in his pocket. Then he said, “I’ll need another $5 for the ticket, now.”
    That made me furious.
    Abi´s recent [type] ..Can You Score A Country on Ethics The Top Ten Ethical Destinations For Travellers

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Wow, $100! and then $5 after that! I would be seriously mad as well. You are lucky you had the money.

      I’m just tackling issues that have come up in my travels. I guess I figure that since they have come up for me, and have made me struggle, others must feel the same way :)

  23. These are really fantastic tips Todd!!! And since they’re gleaned from years of travel experience and told through your personal experience, they’re even more powerful. Good for you for anticipating more potential shake downs in your first story and working that out. Not sure I would have thought of that under those circumstances. I haven’t paid a bribe that I can recall, but I’m sure the chances will grow exponentially the more I travel. I generally follow your rule #3, but think that adding the other two- especially #1 is a good practice as I head into my RTW later this year!
    Lorna – the roamantics´s recent [type] ..And Then There Was One

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Lorna, thanks and I’m glad you like the tips. I always make a point of getting the most out of any deal :) But to be fair I did got to graduate school for negotiation…so it is just a habit at this point.

  24. LeslieTravelNo Gravatar says:

    Great tips. Somehow we avoided bribes although we rented cars and drove in South America and Africa. We were stopped by a cop in Argentina but I said we were tourists and he let us go. We didn’t have any encounters with the law in SE Asia. I suppose we are lucky…
    LeslieTravel´s recent [type] ..Photo Essay- Sandboarding in San Pedro de Atacama- Chile

  25. Sarah WuNo Gravatar says:

    Wow Todd, I always hear stories from other about copy and bribing and didn’t think it happen to you. It does sounds a bit scary, I mean I would be scared for sure. Imagine if you don’t have the money with you at all… interesting read and thanks for sharing this.

  26. I had a bribery experience in South Africa… A cop pulled our driver over and gave him a $137 ticket. He bribed his way out for less than 5 bucks. It was amazing. With a deal like that, it’s incredibly tempting, but I wouldn’t do it.

    Here’s the full story… http://adventureswithben.com/travel/bribery-south-africa/

  27. hey Todd–

    Awesome universal topic. While driving our truck (with conspicuous US plates) through Mexico we have, not surprisingly, been on the radar for many cops on the take. We have managed to NOT pay any of them a single peso (except the sweet-natured cop who pulled us over after we really did run a red light–he got 50 pesos).

    How? An expat tipped us off to an approach that really works. When cops in Mexico pulled us over Eric, as the driver, played dumb–mangling Spanish, acting oblivious to their allusions for cash, etc. The goal is to force them to be blunt about asking for money (something they KNOW is officially illegal). As things wore on, Karen (in the passenger seat) started acting giddy–as if this was the most exciting moment of her entire vacation and, as such, must be documented. Next step: Karen pulls out her point-and-shoot camera and begins shooting away in the general direction of the cop.

    Without fail the cop got really pissed (one Eric Estrada wannabe actually put his hand on his gun) but they ALL told us to leave without any altercation and without any cash changing hands. And isn’t that the goal? Being part of bribery is too damn close to condoning it and corruption like that is at the heart of what is holding so many of our favorite destinations (and their HONEST citizens) back.
    Trans-Americas Journey´s recent [type] ..Silver and Gold City – Taxco- Guerrero State- Mexico

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Great tips guys! yes, the more you can get them to have to say explicitly that it is bribe the better you are. I love asking for receipts, but you photography tip is great as well. I imagine it only works if you get really excited and are not threatening.

  28. The most deliberate bribe I’ve ever had to give was at Cancun airport on return from Cuba to Mexico, to the immigration official so that he wouldn’t stamp my passport, so that there was no proof I had been out of Mexico and therefore in Cuba. Normally non-americans don’t have to worry about this but at the time I was working for a US company and having to travel to, and work from, the US office most months, so couldn’t afford the risk.
    Sadly it is such standard practice there that it was obvious that half the immigration queue seemed to be lined up with their $20 note in the inside of the passport – even though everyone was trying very hard to be subtle about it :)
    redheadedtravels´s recent [type] ..Top 10 most disappointing travel experiences

  29. Sherry OttNo Gravatar says:

    Great stories! I have never had to pay a bribe…yet. However this summer when we do the Mongol Rally I expect that it may be necessary in some places – we are actually trying to build it into our budget…sadly.
    Great advice – however I think the first rule about knowing the laws is actually pretty difficult to do. When you travel a lot – how are you supposed to know all of the possible rules in each country…it seems next to impossible. Do you have any good advice for how to go about learning some relevant rules? As you’ll never be able to know ALL the laws.
    Thanks!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Sherry, I love the ideas you have for bribes other than money for your trip (cds, booze etc). I agree that knowing the driving rules can be challenging. I’ll look around for a resource for you. At the very least you should be able to see very easily which countries accept an international drivers license.

