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Corrupt Immigration Officers Dominican Republic

SANTIAGO AIRPORT, Dominican Republic- “No se acceptan dinero. Ni pesos, ni dollares, ni Euro,” was written on large posters stuck to the front of each immigration booth at the Santiago international airport.

Apparently, these signs are suppose to keep the immigration officials honest. My experience can only attest that these posters do not function as intended.

I received a taste of some good, old-time corruption when going through exit procedures when leaving the Dominican Republic last night. I have dealt with corrupt immigration officials before, but never in an incident that was so blatant, and in a major international airport.

——————-

An American citizen on a tourist visa should expect to pay a $25 exit tax upon leaving the Dominican Republic. The guidebooks say that this tax is included in the cost of the air ticket, and it may be, but immigration still demands it before stamping you out of the country.

This exit tax is $25 per traveler, there are now three travelers in my family, so this is a $75 charge just to exit the Dominican Republic. Now if you add to this the $25 that I had to pay to exit the DR to go to Haiti, the $10 that I paid to return to the Dominican Republic,  and then the $30 I paid for my family to enter the country back in February, then the total amount that I paid for 6 weeks in this country is upwards of $140. One hundred and forty US dollars extorted for no other reason that I wished to be a tourist in the Dominican Republic.

I did not want to pay this exit tax again, so I question the airlines to as to if this tax was included with the cost of my flight. To my dismay, the check in girl just shook her head, “No, you need to pay the tax at immigration.”

As we stood in line waiting to be stamped out of the Dominican Republic, I watched ahead to see if other Americans were being charged. They were. Before the immigration officers would stamp them out of the country, they would first be sent over to a woman, who sat against a far wall behind a desk with a little money box and a ledger book placed upon it.

Each American who did not appear to be of Dominican nationality were sent over to this women and forced to pay the exit tax. They all did so in turn before returning to the immigration booth for their exit stamp.

When Chaya, Petra, and I walked up to the immigration booth, a lean, skinny faced, brown skinned man with grease curled, kinky hair looked up at us from behind his little counter. I handed him our passports. I hoped that we would not be sent over to the woman with the money box. We were. I tried to explain that I had already paid one $25 tax at the land crossing with Haiti, and had only been in the country for a week after that.

My protestations were to no avail, I would have to pay $25 too, bringing the total to 75 USD for six weeks of spending money in the Dominican Republic.

Though something interesting happened first: the immigration official had stamped all three of our passports, thus putting a ripple in the pattern of what I observed in the passengers who went before us. I became curious, as everybody else paid their tax and only then received their stamp. I thought for a moment that he may have been letting us slide. I thought wrong.

This immigration officer clearly had other plans for us.

We were pointed over to the desk with the little box and ledger boo, but by the time we arrived the woman was mysteriously nowhere to be found. We waited for a few minutes, I grudgingly dug out 75 USD to pay the tax. But the tax collector had split. I became a little anxious, I had just wanted to get through security, into the terminal, and to our gate in time to claim our pre-boarding privilege for traveling with an infant.

The skinny immigration officer that had stamped our passports then walked up behind us and directed that we follow him into an adjoining office. The office door was wide open and there were two other Dominican air passengers sitting inside, waiting for something. There was no call for true alarm, perhaps the tax collector was in here?

She wasn’t. The immigration officer walked into the room ahead of us and then around a little partitioning wall. He motioned for us to follow him. We hesitated, then Chaya went and I followed. We found ourselves in a back room with only lockers, bunkbeds, and the greedy smile of corruption.

We were perhaps in one of the worst places for a traveler to be. This was not good.

“Da me setenta cinco dollares?”

I cracked a cheeky smile, the immigration officer did too. This was corruption, plain, simple, to the point corruption. He would take my exit tax for himself rather than allow it to disappear into the tax collector’s little metal box.

