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I am about to embark on my R.T.W in a couple of weeks heading east from Germany to N.Z. Was hoping to get some feed back on this topic from those of you who have been there before. Particularly border crossings - is it necessary to 'grease the palms' - and if so in currency or is a pack of Malboro's adequate sometimes?
There are no hard and fast rules on this topic, which comes up at border crossings, military roadblocks and encounters with police on traffic infractions - speeding, etc.
Remember that the official you are dealing with, like the traffic cop with the radar gun who pulled us over in southern Mexico for speeding, may have had to buy his job, pay his supervisor, buy his uniform, gun, bullets, and his radar gun! To them, you are rich beyond their imagining, so they see it as perfectly reasonable that you should pay more than locals for the same offence.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should just pay the first price they request. They expect to bargain over border crossing ‘fees’ and traffic ‘fines’, just like haggling over goods in the bazaar.
Sometimes playing dumb helps, they may get impatient and give up on you. Greg Frazier carries a second wallet with no local currency to show he’s broke. Or, you can outwait them, like the two German travellers who sat at a border for 3 days rather than pay a US$10 bribe!
We found a pack of playing cards was very popular with bored military and border guards, proferred as a 'gift', not a bribe.
The important thing is to be patient, not take it personally, and keep smiling.
There are frequent references to bribery on this and other travel bulletin boards. Having travelled extensively in Africa, I would largely agree with Susan's comments above, especially about keeping a sense of humour, and remaining pleasant at all times.
Also, it is useful to distinguish between bribery and extortion, since MOST of the problems you encounter will be about extortion. not bribery.
Bribery is when you, the traveller, buy, or attempt to buy your way out of some legitimate obligation, or circumvent some legitmate legal or administrative process by paying an official personally, in cash or in kind.
Extortion is when an official attempts to trick or force you into paying something that you do not legitimately have to. Most commonly this is a made-up "tax", or a "fine" for some offence that is imaginary or exaggerated. Or it might be a subtle (or not so subtle) threat of harassment or delay, or refusal to grant some permit or authorisation that you are in fact entitled to.
My personal belief is that bribery is unacceptable in almost all cases. If a country has some genuine administrative requirement, or tax, or regulation, then as travellers and guests we should comply with these. All the more so in countries where poverty and corruption are already problems. We add to the problems if we circumvent the legitimate regulations and taxes. Of course there are times when it seems justified, and I think this is a case for individual conscience to decide.
Extortion is a bit trickier. Usually, provided you have time, you can brazen it out, since the official has no legitimate claim. He runs the risk of things escalating to the point where his activities are noticed by (or become an embarrassment to) those higher up. But it does take time, and in some countries, the sheer scale of extortion makes resisting an exhausting, full-time activity. We very seldom have paid anything that we knew to be "unofficial", though in some cases we, umm, compromised.
Incidentally, I don't hold with the argument that one should pay bribes or yield to extortion because officials are underpaid. In those countries, almost everyone is underpaid, and the "contribution" to the economy is extremely harmful. It throttles legitimate revenue for the government, entrenches corruption, deters tourism, fosters other types of crime, and makes legitimate business much harder to conduct. If you feel strongly that a country deserves your patronage, make your donations in a constructive way!
One final point: there is a definite difference between oiling wheels and greasing palms. We have often given a gift (usually not money) to officials or others who have gone out of their way to help us, over and above the normal course of their duty. This is usually to do with expediting a permit, or something of that nature - not breaking the rules, but perhaps bending them a little (or at least bending the process a bit).
Just my pen'orth.
[This message has been edited by SandyM (edited 04 December 2002).]
As a first time traveller myself, set off from the Uk in August heading east, greasing palms was an issue i expected to come across very regulary. I had already decided that at the end of the day if my documentation was right i would on the whole resist this and just play dumb, which i am good at, till they gave up. But i am pleased to say that i am just about to cross into India and have yet to be asked for anything, that i am aware of amyway!
I have crossed about eight borders, been stopped and occaisionally searched at numerous police check points in Romainia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, fined for speeding in Turkey twice, very legitimately, and pulled by the police several times for minor indecretions in Turkey and Pakistan, all above board and nine times out of ten pretty friendly.
Maybe it gets worse, i do not know, and i have heard alot of tales of bribary in the travellers guest house chats, but as regards me, nothing, which i am pleased about.
PS However, i was sexually propositioned twice by different male Pakistani border officials and didnt pay up then either!
Interesting distinction between bribery and extortion - and best of all - ktm man suggesting that the occurence of both is much exagerrated.
I have travelled with people who are far too ready to hand out cash or even petty prezzies, thinking getting a 'bribe' in early will smooth things along.
Quite clearly if you get in trouble, bribery can be a good way out. Asking for a receipt can reduce or eliminate a bribe, I've heard (Central Am)
In my experience (Africa) the locals get shafted far more than us tourists by bogus checkpoints - its a local 'tax' as police dont get paid for months at a time.
And it doent have to be money - the only thing I've ever given out (and I am far from a stubborn "wont pay!" type) is a packet of biscuits at the Niger/Mali border once (they were crap Algie "compacted brick dust" bikkies). Also the amounts are trivial - a couple of quid max - it's getting it off you that counts.
Also, on a bike they know you dont have much stuff to give away anyway, so play up this angle.
As said above keep it lighthearted (offer a swap for their AK... ha ha ha) and dont be intimidated - if you've done nothing wrong and have time to spare, no ned to pay up. In West Af certainly, it is a game they like to play.
------------------ Author of Sahara Overland and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, among other things
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