Easier And Cheaper To Pay Somebody Off?

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A reader wrote in this week with the following message:

“Friends of mine went to Belize two weeks ago and had to pay hundreds of dollars in bribes to get through customs, get their car out of customs, get their dog released, and a bribe to the vet to OK the dog. This after paying US$500 each for vaccinations.”

That was the whole of the email, so I’ve had to try to fill in some blanks. For example, was the US$500 each for multiple vaccinations for the dog…or for vaccinations for each of the dog’s owners?

Regardless, it would seem this couple didn’t use a full-service shipping company to transport their stuff, didn’t do the proper research ahead of their move to understand what’s required when bringing goods into Belize, or paid bribes instead of paying the required import duties (or maybe a combination of all of the above).

In the November issue of my Simon Letter, I cover shipping across international borders in my “Lessons Learned” column. I’ve been struggling through an unhappy experience trying to ship a piece of machinery into Panama for my Los Islotes project recently, so the topic is on my mind.

In the case of the couple taking their stuff into Belize, I’d love to know more details of the story. People interpret things differently. For example, did they really pay a bribe to the vet to approve the dog for entry to the country, or did they pay a required inspection fee? In Panama, for example, when you bring a dog in through the international airport, you must pay a designated vet to inspect both the animal and your documentation. That has a cost…a fee. It’s not a bribe. And I’m sure it’s the case in many countries.

Or maybe the couple arrived in Belize without all the proper documentation for bringing an animal into the country. In that case, they would have had a problem, and, in that case, maybe a bribe was the only way to keep the animal out of quarantine.

Bottom line, it sounds like these folks were simply unprepared. Maybe they weren’t aware of the required vaccinations and paperwork…or maybe they thought they’d skip the hassle and expense and see what they could get away with. I know a guy who took this route when moving with his dog to Costa Rica. He deliberately chose not to mess with the paperwork, figuring he could pay somebody off on the ground in Costa Rica to get his dog through with him…and he did.

If you decide to try to beat the system and get away with it, good for you. If you try to beat the system, and it doesn’t work out, it’ll cost you.

Import duties in Belize are high. If you obtain residency through the QRP program, you’re able to bring your personal goods and a vehicle into the country with you duty-free. You still get to pay sales tax on the vehicle, but the import duty is waived. If you’re not taking up residence under the QRP program, you get to pay sales tax and duty. Based on the email, I’m thinking this couple wasn’t QRP and didn’t go through the proper channels for bringing personal belongings into the country. For whatever reasons, they seem to have winged it…and they paid.

All that aside, the truth is, after all was said and done, this couple may in fact have saved money by bribing the customs officials to get their goods into the country. That could have been cheaper than the cost of qualifying for QRP, etc.

While I don’t recommend paying bribes in any situation (and I’ve never paid a bribe myself), I know people sometimes find themselves in situations where paying a bribe seems the easiest or even the only way out. In this case, it may also have been the cheapest strategy for this couple, whether they realize it or not.

In the end, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Lief Simon offers offshore advice in his free twice-weekly Offshore Living Letter and the monthly Simon Letter.  

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About Author

Lief Simon

Lief Simon has lived and worked on five continents and traveled to more than 60 countries. In his long career as a global property investor, Lief has also managed multimillion-dollar portfolios of rental properties, for others and for himself. He offers advice on international diversification in his twice-weekly Offshore Living Letter and monthly Simon Letter dispatches.