…outside the United States. First, if you are a US Citizen, this is against the law. But so is speeding. If this posts makes you think I am unethical, then you don’t know me very well and Why I think Ethics are Bullshit.
There is a game. The rules were developed long ago. All that needs to happen to play this game and win are two things; 1. Know when the game is afoot 2. Know your position (and being willing to participate). This game can have different names, some are; grease the skids and the cheap way out of a bad situation. I’m not talking about paying off lawmakers or how to overthrow a third world government in 3 easy steps (although that one might be coming). In general, the only people you are going to “tip” are those in law enforcement that can make things difficult for you; police, customs agents, immigration workers.
We have all seen movies where someone slips some cash in with some documents or in a passport. Well, that’s exactly how it’s done. But, some things to make it easier and cheaper. First, don’t paperclip or otherwise affix the cash with other documents, you want this money to be as easy to get to as possible so as not to attract attention while the recipient is trying to accept the bribe. Second, unlike the movies this does not have to be expensive. Five one dollar bills folded up has more value than one five dollar bill. Why? Because the recipient feels like they got something. By giving them a stack of bills you can actually make this transaction cheaper.
Do not create a negative economy by having a firm stance against paying bribes; it can be cheaper than doing things by the book. You don’t have to pay everyone who wants one. Here are some real world situations where I have and have not:
The police checkpoint:
Believe it or not, generally not. Oh, they will try to get you to pay something, but understanding the economics of this are in your favor. While traveling the Pan American Highway with my brother-in-law (who did not pay any bribes and therefore is an outstanding American citizen) we were stopped in Honduras and Peru at police checkpoints that were definitely attempts to collect unofficial taxes. It works like this. The police ask for your documents. Then looking at them, the officer says something like, “There is a problem with your documents.” In Honduras I handled this by pretending to only know “Hello” and “I don’t understand” in Spanish till the officer became frustrated and let us go; about 2 minutes. The economics are that the longer you stall, the less cars they can stop and gain additional funds from. In Peru, I handled this by asking exactly what the problem was. When the officer continues with the vague ‘document problem speak’ you know the deal. I just continued along this line till again the officer just let us go. The one time a Peruvian cop pushed me about not have insurance, I told him I would buy it at the next town. When he continued, I asked him who I was suppose to buy insurance from here in the middle of nowhere, him? He then gave me directions to the next town I could buy insurance and where to buy it.
The ‘I have your license plate’:
In Costa Rica I had a police officer take my front license plate while I was in an Internet café. He said I was parked illegally (there were no markings or signs). I asked how I could get my plate back and he said I could pay the fine at the court house the next day after he turned it in that night. He also asked when I had to leave to get my truck on a certain ferry out. Well I did not have to catch the ferry, I had to have my truck on in a container to ship to Ecuador in two hours time. Most countries in Latin America (and the shipping company) require two plates. Two things tipped me off the game was on. First, the comment about needing to go. Second, he had not written a ticket. The fine was twenty dollars. I told the officer that I needed to leave that day and if it was possible that I could give him the money to pay the fine. He agreed and gave me directions to a less crowded street six blocks away where we could make the exchange. He even put my plate back on my truck at the completion of the transaction. Service.
Legitimate Fee, bad timing:
There is a $10 fee per dog to enter into Costa Rica; with dogs obviously. Normally you pay this fee at the bank there at the border and then take the receipt to the agricultural inspection person who stamps your docs. At 11pm the bank was closed and would not open till 10am the next morning. I did not want to be stuck on the Nicaraguan/Costa Ricean border all night. I briefly spoke with my border helper about discussing if we could just pay the official and he could pay the fee in the morning. But, I did not have enough on me to pay the $30 for three dogs and still have enough for the other fee so, I ended up paying $20 and got my stamps. Yes, it was cheaper and saved a hell of a lot of time to go this route.
If you find yourself in sticky situation with a cop on the street you can try several things: Ask if there is a way the problem could be resolved without having to go to the station. Ask if you can pay the fine there; as part of this you may want to ask if the cop has change for (some amount like the fine), then you just don’t get enough change back.
Don’t try this
Be aware, not everyone is open to this. Here in Chile, attempting to bribe a cop will get you thrown in jail. Except for the one very inexperienced cop who, tried and quickly changed his mind, to get me on some bogus traffic violation.
Come to think of it, I guess I never have paid a bribe. I have paid legitimate fees/fines (except the license plate) in a way that was convenient to all parties.
- Remember, this is a business transaction so don’t take it personal.
- The other party needs to feel like they got something from you. So fold up several smaller bills.
- Don’t secure the money in a way that is difficult for the recipient to access.
- It may actually serve you to be a little resistant at first and try to negotiate the rate.
- You can always fall back on the doing things way indicated.