Senior Travel Tips: How to Deal with Foreign Authorities While Abroad
I exhaled a huge sigh of relief as I left the Police Station of Phuket, Thailand. I’d gotten off easy with a fine of $12 US, and a private payment of $90 US. That was all I had to pay for a traffic accident abroad.
I thought about the past six hours and realized that my story could have gone south very easily. I could be facing jail time, a huge fine, and a monster payment to the victim’s family.
I was very lucky, but probably because I had been extremely strategic. I’ve lived in Asia for almost 20 years and in that time learned that often it isn’t what happens that matters, it’s how you behave that determines your fate.
From the instant I saw the motor-scooter heading towards my car, I knew I had to keep myself together. I was freaked out and scared. I was in Thailand, for goodness sake! I knew that if a farang – foreigner in Thailand – is in an accident, it is the farang’s fault.
The woman on the scooter slammed into my car, on my side of the road. I immediately jumped out and asked a nearby doorman to call the police.
I called a friend. I needed help too, but not from the Police. I needed someone with me to keep me calm and to show I was not alone in this foreign country.
The woman was lying on the road, still on her scooter. I had no idea how badly she was injured. A lot of Thais were gathering around her. Out of the crowd, a foreigner approached and told me that it would be okay.
He said the woman wasn’t that hurt. He told me to stay calm and let it all happen. I knew he was right. My friend sent her husband to be with me. He’s male and Asian, a great visual to show that I’m supportive and sympathetic towards the locals.
I won’t go into the details of that day, other than I co-operated with whatever the Police asked. I provided documents, went to the police station, agreed that I was guilty, and compensated the woman with a few days’ salary for her inconvenience and sprained finger.
I was told that because I was polite, rather quiet and generous to the woman, the police fine was the minimum amount. It could have been hundreds of US dollars, and I could have spent a few nights in the Phuket Hilton, a.k.a. the jail.
I could have been kicked out of the country. These things can go sideways in a flash.
Here are 5 things that can help you handle a serious situation abroad:
Have Someone with You
Don’t face the situation alone. Phone a friend or acquaintance right away. If you are alone, call where you are staying and ask them to send someone. Having someone to support you shows the authorities that you aren’t alone and that you have ties to others, even if you are far from home.
It also gives you someone to talk with to make sure you understand what you are being told. These situations are often handled differently back home, and sometimes they can feel surreal.
Listen Very Closely, and Don’t Say Much
It’s very important to carefully listen to what they are saying to you. Then also, speaking with clarity is very important when English is not the local language.
You need to make sure that they don’t misunderstanding anything. Saying as little as possible is key. Keep your voice calm and speak slowly.
You need to demonstrate that you are in control, level headed and rational. They may speak loudly, and many could be speaking at the same time, so you could have difficultly figuring out what they are saying. Discuss it all with the person with you.
Co-Operate with Whatever They Ask
They will ask you for your documents, where you are from, where you are staying and so on. Answer clearly and slowly. If they want you to sit somewhere, sit. If they ask you to go somewhere, go. If they ask you to wait, wait.
Don’t cause a fuss, and do not even think of complaining. You need to accept that for the next few hours you’ll be at their mercy.
Appear Calm, Cool and Collected
Even though your heart is about to burst out of your chest and your blood pressure is reaching volcanic heights, you need to appear calm and relaxed.
If you look agitated and stressed, the authorities could feel that you are hiding something. If you find this too difficult, speak to the person with you even about nothing in particular.
Ask for some water or a coffee. You need something to keep yourself occupied as you endure the endless hours of process and procedure.
Being calm also keeps the people around you calm, which is appreciated by the authorities, who are just doing their job. If you are excitable, they will be too, which is not what you need – or want.
Be Compassionate and Remorseful
You are in a foreign country and the locals probably assume that you have means, otherwise you couldn’t afford to be there. Giving something to the victim is a gesture that goes a long way.
Try to have a conversation with them, even if they barely understand you. Put your hand on your heart, smile, say you are so sorry, ask them about their children and family.
Show them that you are sorry, and remember, everyone is watching you. The authorities will view you as a kind person, someone who has had enough trouble that day. Your aim is leniency and the way to get it is to show the police you are human, just like they are.
No one wants to be in a serious situation in a foreign country, but it happens all the time. Every traveler and expat should consider these 5 ways and use them when faced with the authorities far away from home.
Otherwise, the consequences could be rather grave, and that’s not what anyone wants on vacation.
It’s all good!
Have you ever been involved in an accident overseas or at home for that matter? How did you manage the situation? How did things work out? Please share your experience and any tips you may have!
About Perley-Ann Friedman – The Happy Cat. I’m Canadian and now live on Koh Lanta, a small island in Thailand. The alternative lifestyle of island living is a great way to ease into retirement. At 61, I’m healthy, active and totally love cats. I’ve consciously chosen to be positive and continuously grow as I journey through life. You can see more of my writing at thehappycat.ca