Nice sunset view as we pass over London, England, on our way to Albania.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Shkodra, Albania.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Hiking the Peaks of the Balkans, June 13-24!

Thursday, March 1, 2012


The Spanish term "mordida" literally means "the bite". It is when an official is asking for a bribe. For our purposes here in Mexico, the term is most often used in relation to a traffic police officer who is asking for money for a bogus, or maybe even legitimate, traffic infraction.

Reader Robert left a comment the other day on our "Is Mexico Safe?" post. This has nothing to do with safety in Mexico, but it is worthwhile for the purpose of discussion since many people don't seem to know the proper procedure to follow when this happens.

The main problem for us are the local cops shaking you down
We were pulled over by Puebla city police (2) on the way to the RV park in Cholula (Las Americas)
We were 5 km from the park on main road from Hwy Mexico 157D
They were just finishing up with some one on the side of road. I pulled over to left lane to pass and they came after me and claimed I cut them off. I was going 10 km UNDER speed limit.
They told me that we should not be going to Choulula as there was great unrest there.Told me that they were going to take me to jail for 3 days and that I had to pay a $16000.00 pesos fine.They were going to have a tow truck take my 26 class C RV to the police pound.
As I tried to use my cell phone to call Hans weber in San Miguel they threatened me and told me not to call anyone. Telling them that i did not have $16000.00 pesos they then asked for American dollars. Told them we only had about 4500.00 pesos they wanted that. I said I needed some to travel as they made it very clear that we were to leave town now and after taking the $4000 they gave me my licese and papers back and then told me they were going to follow me back to main highway to San Miguel.
They did that all the way to Hwy 157D and when they knew i could not turn back they disappeared.
This is the 5th year we have RV'd in Mexico and will probably be the last as the bribe requests keep getting bigger and more aggresive.(this is the 3rd time in as many years 1st guy in Morelia got 500 pesos 2nd time on return to Columbia bridge wanted $1000 US but got nothing as I was forceful enough and they were private security guards as opposed to the last guys who were fully armed)

Not a fun story to be sure. But what happened here was that Robert was intimidated by the police, and the police knew it and took full advantage of that fact.

What should have happened? Well, if it was a legitimate traffic offense, Robert would have accompanied the police to their office where he would be informed of the official violation and may be asked to pay a fine. If paying a fine, he would be issued an official receipt.

I can't believe how many people still pay mordida. I read about it all the time on the internet. People do it because it's easier. You hand the cops some money, and you're on your way. Usually, its only 200 to 500 pesos, although even that is far too much because the official fine, if in fact you have done something wrong, is probably lower than that.

The problem is that paying a police officer directly is against his departments official policy, and it amounts to soliciting bribery. If you do so, both you and him are breaking the law!

What do I do? Well it depends. If I have actually done something wrong, I would go to the police station, even if it took me out of my way. Because we plan our travel days well, we would be able to afford the time spent to do this.

If I believe I have done nothing wrong, I simply refuse to pay. I do so without getting angry or rude or confrontational. I hand them a form we keep in the glove box that asks for their badge ID and name and all other relevant info. Haven't had to use it yet, but I can imagine this would make them a little less aggressive. You can get a copy of this form here...

Also, while I am discussing the situation, Ruth would be taking photos of the whole scene and getting badge numbers etcetera.

And, I carry a laminated copy of my drivers license. If they ask if it's a copy, I say yes. They ask for the real one again, I say no, it's exactly the same information as that one.

Personally, I would do most of this in my best Espanol, although I have read where sticking with English and pretending you don't know any Spanish can be a good tactic as well because it puts the onus on them to try and make you understand.

If you pay mordida, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM, and police will continue to ask for it, especially on foreign plated vehicles.

We were stopped for a bogus speeding infraction leaving Monterrey a couple of years ago. You can read about it here...


  1. Like you said their is a procedure that you should follow, to solve the problem. Our three months there we never had a problem like that to deal with but do know what to do.

  2. Sheesh I thought Chicago was the only place where the Traffic Patrol put the bite on you,I remember as a young Police Officer I stopped a car with Illinois registration here in MO. When I walked up to the car he was already holding his license and I told him what his minor violation was and he handed me the license, neatly folded under the license was a twenty dollar bill.I saw it and politely handed it back to him and said "here Sir this must have stuck to your license when you took it out", he was incredulous, and said , "your not going to keep it" and I said no sir I wasn't going to ticket you if you were a decent fellow anyway. That's when he told me in Chicago 9 out of ten times when you are stopped the officer would take the twenty and say okay I'll give you a warning and you would be on your way. First I had ever heard of it.Guess they use the same politics in some areas of Mexico. Hey be safe out there. Sam & Donna..

