We had read in Lonely Planet and all over the internet about the overcharging that happens at the border crossing, although most other articles I have read are accepting of this practice.
The corruption is so engrained that it hat the starts at the 4 Thousand Islands in Laos. The agent on our bus offered to organise a visa for us for $30 each, $10 more than it should have been (to save us getting off the bus), and when questioned he explained that the cost was broken down as follows:
Cambodian Visa $20
Laos stamp out fee: $2
Cambodian quarantine: $3
Cambodian stamp in fee: $5
We arrived at Nong Nok Khiene, the Laos border, on a coach with c60 other people. We waited in line at Laos immigration to get our stamp out and watched as those in front of us were asked for the $2 fee, which they willingly handed over with no questions or no fight. It seems so thoughtless that every single person in the line would hand over money with no questions asked, no wonder that the corrupt officials get away with it.
When it was our turn we handed our passports over and were also asked for the $2 fee, however I questioned what the fee was and was told it was a ‘stamp out fee.’ We then asked for proof that the fee was legitimate but they were unable to provide us with evidence. We therefore asked for a receipt but they were only able to provide us with an overtime receipt for 10,000 kip, which was neither $2, nor was it overtime (11am on a Monday morning). When we refused to hand over the money because it was essentially a bribe payment, they flat out refused to stamp our passports. We were in a group of around 10 people that all questioned the fee and refused to pay it.
We spent an hour arguing with the officials over the illegal fee and it was starting to get heated. We asked for their identity so we could later verify the fee with the immigration authority directly, but they refused. I attempted to take their photograph with my mobile phone to record their identity, but they were not happy (probably because they were engaging in illegal activity) – they snatched my phone and only returned it after much persuasion.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke
After an hour of arguing I think they got sick of us stood there arguing and finally agreed to stamp our passports for no fee.
Although that wasn’t the end of the bribe payments…
When we walked through into Cambodia we were directed towards ‘quarantine’ which requested another $2 fee, although we managed to dodge this rather easily and headed straight to get our visa on arrival and stamp in. We were told by the Cambodian immigration officials that it was $20 for the visa and $5 for the stamp in fee.
We asked the Cambodian officials for proof that the $5 stamp in fee was legitimate, which they were unable to provide. We then asked for a receipt and were shown a receipt for $25 which was actually for a business visa – nowhere on it did it mention $5 stamp in fee.
We refused to pay the $5 stamp in fee and the Cambodian immigration response was to be aggressive and demand payment, then to close up shop and walk away to have a cigarette.
When they returned to their posts after their cigarette break we managed to negotiate the bribe payment down to $2 each which they accepted and gave us our visa and stamp.
I have read many articles online along the lines of ‘it’s only $2, just pay it’, even from well-respected travel bloggers and Lonely Planet. I find this very disappointing as these influential people should encourage people to at least question the payment instead of willingly handing over their money. If every tourist passing through that border refused to pay then I’m sure it would stop the bribe payment requests within a couple of days. However if everyone has the attitude of ‘I’m only one person – I can’t stop corruption’ then corruption will continue to happen.
It’s not ‘just $2’, it’s an extra $10 in bribe payments. More than 200 people pass through the border crossing every day, making the corrupt official’s $2000 – not bad for a day’s work on top of their normal salary.