Almost Fearless

An Education in Bribing



It’s a fact that bribery happens all over the world. In Mexico, it’s no different, and for tourists it’s most often seen in the form of an officer from the Transito pulling you over for some minor offense. Then making you a fantastic offer: they will not give you a ticket if you just pay right now.

We’re terrible at all things haggling, bribing, black market and law-breaking. We suck at rushing the queue and cutting people, even if that means standing there, like an idiot, while everyone around you muscles their way past. In the heat. With a crying toddler. Yet, we still do our patriotic duty, as Americans and stand in the stupid line — common sense be damned.

Of course, that’s one of the biggest complaints I hear about Mexico is the corruption of the police. So I share this story with a little hesitation because I don’t want to feed into that, because this kind of thing is pretty common around the world. It’s pretty harmless. Like that one time we crossed into Cambodia via Thailand, and the Thais had set up a fake Cambodian border office and convinced all the tuk-tuk drivers to take all the tourists to them, instead of the real border, where they did process your visa, but at a huge mark-up.

That was awesome.

If you can’t laugh at that and love Thailand anyway, then I don’t know what to say.

They wrote a sign on cardboard that said, The Cambodian Border.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway here’s the thing: we normally suck at this stuff. Drew and I both have this rage problem when it comes to being ripped off. While we laugh about it later, in the moment, if that “oh this is some bullsh*t” switch gets hit, then we’re out. It’s really bad.

Drew has been pulled over four times in Mexico so far. The main highway between Bucerias and Puerto Vallarta is full of traffic cops and they love pulling people over. The first two times were because Drew took a left from the main highway, instead of going on the “lateral” that runs along the highway. For both of those the cops just gave Drew a warning.

See, Mexico isn’t so corrupt!

Okay so the third time was for his brake light being out. Which Drew didn’t believe but offered the guy 120 pesos (about $10) and he let him go.

Look at us, bribing our way out of traffic tickets!

Then a few nights ago, we go pulled over again. Brake lights!

Drew’s pretty much pissed now. He’s not going to give them money for fake brake light issues. Damn corrupt Mexican cops!

So he gets out of the car to talk to them. They say, “Oh well, we could give you 1/2 off the ticket if you pay now.”

“How much is that?”

“It’s normally 600 pesos but we’ll give it to you for 300 pesos [about $25]”

By now Drew is over it. He’s at that stage we refer to as “F*CK IT”.

“Yeah, I’m not going to pay that.”

“Well we will have to write you a ticket.”

“Okay, write me a ticket.”

They stall. You see, there’s absolutely no money in writing tickets. The pay is crap. They may have misjudged Drew.

Drew talks to them some more then hops back into the car.

“So what happened?”

He’s got a ticket. They’ve got his license. They KEPT his driver’s license!

Drew says, “I was like, no I’m not going to pay 300 and you know what, not only are you going to get zero money from me, now I’m going to make you do paperwork. So go ahead, fill out that ticket for me, I want to watch. you. write.”

“You did not say that.”

“No, but that would have been awesome.”

The next day we went to pay the ticket and retrieve the driver’s license.

It took less than 3 minutes. It cost 103 pesos.

“HAHAHA! Vindicated!” Drew says when he comes back into the car.

Later he realized his brake light was in fact out and he got a new fuse. We’re idiots. Sorry mildly corrupt Mexican transit cops. We’re kind of jerks. Also 300 was way too much, you should have gone lower.


Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • Hahah, good for him for standing up for himself, even though the cop was right about the brake light.
    We’re also terrible when it comes to haggling and it’s like people can feel it. Most people just flat out refuse to haggle with us.

  • I had a funny situation in Moldova that made the other guy in the hostel feel disappointed that his border crossing involved no awkward difficulties whatsoever. It cost me maybe $5, but I sure got the better travel story out of it! Ex-Soviet police are just exactly as awkward as you’d expect, but sometimes that’s part of the fun.

  • While I thoroughly enjoy haggling and consider myself to be pretty damn good at it, there is something nerve-racking about the thought of haggling with an authority. No? Props to Drew for saving himself 197 pesos. You da’ man Drew!

  • Laughed at the story. I am very familiar with that stretch of highway as I had to navigate to the MEGA often. When talking about corruption remember that a little corruption is the grease for the wheels of society. Too much and things slide off the track, too little and the wheels stop turning.
    Love the blog. Brings back memories of my time there.

