A Criminal in the Czech Republic
I was warned before going to the Czech Republic that the police were corrupt. That they often tried to extort money out of people. No matter, I thought, that will not apply to me as there is no reason at all I would interact with the cops. Well, the cops found me and I had no choice in the matter.
I had booked a day trip to Cesky Krumlov through Viator, and was excited to go see this picturesque medieval town. The pictures I saw from other people were beautiful. I also like to take a day trip/tour out of town like this when I’m in a big city so I can see the “real life” outside of the city. NYC isn’t representative of how most Americans live, and assuming the same goes for the rest of the world, I want to see what it’s like out there.
I met up with the tour at 9am at a populous square near the mall. Fourteen of us boarded the small bus with a driver and a guide and set off on the 2.5-hour drive to Cesky Krumlov.
Stopped by Highway Police
We were promised a stop halfway there, so when the bus pulled over somewhere after about 45 minutes, I assumed it was break time. Not so. Police boarded the bus and were were told that everyone needed to show their passport. Keep in mind:
- We were not leaving the country at all or even approaching a border at the time of the stop
- There were no instructions at all on the website to bring a passport
As a good, responsible traveler, my passport was locked up in the hotel safe. I was carrying both a photocopy and a photograph of my passport.
At this point I was not worried at all. I don’t have my passport. No one told me to bring it. This can’t be a big deal, what are they going to do?
Well, everyone who didn’t have a passport was marched on out of the bus and told that because we didn’t have proper ID, we had to pay a fine, immediately, to the police. WHAT??
I gave them my US drivers license and they said “It doesn’t say USA on it so it’s not valid.” I showed both my passport copy and my photograph, and the police told me it wasn’t acceptable because I could have forged it. But what they really meant was “If we accept your photocopy, we can’t charge you the fine, and that’s what we really want.”
Side note: Here’s an interesting discussion on ricksteves.com of this happening to tourists on a train.
Everyone else in my position meekly handed over their fine money. It was approximately $15 US, and I think this was on purpose. It’s small enough that tourists will have it on them and not egregious enough for them to throw a fit (except for me because I’m angry on principle), and if they stop enough people during the day, that’s a tidy sum of money. They also tell you that they’re charging you the minimum fine, instead of the maximum of $1000, as if you should feel some relief that you are paying “only” the lowest fine.
Is this legal? From what I can tell, technically yes. There is a law in the CR that you need to carry ID on you at all times. For citizens of the European Union, this is an ID similar to our drivers license. Tourists of course don’t have this, and it’s unlikely they would know about this. Keep in mind, in the US we have no law that requires us to carry ID. If you forget your drivers license, it might be an inconvenience (can’t buy alcohol, oh no!) but you aren’t going to be randomly stopped and fined.
What really makes me angry is the following:
- They are clearly targeting tourists. It’s easy to spot a tourist bus on the highway.
- They are exploiting a Czech law for their own benefit, not for any actual safety purpose
- Tourists are here spending money in their country, and the police are taking advantage of them (us) by extorting ridiculous fines
- This doesn’t happen to Czech locals (Amanda asked a local friend who had never even heard of this)
My gut tells me that the tour company is in on it. When I told the tour guide they needed to have instructions to bring a passport on the website, he belittled me. He told me “everyone knows this! Everyone must carry ID at all times everywhere in every country.” Well, everyone except all the people paying a fine right now. And I had many forms of ID, just not the one that’s a common target for thieves. One of the other guests was concerned because this delay with the police lasted 40 minutes and she didn’t want to lose time. Well, it turns out we were still right on time. It’s almost as if they built in time for our little stop!
I wish in retrospect that I had refused to pay the fine and asked them to give me a ticket that I would pay later. However, I felt a lot of pressure about holding up the group, which I’m sure is part of this scam.
Here’s a google video of some tourists also getting stopped by the highway police who wanted some cash. Shame on you CR.
Well you got my $15 but the joke’s on you Czech Highway Police, because we have like 200 readers and now all those people know what huge dicks you are.