How to choose a taxi safely when you're on holiday

You don’t need to hear Liam Neeson’s dulcet tones in Taken to know that catching a cab on holiday can have its pitfalls. Chances are you’re not at risk of hijackers and kidnappers, but frankly we’re not that interested in being ripped off either. So, from protecting your pocket to staying safe, here’s our advice on how to be streetwise when it comes to getting a classic taxi on holiday (we will talk about Uber another time)…

  • Get a price upfront. Whether you’ve pre-booked a taxi through a hotel or are catching a cab out and about, ask for the estimated cost upfront rather than waiting to the end of the journey.
  • On that note, wherever possible try to call a taxi ahead of time rather than hailing one. Get the taxi number and/or the name of the driver so you can check you have the right one on arrival.
  • Don’t get into a taxi on your own when you’re drunk. It’s not an ideal scenario either way because we all like to let loose on holiday. However, it’s not unknown for taxi drivers to be working in conjunction with thieves and it’s sadly not unheard of for vulnerable passengers to be attacked. By travelling with a buddy who’s not worse for wear you’re more likely to stay safe. Also, make sure you don’t fall asleep during the ride.
  • A licensed cab should have a metre, a radio and a badge on display. Or at least some combination of those three things. You should always check the door handle works before the taxi sets off. We don’t want to freak you out, because kidnapping is unusual, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • You might be tempted to sit in the front seat of the taxi if you get car sick, but don’t. Sitting in the back makes you less visible to the driver as well as thieves. Keeping the window closed or nearly closed makes it harder to snatch items at traffic lights. If you’re alone, then sitting in the middle also makes you less accessible.
  • Stating the blindingly obvious, try not to flash any expensive items while you’re travelling, especially at traffic lights. That said, keep your phone easily accessible in case of emergency.
  • Having an idea of where you’re going is a good idea and thanks to Google maps, it’s pretty easy to do as long as you know your end destination. Of course, the driver’s local knowledge might mean he takes you a slightly different route and that’s cool. However, if it turns out you’re headed in entirely the wrong direction then you can always ask to stop and get out at an opportune moment.
  • It won’t hurt you to have a little bit of knowledge up your sleeve about local currency. That way you can check any change at the end of a journey to make sure the driver is giving you the right fare and also the right coins. Obviously, most people are doing their best to make an honest living, but some have been known to shortchange unsuspecting travellers with worthless currency.
  • Finally, make sure you know what the local emergency services number is. Chances are you won’t need it, but it’s handy to know it.

Just to be extra thorough, here are a few pointers for getting a taxi in the top most visited countries in the world (excluding the UK)…

United States: Stick out your arm like you mean it to flag a taxi in a US city. There’s no need to yell ‘taxi!’

China: Cash is still king with taxis here. Make sure you’re paying with smaller bills (50 RMB and smaller), many drivers won’t break larger ones.

Italy: Don’t feel the need to tip like you might in other countries; it’s common practice to round up fares in Italy.

Mexico: If you must hail a cab off the street, check that it has actual taxi license plates: numbers are preceded with the letters A or B. Check that the number on them matches the number painted on the bodywork and look for the carta de identificacion, which is a postcard-sized ID that should be displayed inside the cab. Ensure that the driver matches the photo.

Turkey: When flagging a cab, insist on using a metre in taxis. If the driver say it’s broken, get out and find another one. They may well offer a fixed price. Despite what we’ve said before, on this occasion don’t take it as it will likely be a lot more expensive than the metre price.

Germany: Much like anywhere else, the best way to get a taxi in German cities is to find one at a taxi stand at hotels, airports and train stations. If there are none there, you can see if there is a "taxi phone" nearby. These are call boxes that will connect you to the central taxi dispatch office. However, taxis in Germany are expensive and given the amazing public transport, they’re best reserved for when you have loads of luggage.

Thailand: If you think London’s busy you’ve got another thing coming when you head to cities like Bangkok. Hailing a taxi in Thailand can feel impossible, but Uber and Grab make it much easier and mean you don’t have to do the whole haggling thing. FYI tuk-tuks are totally cool to take as part of the tourist experience, but just be aware that you may get beaten up on price. So it’s probably a novelty rather than a general means of transport.

Spain: Spanish taxis are not known for being dodgy, so you can flag them and use them as you might in the UK. It’s good to know however that it’s common to pay a surcharge or a higher per-kilometre rate at night and on Sundays. Given all our warnings, we figured it’s best to give you a head’s up so you don’t think someone’s trying to take the piss.

France: FYI, in France there’s often a small additional fee for a fourth passenger and/or suitcases so factor that in when you’re booking or adding people to your ride last minute.

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Harry Williams

Harry Williams

Product person, design devotee, travel lover.