Police and Military bribery is very common in Developing and Underdeveloped countries, and is something virtually all Overlanders will encounter sooner or later. Foreigners are often thought of as easy targets, especially those rich enough to be driving across multiple countries.
Spotting a bribery attempt
Sometimes attempts are very subtle and you will not even realize you paid a bribe. The two most common characteristics of bribery are:
- There will be no receipt for money paid to an official. in all payments, you should always politely ask for a receipt. Do not pay until you are issued one
- The amount of money you are required to pay constantly changes (usually going down).
Common bribery situations
The people trying to relieve you of your money are usually not the most creative, and the following standard situations become very familiar when Overlanding in particularly corrupt countries.
Sometimes the officer will be subtle and friendly, sometimes they may be blunt and angry.
Pay to get your paperwork back
An officer will ask to see your documents (passport, drivers license, vehicle registration, vehicle insurance, etc.) and after you have given them over, the officer says you must pay to get them back. See the General advice page for tips to avoid this.
Pay to enter / leave a country
A border officer tells you to pay cash for some kind of entrance or exit fee or tax.
Pay some kind of penalty
An officer says you must pay for some kind of penalty like speeding, crossing double lines, or not having the correct paperwork.
Suggested courses of action - when safe
There are many strategies on how best to deal with bribery attempts. Obviously every situation is different and you must use your own judgement when a situation arises. Many times the police in question know they are in the wrong and will not push the issue too far - but other times the situation can be very unpredictable and paying up may be the best thing you can do. The advice listed below is for situations when you don't feel in danger or threatened and you want to avoid paying, or reduce the bribe as much as possible. Using them in combination is a good tactic.
In every situation, use your own judgement
When possible, stop in the middle of the road, engine running
If you are pulled over when driving, try to block traffic with your vehicle as much as possible. This will create a road block and attract attention to the situation. Leave your engine running, and don't get out of your vehicle unless the officer is extremely adamant about it.
Be polite, friendly, and confident
Keeping a smile on your face will go a long way to setting the mood of the situation. There is no need to be scared or otherwise let yourself be pushed around. Remember, this person is trying to take your money illegally. Most of the advice below is about making it difficult for them to take money from you. Remember, you have what they want, so you are in charge.
Don't pay up right away
Many people suggest traveling with a stack of small bills (like USD $5 and $10) to pass out to any official that causes friction. Sometimes this can cause more problems because the officer may take offense to your offered bribe and make the situation much worse (usually resulting in a much larger bribe). Even if the officer is not offended, they will quickly see they can easily get money from you, and will continue trying to get more and more.
Also, this kind of behavior encourages corrupt officials to continue to try to bribe tourists.
Speak loudly and confidently in your native language
Once you're pretty certain the person doesn't understand you, speak loudly in your own language. Say things like "This is not right" and "I need a receipt for this to make sure it's official" all with a smile on your face. This will confuse and distract the person trying to bribe you.
Pretend you don't speak the language
Overlanders are often in countries speaking a language other than their native one. Even if you have a good command of the local language, there is no reason to let a corrupt official know this. Spending five minutes continually saying "I don't understand" to a corrupt official will make them think twice about how difficult it's going to be to get money from you.
Accept you must pay, but politely ask for a receipt
For example in the case of a speeding ticket, you can admit you made a mistake, must pay a fine, and clearly state you require a receipt for that. If the official can not issue a genuine receipt, do not pay.
What worked in our case several times, is to admit that you made the mistake and ask to pay by credit card at the spot. This presupposes that the officer should have a wireless device that receives payments (which in almost all the countries simply does not exist).
After a while, say you don't have any money
Once the officer has finally convinced you to pay, simply say you must go to a bank to pay the fine because you don't carry any cash for fear of being mugged. In almost all cases, the officer only wants cash and won't want to deal with someone that has no cash. This tactic works best after delaying the officer for a long time with the tactics above.