Aside from your regular pickpockets and money scams, taxi’s are the next best place to get scammed when traveling!
You look like a tourist and you don’t know your way around a new destination. So you’re an easy target for taxi scams.
We asked around with our travel blogger friends, who are all frequent travelers and have experience moving around new places. They sent us the scams with taxi drivers they encountered around the world.
Read about these scams and be prepared not to let the same thing happen to you!
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Changing the agreed price – Marrakech Morocco
After having traveled around Marrakech for a week, me and my friend were sick of getting scammed everywhere we went. After having haggled for a taxi for 15 dirhams and making sure it was definitively 15, we hopped in the taxi. When the guy stopped he said, “Ok that’s 50 dirhams”. I was so angry and stated that we had agreed on 15 dirhams. I said I had 15 and that is all- he batted my hand away so me and my friend got out of the taxi and walked off.
Then we turned around and he was angrily walking towards us with another man and pointing at us. He snatched the money out of my hand and swore at me. We were pretty scared as we had to walk a little further down a dark road to our hotel. Since we were in the main plaza we just ran round to McDonald’s to calm down and waited until he was gone. I think I was a little more off my guard as I was traveling with a friend. If I’d been alone I would probably have given him to 50, so yes, lesson learned.
Taking you somewhere else – Thailand
When I was in Thailand, I was fully prepared for dodging scams. In fact, I thoroughly researched how to avoid scams in Thailand in preparation for my trip. In Southeast Asia, you’re warned to pre-negotiate a rate and location before ever stepping into a cab or tuk-tuk. Since we were staying at a hotel in Bangkok, one of the hotel employees negotiated our rate to the Grand Palace.
As soon as he turned the corner, our taxi driver stopped the car and handed us a pamphlet with pictures on it. In broken English, he said, “you go to floating markets”. Now, the floating markets are 3 hours outside of Bangkok, are extremely touristy and not authentic, and are best visited first thing in the morning before stands close (it was well past noon at this point). We insisted no, we weren’t interested in visiting the floating markets and would like to continue to the Grand Palace as negotiated.
Our driver then threateningly informed us that he would be driving us to the floating markets and that we owed ten times more money than what we negotiated. We stood our ground and immediately exited the car before the conversation escalated further. I marched back to our hotel with a photo of the taxi driver’s license plate and showed it to the valet. The hotel took note of his license plate (as they document the license plate of every driver that drives their guests), and insisted that he would no longer be allowed to drive their guests.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend you handle it exactly the way I did. Stand your ground, and do not let anyone take advantage of you.
Budapest Taxi Scams – Hungary
In a city plagued by scams and sketchy dealings, none is quite so prominent as the monopoly the Hungarian mafia holds over the taxis in Budapest. Other than Taxify and trusted private taxi companies, all of the taxis you find in the streets will be poised and ready to rip you off.
Their set up is straight forward: get you in the taxi, take you the 5-10 minutes to your destination, demand you pay them a ludicrous fee. Particularly prolific at night, taxis will loiter outside bars and clubs to prey on lost, drunk tourists. Many ill-informed travelers have been charged €80+ for short rides and locked in the taxi until they complied with the charge. The mafia’s influence over the government, and by extension the police, allow this practice to continue freely.
Budapest is a small city, with great public transport. Almost every destination you’re looking for will be within walking distance, or there will be a route available on the trams or underground rail. Avoid ever hailing a taxi from the side of the street, or ever taking one waiting in a taxi rank. While Uber is illegal in Hungary, you can download the app Taxify which works all over the city and is always inexpensive.
Counterfeit bills in Buenos Aires – Argentina
The most common scam to watch for when you visit Buenos Aires revolves around money, naturally. Small bills are historically hard to come by and it’s more common to have a pocket full of hundreds than exact change.
The scam is this: the driver will have a counterfeit bill hidden away. When you hand over your bill to pay, he or she swaps your legitimate bill with the counterfeit one. He then confronts you, not angrily, in a helpful way as if they teach you the way things are here in Argentina.
He tells you that the bill you gave him was fake and asks if you have another, real bill. In the end, you have paid twice for your taxi and all it cost the driver was a stock of counterfeit bills bought on the black market at bargain prices.
Sometimes, if the driver can tell you are even more distracted, he won’t even exchange it for a fake bill, but a smaller one. He’ll pretend you gave him a ten-peso bill when you really gave him a hundred.
You can easily avoid this by leaning forward as you hand over your payment.
To avoid him exchanging it with a lower tender bill, announce what you are giving him. “Te paso cien/Here’s a hundred.” To avoid him exchanging it with a fake bill, lean forward and make it clear that you’re watching him make the change.
As long as you’re paying attention, you won’t have any problems in a taxi in Buenos Aires.
