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Avoiding Taxi Scams + Other Tips You'll Want To Know

Posted by Emily Henkel on 11/7/18 1:34 PM

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Especially when you’re a budget traveler and every little bit counts, you want to make sure you’re not being over charged. 

What the pretty pictures on Instagram don't show you are the common scams that sometimes happen in tourist cities like Prague or Beijing ... just because you're not from around there, you may be charged double or triple by your taxi driver to get to that famous point of the city. Taxi scams happen pretty much everywhere …. taxi drivers know that tourists are pretty unfamiliar with the currency and the area, and aren’t sure how much a ride should cost, so they charge you lots more than you should be paying. Yikes.

We have other tips for you
Check out this guide all about traveling on a budget

Unless you’re fine with that, I’m guessing you want to know how to avoid this at all costs! Here are our best tips that can be used no matter where you’re traveling: 

Do Your Research On Taxis 

Look Up Possible Prices Ahead of Time

Don't wait until you're sitting in a taxi to look up how much the price you agreed to should have been. Even if you’ve never been to Vanuatu … others have. Look online and see if other travelers have quoted how much their taxi cost from the airport to the city center. Before you even leave, you can get a ballpark of that taxi cost and know which price to ask for when you catch a cab. 

If you can’t find anything by asking online or reading other traveler’s questions (just Google “how much from the airport to Old Town in Riga, Latvia? etc) you can get a frame of reference by looking on taxi calculator.  Rome2Rio is also handy.

As a head’s up, Rome2Rio tends to be a better way to look up how many ways you can get from Point A to Point B whether that’s in a taxi, a car, a bus, a train, or a plane, but it can be helpful to help you budget for a trip and the transportation costs. 

Side note: Know that a price going one way might not be the same as the price going another way. If you're departing from a touristic spot, the price could be a bit higher than it was getting there. Know that times of the day could alter the price as well ... so there's a bit of an element of being understanding of that and not just demanding a price you saw somewhere online. Research is just to get you in the ballpark.

Know Your City's Scams 

It's also handy to do a bit of research about taxi scams in popular countries —  For example, Bangkok is famous for tuk-tuk drivers telling you a popular tourist attraction that you wanted to see is closed right then, but they'll be nice enough to drive you around and show you other places until that building is open. So nice right? Not so much — that building is actually open ... they just want to drive you around for money and they're banking on the fact that you won't check.   Searching “popular taxi scams in __________”   can clue you in. 

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Use Uber + Other Rideshares 

If your country has Uber or other Rideshare setups,  use those over a taxi. We love Uber for a few reasons: the price is decided beforehand, so there’s no need to haggle down the cost or worry that you’re being overcharged. Uber does have peak times that will fluctuate the price, but you and the driver are on the same page about cost at all times. 

Uber’s also nice if you don’t speak the same language as your taxi driver because you can decide your exact location beforehand and all that is decided on the app. Don't have Uber where you are traveling? Here are a few other Rideshare apps. 

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Use Taxi Lines 

If you’re in a major spot like an airport, use official taxi lines. Outside of your terminal, there's usually huge signs that say "Taxi" directing you where to go and there should be designated lines where official taxis will queue up to pick up travelers; most travelers get into trouble by jumping in an unofficial taxi, or riding with someone who says they can take you there for cheaper than a taxi. You know when you walk out of the baggage area and there's a huge line of people that are yelling taxi and asking where you're going? ... Yeah those guys aren't official and while they can likely get you to where you're going without you having to stand in the taxi line, they're also likely going to cost you much, much more. Same thing with anyone who walks up to you asking if you need a taxi — they're not an official driver; they're just giving rides as a side job and they're more likely take advantage of naive foreigners.

When you’re researching a country, know which taxi services are legitimate for when you're out and about in the city. Usually you can just do a quick Google search “official taxi companies in Bali” to find out which ones to use when you’re picking up a cab off the street, and don’t know which companies to use. Unofficial taxis tend to have broken or faulty meters, and don’t follow fare regulations and end up charging you way too much.

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Decide Price Ahead Of Time 

This one is huge — before you let the driver put your suitcases or bags in their car, or before you get inside, decide how much things will cost. It turns into an awkward situation when you hop in a taxi, ask to be driven to this cafe on the other side of town, and are quoted a price you aren’t comfortable paying. If you don't ask the price until you actually arrive ... just know that you're going to be paying top price and really can't bargain the price at that point. Avoid that problem altogether by deciding all of this before you get into the car.  

Also — Ask your driver if they know the spot you’re headed to (you don’t want to be paying while your driver is driving around in circles). 

Sometimes you’ll talk to a taxi driver and they will say “meter” instead of a set price. If that’s the case, make sure that the meter is turned on to track how far you’re going or how long your ride is. In some areas, it's really common for taxi drivers to say their meter is broken and will end up charging you a lot more by not using the meter. It's also a good idea to ask about what their meter charges so you can keep eye out just in case the fee jumps up too high at the end of your ride. 

In a nutshell, don’t get into a cab until you have negotiated a reasonable fare. 

Use Small Bills 

Paying with exact change is also pretty crucial. Some taxi drivers will say they don't have change and you have no choice but to leave them with a very large tip (yes … that has happened before). When I need to break large bills before a cab ride, I pop into a little convenience store and buy a chocolate bar and get smaller change back (and a chocolate bar, so it's a win-win). 

And, it’s a good idea to count your change, just in case there’s been a bit of a slight-of-hand magic trick and you’re missing a couple of bills. Some drivers have been known to drop your 50 note, and swap it out with a 20 while you’re not looking. If you're giving any bills higher than the amount due, you might even want to count it in front of them so that you both know exactly how much was given, so there's no discrepancy. 

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One Other Tip 

These are just things to keep in mind as a smart and savvy traveler. Not every taxi driver is out to get you, but doing a bit of research can help you avoid overpaying for your ride.

In my experience, I’ve had far more honest and straightforward taxi rides than taxi scam experiences. Just one example is when my driver couldn’t find my hostel, and the meter went way up before we found it, but he let me pay the fare we agreed on, even though the ride ended up being more expensive. So nice, and totally his call!  I like assume everyone is honest, but am prepared just in case they’re looking to make a few extra dollars on my fare. 

Taxi drivers are usually great! They know the cities like no one else and want to make sure you get to your place safely, so if you are worried about traveling in a taxi, don't be! 

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Not sure yet what country you'd like to visit next?

How about the chance to live abroad (for a great price)? Come spend a semester abroad as a volunteer for International Language Programs! We have countries all over the world, so you'll spend your time making a difference by teaching English or volunteering in an orphanage part of your time, then spend the rest of your time exploring the country you call home, or even other countries on vacation. 

Come get your questions answered, right here: 

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Topics: All The Travel Tips

Hey friends!

We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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