This man was acting with an air of complete impunity, and, as we in plain view of another passenger who could clearly see Chaya and I from his vantage point in the office, it was apparent that there were no checks imposed upon this immigration officer’s behavior. This was a bad place to be, and a worse place to have a disagreement.

With a chuckle, and a sigh of defeat, I quickly handed over the money. My wife looked at me like I was nuts. The immigration inspector stuffed my money into his pocket without counting it, smiled, and said in Spanish, “Ok, you can go, no problem.”

Shit, I should have bargained.

I just smiled and shook my head with disbelief as I walked by the other passenger in the office who had observed the crooked transaction. He smiled and shook his head as well. He knew that he was next.

There was nobody watching the watchers, nobody officiating the officials, nobody to police the police. Or if there were, they took their cut as well. This is how corruption works smoothly: all of the gears are greased, and there was no way that I was going to be the lone clog in the system.

But my wife Chaya was not so easily placated.

“No, that was too f’cking sketchy,” she roared as we walked out of the office, “we need to get a receipt for that.”

As the immigration officer exited the office behind him, my wife boldly turned to him and demanded a receipt.

“No, it is OK, you can go,” the officer again repeated in Spanish.

I backed my wife up and demanded a receipt for the tax that we had paid. I at least wanted confirmation — a souvenir perhaps — of the contribution I made to the Dominican immigration officer fund.

With a yell of “Mujer!” the immigration officer summoned the official tax collector lady, who suddenly appeared from around a corner. The two had a little private meeting. The woman moved back to her desk, and we followed. My wife made it clear that we had already paid the tax to the immigration officer. The woman fumbled indolently at her ledger book and tried to dismiss us. Chaya again demanded a receipt. The lady got up from the desk and walked across the room for another meeting with the corrupt immigration officer, who had by now returned to his little station and was again stamping passports.

The woman returned and wrote out our receipts. Chaya, Petra, and I went through security, boarded our flight, and departed from the Dominican Republic no less encumbered by dollar bills than if the tax payoff had been standard.

—————–

It was not me who was hustled in this deal — I paid the same amount that I would have even if the tax collection was legitimate — it was the immigration officer cheating his own country. And, honestly, I could not give a shit.

All exit taxes from a country are corrupt: you are just paying off the police to let you leave their area of jurisdiction. Just because some forms of extortion are officially mandated does not make it any less corrupt. Many countries refuse to let you leave unless you pay them money like a couple armed goons collecting tolls at a medieval footbridge.

“None shall pass.”

This is a ransom payment — I am temporarily held in limbo until I pay up. I always wondered what would happen if a traveler refused to pay their exit tax when trying to depart on an international flight. I tried it once in Mexico, for 15 minutes I declared that I had no money when an exit tax was demanded of me. The cops just shrugged their shoulders and waited until their payoff magically appeared. It eventually did.

So it matters very little to me if I place my ransom into the political machine of a country or into the palm of a greasy passport stamper — the only thing that I care about is that it does not cost me anymore than what it has to.

I had to pay $75 to leave the Dominican Republic, I paid $75. The fact that this money went directly into the pocket of a Dominican Republic immigration officer means no more to me than if it went towards its intended purpose: all exit taxes are payoffs, they are all baksheesh.

My family and a couple other Dominicans were chosen to make this payoff under the table, while the other passengers paid on the books. In the end, it is the same corruption.

I am at least pleased that I was able to experience this particular bought of extortion in an old fashioned, upfront, and wholesome way — in the back room of an immigration office, the sort of place where acts of corruption should occur.

At least I know where my $75 went.

Filed under: Border Crossing, Caribbean, Danger, Dominican Republic, Money

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  • http://www.yelkaye.net Caitlin

    Well

    I have to say I disagree with you on the corruption of a (real) exit taxes. But I think you and I could argue on a lot of points.

    Leaving Guatemala, there is NO real exit tax. If they ask you, they are full of shit. Ask for a receipt and they’ll usually roll their eyes and let you pass without paying.

