Getting Scammed at the Peru – Chile border

Tacna, Peru

Something fishy in Tacna border crossing
There's something fishy around here - by hitthatswitch

We knew there was something fishy

about the $20 ‘tourist card’ fee the collectivo driver demanded from all the gringos in the taxi.

There were some signs that should’ve raised a lot more flags than they did that day at Tacna International Bus terminal:

– Guy 1 mentioned that it’s only levied for first time visitors (we had never heard anything like it before about Peru-Chile border crossing).
– Guy 2 said something about the fee is for making the line goes faster (as in like a ‘bribe’?).
– The price was quoted as both in Chilean peso and Peruvian soles but the two numbers are off by $4 each. Which is – well, significant.

But we were vulnerable:

– We just had a 6 hour bus ride and it was getting dark outside
– I was sick and really wanted to get across to Arica, Chile as soon as possible

But more importantly:
We haven’t read anything about the scam> during our research Quite the contrary, we did read something about paying for a tourist card. Now that I looked at that post again I realised that the blog poster fell for the scam without realising it and that the scam has gone up from 15 soles to 50 soles, all within 4 months.

Because we’re so used to rely on hearsay and on our own research, we’ve learned to ignore our own instincts that were sounding the alarm with a gigantic hammer labeled ‘Use only in case of impending idiocy’.

So these guys really knew what they were doing on how to take advantage of the situation, because we went from ‘No, this is crazy. I’ve never heard that we have to pay.’ to ‘Well, maybe we missed something and they’re right?’

Between the guys rushing us around and being pushy and me being sick, and the only other gringo in the taxi having paid up – we paid too (the cheaper of the 2 ‘versions’ of the price).

As soon as we got the hostal in Arica, I looked around the net and I found the only other account of the scam online: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2074223

It does seem to be a relatively recent scam since I only found the thread after researching a weird combination of searchwords. The regular keywords such as “Peru – Chile border crossing” didn’t seem to bring up that one thread.

Realising that because of this, there will be a lot more people falling for the scam, I had half a mind to do the 2 hour drive back to Tacna, Peru to confront the guys and to warn the others. But Jack mentioned, half-jokingly, that it might get us both killed. With $20 a person, it’s a big money maker.

So I thought I did the next best thing: put up warning on travel forums online and hope others doing their research about this particular Tacna – Arica border crossing will come across it.

And go back to my zen center and hope karma will get the best of those scammers.

And try to remember the lessons learned from the scam:

– Try to cross the border during the day (psychologically it helps us from feeling rushed).
– Only pay ‘visa fee’ or any kind of immigration fee really to custom border officials.
– Be careful of anyone wearing giant cold chains around their neck (ok, maybe not really).

On the bright side of things…

The Tacna – Arica border crossing itself was a piece of cake – very smooth and orderly. So now, we’re in Chile!

I have to say that nothing like being scammed colored our opinion of a country, that’s why I’m glad those guys said they’re Peruvians. We really, really want to like Chile – our host for the next weeks or so.

We have been impressed so far: friendly people and cars that actually stop for pedestrians on sidewalk (I know! Crazy, huh?). And oh, their soccer team is better too – they just kick Peru’s ass in their latest match: 4-2.

Tell us:

What’s your almost-scammed or fudge-I-got-scammed story from your travels?

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30 Replies to “Getting Scammed at the Peru – Chile border”

  1. This is the sketchiest border crossing I've ever encountered in my life. My travels include almost all of Central America, the Southern Cone + Peru and Ecuador of SA, and Mongolia, by way of South Korea. Tacna/Arica = sketckyville. I went through with my non-Spanish speaking boyfriend at about midnight. So scary. So much smuggling, police presence, arrests, the bus took off w/o half the passengers and would have ditched us if I hadn't been tenacious about following the bus driver around. I would advise others reading this post (which is SUPER helpful – it never occurred to me to research border crossings…duh.) to seriously head the warning and cross only in the daytime – like, 10am because it takes a while.

    Also, if you make it to Valparaiso, check out J Cruz – a 'museum' and the most amazing pile of chorrillana ever. Greasy and amazing. Suerte!!

