Unfortunately, things in paradise aren’t quite perfect. Indonesia is among the most corrupt countries in the world and things don’t seem to be getting drastically better. Government officials on all levels are largely open to bribes and sometimes even require them before they will do any sort of work.
While the average expat will probably never have anything to do with some of these higher level guys, you will see traffic cops and police on a daily basis. Foreigners are often pulled over, often with no official reason for the stop except to make sure things are all in order, of which things are usually not, at least to the police officer’s satisfaction.
The biggest trap
The biggest trap is the lack of a driver’s license. You can obtain an International Driver’s Permit in your home country before coming to Bali but be aware that if you are not licensed to drive a motorcycle in your home country, then you will not be permitted to ride one in Bali either. There are also licenses that you can obtain here from the Poltables on Jl Gunung Sanghyang in Denpasar, but it is mostly a waste of time and money as well. As much as it may go against your personal morals and beliefs, most of the time the best way to handle things is to just pay up.
If you have a valid International Driver’s Permit then you may be able to get away without paying but for most other situations you will probably have to shell out a bit.
If you are driving by and the officer is just passively flagging you down while he is standing on the side of the road, you better off just pretending you did not see him and driving right past. It sounds strange to disobey the orders of a police officer but you will not be chased and it is really the best way to handle the situation if you can. Running from an officer who is on a motor bike or in a car is not as wise as it can become dangerous and you may be chased and reprimanded much more thoroughly.
The situation usually plays out something like this:
You are driving along minding your own business when a police officer pulls up alongside of you and tells you to pull over. At this point he has pretty much gotten you so better to just pull over and see what he has to say. Once you stop he may or may not tell you what you did wrong or he may just skip right along for asking for your license and registration. Your vehicle’s registration should always be on your person or your vehicle so provide that first. If you have a valid license then provide that as well and cross your fingers that he doesn’t try to find something else wrong. If you don’t have it, the best way is to act confused and “play dumb”. Good lines are stating that you have driven in other Asian countries where a license was not required or that the person who rented you your bike informed you that a license was not required. It won’t save you from having to pay, but it helps a little from looking like you were intentionally doing something wrong.
The very most important thing to do throughout this entire process is to stay as calm as possible and speak slowly and softly, no matter what the officer is trying to do. The officer will usually then try to “threaten” to take your bike into the station and give you a court date where you must appear to plead your case to get it back. He may even show you a book with a list of offences and the related fines. It is bad form to immediately offer a bribe as it implies that he is a corrupt official so you will be better off playing along for a minute or two and appearing worried. Don’t worry, your bike won’t be taken away and you won’t have to go to court. After playing along for a minute or two, ask the officer “is there another way that we can handle this?”. This is where things move along to the bribe stage and the officer will start to let you know that he is open to be paid off. Bad form again would be to just hand him the money in plain sight because there will probably be people watching you. If your helmet is hung on the handlebar then place it there or give him the money while he is handing back your registration with the money remaining underneath the documents as he gives them back. The amount that he asks for could vary wildly but generally you should not pay more than rp 50,000 but rp 20,000 can sometimes be enough as well. After this the conversation can turn much friendlier and he may begin some brief small chat with you to try and prove that he is still a nice guy, whether he really is or not. Chat for a minute and then be on your way.
Even if your license and everything is in order there are some things that will surely land you a fine. Things like driving without a helmet, blowing a red light or blatant disregard for road safety will not give you the chance to argue your situation. You are better off apologizing profusely and politely before following the rest of the steps and then paying up all the while telling the officer that you will never do that again.