      Maybe I should develop an Iphone app for finding relevant laws :)

  30. JasmineNo Gravatar says:

    Playing the devil’s advocate here… but take the example of getting stopped in Indonesia for breaking a driving law and paying $20 instantly versus getting pulled over in the US, having to go to court for real, risk losing your license, and paying way more than $20. Though it doesn’t feel good at first (have had to pay a cop in Cambodia for the same reason), in the end it’s easier.
    Jasmine´s recent [type] ..The Silence Between Waves

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Jasmine, not sure it is devil’s advocate as at the end of the day I gave in and paid the bribe BECAUSE it was easier. I’m just pointing out that the more you know the better position you are in for the negotiation. Of course everyone has to judge the situation for themselves and determine when a bribe helps to avoid violence. This is not really a bribe, but more of a robbery, but at the end of the day sometimes it is good to pay because it makes you safer.

  31. Hey Todd, good article and I enjoyed reading your stories. Growing up in Africa there’s quite a similar story.

    I’ve been pulled over countless times…”You’ve committed a very serious offense…you were speeding” (I was driving at about 10 km / hour). However, when you assess the salaries the cops are making, to support their entire family, it’s staggeringly low. Often after just sitting for a few minutes/hours and not agreeing to pay anything (while listening to all of the negative consequences) the cop will let you go.

    If not, I try to first offer the cop some lunch!
    Migrationology´s recent [type] ..Life in Nairobi VIDEO

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      I love the idea of buying them lunch! another nice tip is to take photos with them in funny poses…somehow everyone feels closer after a good photo shoot. it has worked with me before with people with guns.

  32. Tourists get done in Indonesia ALL the time for breaking the local laws such as not having an appropriate licence. You can elect to handle it the bureaucratic way, but as anyone that has dealt with Indonesian bureaucracy will tell you, it’s a better option for you to just pay the bribe. Good for you, good for the police. The real problem is when you get pulled over for a bribe when you did nothing wrong.

    Another good time to bribe is if you want speedier service than the other people around you. Some places even have dedicated sections for foreigners to get served quicker where the extra fee you pay may well go into the server’s pocket. That’s fine by me. It’s the way they roll in Asia.
    Adam @ SitDownDisco´s recent [type] ..Bali Misconceptions

  33. AndiNo Gravatar says:

    I got stopped by a traffic cop when I was driving around Nicaragua for absolutely NO reason. He said that he was going to confiscate my license. Tears didn’t work, so I had no choice but to bribe. I hate that I had to, but well there are certain times where you JUST have to. Loved reading your stories!
    Andi´s recent [type] ..Happy New Year!!!

  34. Andrew HallNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve paid what I assumed to be bribes of a few dollars crossing borders in Cambodia and Vietnam, although they were always presented as fees. Once paid a $20 “fee” to get my Brazilian visa processed the same day crossing from Bolivia, although I believe it was essentially a bribe too.

    Your third rule calls to mind an incident in Vang Vieng, Laos that was much more serious though. I was with a few friends who were passing around a joint at an outdoor bar. They passed it to a young Laotian guy who turned out to be an undercover cop, and after a long discussion, were compelled to go to the nearby station. I wasn’t involved but went along to support them and we spent two hours late that night negotiating with the “captain”, eventually settling on $300 to avoid the threat of jail time (his initial demand was $500). We had to pool all of our available cash to help them out. The next day we bumped into another group who had been busted in the very same way the night before us. They were obviously better negotiators because got away with a $200 “fine”. The obvious moral is, don’t find yourself on the wrong side of drug laws abroad.
    Andrew Hall´s recent [type] ..Oahu

  35. LivNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Todd

    Interesting post. Definitely worth knowing the local norms. Whilst living in Turkey a naughty policeman pulled me over for speeding when I had not been speeding at all. I knew enough to insist I didn’t have any money to pay the spot fine and told him so. He wrote me a ticket (which I had to go into the government bank to pay) So I still got an unjust ticket, which was obviously not good, but at least I know it didn’t just go straight into his pocket. I was especially happy about this when he commented “You are foreign. This (fine) is little money to you” That’s not the point at all is it?!

    You used to be able to buy residence permits in Turkey too (not officially of course) and I think they’ve cracked down on it a bit now. Isn’t it fascinating how different other countries can be?

    Liv.
    Liv´s recent [type] ..Countdown to Departure

  36. Nice write Todd. Welcome to Souteast Asia. If you do not know about bribing here, then you have not traveled. What you have touched on here is only the surface of bribery. You need to live like a local to know how things work in this region.
    David @ Malaysia Asia´s recent [type] ..Travel Contest January 2011 – RM16-500 in Prizes to be won!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      I’d love to hear some of your stories David! I agree that tourist see the very light side of bribing in Asia. I got a nice crash course in the various places I have lived and worked. Trying getting the government agents to release “public” documents that incriminate their bosses! But even then that is the polite side of bribing. I’ve been offered quite a bit myself in the Sri Lanka during the war…but those are different stories.

  37. AdamNo Gravatar says:

    We luckily haven’t been involved in being asked for a bribe from any cops or authorities, but when we were at Angkor Wat, at the very end of the day, a guard offered to let us climb up a roped off area of the main temple to get a better view in exchanged for a few dollars. We wanted to do it, we knew it would be a great vantage point and photo opportunity, but luckily we thought it over and denied it. This is always a tough scenario, and you gave some great points.

