If you stay a bit longer in Bali – longer than just a few days that is – and plan driving a vehicle like a Scooter or Car here, it’s almost unavoidable that you will be stopped by the police once in a while. If you are wearing your helmet how it should be or are correctly buckled up in your car – that has usually only one reason -> to extort money from you – the “wealthy” foreigner or tourist.
The most common times for routine Police Checks are Monday mornings (the weekend is just over, all money is spent!), Friday early afternoons (the expensive weekend is ahead with lot’s of Arak and Karaoke sessions!) or mid weeks around 11am-1pm (there is nothing more delicious like a free lunch!).
First you will be asked a lot of questions: “where you from”, “what you do for work”, “where you stay”, etc. This isn’t friendly interest, but has the only purpose to determine your ‘wealth’ or ‘worth’, read: how much money they should ask from you.
Their most common and successful scheme is to ask you for your International Driving License, which – if you can’t show one, but only a national one – would cost you some ‘tea money’ of Rp 20.000 if you ride a bike or Rp 50.000 if driving a car (more, if you appear ‘fresh off the boat’, or if you wear gold rings and necklaces all over or Dollar Bills are hanging out of your pockets).
As an alternative you will be “threatened” to come with them to the Police Station or more seriously to go on standing trial in Bali’s capital Denpasar (Both this never happens, as it would mean more work for them and plenty loss of time for extorting money from easier targets).
The collected money will anyway go straight into the pockets of the involved Police Men, there won’t be any receipt or ticket for you to carry home as a souvenir.
Fear not! There are ways out of this dilemma, if you follow the tips below.
While negotiating with the police isn’t a pleasant experience for most people, there is almost always the chance that you can get away with just a warning instead of paying the ‘standard fee’ or even more. Just play by their own rules. Here are some things you can do:
- Don’t stop in the first place. Am I kidding you? Not! As the ‘Patroli’ are usually waiting for their prey in not easily visible corners or side pockets of the road; it’s pretty easy to miss them. They don’t use whistles or other signals as well, just a lame hand waive to flag you down. It’s easier when riding a bike – just look in the opposite direction (usually the right side of the road, it also helps if you wear sunglasses). This way you missed them ‘by accident’, don’t worry: they will not follow you – there is much easier prey for them than abandoning their favorite sweet spot to follow one single victim.
If you indeed get stopped or can’t drive past them:
- Stay always calm and friendly – smile a lot. Anger doesn’t lead you nowhere – it makes things more complicated
- Act real sloooowwwww and pretend that you have all the time in the world (even if you don’t and feel like you have ants in your pants), tell them you didn’t know, as it’s not common in most other countries you visited (name all countries in Asia you can recall!)
- Explain that you are only a short-time tourist in beautiful Bali (never say that you live here, even if you do), that you like it sooo much and that you want to tell all your friends back home how nice and friendly all people are here
- Tell them that you learned your lesson now, you feel sorry about your mistake, look very miserable. Ask where you can get an International Driving License in Bali, let them write you down the address, ask them to paint you map. Cooperate as much as you can. Do anything to keep them busy and more and they will let you off with a verbal warning only, just to get rid of you
- If you own your bike or your car, don’t tell them! They will right away find something that is broken, doesn’t work or isn’t installed correctly (mirrors are a hot topic with bikes). If you insist you rented, those things usually don’t matter. Tough luck though, if your name appears in the insurance slip (there are ways to avoid that as well)
- Explain that you are a journalist who is writing an article for an Australian/British/American/Whatever Magazine about Bali and how great the food is here, how friendly the people are here and so on
- Ask the Officer’s name and write it down on a piece of paper in front of him, ask him to help you with the correct spelling. If you don’t have pen and paper – yes, you guessed right, borrow it from them (!)
- If you have a newer European License (the plastic card with the European Flag) you can almost always ‘convince’ them, that this is the new European International Driving License. Just stand firm your ground, say that you don’t understand what you did wrong, repeat it again, 5-10 minutes is all that it takes. Repetition works! The main reason for them asking the International License is that it states usually all classes you are eligible to drive. That is the case with the national European Licenses as well. Show it and explain to them. Hah! Gotcha!
- Sometimes, they just don’t let you off with a warning only. You have to fill out some form with your particulars, name, place of stay in Bali, sometimes home address. Stay calm. Be creative! Fill out whatever you want there: your first and middle name okay, but write Legian Hotel or Poppies Place and any fantasy address back home. Of course you don’t have your passport with you! It’s with the Travel Agency, in the Hotel Safe or with the wife shopping. Don’t forget to ask his name and write it down carefully, if you have to fill out something. This way they will never check the correctness of your personal details, as they just want to get rid of you quick, you might probably mean trouble for them
- If anything else fails and you talked yourself in a rage, mention the TAC (Tourist Assistance Center) as a last resort, it helps to have a handphone and type in its contact list without showing them much attention. The number of the TAC is 224111, you have to dial +62 361 224111 (0361 is for Denpasar).
You might ask, is it worth the trouble? If you didn’t bring *any licence at all*, didn’t wear a helmet on a bike or weren’t buckled up in your car – probably not. You will have to pay most of the time. But for the International Driving License Scheme – definitely yes!
You can either waste your time or your money! But everyone should have at least the 10 minutes it takes to discuss with a police man if he should let you off with a verbal warning or if you really have to part with your hard-earned cash.
Anyway, the official Police Checkpoints usually consist of 3-5 cars with 5-10 cops at a time. You almost always get away with only a warning here, as everything is very official.
So if you are stopped by just 2 or 3 Cops from 1 car on the road side, without having done anything wrong – you know what their goal is. It depends a bit on the situation and the Cop who will talk to you. I tried all the tips above and they work most of the time. In the 10 months living here we were stopped more than a dozen times. We paid only once so far, when my pillion rider ‘forgot’ to wear her helmet, but never because I didn’t have an International Driving License (still don’t have).
What is an International Driving License good for anyway?
The problem with the International Driving License is that it expires fast and is completely useless. It’s actually more a scheme than anything.
- It doesn’t save you from anything: if you are in an accident with a local, you will still pay for all expenses, license or not. If the accident is with a fellow foreigner, the one with a car insurance has to pay or the one who can’t bribe the Cop who is writing the Police Report
- Another problem is, that it expires. European international driving licenses (for driving outside of Europe) are only valid for 3-6 months and costs you anything between Euro 35 to 80, depending on the country. Other countries offer 12 month licenses, but still you have to renew them every once in a while. It’s just easy money for countries.
- The biggest joke is that you can apply for your International Driving License in Bali directly. It’s valid in Bali then, but might not in other countries. You don’t even have to bring a valid license for applying – just hand over the money! Again it’s limited to 1 months, 3 months, 6 months or 1 year. Longer period – more money.
So, if it’s all a scheme, why waste your money?
The money you saved you can much better invest in 2 small Bintang beer or even 3 large ones, if you happen to drive with your rented Suzuki Katana, Toyota Kijang or Daihatsu Feroza. And it’s for sure a great feeling to drive off from the site of your triumph without having paid any direct bribes for nothing.
Yes, no? What do you think?
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