  3. We've been on that same DF hwy, and we had problems, too. Not neophytes to Mexico and la mordida, we know the ropes and have the laminated driver license, never give anyone the original copy. But DF cops pulled us over due to the odd and even day license plate issue. As int'l travelers that is not supposed to apply. The situation got quite sticky, long story, but we got out safely, barely, by really using our thinking caps. It sounds very authoritative to follow the police to the poiice station, but to me, after so many years in Mexico, that seems like folly...our neighbor is from DF and has the worst stories about the DF police. One quite scary one which initiated his move to Q.Roo. So many people say, I've never had a problem, and for the most part, that is the case. But once you've had one, it changes the way you feel about everything. We avoid Mexico City. Accdng to our neighbor, the DF police rely on 3/4 of their pay to come from bribes as they have to pay their jefe 3/4 of their pay just to keep their job. Nice

    1. So in your situation it sounds like it was not a mordida problem because you really did break the rules.

      If you have foreign plates, the "hoy no circula" rules of the DF zone still apply, unless you have applied for and printed off the tourist exemption pass available online. Otherwise, why wouldn't you follow the "hoy no circula" rules as they apply? Why take the chance?

    2. We had no idea that an odd and even license plate day existed. We're not foolhardy, trying to live outside the law. The balance of the above story is this. They pulled us over, demanded $. We didn't have it. Insisted we go to an ATM to pay the balance or they would take us to jail. In your case of course you would have said, bring it on, but having lived too long in MX, didn't want to see the inside of the police station. Went to ATM, then they said now you have to go to a hotel and spend the night, then tomorrow you can drive. We said fine- They said follow us. We said, we'll find our own hotel. They said -no - the hotel we choose. We followed them to a flea bag hotel. As I was getting ready to pay, I noticed the 'bellboy' in front of me had a lid of grass in his back pocket. The room started to spin, and go in slow motion. Fear factor took over, and I realized they were going to plant that in our room. I did not follow him to the room, we waited til the police left (they watched from road to see if I was paying ) and I came back to car and told my husband we had to leave-NOW. We drove into a small barrio, and parked near a woman's garage sale, After 10 min. watching us she came over and said, can I help you. I told her the story. She said - the police! they are terrible -in Spanish of course. She said put your car in our carpark, I will have my son park behind you, and after 10pm tonite he will guide you out of the city. We waited w/ her and her daughter, had tea and cookies with her, and at 10 her son came back and we were escorted by him far away. When we got back to QRoo 3 days later, I picked up newspaper and saw that 16 MX DF cops had been caught in the deaths of 10 people. We never drove again back and forth, we always fly now. If you have the nerve, good for you. That was the closest I came to eating it, and that was enough for me. You will most likely say we were timid. But you have to be there. And fear is a good thing. Trust your instincts.

    3. Okay, really did break the law. So you have to pay.

  4. Curious?
    Which part of, "mordida" is following the rules? The, "little bite" is common practice in DF, (everyone knows that) and that has little to do with "following the rules" actually more with intimidation. You make a trip to DF downtown somewhere and tell a DF cop that you, "aint payin" and see if you dont lose that canadian pelo rubio of yours.

    1. I guess I'm not as easily intimidated as you are. For example, when I make a comment on someone's blog, I put my name to it. At least that way even if we disagree, we can follow the conversation! For example, are you the same "Anonymous" as above...?

  5. Nope, but I am the same "Anonymous" that you edited out yesterday; the one that said perhaps AA or smoking pot would be cheaper than spending your last dying dollar on booze. I dont have any of the accounts in the drop-down menu and it only allows, "Anonymous" if you dont. My name is Jose'.

    1. Jose, I didn't zap your comment, but the blogger spam filter caught it. Oh, and pot is also illegal in Mexico. Sign up for a gmail account and you'll actually be able to comment without being "anonymous". It's not that difficult if you can follow written instructions.

  6. More precisely, mordida translates as 'little death'. Regarding previous posts: I always marvel at the swashbuckling, cavalier (or worse, just plain snotty!) posting that seems so common online. BTW, my wife Frederika and I are immensely enjoying your blog. We are friends of George Lehrer who has stayed at our place in No California, and are on the verge of going mobile ourselves. (In my single life I lived 12 years in campers and motorhomes, but this is a first for F, and doing so with another is new for me - you guys make it seem reasonable!) I enjoyed your post on safety in Mexico, and couldn't agree more - and the damage being done to Mexico's economy by our hysterical fear and concomitant absence borders on criminality itself. (I was an urban paramedic in California for 23 years; my son was shot in Richmond, CA - I have no illusions about safety in the U.S.).

    1. Thanks for the note Pete. We would like to meet George ourselves one day...!

  7. I got pulled over in Cancun for "speeding" on Av. Bonempac on the way to the RV park. I was not speeding, in fact I was being passed constantly on both the left and on the right parking lane as I was going well under the limit. He threatened to give me a ticket and I told him to go ahead but we both knew I was not speeding and that I would go to the police station to pay the ticket and to complain. I waited him out as he went to his motorcycle, got his ticket book, showed it to me and asked if I really wanted a ticket. After waiting him out for a good half hour, he slapped me on the shoulder, told me he liked me and would just give me a warning. He never directly asked for money but there was no doubt that was what he wanted. There was also no doubt I was not going to give it to him.