  2. I stayed in a business room in a hotel in China. They gave me this ancient PC to use – I had my own netbook so used the PC as a footstool. When I went to check out they tried to charge me PC hire (Expedia said the room came with a complimentary PC!).

    Needless to say I suddenly forgot all my Chinese and English and just pointed to my own PC, I got away with that one!

  3. Being scammed is part of the fun of travel…right? I've developed a pretty good eye for scammers, but there's times you know it's happening and it's not even worth it to fight it. There was only one incident were I was actually upset (a tour in Mexico where all of a sudden we had to pay "extra fees" that the tour guide just pocketed) and generally we just brush these moments off as memories 😉 We did come across a lot of scammers in China (which a bunch of people already commented on), though most of the scammers were just so nice…haha.

  4. That must be really recent as I did not encounter that at all. Although when I crossed I was the only foreigner in the collectivo so maybe they didn't want to pull anything.

    Sorry to hear about your troubles though.

  5. When I crossed the Thai-Cambodian border I also experienced this kind of scam. Actually I have done some research on this thing before I did the border crossing,. However when I was at the Cambodian immigration office to get a visa-on-arrival, the officer somehow managed to convince me that there is an extra cost for processing the visa (he showed me a book in which the additional cost is written. The book looked like an official one though).

  6. I vaguely recall scammy stuff at that border and I can understand that dynamic, especially as it's getting dark, etc. They've got it all figured out. Anyway, it sucks that it happened…but it's good that you're telling others about it. I agree that crossing borders during the day is a great way to avoid this.

    By the way, what did you think of the border between Ecuador and Peru? I remember that being beyond chaotic and Scam Central! 🙂

    1. Ecuador – Peru? We took the inland route and it was muy tranquillo. Nobody but us was doing the crossing. The most relaxing crossing we've done 🙂 But we did hear the coastal route could get pretty crazy though.

  7. Sorry to hear about the trouble you guys had to endure at the border. Look at the bright side, you are now in Chile, which has one of the best ferry ride in the world according to BBC Travel Website:

    Chile: The Patagonian fjords
    This epic ferry ride spans 800 miles over four days, treating passengers to views of isolated estuaries and gulfs, massive ice fields and fjords slashed into the Andes. The boat even approaches the dramatic face of Pío XI or Brüggen Glacier, which, at 488sqm, is the largest glacier in South America. Toast your adventure with pisco sours made with iceberg ice that the crew collects from Pío XI. (Courtesy of Amalia Glaciaer – Patagonia Fjords Route of Navimag Ferries)

    Good luck and hang in there Starvin Marvin (Jack) and Jill

    1. Is that so? Well that's cool, would definitely look into that. Thanks for the tip and the encouragement 🙂 Hope things are going well w/u in the north!

  8. It's almost funny how scams are part of traveling in any part of the world. We just got back from China and got scammed as well – and although not a lot of money was involved, you do tend to feel bad towards the locals in the first place. Good that you got past that feeling (and so did we).

    1. I think especially in parts of the world that do receive a lot of tourists and whose citizens have learned how gullible we can be 🙂 What happened in China? Have heard many very creative scams coming from that part of the world lately.

  9. I was scammed out of $100 in Shanghai, by 2 friendly girls my own age inviting me along to a tea ceremony with them.

    I'd done the research, there were signs everywhere warning you of the scam, and i thought I was prepared. However, the fact that they came up to me and we spoke for over thirty minutes before they mentioned the tea party… I'd forgotten all about the scam and went along excitedly.

    The funny thing was, despite being scammed I had one of the nicest days in China with the girls. They were so friendly and we even exchanged email addresses!

    However, once we left the tea party I caught one of them with her hand in my bag trying to take my purse! I punched her in the face. Like, ok, fine, scam me – it was my fault for being stupid… But don't then try and rob me afterwards!! Man, that was a rubbish day, and TOTALLY ruined my whole opinion of Shanghai.

    However, it could have been worse. So in the grand scheme of things, yes, it sucks but your $20 could have been worse, so just chalk it up to experience and try and forget about it 🙂

    1. It definitely could have been worse. That really sucks about your experience – to be having a good time to later on realise that it was all part of the scam. How did being invited to a tea ceremony lead to losing $100?

  10. Sounds like the biggest thing for your two was your psychological state, as you mentioned. When you're tired and/or stressed, you just can't be bothered to give a sh*t. Thanks for the heads up!

