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January 26, 2007 6:44 AM   Subscribe

How much is the going bribe for a Mexican police officer?

I'll be travelling to Mexico soon and was wondering how much I should bribe the local authorities if I happen to get pulled over/stopped about something. How exactly do I give a bribe?

Or should I avoid the whole bribe thing altogether?
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya to Law & Government (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I was in Mexico for a week and change in August. I speak reasonably good Spanish, mind you.

I never ran into any trouble with the authorities whatsoever, despite (at the time) having a pretty greasy looking beard.

My recommendations:
1) Avoid the backroads as much as possible. Bite the bullet and take the toll roads. The toll roads generate so much money that authorities are seriously disinclined to meaninglessly pull people over.
2) Make sure you have a tourist importation permit and Mexican travel insurance, this is a VERY big deal. If you get stopped, you're going to want to show as many papers as you possibly can.
3) Mexico's been under some serious scrutiny because of the notoriety of its police procedures. They've taken quite a few steps to clean it up.
4) Please don't do illegal drugs while there. Please. That's begging for it.
5) Make sure you're driving a car with full functional brakes, head and tail lights, and blinkers.

Most of this (plus what back roads to avoid) can be found in the Rough Guide to Mexico, a fine book indeed.

Now, as for the bribe?
If you're in a situation where it looks like you're going nowhere with the authorities you have one of two options:
1) Demand to speak with the US embassy (this one's a go-for-broke option)
2) Offer up a bribe. But don't call it that. Ask if there's some sort of fine, and if you can pay it on the spot, as you won't have time to go to spend time in governmental offices. If he (it's 95% of the time a "he") quotes you a number, bite the bullet, and give him what he wants. They range from $20 USD to $50 USD
(220 - 550 mexican pesos)

Be polite and please, don't exacerbate the situation. And, dead serious about the drugs thing.
posted by The Giant Squid at 7:01 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

As someone who's bribed police in another foreign country, my advice to you is not to assume anyone can or wants to be bribed.

In the case of traffic police where I was, you could drop a large note on the console after they took you into their car, or take it out tucked under your ID. But in my case, being taken into the car was a specific cue that bribing was necessary or possible, and I was only made aware of this by the local I was with.

Don't take any chances. Keep two wallets-- or at least keep most of your money in a wallet other than the cop can see. In many cases a bribe is all the money that you have.

Remember, as a foreigner, you are more trouble than you are worth and after some harassment you'll often be let go on those grounds. Clueless, respectful and broke is how you should appear.

In addition, try to be a good citizen and don't get stopped for something.
posted by fake at 7:02 AM on January 26, 2007

Where in Mexico, what are you expecting to get stopped for, and are you going to be doing anything else very bad at the same time?

You don't ever want to offer a bribe, you want the authority figure to retain all the power in the transaction. Instead, you want to be an earnest idiot - be so awfully sorry you made a mistake, and ask if you can pay the ticket right then. Just don't have more money in your wallet than you're willing to hand out at one time. USD instead of pesos or Canadian dollars will make you look a little more naive (apologize for not having pesos).

I'm told $50 is roughly the going rate for speeding. (I myself refuse to drive in Mexico because I'm opposed to fiery death, but I've got a relative with a lead foot and property south of the border.)

You'll want to be real careful about having anything in your car or on your person that might be taken seriously by the authorities. It would be a really bad idea to fuck up any worse than driving a little too fast.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:14 AM on January 26, 2007

(Or, what everyone else said while I was dawdling.)
posted by Lyn Never at 7:16 AM on January 26, 2007

1) Demand to speak with the US embassy (this one's a go-for-broke option)

Especially if you're Canadian.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:17 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Geez. Ok. I wanna say a couple things, first that I saw on the news yesterday that they may start asking Americans to have passports while traveling throughout Mexico, as opposed to before, when they only needed a driver's license, I believe. As I said, I saw it in the news, you might need to confirm it.

On the subject of bribes. I don't think there is something as "an official bribe." If you are talking about being lawfully stopped for something you did, it depends on what you did.

If it is one of those cases where they just stop you to see what they can get from you, you may very well resort to the "I'm an American citizen and I will have none of this" line. Perhaps even pretend you are calling your embassy on the cell or something like that.