  8. Hi Kevin
    It's Robert and I tried responding using Google account and lost the last 30 minuets of response to your email to me.However I will try agin to clarify a few points
    1)the 2 police came passenger window and started out telling us we cut them off they asked for my license of which i gave them a copy of like you suggest well that caused the start of angrey threats that they were going to take me to jail in their police truck now and they were going to have a tow truck take the MH to police compound.
    No way was I allowed to drive it to police station
    2) i gave them the form report that you mention in your blog and they would have nothing to do with it.
    3)As my wife is the only one that speaks Spanish she was busy translating for me.Also they did not have badge #'s
    4)As I tried to use my cell more imediate threats came
    that they were taking me to jail for 3 days
    5)they keep telling me jail and $16000 pesos and I knew it was all bullshit but right there and then it is difficult to sort out.
    6) should have closed up all windows and called Federal Police or *066 but they know had my real drivers license and vechicule papers.
    7) told them all i had was 4500 and he asked for it and i told him no that I needed money to get home and he demaded the 8 500 pesos bills
    8)Once he got them he gave us our papers back and told us to head out of town to Arco de Norte and they followed us to make sure we did.
    8) I believe the best thing to do in future only speak english open window 1 cm to give them the form to fill out and then wait take pictures and call Federal Police
    Use tom tom gps to give location to Federal Police.

    Was not a fun time at the end of a great 1800 mile trip around southern Mexico great people great scenery and pleasant times until then.

    If anyone has better solutions please let me know

    Robert Spencer
    Edmonton Alberta

  9. The first time I ever heard the word "mordida" was from a Mexican guy I met in Mazatlan back in 1982. He had a small business taking tourists on snorkeling adventures and he commented that as soon as anyone had a business making money, the local officials showed-up wanting their cut. He had worked in Chicago as a young man and was probably in his mid 40's when I met him. He said the average guy in Mexico hates this.

  10. Glad to see you post this as we knew several people during our time in Mexico who would just pay the mordida. We never were approached by the police but we would have stood our ground as we were taught to do, respectfully of course. Be safe and keep enjoying that beautiful country.

  11. Kevin and Ruth - I don't know if you have read many posts in the past on the forum, but dear husand and I were rolling in the floor laughing at one post. The message was posted awhile back, so let me see if I can remember everything. This was regarding a couple in their RV who were stopped on one of the free roads by one fellow dressed (or attempting to be dressed) like a federal policeman. He had a mid-size truck with the door open on the side of the road. The guy walked over to the RVing couple and informed them that they were speeding; he was going to write them a ticket and that the RVer could pay the ticket now to save them some time. The husband said no, I was not speeding. (Good Spanish from the RVer.) The imposter said yes you were because I got you on my radar gun. He walked over to his truck, reached in and retrieved a piece of equipment, held it in the air for the RVer to see, then laid the equipment on the seat of his truck, and then walked back to the RVer. The RVer smiled at him, and the imposter smiled back. The RVer reached over into a compartment and retrieved a Coca-Cola and handed it to the imposter. Then, the RVer drove off and looked back in his rearview mirror to see the imposter still standing on the side of the road with the Coke in his hand. The RVer's wife (aghast) said why did you do that; he had us on radar. The RVer said I know a black portable Conair hair dryer when I see one!!


    1. This has me rolling and laughing!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. That sort of puts the "con" in "Conair", doesn't it? *snort*!

    3. Bob - LOL! That's a good one. After I read the RVer's post, I was surprised that a guy knew what a portable hair dryer looked like. But then I thought, unlike my husband, a lot of fellows do have hair.


  12. Thanks Kevin for the info. We are keeping all info on traveling in Mexico. Can hardly wait till we get down there and put the petal to the metal!

  13. Our policy is to tell them that we are going to make two calls. One call to the U.S. embassy for legal advice and the second call will be to CNDH, the national human rights organization. We have only had trouble once in 13 years and that was in Estado de Mexico. It was a real shakedown but we managed to get them to take us to the station to pay the ticket, 80% less than what they had asked for in the beginning. We have a copy of the fine we paid although I still think it was bogus. We filed a complaint and did receive an answer that it was being looked into but I doubt it.

    They can't do you any harm. Be prepared. Each of us have our own strategy and they all work.

  14. just an FYI for yall Kev...I've had this happen in Nova Scotia...get stopped for speeding (wasn't) told I was getting a ticket (I did) and he requested payment right there on the side of the 'save' me time and aggravation in paying it...I said nope its ok I'd rather drive into Halifax and present myself in person and pay the its not just happening in Mexico

  15. Like many things in life your solution sounds good in theory but when put on the spot you often act differently, seem to remember someone paying $20 to a Mexican cop for not wearing a seat belt when you knew you were !

  16. Our friend ended up paying $200 cash for a hidden stop sign. The police then called ahead to the next town and alerted them to a *sucker* coming up the road, and he got nailed a second time, this time they tried for $400! He said all he had left was $20. They took that and let him go.

    Karen and Steve
    (Our Blog) RVing: Small House... BIG Backyard

  17. My husband and I are brazilians and we travel by car all Amércias and scenes as are common in other countries, we agree not to pay any mordidas to corrupt police, so unfortunate attitudes of people who should help tourists and not coerce them.


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