Bribes When Travelling: Should You Pay?
Bribes. Yes, Bribes.
If you're in a "developing" or "third world" country, consider your surroundings carefully. There may be situations where you are asked to pay a "gift" or "fee". Or there may be situations where offering a "gift" or "fee" might get you out of a real pickle. Yes, it's a bribe. If it makes you feel better, think of it as a tip.
Bribes are illegal pretty much everywhere. Unfortunately, you don't have to go to a place too far off the beaten path to find that Rule of Law doesn't always prevail, even in democracies. In many places around the globe, being savvy and aware of your surroundings is what will keep you safe, not the local authorities.
Tip: Whether offering, or being demanded of, don't use the word "bribe" when you're in the situation. That can rarely go well.
How to Handle a Situation that Might Call for an Unspecified Fee
To be honest, usually when I'm asked for a bribe, I play dumb or just plain say no. But you have to be confident in your surroundings to be able to do that. You'll have to be confident that you'll be safe if you refuse to cooperate.
Don't be a fool, keep a few bills of various denominations on you in separate pockets. American cash is always king (even if, like me, you aren't American!).
If you are in a position where you're required to pay a "fee" and you open your wallet, be prepared to fork it all over! It's so much safer, and discreet to grease a palm with a bill you pull from somewhere. Different denominations can mean that you'll have access to whatever the situation calls for. For example, you wouldn't want to be forced to hand over a $50 USD to a luggage handler to ensure your luggage gets on a plane. A few $1 USDs should suffice if the situation calls for it.
You may find that in certain situations authorities may make trouble for you, seemingly for no reason. Or, you may have unknowingly broken some sort of rule.
Here are some situations where I have been asked to pay a "fee" or give a "gift":
- Customs/passport control
- Airport security lines
- Baggage checks. Once an airport staff threatened to take away supplies I was carrying for a charity and demanded a bribe. I successfully shamed the men into leaving me alone
- Driving on highways or rural areas. I have often been pulled over when I'm in a cab or with a private driver if the driver's clients look foreign. Usually the driver will be forced to pay for some made up driving infraction. Pay. If you're alone, on a highway, it's safer to pay. Always pool money from the people in the car. Don't expect the driver to take on the cost
- Airport check in when agents have claimed to have "lost" my booking
Don't Be a Fool
Offering a bribe IS illegal. And it's illegal for good reason. Usually, you'll know when you're in a place where Rule of Law isn't actually in charge. Things will be disorderly, security will be questionable and authorities may make inappropriate remarks.
If you're in a western country, or a non western country where things are organized, orderly and perhaps even militant, no "gift" offerings!
Have you ever been asked for a bribe while travelling? Or felt like you needed to swallow western cultural norms to stay safe? What happened? How did it make you feel?