Contrary to the popular belief of some inexperienced travelers, bribing is not a tool used exclusively by those who are breaking the law. In some countries, you may find yourself paying a little extra just to get a passport stamp that’s suddenly become problematic.
In fact, in some countries you’ll find it difficult to do anything useful or important without paying out a bit of cash. It’s not fun, but it’s part of the experience.
While a bribe or two is simply a reality of travel in some regions of the world, it is always done at the traveler’s risk and how you handle the situation could mean the difference between a funny travel story and something far less pleasant.
First and foremost, avoiding a bribe situation is the most important step.
Bribery is often introduced as a fine, an obscure fee, or an unnamed penalty and it’s useful to know the local euphemisms for a bribe. Check your travel books or ask someone you trust (consider the concierge at your hotel an option). Generally speaking, if a person keeps asking for the same thing using the same terms, especially if it is in some way connected with money or a gift, as they are holding their hand out, you can take that as a hint.
Depending on the situation, you may be able to get out of paying the bribe. Just because a person has asked outright for money, it doesn’t mean they won’t back down. Try refusing to pay it and moving on dismissively. If that doesn’t work and if you know your paperwork is in order, and you are in a location where other officials are standing around (as opposed to facing a group of armed people on a remote road, for example), then politely ask to see their superior.
A few other ways to sidestep a bribe:
When you are certain you are being asked for a bribe, and you don’t see another way out, start very low – and we mean very, very low. It is for this reason you should carry small change and small local bills. In many countries, a family can eat for days on what amounts to a couple of U.S. dollars. Plus, by starting low and handing over a couple of small bills, perhaps a handful of change, you’ll send the message that you don’t have lots of money at hand. Keep a wallet with little cash in it on hand, and keep your excess cash well hidden and away from prying eyes.
You may be feeling it, but don’t show it. It follows that someone who is local knows the system and if they’re willing to risk asking for a bribe, they may have no compulsion about causing you further harm at another (later) opportunity. Besides displaying anger is a sure way to reduce your chances of getting what you want, which is to get out of the situation with as little harm to your wallet as possible.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.