The thing is, if it's one of those Mexican cops who are just
trying to see if they get an easy lunch from you, you'll be fine. If it's one of those frightening cops who will go any lengths to get money from you, giving it to them (or appeared prepared to) will just make them push for more. I would advice you not to fall for that. It could get really ugly. Again, I think to appear "informed of your rights" and ready to call your embassy is the best defense you have.
posted by micayetoca at 7:19 AM on January 26, 2007

I just returned from logging over 5000km on backroads and libre highways in central Mexico, and I can happily say that I had no probems the entire time. Tolls on some stretches can run $6 USD per 100km, and the stretch from Toluca to DF is around $11 USD, so the libres often make economic sense (and weren't even much slower, in my experience).

Regarding bribes, it has been my prepared strategy to ask an open-ended question like, "How can we make this right?" and if the answer is more formal than I would like, "Is there another way?" Traffic violations in this region were a dime a dozen, but it seemed that some level of discourtesy was what pulled peope over--i.e. a rolling stop at an ALTA sign wouldn't do it, but being the third in a row to squeeze in through a "Uno por Uno" interesection might... Feel free to email me for specific questions or destinations.
posted by zachxman at 7:43 AM on January 26, 2007

Best answer: Do not bribe the policemen. Many of us Mexicans would like to live in a corruption free country, and the first step is not to offer bribes.

You respect the law at home, right? So just do the same when you visit Mexico and you will have no problems. If the police pulls you over, just ask for your ticket (you can't pay it right there. That's the same as paying a bribe).

If you are worried about your documents, just show them to the policeman through your window. You should carry a copy of your passport too.

Anyway, we don't have enough policemen, so many people just do whatever they want and the police don't stop them. But not everybody is like that (I'm not!), so don't come here and ruin things for us. Please.
posted by clearlydemon at 7:44 AM on January 26, 2007 [13 favorites]

I'm not sure where in Mexico you are going, but in Baja there is rumor of a crack down on bribe offerers. I agree with clearlydemon and Lyn Never. Assume that the cop is honest, but as a back up, it's not a bad idea to limit the amount of cash in your pocket.

There are periodic armed stops on the highways, looking mostly for drugs. Definitely don't try to bribe these guys, that probably gives them cause to further tear your car apart (and leave it to you to put back together). My friends who ride dirt bikes a lot in Baja say that it's good to offer them cold drinks if you have them, but in a very casual, friendly way.

Overall, I think that you're best off just not breaking the law and if you do get a traffic stop, just be polite and if you get a ticket, so be it.
posted by jonah at 8:07 AM on January 26, 2007

That's a good point, jonah. Those armed guys in the highways are from the military. If you bribe them, you could be in serious trouble.

By the way, you can call 078 for highway emergencies, and (55) 5250-0123 for tourist security (the 55 is Mexico city's code). There are green cars/trucks patrolling the highways, the Green Angels, who will help you if you have mechanical problems. That's a free service, you would only have to pay for parts and oil/gas. Always take the toll highways (Cuota) if available, they are safer and have better maintenance.
posted by clearlydemon at 8:36 AM on January 26, 2007

Seconding everything clearlydemon said.
posted by vacapinta at 8:45 AM on January 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks clearlydemon. Sorry for making the broad generalization that all mexican officials are corrupt and could be bribed. I understand that corruption is a problem and the last thing I want to do is perpetuate it, but I just want to have all the bases covered. You are a damn fine MexiFite.

I'm not planning on breaking any laws, especially drug trafficking. I just tend to get a little apprehensive when travelling abroad.
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 9:23 AM on January 26, 2007

clearlydemon has a great response and username.

When my brother was in Guatemala, he was in a bad situation not of his own making, and paying a bribe was unquestionably the best thing to do. It related to travelling through various countries, so for that among many other reasons, it's not a situation that you're at all likely to face. If a bad thing does happen, though, zachxman's questioning strategy is a sound one.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:07 AM on January 26, 2007

Seconding the "look like you know your rights" suggestion. I've been hassled for no reason by Mexican policemen (sorry, clearlydemon), but the Mexican man I was with told them he was a lawyer and took out his identity card. They just walked away.
posted by walla at 10:16 AM on January 26, 2007

Thanks everybody.

walla, no offense taken, there are some policemen who are just looking for bribes. In that case, just ask repeatedly for your ticket (deme mi multa) and they will go away and look for an easier victim.