Leaving you behind if you don’t pay more – Tulum Mexico
In Tulum, we got an offer from a taxi driver to take us to Tulum Ruins and a cenote the next day for a fixed price (not by the hour, or by the number of people). As we were there primarily to take photos, we warned him that we would be at the attractions for a long time (2 hours each minimum). He said he was okay with that.
After the Tulum ruins, our friend met up with us to share the ride to the cenote. When the taxi driver picked us up, he didn’t say he had an issue with that. After we were done with the cenote (2 hours later), he became angry and accused us of wasting his time because we were taking so long. He could have used that time to go to the Cancun airport to pick up customers.
Once we got onto the taxi, he said he raised the price to compensate for the time lost. It would now be 1000 pesos to bring us back to the hotel, which was way higher than we originally agreed.
We refused to pay that price so he left us in the middle of nowhere. This took us by surprise. Since he didn’t drop us off at the intended destination, we gave him 500 pesos when we got off. Then, he chased us after and tried to argue with us. One of our friends knew some Spanish and asked a shop owner to translate for us that we would not give him more. We eventually agreed to give him the rest if he would take us back to town.
We still ended up paying more than we intended but if we knew the taxi drivers in Tulum would defraud foreign passengers, we would have rented a car.
Taking a detour – Prague Czech Republic
As someone who used to be local in Prague, I have never noticed taxi scams for tourists. The change came when I took a taxi with my English-speaking friend. The drive was a quite strange one because the driver took us on a different road than I would be using as a local. But I thought it was fine, maybe he just wanted to ditch the traffic.
Turns out I was wrong! He asked for a lot more money, arguing that it was a long drive. And he didn’t even turn on the meter to check the actual kilometers that we were driving.
He changed his mind about the money once I started to speak to him in Czech. Afterward, he gave me the proper price. But still, I had to persuade him by talking about calling the police. It wasn’t really a nice experience.
My general advice here would be to rather use Uber or use another app, where you can see the price ahead. Otherwise, these guys are going to scam you. If you are catching a taxi on the street, try to negotiate the price first and check of the meter is running.
The Price is per person – Rome Italy
We usually use public transport or we rent a car when we travel abroad, so we had only 2 or 3 experiences with taxi. After a short city break in Rome, on a Sunday afternoon, the Termini train station was full of people waiting for the airport bus. A company decided to cancel some rides, so we were too many wanting to get to the airport for how many buses were planned.
We waited half an hour when we saw several taxi cars parked in front of the bus station with a huge sign on them: 30 euro to the airport.
Considering that the bus ticket was around 6 euro, for 3 people is actually not that much to go by taxi. So we put our luggage in the back, happy that we found a solution and we didn’t risk to lose our flight, and we entered the car.
The driver signalized his intention to leave when one of us popped the question out of nowhere: “the ride to the airport is 30 euro, right?”. And the driver answered very naturally: “yes, 30 euro per person.” Wait, what?! It took us a second to realize we will pay almost 100 euro to get to the airport when we said “Stop!
We taught it is per ride, not per person!”. The taxi driver stopped the car, we descended, took our luggage from the back and went again to the bus station.
In front of us, a couple that also waited for the bus, entered a taxi and we saw them departing. I guess they didn’t ask about the price until they got there…
Let me show you the best shop! – Bangkok Thailand
Before visiting Bangkok, we had heard of many, many scams to be aware of. We experienced the usual “the temple is closed” scam and managed to avoid. We had many drivers who didn’t want to use the meter. We even had a driver take us to a tour company that did tours along the Klong canals rather than take us to the riverside restaurant we were hoping for.
But the biggest annoyance we have had in Bangkok has to be drivers who insist on taking us to a tailor. Those who offered a set price would insist that it will only be 200 baht as long as we stop at a tailoring store on the way, ignoring any resistance we gave. Twice in Bangkok, we found ourselves in a taxi, parked outside a tailor, refusing to enter because, you know, it could be dangerous but with a very grumpy driver pointing frantically.
Both times we just refused to move but it made for a very uncomfortable but also, the drivers would try to overcharge us once finally taking us to our hotel. We refused to pay the extra price and the second driver ended up having an argument with the doorman at our hotel because we didn’t want to pay the ridiculous doubled price that wasn’t quoted until we arrived at the hotel.
Lesson learned! Always ask for the meter or use GRAB (Thailand’s version of Uber). On our most recent trip, we were struggling to get a taxi from Wang Lang Market on the meter, so walked 5 minutes up the road to a nearby hospital and found a metered taxi much easier.
Neglecting the meter – Lisbon Portugal
Lisbon is a fantastic place for a city break, but it does have a problem with dishonest taxi drivers wanting to get more money out of foreigners.
On arrival at Lisbon airport, we wanted to get a taxi to our hotel.
