In some countries, and sometimes in certain specific regions, paying bribes is much more wide spread necessity in order to receive various services from an official, or other person, in charge of a public or legal duty. Many developing countries suffer from corruption. Police in those countries may be poorly paid — many make less than US$50/month. You may be solicited for a bribe by an official willing to turn a blind eye to your infraction, fabricated or otherwise. Some travellers are very much averse to paying bribes to anyone, especially in countries with so many needy but honest citizens.
Fraudsters are known to impersonate police, sometimes in the guise of an "immigration official" who identifies a problem with your documents. They will flash official-looking papers at you. But there are many plainclothes officers as well. In countries where corruption is serious, it is also possible for fraudsters to illegally purchase uniforms from authorities or simply make up their own, which can be hard for travellers to identify.
On-the-spot fine is one term used for a bribe. Those words are meant to initiate a conversation about money. You may be told that the real fine is for example 100 shmekels and that for 30 shmekels, paid immediately, you can be on your way and avoid a trip to the police station to pay a higher fine.
Bribes are also often demanded by immigration officers, particularly at land borders, and refusing to pay the bribe will often mean you are left stranded at the border while your bus leaves without you.
Strategies to cope
If you are certain you are in the right, and do not want to pay a bribe, some strategies are:
- Involve other people. Fraudsters or corrupt officials are unlikely to pursue their schemes near an audience. You can ask bystanders for help on the pretext of not understanding the officer.
- Invoke higher powers. Insisting on going to the local police station is a good way to make an illegitimate issue go away. Suggesting a visit to your country's embassy (e.g. to have an official there help translate the conversation, due to one's poor knowledge of the local language and laws) is also effective. At this point, they usually have a look of horror on their face, since they don't want any real officials involved. Asking for bribes is illegal and they know it, and there should always be an anti-corruption office where they can be reported. Reporting the incident to higher authorities sometimes proves futile, as in many poorer countries, even the top echelons of the government and police can be more interested in collecting bribes than actually keeping the country safe.
- Play dumb. Politely explain to the person that you don't understand the nature of the infraction, even if you do. Corrupt police officers are usually not direct, and prefer to imply what they want, instead of asking outright. Tell them you've only just arrived in the country, even if it's your 100th visit. Even if you know local language, don't let on — it may only make things harder. However, there are cases where the exact opposite is true and in some cases communication simply breaks down if you pretend not to know the local language.
- Insist on a receipt with an official stamp. Such request is most likely to be met with confusion and concern. The idea is to show that you don’t know that this is actually a bribe and that you simply try to play by the rules. Hopefully, after 10 or 20 minutes of a circular, but always polite, conversation, they may send you on your merry way. On the other hand, some corrupt officials have become wise to this and in one case a person requesting a receipt was told the cashier's office was closed and would not open until the next morning. The options were to pay the fine or spend the night in prison. It appears this was not a bluff on the part of the officer. The fine was paid and no receipt was issued. The game is constantly changing.
- Insist on proper procedure – if you happen to know the procedure that would have to be followed for a legitimate fine, insist on following that. In Nicaragua, for example, traffic offenses are handled by giving the offender a ticket in exchange for their license which they can then exchange back for their license at the police station when the fine is paid. Even if this might cause additional hassle, it'll create a paper trail and involve higher ups and will make a crooked cop trying to issue a bogus ticket for a non-existing offense reconsider.
- In case you were asked for a bribe, always be polite with the police officer, but also be firm. Demonstrate respect for their authority, never raise your voice, and never insult them. Whether you are right or not does not matter in this.
- You should never try to actively bribe the officials. Not only may your act encourage further corruption and cause more trouble to future tourists, but you may also commit an offense in both your country and the destination — most countries have laws to prosecute those who are involved in corruption regardless of territorial jurisdiction.
- Bring all required identification and documents, even if some of them might seem unnecessary. It is a common pretext for officials to claim that there are problems with your identification before they solicit a bribe.
- For the most part, they understand that going too far with a foreigner will cause them problems, especially if the foreigner is neither being abusive nor quaking with fear.
- If possible, memorize the name and/or staff number of the official, as it helps in filing a complaint to your country's diplomatic missions and/or local anti-corruption agencies.
- Discussing money or negotiating the fine may encourage the perception that you understand the nature of the conversation (i.e. you are willing to pay a bribe).
- Directly accusing the officer of corruption is likely to be counter-productive; it is important that you allow the officer to save face.
- If you insist on going to the police station, you may be expected to give the officer a ride. If you are alone, and especially if the "officer" is plainclothes, this may not be a good idea. If you are approached by multiple people and are alone, under no circumstances get in their vehicle — insist on taking a taxi. And once you get to the station, just pay whatever fine is quoted and insist on a receipt. This may end up costing you more than the bribe, but at least this cop won't get any money out of you, and this will not encourage them to flag down other foreigners.
Threats and force
Incidents of excessive force involving tourists are rare, but that doesn’t mean it cannot happen. For instance, in some countries police are known to be drunk on the job, which can seriously inhibit their ability to reason, and the Vietnamese immigration is notorious for assaulting tourists who refuse to pay a bribe along the Chinese-Vietnamese border. As in any situation where someone is trying to get money out of you, by force or threat of force, your best option would generally be to try to negotiate with them as best as you can, and eventually pay them the money agreed upon; it's only money after all.
Generally, paying bribes under duress or physical violence will be spared due to the defense of necessity, and some countries like China explicitly exclude paying bribes due to extortion from bribery. However, laws regarding criminal defense differ in different countries.
Where to report
In some countries corruption cases are investigated by a specific agency, some have one for any misconduct in public sector bodies (such as the Chancellor of Justice in Sweden), in many countries corruption is investigated by the police like any other offence. While public bodies in some countries are required to forward any correspondence to the relevant address, where rule of law is weaker, formalities such as wrong addressee can be used as pretext to dismiss the matter.
- Notable examples of specialized anti-corruption agencies include the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in Singapore, which not only significantly reduced widespread corruption in these places, but also become models for other jurisdictions.
- Countries where corruption cases are dealt by government agencies responsible for major criminal investigation include the United States and United Kingdom, where corruption is investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (if federal officials are involved) and the Serious Fraud Office.
- In some countries prosecutors are responsible for investigating corruption cases. This is the case for Japan. In Finland investigations concerning misconduct of police is always handled in a different branch (geographically or otherwise) of the organisation.
- If no specific agencies are responsible for corruption investigation, cases are usually dealt by the police, which probably does not work well if corruption is widespread in the organisation, due to conflict of interest and solidarity with colleagues.
- If you are not sure how to report your grievance, consider contacting your country's diplomatic mission for assistance in criminal matters.