Also, you can call the tourist security phone number (see my last post).
posted by clearlydemon at 11:46 AM on January 26, 2007

First, those suggesting that you won't need to bribe any policemen, and that you really shouldn't do so anyway, are correct -- that is a poor way to be a guest in someone else's country. Mexico in particular has been cracking down on petty corruption, so anyone asking for a bribe is running a real risk; you, by offering one, are also running a real risk.

Second, if you do end up needing to do so (which almost certainly means you are doing something you shouldn't, such as driving illegally, getting caught with your pants down, etc), there is a process you need to know, rather than a preset amount. The process is really universal (I think that there was a recent article about this in the Economist, actually) --- you never call it a "bribe" (slang in Spanish: mordida). You ask about "fines" or "special fees" or "tips" or "donations" or any other kind of euphemism, such as "is there another way we can take care of this?" And when you pay it, you generally (although this can vary from place to place) do so a little indirectly, such as putting the money inside the passport, or in an envelope, or under a book. The amount you need to pay may be very negotiable; this will depend on how firmly they have you by the short hairs, versus you just being willing to pay for convenience.
posted by Forktine at 2:15 PM on January 26, 2007

I've been pulled over twice in Mexico, and have driven there a lot.

The first time was about 3 a.m. in Veracruz, and I was speeding like a madman. The cops, once they realized I was American, told me to beat it.

The second time, I was given a crude shakedown by a mirror-lensed motorcycle cop. Out of sheer surprise, I said "No!"

The last thing he said was, "But... It's Christmas!"

So my impression is it's not that serious.
posted by atchafalaya at 6:31 PM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Speaking abstractly, in Mexico there's a equilibrium situation where paying bribes is the prevailing norm. The cops make virtually no salary and need the cash to supplement their income.

If you choose to refuse to pay a bribe on (admirable) moral grounds, you have to consider the possible consequences (car being impounded, a lot of hassle).

Your best strategy is to act dumb (said slowly: "No hablo ... erm ... Spanish") then cough up if it looks like it's going to get ugly. Even then make it look like you're paying a fine, not offering a bribe - then you're covered if you get fingered as a briber.

If you're in a tourist area they'll know you're new at the game and try to make it easy on you to follow their gist, if they're serious about the shakedown.

Anecdotally, the worst times of the year are before Christmas, Easter and Mothers' Day.

The amount? Depends how rich you look. MX$200 at least.
posted by TrashyRambo at 7:36 PM on January 26, 2007

Oh - and a typical anecdote here.
posted by TrashyRambo at 7:39 PM on January 26, 2007

It was years ago now, but I was in Puerto Vallarta with a group of friends and we were staying across the state line somewhere north (?) of the city. As such, one of them had rented a jeep as cabs were starting to add up. Our last night there we were heading back to our digs when we got pulled over for "speeding". I was the only one with basic Spanish skills and argued with the officer that we were in fact NOT speeding (we weren't). He stood there for a minute looking bemused, took a look around the jeep, and decided that we weren't wearing seat belts. On that he had us. Irony being the amount of people that ride around in the back of pickup trucks without bother.

Anyway, it quickly turned into us giving him our passports and coming downtown in the morning to the "government office" . . .or . . .he could take care of it all for us right then and there for $20/ea. Our flight left in the morning. A little miffed to be sure, but never having been in that situation and obviously being taken for a ride . . .$20 is $20.

And seconded on the drugs thing. Younger dumber years, but sitting in clearly non-tourist area in a taxi while guys with big guns in a jeep keep going around the same block you're on over and over and finally blocking the taxi in to get out and shake everybody down as your "friend" is walking back up to the taxi is scary as hell. Especially when they don't say a word to you the whole time. But then, run on sentences can also be scary as hell. = ]
posted by teemo at 9:47 AM on January 27, 2007

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