I have a hate/love relationship with cab drivers. After hundreds of taxi rides, both in the U.S. and abroad, I have determined that 60% of cab rides leave you with some bad taste in your mouth, 35% are fairly neutral experiences and 5% are some of the most life-saving or otherwise great times of your life. I’d like to start this anti-cab rant by recognizing two of the best cabbies I’ve met in my life: the Uruguay savior and the Ethiopian fixer. What I thought was needed was an international taxi cab guide.
Since I find most cab rides pretty excruciating experiences, I thought it might be helpful, at least for the newer travelers out there, to go over some of the taxi cab basics, at least as I see them. As usual, feel free to add your comments, tips and suggestions to this taxi cab guide.
Never get in without agreeing on a fare – Period. The merits of a number of these suggestions might be argued over by some (and I assume they will be down below), but number one on the list is the most important hard-and-fast rule in my book. Your fare is based on two, and only two, options: a metered fare or a negotiated rate. Like most people, I like hopping in a cab and seeing a working meter (although frankly, you can just as easily get ripped off that way through a variety of meter scams), but more often than not when you hop in a cab in a good number of places in the world, there isn’t going to be a meter.
Make sure you agree before you get in the cab – before you put your backpack or anything in the cab – on exactly how much the fare is going to be. I learned this lesson the hard way back in Prague, when on the fourth separate cab ride to and from the train station and my hotel (so I knew exactly what the fare should be), I got to the hotel and the cabbie quoted me a fare of about $40 for a $10 cab ride. I yelled and screamed, he pretended to not understand any English, though he did when he picked me up, and I told him to call the cops – we were going to have it out right there. He pointed to the trunk, where my suitcase and all my belongings were, including my camera, computer and passport, and said “$40,” with what I took to be a wry smile. I paid the ransom. Which leads to…..
Never put your backpack in the trunk – This is one that is probably over-paranoia on my part and since I only travel with a 70 liter backpack and a small day pack is pretty easy, but if it is just me in the cab, my backpacks go right in the backseat with me. When we arrive, I get out of the cab, get all my stuff out of the cab, and only then pay the cab driver. If I’m going to have a big dispute with a cabbie at that point (and you will, even if you agreed on a fare beforehand), I’m going to have all my stuff on me.
Have the proper change – It always amuses me when some cab driver quotes you a $15 fare somewhere, you get there and pull out a $20 and looks at you shocked that he is supposed to make change. You are a cabbie — you operate in a cash business — get and give cash all day — don’t B.S. me that you don’t have any change at all. I had a stare down with a cabbie near Victoria Falls for almost a half-hour over this and simply refused to hand over my money, until I saw he had change for me. Dumb on my part. Our taxi cab guide says the simple solution is to always carry lots and lots of small bills (which is a good idea for a number of reasons anyway) and give the exact amount to the cabbie.
No tipping – This follows from the former. Unless I get one of those few cabbies that fits into the “amazing” category, I don’t tip a penny. Most times, I’m getting ripped off for being a foreigner to start with; in my book, that is their tip. I’m sure I’ll get a number of “you are a ruthless and callous traveler” comments, but in my book, the fare is the fare. Not sure why I should tip you because you got me there alive.
Try not to look – I probably should occasionally tip for getting me there alive, because I have to say the getting there alive part isn’t always a given. Driving all over the world is horrendously frightening. Add to that a cab driver that wants to get you there as fast as they can, so they can rip off another customer and the driving can be downright scary. Do yourself a favor and look out the side windows and not the front – you don’t want to see what is happening.
Get directions in the local language – Your hostel should have a business card with the address, and hopefully a basic map, printed in the local language (or at least they should if they read my Hostel Owners’ Guide). Always grab one or two when you check in. After a night out drinking, being able to hand a cab driver a card with your hostel on it, in the local language, can be a savior. Additionally, if you are going anywhere by cab (or any transportation really), I always have the people at the hostel write out where I am going in the local language and keep it in my notebook. It should go without saying, but won’t here, that you obviously need to ask the people at the hostel what sort of fare price you should be expecting for the cab rides in order to properly negotiate.
