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Corruption - Answer #1

1.) You're arriving overland from Thailand as a tourist. It's your first visit to Cambodia and you're entering at Poipet. You've heard a tourist visa is $20 but you may be asked to pay 1000 baht (presently about $24) and you're prepared to pay this. Upon arrival at the visa services window you are requested to pay 1300 baht (about $31.25). What do you do? Could this be considered an acceptable practice on the part of the immigration officers?

ANSWER: You bargain the fee as well as you can. Obviously people have been able to get the visa for less than 1300 baht because you have the information that they have done so. The problem is how do you bargain and convince the immigration officer that he should accept only 1000 baht or better yet, only $20. It's not easy.

The best thing you can do is to take out $20 in US currency, do not ask about the price of the visa, lay the money on the table, and when they ask you for more money simply point to the money on the table and say nothing. When you do start talking to them, be very polite, laugh a lot, act like you are all best friends and remind them when they ask for more money that the legal visa fee is $20. Ultimately you still may not get the visa for $20 but you'll probably at least get 100 baht or so knocked off the original asking price. If you do pay in excess of $20 you should ask for a receipt and also request that they stamp on the visa next to the word "fee" the EXACT amount of money you have paid. There's a place on the visa to do this. If they won't do either of these things, it's time to go back to insisting you pay only $20.

$20 is the legal visa fee as set by the Ministry of Interior and is not subject to regional interpretations. If you were to fly into Cambodia you would find no problem in paying this amount. It's at the overland crossings that the officers have applied their own opinions as to what the cost of the visa should be. But if you are a first-time visitor consider yourself having done well if you can get away with 1000 baht.

Is this practice acceptable? Hell, no! This is plain and simple extortion. Please do not delude yourself thinking, well, this visa on arrival is such a convenience, why shouldn't we pay more? The legal price for enjoying the convenience of a visa on arrival is $20. There is no ambiguity in the law. The fees are not whatever the guards feel like charging based on whether their phone bills are due or they had a bad night at the casino.

What makes this practice extortion is that you have no choices. You're coming to Cambodia, you need a visa, and you're stuck at some sleazy border post and you're being taken advantage of in a big way. The only sure way around this is to get your visa in advance but if you factor in time and transport you may not save money any way. It's a lose-lose situation. You pay more money and get no additional service for having done so.




All text and photographs 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.