  • http://www.thelongestwayhome.com The Longest Way Home

    Wade,

    Nice post. I agree that exit tax is a corruption on many levels. Maybe Caitlin could explain why we need to pay this? We pay visa entries, why exit as well?

    It feels almost like a kick in the rear end as you leave?

    Well done for demanding the receipt by the way!

    Dave

    • http://www.yelkaye.net Caitlin

      Hi Dave,

      Certainly I don’t like paying an exit tax. There’s a 25 dollar exit tax to leave Mexico, and it’s annoying having to make sure I have the right amount of pesos at the border.

      But, it’s my thinking that if a country wants to have an exit tax, that’s there prerogative. I mean, it’s their country. If I’m to accept that a country has the right to its own laws and customs, I should accept an exit tax even if I don’t like it. I think as westerners we assume that we have an inalienable right to enter any country: but we don’t. They allow us into the country, and they can put whatever rules on this that they want.

      I remember a couple years ago I was applying to get a visa to Ghana. They had changed the rules, making it totally difficult to get a visa – I needed a letter of invitation, a bunch of other documents, and of course the large sum to pay for it. I was so irritated. How dare they put such restrictions on me? But as I started to think about it, the more I realized I didn’t really have the right to get angry. Think of all the hoops a Ghanaian would have to go through to get a visa for Canada. Ghana was just doing the same – imposing its right to control who enters.

      Anyhow. It’s still annoying. But it’s their country, they can do what they want.

      A fake exit tax, on the other hand, does piss me off. You should have see the look on this woman’s face at the Belize Guatemala border when I asked for a receipt! Ha! She was so mad! And I really enjoyed the cocktail that 25 quetzales bought me instead.

      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com

        Hello Caitlin and Dave,

        It is my impression that someone charging money for nothing is a corrupt act. These exit taxes in many places are a relatively new phenomenon, and the prices are going up each year. This is a cycle that is spinning out of control, and the higher these prices rise the more the local, grass roots tourist industries in the county are taking a hit.

        For a wealthy tourist, an exit tax of a moderate amount of money is not going to mean too much, but these people tend to stay at the high end resorts — many of which are owned by foreigner enterprises and not the people of the country — and their money does not fully permeate into the local economies (besides the worker wages in the resorts).

        But for a backpacking family of three to need to pay $105 total in entry/ exit fees to come to the Dominican Republic, the door is being closed a little more. And it is people like us who are staying in local hotels, buying food from local vendors, drinking in local bars, and eating in restaurants that are owned an operated by the people of the country.

        Bolivia now charges US citizens $130 to enter, and I have no idea how much people from other countries need to pay (and a lot of other South American countries have followed suit). This is an amount of money paid for just about nothing — the act of allowing someone to enter/ exit a country does not cost much additional money — and this has kept a lot of backpackers out. This has created a hit in the grassroots tourist industry, I am sure. In point, governmental greed by charging foreigners money for nothing is taking money out of the local people’s pockets who really offer traveler’s a service. Bolivia is now checked off the list of many American travelers. If I wanted to go there with my family, I would need to pay nearly $400.

        A lot of foreigners are now not going to all the countries they would otherwise because of entry/ exit taxes — especially since a trip through South America now will cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in visa/ entry/ and exit fees. This hurts the grass roots economies that has come to depend on backpacker dollars.

        This is corrupt.

        Countries are presided over by governments, true, but it is the people in them that are also feeling the brunt of these entry/ exit fees — at least in theory, these fees do not only hurt the pocketbooks of travelers but the people who offer them services as well. Charging tourists excessive entry/ exit taxes hurts the local economy in the name of the greed of their government.

        And the cycle is spinning out of control — so many countries are raising their taxes, and there is no end in sight. Countries charging travelers money just because they can is easy money in the bank. As is evident all over the world, governments often do not give a shit about their people if they stand to benefit financially.

        This is corruption.