  11. Overpaying for souvenirs. It's happened to us in Mexico, Tangier, and now India. It doesn't help that we are horrible at haggling, but trying to do conversion rates in your head as fast as they can haggle is too much for us to handle. Invariable we learn that something we bought was poorer quality than thought, over priced, or available for the same price back home. We've finally learned our lesson though, any time haggling is involved our immediate reaction is to low ball them. It's worked twice so far and we're hoping our luck holds.
    As for scams, we can usually smell them a mile away too, but have never been crossing a border… in South America… at night… while sick. So, don't beat yourself up over it. They just as easily could have said it was the "night fee" or whatever. You made it across safely, enjoy Chile!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. Shopping for souvenirs is tough – here in S. America everybody claims that everything is handmade or made of alpaca/llama/baby alpaca or whatever. I can't really tell the difference to be honest so that makes shopping even tougher. I did hear cases where the final price can be as low as 1/3 of the opening price. It's crazy!

  12. Oh man! I know the feeling…. Id say the worst is travelling in China – everyone tries to scam or trick you constantly from fake buses to Terracotta Warriors (read about them on Tripadvisor) to taxi drivers refusing to take us for anything less than $40 to go 3 miles from the train station in Xian. until a police officer made one of them use the meter and take us (the fare turned out to be $1.5 lol) ..

    Anyways thanks for the warning – we are planning to go to Argentina/Chile (might go to Peru again too) after travelling around North America. I must admit its so relaxing to travel in NA we are getting spoiled haha :))) Anyways, enjoy Chile and good luck :)) -Natalia

  13. We have a separate line in our budget for scams, and your story is exactly the reason why… you guys strike us as fairly clever kids :), so I wouldn't be too hard on yourselves… commenters above are right, you just don't know….and you don't want to argue too hard against a legit fee and wind up pissing off the wrong ppl ending up in a Peruvian prison.

    Most important thing is too make certain is doesn't colour your feelings for the country or region, and it sounds like you have that cased. We have had a few shitty experiences in Morocco, but they pale in comparison to the positive ones.

    Keep having fun!!!

    1. Lol – you know we're going to start keeping track of that in our budget too. Thankfully, this will be the first item in that category. Will def bug you guys for scam alerts in Morocco coz that's where we're going next.

  14. I've been fairly lucky. Other than overpaying for some taxi trips, the only other time I got scammed is when I bought a necklace for my wife in Jerusalem and was assured it was gold. When I got home with it, she looked at me with obvious pity and said "Honey, this isn't gold." She was sweet about it, but she does have years of experience watching the Jewelry Channel to back her up…

  15. Welcome to Chile! Sorry about the scam, although I'm not-so-secretly glad it's happening on the Peruvian side of things and not the Chilean side.

    Don't get too used to cars stopping if you plan to come to Santiago though because around here that definitely doesn't happen as much.

  16. We once fell victim to a pretty clever scam that resulted in the theft of $5,000 of camera / computer gear. Oi vey. We had never heard of the scam at that time, and then set out to do the same thing you guys just did (e.g., blogging about it (http://www.ihopecheetahsdonteatus.com/tag/venting/), posting on forums, and emailing the lonely planet scam department).

    We always keep our daypacks at our feet on bus trips. While sitting on the bus, a "friendly" Peruvian man pointed out that water had spilled all over the floor and our bag was sitting in a pile of water. He looked as surprised as we did, so we took his suggestion of moving our bag to the overhead bin. Bad idea. When we got off the bus an hour or so later, our bag was light. Suspiciously light.

    It had been emptied of all valuables (except our computer that was thankfully camouflaged in its neoprene case). It sounds like a rookie mistake, but at that time we both had about 20 months solid travel under our belts on various long term trips and were 9 months into that trip. It was just so smoothly done.

  17. The hard thing is that you never quite know what's required and what's not! There's the language barrier and the different customs and the unique rules around border crossings…. things that seem bizarre might actually be required, so it's very hard to absolutely refuse to pay a fee (unless it's super obviously a scam).

    I can spot scams so fast in the U.S. / European countries, but when I'm dealing with a totally different cultural context my scam-o-meter sucks. 😛

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