    • After 4 months of driving thru Mexico (and 10 more months driving thru Central and South America), we’ve never had a single incident like this…but some of us are lucky 🙂

      Drew was right (the second time). If they want to fine you, don’t pay on the spot (unless they get hostile) only pay at the police station or wherever is the official location. If it’s a BS infraction they’ll eventually let you go because if you pay at the station, chances are they won’t get a peso out of it. Paying a bribe only makes it worse for the next tourist who gets stopped by that cop, and it feeds the ugly culture of corruption. It also helps to play dumb…once a cop tells us we did something wrong (like “illegal” tint) we act like we don’t understand the spanish translation. Eventually they get bored and let us leave.

      Another tip: get an International Driver’s License from AAA, it only costs $15 and is easily replaceable. Or hold on to your expired license. If they threaten to confiscate your license, often you can call their bluff and they will back down.

      Always remember the 3 P’s when dealing with corrupt officials: Politeness, Persistence, and most importantly Patience. If you stick to these, you’ll be alright.

  • It’s called la mordida… the bite. The Federales don’t expect or ask for bribes (though if you offer, they will take them), but the local police are paid so poorly that if you break the rules they will ask for la mordida. Most Mexicans accept this because they know the pay is so low and, well, you broke the law. Unfortunately, if you look like a tourist then you get bitten a lot!

    Found memories of the Thai/Cambodia border. =)

  • He he, I can SO relate to this. The first time we were pulled over I demanded a ticket saying we had no money on us… let off. The second time on the outskirts of Merida I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt and I lied and said I just took it off… let off. I have definitely pushed my luck with them, but so far so good! I hear 200 pesos is the going ‘mordida’ rate, and that is coming from a Mexican friend, a bit steep I think!

  • Ha, I love the completd lack of subtelty from the Mexican police. We have been lucky I think, they have pulled us over about four times but no money has exchanged hands. They make up some ridiculous story and Sarah does the same thing as Drew., “write me a ticket! ” so far they haven’t called us on it.

  • This happened to us too – they took my husband’s license, and we were on our honeymoon and driving to Chichen Itza, which was going to be a long day. So I bargained with them on the “pay it now fee” – it was total bullshit, but we got it knocked down by about half and didn’t have to take time out of our day to go get his license back.

  • Lol, I had a feeling that it was going to really be out, just makes it a better story. I’ve only had one experience bribing a cop, that was in Buenos Aires for his patch…but it was for my dad who is a police ,an in the US where they regularly swap and collect patches from different counties/states within the US. Even though I was The instigator that time I think I get a pass for a good cause, that is if a father’s day gift can be called a good cause.

  • Hello,
    I am Mexican-American, and love to hear when people say the truth about Mexico. Yeah, there are still some issues, like this, but we’re slowly getting there. I have to say that I’ve been pulled over in the US for some BS reasons too. Do you guys live in Jalisco? I was born in Guadalajara, but raised in LA. I live in Seoul, Korea now.

  • I lived in Vietnam for 16 months, and while I love the country, the corruption is a big problem.

    We recently videoed a talk by Duncan Milligan who runs ‘Tour de Force’ adventure logistics (helps people to plan crazy trips like driving an electic car around the world, car rallys etc). He used to be an overland driver and he said just treat it as a game. Smile, be nice, play the dumb tourist, say you don’t understand, ask if there is a receipt and most of the time they will get bored after a while and move onto someone else. When you leave, smile and give a friendly wave again and be on your way.

  • This made me laugh. It’s not too far off that here in the Dominican Republic, where we’ve just sailed in to. Some friends we met nearly got fleeced when they entered a less-friendly port where the customs officials all tried to come up with reasons why their boat wasn’t legal until finally they threatened to put them all in jail. Even then the boys didn’t quite get it. Eventually, a call to the U.S. Embassy sorted it out, after four hours of defiance, but my husband was like, “They just wanted money, dude! You coulda given ’em $20 and been outta there!”

    Run-ins with cops in a foreign country always make for a good story. Love it!


  • Hahaha! When we traveled to Baja regularly we always brought bribe money with us. Only had to use it twice. Once was because we got caught having sex in the back of a car – that was quite hysterical. Luckily my Spanish was really good then so I bartered him down to $10. Then I only had a $20 and he was going to keep it but I insisted on the change – which we got. 🙂 The cops are paid very poorly, I do not mind paying bribes (as long as they are reasonable and the reason we got pulled over or hassled was legit). If it wasn’t legit then they can go jump in a lake! One time I had to physically pull Randy away from a copy trying to throw him in the back of a cop car for no reason. They just pulled up on the curb and grabbed him but I prevailed! Still I just love Mexico, everything about it. And the way I see it, if you got paid crap and had to consistently put your life in danger then you’d be looking for ways to make extra money too.

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