        Caitlin, you are correct, a country can set their rules to be whatever they want. They have the right to do so. A government has the right to be corrupt, greedy, and self interested — it is their country. I believe strongly that charging someone money for nothing is a corrupt act — even if it is officially mandated.

        Mark my words:

        I predict that within the next ten years most countries on the planet are going to charge foreigners at least $100 to enter and $100 to leave. Just because they can. The glory days of backpacking around the world on a tight budget are over, the world is closing its doors out of greed. The governments are wanting more of their cut on the tourist dollars, and, as is shown, they are willing to hurt their own grassroots tourist industry in the process.

        The act of going to a new country is now a real investment — not just of the money you will spend there, but in visa/ entry/ exit fees — and, it is my impression, that a lot of backpackers are going to have to be more selective in the countries they visit. Look at the rise in entry/ exit fees of countries around the world within the past few years alone, and you will see an amazing pattern: they are raises their fees not by a dollar or two, but tens and even hundreds of dollars. This not only hurts travelers, but the people of the country who would otherwise benefit from the money that foreigners would spend if allowed to enter for a reasonable price.

        The art of backpacking, independent travel, is being strangled by the greed of countries who have realized that they can raise their entry/ exit fees to whatever amount they want.

        It is my impression that, although it may not be corruption by definition, it is still a corrupt act.

        Thanks for getting this discussion going!

        Walk Slow,

        Wade

        • darryl

          I predict that within the next ten years most countries on the planet are going to charge foreigners at least $100 to enter and $100 to leave. Just because they can. The glory days of backpacking around the world on a tight budget are over, the world is closing its doors out of greed. The governments are wanting more of their cut on the tourist dollars, and, as is shown, they are willing to hurt their own grassroots tourist industry in the process.

          —personally I think this would be a good thing. It would be far better for westerners to travel within their own country rather than going to 3rd world countries where they can pretend to be big fish in a small pond. Eventually things will reach equilibrium. When govts. have restricted tourism to a level they are satisfied with the exit fees will level off. I agree most countries will charge $100 fees sooner rather than later. But then again all travel is luxury. If a person can afford it great, if not no big deal stay home.

          • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com

            Darryl,

            The economies of many countries are based on us “big fish in small ponds” visiting and leaving our money behind.

            I do not believe that the tourist taxes are imposed to limit tourism per se, but are short sighted solutions of scrapping a little more money off the top of the pot.

            The last thing that ANY country should want to do is limit tourism. Every wealthy nation on the planet has a booming tourist industry, and the poorer countries are just shooting themselves in the foot by taking any action that limits people coming into their country to spend money.

            It is my impression that your suggestion of people only traveling in their own countries would only serve to further the gap between the wealthy nations and the poor ones. It would be great for the USA of its citizens did not go abroad, but this would be awful for countries like Guatemala, who would truly be impoverished backwaters without foreign tourists.

            Foreign tourism is good for poor countries — foreign tourism is good for the people of any country.

            Many of the large visa fees are also retaliatory charges, rather than actions the countries take completely on their own volition — which is something that I will publish more about later.

            Thanks,

            Wade

        • http://www.yelkaye.net Caitlin

          Ah ha!

          I knew we could argue a lot.

          I’m in the Calgary airport right now waiting to board my flight to Edmonton. But I’m gonna write a rebuttal and put it on yelkaye.

          I guess our main point of disagreement is over a fundamental question: the right to travel. I believe you see it as an inalienable right. While I’d love this to be true, I myself feel a bit differently… but stay tuned because my flight is BOARDING! Too bad I’m not going somewhere more interesting than Edmonton.

          • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com

            Hello Caitlin,

            It seems as if it is possible that you may have misinterpreted my response. I do not think I said that travel is an inalienable right, but rather that I don’t want to pay money for nothing, and that restrictions in foreign tourism is bad for the economy of the specified country.