Stick to licensed cabs – This isn’t a problem everywhere, but to be on the safe side, make sure to use a licensed cab. Some places you can tell by the license plate, others by the what’s printed on the cab – ask the people at your hostel what to look for.
Don’t be afraid to say no – Or otherwise be aggressive. Plenty of times when you arrive at your destination, after negotiating a fare, the cabbie will say “extra $5 for traffic” or something of the sort. Get your stuff out of the cab, make a small ball out of the proper amount of money you negotiated, hand it to the cabbie and walk away and feel good about your taxi cab guide. Other times, cabbies will negotiate a fare with you and then try to pick up other passengers along the way to make more money. That’s fine if you are in a “collective taxi” or “service taxi,” as I actually was today, which operate more like little buses, but if you got a one person fare and he turns around and asks “OK to pick him up,” there is nothing wrong with saying no. A negotiating corollary here – I find saying no and walking away is pretty must the best negotiating strategy is almost all circumstances.
Love ‘em, hate ‘em, you aren’t going to be able to always avoid them. And since you are going to have to deal with them sometimes, deal with them from as much of a position of strength and knowledge as you can muster.
Oooooh, I am indeed saving this post, filing it under “things to remember when you are on the road”…. Of course the next time I look at the link will probably be the day after a cabbie has driven off with my backpack in his trunk, but….
lol — I’m sure you will do great out there. Thanks for the compliment!
Excellent advice. I also tip for fantastic service only, not for doing your job normally. If they don’t like it, they should find a higher paying job, or regularly provide fantastic service!
Matt, thanks for the comment and the very regular re-tweeting!
Ahh, cab drivers. When I saw the title, the first thought that jumped to mind was “I hope he mentions to have your own change” – so bravo! I also like to have the cab drop me off half a block away from where I am staying/home because of some creepy situations (trying to walk me into my house, hitting on me in general). Maybe this doesn’t apply to the muscle-bound male travelers, but if the cabbie doesn’t give me a good vibe, I don’t want him to know where I live.
Creepy guys hitting on you? I am shocked, shocked! 😉
We abhor getting into cabs and will go to ludicrous lengths to avoid them. We have simply had too many shitty cabbies to make it worth our energy (and that includes the US). For those times when we can’t avoid them – and sometimes you simply can’t – we will remember these tips.
Oh, and “you are a ruthless and callous traveler.” It had to be said. 🙂
(bowing to the “ruthless and callous traveler” commentary)
Hmmmm. I’m surprised by your post… b/c I think cabbies are every country’s unknown secret!
They always know where the best of everything is… and they are never really who you think they are.
I love talking to taxi drivers and I usually find them to be among the most interesting locals I meet.
That’s not to say I haven’t been scammed. I have. And I recently read a post (I can’t remember from whom) about a very scary situation where she got into a non-licensed cab and narrowly escaped a dangerous situation.
So I think your tips are awesome… esp. for people that aren’t used to being aggressive/assertive with scam-artist cabbies.
((This is probably the part where I should tell you that I’m a New Yorker, and used to crazy driving and the mostly non-American drivers that keep NYC humming. SO, when I sit in the backseat of a taxi in India or Vietnam, I don’t blink an eye 🙂
I certainly like some cabbies — some have been the greatest resource around (and I linked to stories of a couple of them up above in the first part of the post). But most of them…
Super advice – especially having the small bills part. I’ve been scammed in NYC – so you don’t have to go far to actually use this advice.
I love talking to taxi drivers – especially when traveling in N.America where they tend to have extremely interesting life stories.
scammed by a NYC city taxi?? Say it ain’t so. 😉
Oh, what an awesome post!
I lived in China for 7 years and had some weird taxi experiences. Some of them like the ones you mentioned. The weirdest one was when the male driver kept on patting and rubbing my thigh while talking to me. I am a guy, by the way; “Max” isn’t short for Maxine. 🙂 I knew he didn’t mean anything by it except for being friendly, but still it was a little weird for me.
P.S. I can’t see your name on your site. What should I call you?
