Accidents happen, and things break, no matter where in the world you are. And although nothing terrible ever happened to me, I had some small incidents where I broke something, made a scratch or other people traveling with me had a similar thing.
While there are clear rules in first world countries, and often police will be involved or some insurance companies with clear guidelines, 3rd world countries handle these things differently. And after multiple casualties, I think I’m able to share some tips on how to behave in such a situation.
First step: Keep calm and check if there is nobody injured
This is true for every country and every situation. First, check if there is nobody injured and keep quiet. In the end, everything will be fine, so there is no need to panic. It’s also crucial for the next steps to stay calm and react with a clear mind.
Second step: Find out if you are speaking the same language or find someone to translate
This is probably one of the most critical points. In most countries, I don’t speak the language, and most locals don’t speak English or only very little. It’s super hard to find an agreement if you have trouble communicating, so it is essential to find a translator. But pay attention! It’s not good to ask the victim’s friend. Find someone random on the street someone who is not involved and speak to this person first. Don’t let the locals talk first, explain in English what happened, and ask for a translator. If the locals speak to each other, they might back each other’s side and try to rip you off together (Mostly, the locals who translate are amiable though and are on the tourists’ side).
Third step: Don’t call the police and try to settle indirectly
I never had contact with the police in such a situation, but I think it’s good like this. Involving the police makes the whole thing a lot more complicated and you might get a worse deal. Once you overcome the language barrier with your knowledge or a trustful translator, you have to find out who’s fault it is and who has to pay. In all of my cases, it was my or my friends’ fault. There was not much to discuss who’s a fault it is; it was just about to find the best agreement for both parties. These things mostly settle with some money and without the police.
Fourth step: Find out how much the damage is
This is the most crucial step. You have to find out how much the scratch will cost to repair or how much a new bike or surfboard will cost. The victim will always tell you a much higher price. They know that in your country everything is a lot more expensive and that you have absolutely no idea how expensive it is. They mostly ask 5 to 10 times the price it cost. And even if this higher amount is still no much for you, you shouldn’t pay more than necessary.
The best way to avoid a scam or to get ripped off is to ask other locals who are not involved. In the best case, multiple independent people and take the average. If you made a scratch in a car, for example, ask in the next restaurant or bar or bank how much they think it will cost. They will give you an estimate, and then you take the average. Once you know the real price of the damage, you can bargain and pay nothing more than the actual cost. The victim knows the exact amount, and so he will accept it after you insist on it and tell him that you won’t pay more. If they really don’t go down with the amount, they want they often threaten to call the police. In that case, you have to stay extraordinarily confident and just tell him to call the police, say to him that you have nothing to be afraid of and he could call the police. That’s mostly the moment they give in and settle the price at the correct amount.
Fifth step: Pay the amount of the damage in cash
After you bargained and agreed on the real price, pay the amount, shake hands, and leave the scene. This way, you might have lost some money, but everything is done in 5 minutes, and no police is involved.
A perfect example:
End of December, I traveled with my Korean friend to Mexico, and we stayed in Tulum over Christmas. There we rented some bicycles and drove to the beach. On our way back, she cut the way of another cyclist, and they crashed. I drove back and firstly checked if she would be ok. She had a scratch on her leg but nothing to worry about. Then we looked at the damage. The front wheel of the local was utterly bent, but it was an ancient bicycle. The guy didn’t speak any English, but he was calm at that moment and tried to communicate with us. We didn’t understand anything, so we asked the servers of the restaurants next to the incident to help us. In addition to the servers, three other locals passed by, stopping and supporting us. As it was clearly the fault of my friend we offered to pay for the damage. So we asked the locals around us how much it would be. They told us that we shouldn’t spend more than 250-300 Pesos. But the victim wasn’t happy about that amount, so a big discussion in Spanish started in between the locals and the victim. After a few minutes they told us that we should go to the next bicycle shop with the victim and pay at the shop for the damage. But we shouldn’t pay more than 300 Pesos. That’s what we did. However, as we arrived at the shop they wanted 500 Pesos from us so I argued with them and bargained until we payed 300 Pesos. I argued that five independent locals told us to pay not more than 300, and that’s what we do. We finally agreed on 300 and so we could go home.
- Total countries I visited until now: 44
- Planes: 37
- Busses: 66
- Trains: 23
- Boats: 27
- Km driving: 8000
- KM driving with my Tuktuk: 2000
- Km running: 4552