Tuesday, 18 June 2013



Living in a corrupt country requires a few mental adjustments on the part of the expat. Just how do you deal with the corrupt practices you encounter daily? The demands for bribes from every bureaucrat you need to process a visa, a work permit, a driving licence? Under-the-counter payments for permission to rent a new residence, buy a house, open a business, to get married, or to register a birth? Do you refuse to pay out? Do you try and negotiate? Do you indignantly report the demand to the bureaucrat’s superiors? Do you meekly agree and pay up?

You could always refuse to pay out, of course, but this invariably has one result. Your request for a visa, licence, document or whatever is shelved, and nothing will be done about it. Ever. It’s all done very nicely though. “Well Sir, your request is under consideration. Please come back in three months for the decision.” Three months later: “Your request is under consideration. Please come back in….”

You could try negotiating the ‘settlement fee’. This is occasionally successful; I’ve done it a few times, but often been confronted by a fresh demand when I go back to collect the papers.

Dobbing in the corrupt official to his superior is usually not worth your time and energy. One time in the Jakarta Immigration office I took umbrage at what I thought was an unreasonable demand, and loudly demanded to talk to the boss. The boss was pleasant and sympathetic, but ended up telling me that Mr Haryanto’s request for $50 was indeed wrong; the correct processing fee was actually $65.(Indonesia holds pride of place in the list of the most corrupt countries in Asia.)

I once asked the boss of my school how he dealt with corruption. “It’s no big deal,” he said. “It’s not worth getting hot and bothered over. I just look on it as a kind of informal taxation. Which would you rather do? Pay the official taxation rate of 28%, or bribe the tax inspectors and pay 18%?”

I went through the usual stages that any expat goes through. At first I bridled at the thought of paying out any corruption money, and fought it every inch of the way. That got me absolutely nowhere. Then I began begrudgingly paying out, and simmered with indignation for the next few days. Finally I adopted the “c’est la vie” attitude, and paid up without a second’s thought. If $85 is what it takes to get the deal done, then $85 it is. Go with the flow. It’s the recipe for a trouble-free stay, equally true whether it be corruption payouts, over-charging, perceived injustices, inferior working conditions, and the like. Just don’t let it bother you. You’re not back home now. You’re in a country where this kind of thing is normal, accepted, and a fact of daily life. Get used to it.


My new book, EFL minus the B.S. (now available on Amazon) is my take on the English teaching game world-wide. From applying for a job, living overseas, work permits, management and mismanagement, classroom dynamics, teens’ and children’s classes, to sex and the single teacher.


  1. There is an argument that conceding to corrupt demands only serves to reinforce a country's corrupt practices. What's your answer to that?

  2. Yes, good point. But on the other hand, not conceding only lands you in sh*t creek without a paddle. So i have no answer to your question really.