  38. Jeremy BNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, fascinating stories and great lessons Todd!

  39. Some time ago, I had an open discussion about bribes with a Guatemalan police officer in a bar. He said he was just skipping the bureaucracy. In the US when you get a bribe, a whole police system receives a little part of it, the officer who actually gave the ticket only gets a very small part. In Guatemale they just skip this and receive the fine immediately.

    I don’t say that it’s a good thing, but it’s stuff to think about :-)

    The thing is, me and you are not going to get this out of the system, especially if also the locals have to bribe the cops, so I think it’s something that has to start with the government.

    If I did something wrong, I’m willing to pay. I don’t care a lot whether it’s a fine or bribe, unless the bribe is really astronomical.
    For guides, this depends. I don’t see anything wrong with paying more to get special privileges, but they should not hurt anything or anyone. In your example, flashing the frescoes is probably not that good for them, so I wouldn’t do that.
    But I’ve once tipped the bus driver to drop me off exactly where I needed to be (so the other passengers had to be 5min longer on the bus). I would also bribe for front seats in a minivan, or for tours with less people.
    Nicolas De Corte´s recent [type] ..Story behind the photo- Sleeping seals

  40. Growing up in Indonesia bribes is just another fact of life. When my brother was learning how to drive, the first thing my parents said was to keep a 20.000 rupiahs bill handy if/when he gets pulled over for anything.

    On other suggestion I can add is knowing what the locals pay for a bribe, especially common ones such as traffic violations… 200.000 rupiahs is a LOT. You still might have to pay more than locals do, but at least the knowledge would allow you to negotiate the price a bit.
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World´s recent [type] ..11 Reasons We’re Going on A RTW Trip

  41. LaurelNo Gravatar says:

    Oops, sorry, wasn’t finished, and clicked on Submit Comment in error:
    When I lived in Thailand I had a stalker student so I bribed my security guard with $20 every month to not let the student in my building, unfortunately the student bribed the security guard with more money so he got in. I was feeling like I had the system figured out, but hadn’t thought the student would also think of this as well, which was silly on my part.
    Laurel´s recent [type] ..Expat in Germany Will Be Back Soon

  42. LaurelNo Gravatar says:

    You lead such an interesting life Todd. When I lived in Thailand I had a stalker student so paid my security card
    Laurel´s recent [type] ..Expat in Germany Will Be Back Soon

  43. There’s some good tips in there! Of course if you are travelling overland in your own vehicle, you may be passing through too many countries to get up to speed on the local laws. I traveled through Mexico and Central America by motorcycle and was lucky enough to get away with just $1 in bribes (Traffic cop in Panama) Being respectful, but confident and friendly helps, as does speaking the local language.
    Also, I never handed a police officer or army official my real licence, and papers, but laminated photocopies. Not fakes mind you, but duplicates. If they want to keep your licence, you can say “sure!” and suddenly they’ve got no leverage. There’s some great tips here too: http://www.drivetheamericas.com/wiki/dealing-corrupt-police

  44. I got caught speeding in Montenegro and begged them to take a bribe. They wanted me to hang around for 5 hours and go see a magistrate.

    They refused to take any money off me and finally sent me on my way.

    Then I got caught speeding again…..
    Claire Ní Chanainn´s recent [type] ..My First India Video- Shillong 2005

  45. I have never been in a situation that required a bribe but I wouldn’t hesitate to make it all go away. Nice tips.

    Also I’m not American but someone told me that a US license IS international.
    Ayngelina Brogan´s recent [type] ..The 10 little things that mean so much to me

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      A US license can be valid in some countries but it just depends on the treaty between the two countries (usually dictated by reciprocity). That is if the US accepts Indonesian licenses than usually Indonesia will accept US licenses. But it is not automatic and thus its a good idea to know the laws :)

      For example in Sri Lanka, an international license is valid only AFTER your get it approved in Sri Lanka by the Department of Vehicles…yes, it defeats the purpose of the meaning behind an int’l license (this may have changed so do your homework before going).
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  46. Andy JaroszNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent advice Todd, particularly your 3 points at the end which should be printed on a card and given to everyone who travels in another country. Have been lucky with bribes so far; have only been stung at land border crossings, and then it’s such a small amount (usually $1) that’s it’s not worth the battle.
    Andy Jarosz´s recent [type] ..El Salvador- a day hike in Parque Nacional Los Volcanes

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Andy, I will have to think about putting them on the back of my Blog’s business cards :) I have a number of other bribing stories but all of them I got away without having to pay. The crooks on the land border between Thailand and Cambodia where the worst. The bus company dropped us off 1 mile from the border and tried to collect our passport and extort a $50 “visa” fee. They said that was the visa’s price and you had to get it through their agent as you couldn’t get it at the border yourself.

      I was the only one to reject their “offer/threat?” They held us there for 2 hours trying to get me to pay. I refused and in the end I got through fine and only had to pay $10 at the border (this was back in 2000). Everyone else was pissed :)
      Todd´s recent [type] ..The First Time I Almost Died-Ha Long Bay- Vietnam

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