Getting busted by cops is a scary experience. It’s bad enough when it happens in your own country. But back home, you speak the language and understand the culture. So yeah it sucks, but at least you know what to expect.
It’s way worse when you get busted by cops when traveling abroad. The feelings of helplessness, fear and uncertainty can be overwhelming. And if you’ve never been stopped by foreign police before, you may not know what to do.
So what do I know about it?
Well, I’ve gotten busted by cops twice, in two different foreign countries.
In Medellín, I got stopped on the street by two motorcycle cops. I was clean, but I was with a friend who was holding illegal drugs. In the end, the policia took half his drugs, then they let us go.
The second time, I was detained by police at a bus station in Mexico City – after I’d gotten into a fist-fight on a bus. They questioned me for about fifteen minutes, patched up my injured hand, and then they let me walk.
Now if either of these things had happened in America, I likely would have gone to jail. But I didn’t. Both times, I talked my way out of the situation, and I got away. And I didn’t even have to pay any bribes!
So how should you handle it, if you’re ever busted by police in a foreign country?
Here are some tips:
1) Understand Police Culture
Getting to know the local culture is good general travel advice. But you should also study the culture of the local police. In places where corruption is rampant, the cops are much more lenient, at least on minor crimes like drugs, drunkenness, or fighting. So they’re often willing to release you, because jailing you would be a more of a hassle then letting you go. Use that to your advantage!
2) Avoid Arrest
Once you’ve been stopped by police, you have just one goal. You must avoid arrest! Whatever happens, you do not want to spend time in foreign jail. But like I said, in some places, the law is more fluid. Handle the cops correctly, and you may avoid incarceration.
3) Stay Calm
If you get busted, don’t freak out! More than likely, you’ll be able to talk or bribe your way out of the situation. So there’s no reason to get scared or panic. And the calmer you are, the easier you’ll be able to communicate clearly and keep your wits about you.
Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, be humble and apologetic to the police. Saying sorry goes a long way. A sincere apology increases the odds that they’ll like you, see things your way, and let you off with just a warning.
5) Don’t Fight
If you do get arrested or stopped, never fight the cops! If you fight them, you’ll have zero chance of getting away. So let them frisk you, cuff you, detain you, question you, whatever. Remember, you’re not at home; so you don’t have the same rights. But the consequences aren’t the same either.
6) Speak Their Language
Speaking the local language goes a long way in situations like this. Local police are bound to give you way more respect if you know their language. And if you’re fluent, you can explain yourself. And that goes a long way towards helping you walk.
7) Talk, Talk, Talk
Some folks advise against talking to cops. That’s good advice, in general. But if you’re already in police custody, and there’s a chance you can talk your way out of it? Go for it, get chatty, talk their ears off. The idea here is to show them you’re truly sorry, that you’re not a criminal, and that you’ll never do it again. Just don’t admit to any crimes or incriminate yourself.
8) Make Them Like You
From what I’ve seen, if cops like you, they’re way more likely to turn a blind eye. And for some reason, cops like me. Once I start talking to them, they respond well. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I treat them with respect. They’re just human beings doing a hard job, so I treat them with basic respect. Treat them well, and it’s likely they’re gonna treat you the same.
9) Have A Copy Of Your Passport
If you’re staying in the country legally, you should always carry a copy of your passport with you at all times. Leave the original locked up at home. Foreign police get nervous when you don’t have any ID. They’re more likely to get let off if you can prove who you are. Of course, if you’re in their country illegally, it’s best to carry no ID at all.
10) Dress Respectably
This is good general travel advice. But it’s especially important in places like Mexico, where class matters. If you’re seen as high-class, you’re gonna get more respect and leeway than those perceived as low class. And the best way to appear high-class is to be well-dressed. I’ve seen it first hand in Latin America, nicely-dressed folks get respect and badly-dressed people do not.
11) Bribe Them
In America bribes are unheard of. Meaning, if you get busted by U.S. cops, you can’t pay them off them. Trying it would be a total waste of time, and would only make things worse for you. But in other parts of the world, the cops will accept bribes. Of course, some say corruption is a bad thing. And maybe it is. But if you can use it to your advantage, then why not? I’d rather pay a few hundred bucks and avoid arrest, wouldn’t you?
Getting busted by cops when traveling abroad can be scary.
But if you know how to handle it, you can probably walk away, without suffering any real negative consequences.
Read More: Introvert’s Guide To Making Friends Abroad