10 Years of Blog Archive

Monday, July 06, 2015

Foreign Cops, Bribes, and Police Corruption When Living Abroad

In this article we explore a different side of this issue that curiously seems to be absent in the blogosphere and forums most of the time.  Brace yourselves.

Headlines read, “Tourists Paying Off Corrupt Traffic Cop in Panama” and “My Experience Giving Bribe Money to a Corrupt Police Officer in Panama City”.

Well guess what?  Nine times out of ten the driver actually violated a traffic law.  Hm? Aren’t you initiating a confrontation when you break a traffic law?  How is it that gringos always put all the blame on the foreign policeman?  What about observing foreign traffic laws?  Interesting how you never see this issue come up when you read about ‘corrupt cops’ in foreign countries.  The blog post usually starts out with “I got pulled over for speeding in Panama and…”

What would happen if “rich” foreigners started showing up in the u.s. and upon breaking a traffic law and being pulled over they waved a week’s pay, a $1000 bill in front of the cop?  Eventually the word would get out: rich foreigners want to give us money!

A $100 dollar bill is a week’s pay in Ecuador and many South and Central American countries and isn’t chump change in Panama either.  Not only that but it’s a really curious fact that traffic fine amounts have increased exponentially in some foreign countries where lots of congregating gringos over pay on traffic bribes/fines.  

In Panama a simple seat belt “violation” fine is almost the equivalent of a month’s wage for a Panamanian wage earner.  How did that happen?  Can you imagine a $3000 fine in the u.s. for seat belt? And while the foreigner snickers it’s the lower local earners that always get the short end of the stick.

I’ve personally met a few gringos that payed a $100 bribe on a $20 infraction just out of fear.  Fear because they don’t speak the language, fear of becoming embroiled, fear of… How many $100 foreign bribes will it take for that ticket to go from $20 to $300?

So then it appears that “not paying a bribe” is a red herring solution most talked about on blogs and forums.  The real issue appears to be foreigners breaking foreign traffic laws, and then overpaying on bribes. Culture clash anyone?  (rule of three and four)

And the reason they break these traffic laws in the first place, in many cases but certainly not all, appears to be an general attitude that the fines are “cheap compared to back home, so who cares, speed to your heart’s content”.  Where have we seen this attitude before regarding price comparisons? Why stop at traffic fines?

Now if foreigners were being targeted, that is, no traffic laws are broken, no infractions, no disrupting the peace, or any real issue and yet a foreign policeman stops you with an implied threat of making up an infraction if he doesn’t get a bribe, now that’s a fish of a different color!  But that’s not usually what you see being written about in Panama! 

All of a sudden going to the government office and paying the fines solves everything?  If that was the case, then why all these north Americans leaving their own country and one of the reasons is? Nanny state, big government and intimidating aggressive police presence with ever increasing reports of citizen abuses.  If you’re honest you’ll admit it.  What?  Aren’t Americans paying their fines directly to the magistrates’ offices? And yet, they still have the above mentioned problems? 

This article should not be construed as condoning behavior that is illegal in any country. We do not condone illegal behavior anywhere. Rather it is taking the other side and addressing all the facts at hand. 

Another curious thing we’ve noticed over the years about this general issue is N. Americans when they get to a foreign country and how they automatically think they know how the place should be governed.  Now, if that’s not a contradiction I don’t know what is.  People coming from a messed up country acting like they know best when they get to a new country.  Funny.

Well wasn’t it in the ancient writings that the apostles started arguing among themselves on what seats they were going to take in the “new Kingdom” as laid down by the master J.C?  It appears it must be human nature to want to govern/regulate other people.   But the master corrected them:  “This kingdom will not be like the others, where people lord it over one another, rather in my father’s kingdom the greatest is one who ‘serves’. 

Bottom line, when you’re in a foreign country, don’t break the traffic laws in the first place.  And if you find yourself on the other side of the pen, act like a local for goodness sakes, not a rich gringo.  And if you don’t know what that is, maybe you should re-think driving in foreign countries.  

We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy in Cuenca Ecuador! Enjoy the Discover Cuenca Ecuador blog!


  1. I have some friends who are victims of corruption in Ecuador. A motorcyclist passed a stop sign and went out in front of a semi truck. The motorcyclist was hit and went flying into the air and his motorcycle went under my friend's car. The semi truck driver fled the scene (although it wasn't his fault at all) and my friend stopped and got out and did first aid on the bleeding motorcyclist. There were all kinds of witnesses including an off duty policeman. The transit police tried to extort money from my friend, they locked him up in a room and wouldn't let him even wash the blood off his body for several hours. Even though it was obviously not my friends fault everyone including the "el capitan" went out of their way to scare him and were planning on keeping him locked up indefinately. Well my friend finally was released and had a court hearing where he was cleared as innocent but they confinscated his car and now he's had to waste 3 days straight paying lawyers, paying bribes to dirty government officials so he can get his car back. I have another friend that a similar thing happened. Moral of the story, don't get in a wreck in Ecuador, the police are extremely corrupt, even if it isn't your fault you will be treated horribly and may spend a fair amount of time in jail.


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