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One of the biggest annoyances for foreigners from higher-income countries settled here in Colombia is the constant risk of being charged the ‘gringo tax’.
Basically, there’s a belief, not without foundation in some cases, that we have more money and greater access to resources than the locals, thus it’s fine to charge us more when the opportunity arises.
Going loco with Localiza
This plays out in many different ways across a range of sectors. However, in my own experience, I find it happens more so in smaller, family-run type businesses than in bigger companies. This is not to say, though, that those larger operators are more honest — it’s just a reflection of where the majority of my interactions occur.
A friend’s recent experience with an apparently “reputable” car hire company suggests the “big boys” will also try to extract as much as they can from you if they feel they can get away with it. Of course, this is not exclusive to Colombia, it happens the world over. Nonetheless, I tend to find that the culture here means there is, unfortunately, little pushback against such practices.
It’s why I feel the need to share my friend’s woes with the aptly named Localiza (my emphasis, but perhaps they’ll consider it in future marketing campaigns — always here to help, guys). A buyer, nay renter, beware cautionary tale.
On hiring a car from the company for a few days, the employee who delivered it to him wrote down on the receipt that the return time was between 15:00 and 16:00, and not the official 14:00 owing to the time of day he was receiving it (see photo above). So it was to my friend’s unpleasant surprise that when he dropped back the car around 15:00, he was told he was an hour late and would be charged accordingly.
‘There’s a general rule in Colombia that if you feel you’ve been hard done by, the last thing you should do is get angry with the source of your ire.’
He argued the point all the way to the office, leaving the car parked up without doing a final check with Localiza staff (never a wise move). He was then told there was a scratch on the windscreen which happened under his watch. My friend says it was there the day he picked up the car but because it was so minor (see below) he let it go.
The company charged him 1,400,000 COP — about 310 euros — for that defect. Following the lodging of an official complaint, Localiza has agreed to give back 600,000 COP of that fine, inside the next 30 to 60 days. No rush, lads.
A lost cause
A cynic might say that because he protested over the return-hour discrepancy — this set him back a mere 16,000 COP (3.50 euros) but it was the principle of it that annoyed him — Localiza staff decided to ‘go after the cheeky gringo’ for much more. (There’s a general rule in Colombia that if you feel you’ve been hard done by, the last thing you should do is get angry with the source of your ire. Try, as difficult as it might be, to play it cool, even bring humour into it, and you might get a more satisfactory result.)
Whatever the case, considering how the company behaved over the return time, one can’t rule anything in or out over the windscreen scratch debacle. Also, that they’ve now decided to refund almost half of what they charged for that damage, it appears they were more than covering any potential additional costs on their part.
The whole episode is an apt reminder to always be on your guard when entering into a lease or sale. This is even more so the case in these straitened times.
One can never be too careful on such matters, especially as a foreigner who may be out of his/her comfort zone and ripe for the picking. Caveat emptor indeed.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.