Call me Michael. There are plenty of people that call me worse, but it is nice to start off with the best intentions, isn’t it?
Awesome! Laughing to myself over the cab drivers who never seems to have change on them! That’s bullcrap–you’re just trying to rob me gently. Great piece!
Rob me gently?? Ummmmm, I’m stealing that. Love that turn of phrase.
I will consider myself lucky, as I’ve only had to use cabs in a few places ; New York City, Chicago, Italy, and my homestate of Utah. All good experiences so far, but i hope to go to Prague next year, and will thus use your most awesome advice.
Ahhhh, I remember my bad Prague cab experience like it was yesterday. It was one of my first rip-offs ever. Ahhhh, the memories….
Great advice. I only take cabs as a last resort. However, I think a small tip is customary with metered fares no? If it’s a negotiated fare, forget it tho!
True, I am more likely to “round up” with metered cabs.
I have to agree that in some countries, the taxi drivers are ruthless, crooked, and just plain scary (especially as a female). But, I will commend taxi drivers in Taiwan for being some of the most honest, decent, and rather entertaining cabs I’ve been in. We take them everywhere here — they are metered, we have a discount VIP card through our apartment, and they are super cheap! We can be in a cab for 45 minutes and it’s not even $10 US…and you don’t tip here. We’ve even lucked out with free Chinese lessons a few times. Because we are so fortunate, I often forget there are some absolute cheaters out there. I know people who have been beaten up and thrown out of the moving cab in places like Indonesia because they took a non-metered one from the airport.
We’ve been ripped off in Thailand, Macau, and Hong Kong (which surprised me) and I am sure there are some more places that I can’t think of off the top of my head. If we are ever in a place where we have to put our stuff in the trunk (Hong Kong is pretty much a given depending on the size of your luggage), husband always stays in the car w/the money and doesn’t pay until they open the trunk & I have our belongings. That way they don’t open the trunk and still drive off…have heard horror stories about that as well.
and sage comments and advice here also. Like I said, I have had some incredibly great cabbies before — some of them are the best people on the planet. But unfortunately as to the rest of them….
Yet another solid round of tips. In a few cities that have a standard price for fares in the city, like a buck anywhere in town, I dont bother to negotiate in advance. I just give them the buck and get out. But then again I don’t have my backpack so it’s a bit easier.
Yep, good point on the standard fares. Happens in some places and I love it.
These are some good tips…and dealt with in a humorous fashion, which is how many interactions with taxi drivers should be handled. I made a resolution while traveling in Uzbekistan a few years back, that I would never yell and scream at a taxi driver again. And for the most part, I have succeeded in keeping my cool. But it hasn’t been easy.
Your percentage breakdowns, by the way, sound about right on.
With cabbies, as in the rest of life, I almost never yell or scream. But I have to admit that I’ve done it more with cabbies than any other walk in life…. maybe even including girlfriends, which pretty much explains it all.
A very good article, having used taxi around the world, and now being a cab driver in Tucson. I only take issue with your “no tipping” rule. Like a lot of workers in the travel and hospitality trades, a lot of cab drivers work for tips. Especially for independent contractors, the fare only covers our cab lease, gas and provides for an average minimum wage. Remember, for cabbies driving for large fleets, they have no control over the actual meter rates, and most fleets resist or can’t change rates without government approval to reflect rising fuel costs – my fuel cost has risen about $30 per week in the last couple of months – the only thing I can do to offset this is to work longer hours to make up the pay difference.
So if a driver is safe, friendly, keeps a clean cab, doesn’t long haul you, and helps with baggage and travel advice, then it is only appropriate to tip him or her, as you would a waiter, bellman, or any other service worker.
Yea, I probably shouldn’t be so harsh on the no-tipping rule. In the States, I go ahead and tip the normal people that everyone else does, but must admit I’ve gotten less “tippy” as I’ve traveled more abroad. Probably has something to do with not having any source of income for a couple years also. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and glad you found the blog.
Very useful advice no matter where you travel. I don’t use taxis all that often so it is good to always use these suggestions. Less chance for a bad experience! Thanks for sharing you advice and experience.