            If I thought that travel was an inalienable right then I would support things like illegal immigration.

            You are absolutely correct, travel is not an inalienable right. International travel is by invite only, and, from what I can tell, most of the economies in the world welcome my US dollars. I feel as if the excessive visa/ exit fees are more out of the greed or power of governments than out of the true feelings of the people that inhabit their countries.

            My point was more that each action a government takes which, either explicitly or implicitly, restricts tourism is an action against their own people. You have traveled a lot in Central America, what do you think this region would be like without foreign tourists? It would probably be far more like the countryside of El Salvador or Haiti than Costa Rica or Mexico. This may not be too bad, I tend to think that poorer places often tend to be happier ones but this is not the desired direction of the countries themselves — no country wants to be poor, and tourism is a major industry: the top one in many circumstances.

            The corruption of countries charging tourists excessive entry/ exit fees are more directed towards their own grass roots tourist industries than against the foreigners who need to pay these fees. It is just governments skimming off the top — though I do see the pot dwindling in the future because of it, though I do not believe this is the intention.

            Governments are organizations which control countries, but their actions are not always representative of the people in the country. I can say with assurance that I have been welcomed in every country that I have traveled in. I am not welcomed in Iran, so I haven’t tried to go there. If a country makes it difficult or expensive for me to travel in, I avoid it: there are plenty of other countries who do welcome me, so I will stick to them. You don’t see me trying to go to Libya or Bhutan because I am not invited to go there.

            Do you think the Bolivian hostel owner is supportive of the raised visa fees applied to foreign travelers? Maybe, I don’t know, but I would think that they would want as much business as possible.

            You are correct, I think we could find a lot to argue about haha.

            Thanks for stimulating the discussion, and I look forward to your post on Yel Kaye!

            Walk Slow,

            Wade

          • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com

            Read Caitlin’s rebuttal to this discussion here:

            In defense of entry and exit taxes

  • Andy K.

    Hi you two,

    I think there is a distinction you two are glossing over in your arguments. Caitlin points out that as a ‘Foreign National’ a given government has the correct right to set up the rules. And Wade is arguing that it is inappropriate a given government to charge any ‘Person’ an excessive fee.

    One of you is talking about how one treats Foreign Nationals (aka the ‘other’), where as the other one is talking about how a government should interact with a given Person (fellow human.) Wade also supports his argument with the understanding that what harms one person (the backpacker) harms everyone (the hotel keeper and the tourist economy.) Which is more important, Wade and his family’s right to be treated fairly without discrimination as human beings or the power to treat people differently due due to the color of their passport? All this may run to eventually to the idea of Universal Human Rights. (article 6, 7, 13)

    Our own countries are quite possibly the worst for how we treat Foreign Nationals. So how should the world react? Do we ask them to ‘turn the other cheek’ I.E. “I can’t come to your country without spending lots of money, but I will let you in for a couple bucks?” Or is it an eye for an eye that says that “if you charge me a lot, I will charge you a lot?”

    And then what do you do about any of it? Do we tell the foreign government that it’s too expensive to cross there borders so I will spend my money elsewhere? Lobby our own governments to reduce the hoops to which we make other jump through to come here?

    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com

      Thanks Andy,

      You put this discussion into perspective pretty well. This is a huge issue, and one with many sides. It is just getting real difficult traveling when needing to pay all of these fees and taxes that keep going up every year. I think that I may have to begin planning travels in regards to these fees now that I have a family of three traveling and living off of a single income.

      It is alright though. Going good.

      Thanks,

      Wade

  • Jay Ro

    Just an interesting note, the US also charges and exit and entrance fee, it is just normally charged on your ticket. Here is the website – .

    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com

      Yes, most countries charge exit and entrance fees, but they are with the air ticket and there is no question about them. With countries such as the Dominican Republic, these fees are sometimes included with the ticket and sometimes they are not — there is no way to know until going through immigration. This is tricky, and can be easily abused.