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.
speaking about corruption, corruption in indonesia is nothing compared to the corruption in the west. the only difference is that corruption here is “detectable” in almost every aspect of daily living. while in the west, corruption is done in “secret” by higher level government officials partnered with huge corporations so lay people can’t even come close to sniffing it. inflation in the west, for example, is the biggest tax scam known to modern civilization, and you have no control over it. here at least you can pay your way out which also means you could “buy out” the system. i say paradise is, indeed, paradise after all.
That is true, and that is exactly the point. Most westerners don’t ever have to confront corruption face to face, so they generally don’t know how to handle it and freeze up in the face of it, like during a traffic stop in Bali. Hope fully this information will make things easier.
Maybe things have changed but when I lived there between 2003-2005 I did use a proper Indonesian license. There are / were 2 types – the one for tourists you can get in Denpasar and is good for 2 weeks I think. For long term I went to the police station in Kerobokan there was a bit of a wait but eventually got my license. After that never a problem never a request for a dash. Even the notorious stops in Seminyak would take one look at the license and flag me through. Maybe for the tourist its not worth it, but for long term residents – why not just get a license like you would do in any other country?
Bill, things in Bali are still largely the same as what you are talking about. You can get yourself a real license that will get you out of just about any situation scott free as long as you haven’t done anything else wrong. Like you said, you have to wait around to get it, and it costs money as well. It could be a good investment for the beginning as most people will get stopped more in their first three months in Bali than the following couple of years. Whether you want to get one or renew one after it runs out is entirely up to the person and whether or not they want to spend the time and money.
it’s worth noting that keeping the cost of getting pulled over low means you have to haggle. dana you’re the best haggler i know (other than my choreographer adde), maybe you should write an article about that? it’s the same process and style haggling with a cop over the size of the bribe as it is haggling over the price of a souvenir or piece of furniture with a shop owner. in a nutshell: know what the proper price should be, and stick to your guns while smiling and remaining calm and polite. you may not be able to get it down to 50k – that’s what i usually pay, but if they’ve got multiple charges against me (say, no license *and* driving without a helmet) sometimes i cant get them below 100k, no matter how patient i am. in the end they set the final price, but the prices mentioned above are “correct” and usually that’s what they end up agreeing to.
Gotta say, THANK YOU so much for this blog!!
Not often you find a decent site which isn’t just trying to scam you nowerdays 😛
I’ve already bookmarked it so I can come back to it! 😀
Hi, great blog!
Can I ask permission to use your photo of traffic police for a blog I am writing as well?
I have been all over Indonesia and the higher cases of corruption I have found to be in Bali
Quite a foolish approach. Try for at least once to get out with paying nothing – you’ll see how easy it is here. Police officer can barely do anything if you refuse to pay. Court, ticket, bike take away? Well, give it a try, they never go for it. Even if they will, it costs 49k rp to get the bike from Denpasar police station after that. And it’s barely your problem, just let the owner know you fucked up and give him these release money. That’s it.
Hey guys here is foolishest girl in the world. I just crossed the road with red right and no license. They treated me to pay 1 million and took away my bike. Today is my flight and I just wanna solve the problem quickly. Okay, to the end, I payed 250,000rp. FUCK UP. I should have read this article in advance. Anyway, dont be foolish like me.
Hi guys, I was wondering. I have just taken out multi trip travel insurance and will be coming to Bali I am sure a few times like last year. I live in West Australia.
ANYWAY, if riding a motorbike I run over a Balinese person apparently I am not covered for this scenario ?
Anyone know what insurance one takes to protect the other innocent party?