The gods of the internet have not been smiling on my attempts to contribute here. But another use for small notes is in negotiating price. Which, in poorer countries, should, in my view, be some way above what the locals pay.
Small notes are always a good idea. And if anyone submits comments that don’t immediately go up (I don’t censor or pre-approve), shoot me an email. It means the comment got caught in the spam and I have been getting so much of that lately that I haven’t been checking regularly. Thanks.
I quite like talking to cab drivers, I often find talkative ones, although it’s pretty annoying when they have the clear intention to rip you off. In China the first sentence a foreigner needs to learn when taking a cab is “get me straight to the destination, no driving around”, otherwise drivers feel somehow compelled to show you half of the city…
The “avoid-looking” advice beautifully applies to China, I thought there was no country in the world where people would drive with such a disrespect of the basic signs and rules. Until I got to India, of course…
The tipping can be tricky, in China tips are not really common, once I was giving a tip to a driver and he got so angry that I ended up apologizing… Other times they took the tip, but they don’t really expect it.
Yeah, I think it’s very important to be able to say, or at least show, the destination in the native language, in Shanghai the beginning was a disaster, not only drivers don’t understand the place if I tell them, they can’t even read it if it’s written in Western alphabet.
Funny post, getting on a cab can always be surprising 😉
if I speak the language (or more appropriately, if they speak some English), I like talking to cabbies also. They are interesting folks. Though I’ve still gotten ripped off by ones that talk to you and sound nice. Thanks for your thoughtful comments — lots of good stuff to absorb here.
Just last week I had fun with a taxi from Kuala Lumpur airport to the center of town taking 2 and a half hours, instead of the usual 60 minutes. Unfortunately the driver only spoke Cantonese and couldn’t understand Mandarin or any of the other six languages us passengers could collectively converse in.
Well, I suppose at least having some fellow passengers in the same plight slightly moderated the angst. There is something even worse about that happening when you are alone, which seems more common. But if this guy was so new that he couldn’t manage the airport to the center of town… ouch!
That hostel I mentioned in my comments in your other post also gave detailed advice on using the taxis in Riga to get home safely when inebriated while not getting ripped off. Very much like the advice on here.
Ahhh, another really good idea for hostels — written guides to how much taxis should cost to certain places in town.
Excellent post! For sure, nothing can muck up your budget like a taxi cab. I have to admit, though, I have a hard time not tipping. I know that I’m usually paying a bit more, but I still feel weird if I don’t throw them a bone. I guess I really need to work on finding my inner Gordon Gecko when it comes to cabbies.
LOL — inner Gordon Gecko. I like that. Well, I like it if you are talking the first movie, which was great. The second one… not so much.
I’m halfway through a couple of anti taxi rants myself. No coincidence, I’m sure, we’ve both been in Lebanon recently. Beep beep.
on the money front in Lebanon, I found they caved in here much more quickly than most places when I insisted on the correct (or semi-correct fare), but my God the honking….
I never had any trouble with taxis in Philadelphia, but once I began traveling I learned most of these lessons very quickly and often times the hard way. 😉 My worst taxi experience was in Nicaragua when I got taken for several times what I should have paid and left at the closest bus station (not the one I had requested) – partially my own fault of course for not realizing right away, but you know how it is. I met a couple in Costa Rica who really got ripped off when the taxi driver somehow managed to fix his meter by adding an extra 0 to the fare and basically forced them to pay while holding their luggage hostage. Needless to say they were pretty angry… Great tips!!
I adore Nicaragua, but there certainly are some crime problems there. Someone I met got into a cab, taken off to a rural spot and robbed at knife point. 🙁
Good tips, with a touch of bitterness. 😉 I like the collectives. Safer in numbers I reckon.
I can have the bitter gene in me sometimes kinda serious. Or wait… are we talking bitters? Cause if there is some gin involved….
After living in Rio de Janeiro for over a month I got comfortable with using the illegal taxis frequently since they were so much cheaper but these illegal taxis have a set route just like the buses except that it’s just a van with kids working the passenger side trying to get you to use their vehicle.