Having read about the overcharging issue in advance, I tried to determine the price before getting in at the taxi stand and was told that the fare would be calculated according to the meter. So we got in and the taxi headed in the direction of the city center.
I could see the meter from my seat and kept my eyes glued to it. It seemed to be working as expected and was showing a normal price – by the time we got to central Lisbon, the fare was in the region of €12-€13, so I relaxed and turned to look out the window. Only a few moments later the taxi arrived at our hotel – the meter was now off all of a sudden and the driver wanted €50.
In hindsight, I should have probably kicked up a fuss, but I was so shocked and disappointed about falling victim to this scam that I just quietly paid the extortionate fee and got out…
Great Wall Taxi Scam – China
Beijing is a stunning place to explore, but if you aren’t familiar with Mandarin, the fact that services like Google are blocked in China can make you open to scams. You’ll need to do some research before you go as it’s not that easy to simply go online and find English language info.
I learned that the hard way when I took a 72-hour layover with a visa with lots of excitement and dreams of seeing the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.
I met up with another traveler in the central bus depot and we had failed to do much planning, so we just asked the nearest official which bus to take. We couldn’t read any of the bus destinations.
She led us to a bus with no other foreigners on it – which should have been a hint as the Wall is a massive tourist attraction. Of course, it went nowhere near the Wall and when we were in an isolated area, some scammers dressed as officials got on and demanded we leave the bus.
We had no choice but to get off and into their waiting taxi. Needless to say, the taxi was in on it and charged us a lot.
There is no need to pay for a taxi because a local bus will easily take you to the Wall. Just do your research in advance and be sure you know which bus to get on!
If in doubt, bring a photo if the characters for the bus’ destination for you and refuse to get on any other bus.
“It’s closed” – Thailand
Thailand is a country packed with beautiful temples and floating markets. Unfortunately, getting to those attractions can be more difficult than you originally thought.
You hop into your tuk-tuk on the side of a bustling Bangkok street. After climbing in back you tell your driver the planned destination and to your dismay, he says “Closed, Closed, But I’ll take you to another temple…same, same.”
Without phone service, you will likely have no way to confirm if this is the case or not and you’ll take him at his word. And they are counting on it. This is a common taxi scam in Thailand. Driver’s get paid commission to deliver tourists to certain sites (often where other more elaborate scams will occur). So stick to your guns and insist on your destination. And if he won’t take you, another driver will.
Tip for Avoiding this Situation: Look up hours of operation in advance to attractions you plan to visit and believe what you read on the internet, not what a tuk-tuk/taxi driver tells you.
Fake taxis – Quito Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador is a lovely capital city situated on the equator in the Andes Mountains. The historic city center is a UNESCO world heritage site and is full of rich South American culture.
But like any big city, you need to be aware of the scams that take place here, like the fake taxis. In Quito, fake taxis are a serious problem. The city tries to regulate them with very specific operating rules. However, there are a lot of people who skirt these rules. If an unsuspecting tourist gets into a fake taxi, they are at higher risk of being robbed, kidnapped or worse.
The terrible part is that the fake taxis are incredibly adept at look like the real, regulated ones. Here’s how to tell the difference. Registered taxis have two things: orange license plates on the front and back of the car as well as registration numbers on both the windshield and the side of the car. Without these, the taxi is not licensed properly with the city and could be fake.
The best way to get a legit taxi is to get your hotel to call you one. If you feel uncomfortable at all, get out.
Where are you from – the Philippines
I don’t know if I can call this a scam, technically… But it certainly is close to one. When traveling the Philippines, before getting into a tricycle to get to my next destination, I’d do my regular thing, put on my haggling hat and ask them how much. Knowing how far of a distance and the roundabout price ahead of time (because I always check so I can gauge a price when negotiating), I knew what I SHOULD get quoted. But the drivers always asked me the same question before giving me a price. “Where are you from?”
Unfortunately, they weren’t trying to make conversation, they were gauging how much to quote me based on where I was from. I’m from the USA, which in their eyes, is a “rich country” and therefore, I have more money.
I spent over a month hopping from island to island and I was always asked this question before getting a price!
Once I caught on, I made up some new answers. My new Polish friend and I were both from Poland a few times, and I was even from South Africa a time or two, just to confuse them a bit. It was an interesting way to get ripped off and eventually I stopped answering them before they gave me the price of the ride and then making small talk afterward.
Taxi scams around the world
These are just a few things that could happen to you when catching a taxi. There are just so many tricks that can be used against you when traveling.
The best advice we can give you to avoid becoming a victim of scamming taxi drivers is:
- always ask about the price before taking off
- double check the price before take-off!
- discuss your destination to make sure you’re being taken to the right price
- keep an eye on the money you hand over
- be aware of the fact that you might get scammed
We hope that these insights help you in avoiding future rip-offs.
Thanks to our fellow bloggers who have contributed to this article with their travel wisdom!