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February 6, 2011
Thinking of renting a car when you come to Mexico on vacation?
If you do any online research about renting a car here you will probably come across one or more stories of tourists who rented a car here and then were pulled over by police who solicited a bribe from them.
But no fear, we are here to help you avoid paying that bribe. First, some background information…
Rental Cars Have Special License Plates
When you rent a car in Quintana Roo (the Mexican state that includes the Riviera Maya, Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen) your rental car will have orange markings on the license plates. Taxi cabs also have plates with orange markings. But the rest of the cars on the road here have green markings on the plate. So when you rent a car here it’s obvious to anyone who sees your license plate that the car is a rental. This makes it easy for cops to target you.
You Are Rich, Cops Are Not
Now the reason cops will target tourists is two-fold. First, tourists grow dollars in their pockets…you didn’t know that? But seriously, tourists usually carry money, often a lot more money than locals do. The second reason is that most cops here make less than $800 USD per month, and any local can tell you that this is not a comfortable living wage here. So many cops are looking for easy ways to supplement their meager incomes.
Taking Bribes is Illegal in Mexico
Contrary to how it may seem it is against the law for public officials and police in Mexico to take bribes. So if you report a cop for soliciting a bribe that cop is in trouble, just like their counterparts in other, more lawful, countries would be.
Tips for Avoiding Paying Bribes
Just in case you are pulled over driving in Mexico here are some tips to avoid paying a bribe to cops:
- If a cop pulls you over get his or her name. If you know the cop’s name you can report anything he does wrong. The cop should be wearing a name tag, if he/she is not then ask (“Como se llama?”) over and over until they tell you. If the cop knows that you know his name he will be much less likely to solicit a bribe from you.
- Get the number of the cop’s vehicle and get its license plate number. Having this information will make it easy for you to report the cop if he or she asks for a bribe. Make it obvious to the cop that you can identify his/her vehicle.
- Play innocent, be nice and deliberately misunderstand when they ask you for money. Force the cop to be very direct and solicit that bribe openly.
- If the cop tells you how high the fine is for the ticket just smile and say “esta bien” (it’s ok) and let them know you WANT that ticket. The cop may try to scare you with the idea that the amount of the fine is really high, and may imply that you will pay much less if you give him a “tip” for helping you. The cop is counting on the idea that you don’t want the ticket, if you tell them you DO want the ticket then the cop loses his/her hold over you.
- Remember that once the cop has openly solicited a bribe from you that cop cannot risk writing you a ticket, because his own data will be on that ticket. And if you went to pay that ticket you could easily file a complaint against that cop.
- The key is to simply and politely refuse to pay a bribe while making it clear to the cop that you can identify him/her.
Cops in Mexico who pull over tourists here in Quintana Roo are most often just looking for an easy bribe. If you prove too difficult to get money out of they will generally just let you go with a verbal warning and then they will move on to another tourist who is dumber than you are.
Good luck and happy motoring! Enjoy your vacation!