As for the tipping, I’m always bad about this. If I am traveling somewhere and there is someone with us who speaks the language then that is a plus with negotiating. That and from my experience a guy foreigner will typically get a better quote than a woman traveler, as unfortunate as it is.
I did write an article about a taxi cab experience in Rio where we were saved an crazy high price tag by some locals.
I think if you were living in one place for a period of time, some of these rules wouldn’t apply, as your knowledge level would be so much higher.
Man I feel so green! I’ve only caught taxi’s in NZ and Australia where we don’t tip, there is always meters and there is usually eftpos! I will be sure to take on your advice when we head to Europe in 2 months!
wait till you get to the Third World…. mucho fun 😉
All the tips are just good common sense. The majority of drivers are likely fabulous people but their primary motive is to make money…and they are the experts at what they do. We used all these tips and, although we didn’t always win, they worked more often than not. It’s important to stay respectful but not fearful…look out for yourself!! Cheers!
agreed — they aren’t ALL evil crooks 😉
Great tips – Taxi transportation in foreign countries can be quite. Nothing pisses me off more than getting ripped off, Eastern Europe is the worst (though Vietnam is pretty bad too)
there is something about getting ripped off… even if it isn’t a lot of money. Odd, I know.
fantastic list – thank you!!
Haha – great tips and funny! We’ve just arrived in Argentina so will be trying to master the “Try not to look” mantra
I don’t even want to think about how badly we got ripped off in Barbados. Half because it was our first trip abroad and half because we were so naive with how the world works. Great tips!
sometimes it really is best to NOT think about it. Best way to cope.
As for the no change BS – on one really dismal taxi journey, the driver insisted we drive back to where the journey began so that I could go to the bank and then repeat the trip so that I could pay for three journeys instead of one! What an attractive option. Only time I can think of right now when I stepped out of a moving vehicle (glad to have my luggage with me – as you mention.) Grrr.
O my lord — that is a horror story. And leaping out of a moving vehicle??!! If you haven’t written it up, I’ll take the guest post for sure here!
Great tips! I met some travelers in Romania and they didn’t ask how much the fare would be before they got in. When they arrived to their destination, they were told how much it was in the local currency. They stopped at an ATM, took the money out and then realized, after converting it, their fare was WAY more than it should have been — to the tune of 600 euros for a quick ride. They filed reports with police, etc., but never got their money back. Definite lesson learned. Whenever I took a ride with a cab, I always made sure to know how much it was before I agreed to get in, and always had my baggage with me in the car.
I can’t imagine having SO little knowledge that you could get ripped off for 600 Euros. My goodness, that is amazing.
Great tips, as usual, Michael. Here is one of mine, which is ESPECIALLY true in developing countries where you are literally mobbed by taxi drivers trying to get your business: walk by them and get in the cab of the first cabbie who hasn’t verbally assaulted you. I always do this and explain that I chose their taxi because they hadn’t hassled me.
As a woman, there are some times when you arrive somewhere dodgy in the middle of the night and it really is a crapshoot whether you’ll end up safely at your destination, or if its just not your day. Having bags in the back in this instance helps as does roughly knowing the route or how long its supposed to take in the case that you have to “bail”.
Which I did once, in Cambodia. Ran for it at the traffic light.
Yea, I agree totally. I get so annoyed at the cabbies that jump you when you get off a bus or train or whatever. So damn frustrating.
My favorite cab story: When in Korea, a friend of mine – a tall American man – got in a cab in the middle of winter. The cabbie didn’t have his heat turned on, so my friend rubbed his hands together and blew on them to indicate he was cold. The cabbie, also a man, looked at my friend speculatively and then reached over and took one of his hands. The cabbie held hands with my friend the entire ride home, in (what apparently seemed to him) the most obvious solution for keeping his hands warm.
that is a great story…. and a bit off-putting as well
It’s funny because I wrote a similar post a while back, however, I stated that my #1 rule is to never negotiate the fare ahead of time 🙂 Instead, I always make sure I ask a reliable local (staff at the guesthouse I’m staying at for example) what the local price should be if meters are not used. I then just get in the taxi with the confidence of a local and hand over the money. In my years of traveling, I’ve found that foreigners typically get ripped off because in many countries, we’re the only ones sticking our heads in the window trying to argue over a fare before the ride starts. We give the drivers opportunities to rip us off. Many places have set fares, even if they aren’t listed on some taxi board.
In Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where I’m living at the moment, the standard fare anywhere in town is 18 pesos. However, it is quite common to meet travelers who pay up to 50 pesos for a ride because they tried to negotiate before getting in the cab. If they learned the price ahead of time and just got in the back without a word like the locals do, they wouldn’t have been ripped off!
Of course, in some countries, negotiating ahead of time is the custom, but when it’s not, I think that we are only increasing the chances of paying a higher fare by doing so.
Earl, I agree with you, once you are in a place and have a good grasp on the local fares. But that isn’t the case when you are just getting off the bus, train or plane when you arrive. Or for that matter, in your first few days in town. Once I know the “local fare,” I tend to do roughly the same thing as you, with one difference. When a cab pulls over and I tell them where I am going, I then also say “18 pesos, correct?” And if they bitch, I just tell them to go on and I’ll get a cab charging the right fare soon enough.
Just want to say that I just found this blog, and I’m glad this is one of your most recent posts, since it’s something to which I can relate. So, great tips! From my experience, I think these are pretty tried and true. Although I don’t agree with Earl that you shouldn’t negotiate beforehand, I do agree that if at all possible, find out ahead of time from a reliable local what the fare should be and then use that to negotiate before you get in the taxi.
A tip to add–follow the local custom for your gender of which seat to sit in. As an American woman in Jordan, I thought that by sitting in the front seat on my way to work like most men do, I was demonstrating independence and confidence in where I was going and what I knew–I wasn’t meekly sitting in the back seat. Well that backfired. A young, male cab driver tried to take advantage of the fact that I was cold by taking my hands and trying to warm them (maybe like someone mentioned above, but this time in a creepy way). He then proceeded to try a few other things making me increasingly uncomfortable. I wish I had stopped the cab earlier than I did, but luckily I got out of the situation unscathed, if rather disturbed (especially since I hadn’t had any trouble with men in Jordan up until that point). I realized that at any time, he could’ve just kept going (and I’d have to ditch at a red light like Rachel above). After that experience, I always sat in the backseat, which made me feel more comfortable and also didn’t keep me from having conversations with the friendlier cabbies. When I volunteered in Morocco, I often took group cabs (2 in the front seat and 4 in the back), and the custom is for women to sit with another woman (if another one is there) in the front seat. You should definitely do this, because you’re far more likely to be touched inappropriately when you are squished in the back with 3 men (which happened to me, unfortunately in a situation where there was an odd number of women).
So, even if it feels like you’re giving in to what you perceive as sexist cultural norms, just do it for your safety.
Thanks for sharing the tips!
Wow, that is a bit of a scary story. Thank you so much for finding the blog and sharing. Hope you come on back and keep following in the future!
Solid tips! I prefer to take public buses in many countries, since taxis are typically shadier and more expensive. Agree that it’s best to agree on a price in advance and stick to official cabs. You don’t want to end up in the dreaded jewelry shop 😉
Excellent tips! We’ve found that in more laid back situations, the Caribbean especially, sucking up to a cab driver is a great thing – they can become awesome tour guides. In cities, however, we are going to follow your example to the letter. Had never thought twice about keeping all of our belonging with us. We usually just keep our daypacks with us – holding the unreplaceable things. Never again thanks to this article!
Great tips here. I think another one is to be familiar with the rates before you get to the country. I think a lot of people come to a country clueless on that and only learn the hard way. I love the stories of your personal experience that you interwove throughout the post.
ah, rob me gently… LOL!
I loved that line!
I once got into a taxi in Mumbai and asked the driver to take me to the street market; he dropped me off in front of his friend’s store instead… Extravagant sarees on display, but not what I asked for! Haha