8 common expat travel scams and how to avoid them

31 December 2020

It is during this time, before you know your way around or are familiar with local customs, that you are most likely to fall victim to a travel scam. Travel scams happen in almost every country around the world and tourists or new expats are more likely than locals to be the target. 

We have researched and compiled a list of some of the most common scams perpetrated on naive expats. It’s worth taking some time to read through the list so you don’t fall victim to one of these ruses and lose money or valuables:

If you are not careful, it is possible to be scammed before you even reach your accommodation. Taxi or tuk-tuk scams are one of the most common ways for new expats to be taken advantage of. Particularly, if you are going to arrive in your new destination tired and jet lagged. Avoiding the lengthy taxi rank queue and grabbing one of the unlicensed cabs nearby may seem like a good idea but it is likely to be one you’ll regret if they demand twice the expected fare when you arrive at your destination. Other typical scams include taking you the longest route, claiming their meter is broken or bringing you to restaurants or shops they may have a deal with en route to your destination. 

How to avoid: arrange transport from the airport in advance with a reputable company. When you do need to use taxi services, always use a licensed taxi or hail from an official rank. Where possible agree the route and use Google maps on your phone if you suspect the driver is not taking the most direct option. If you are using tuk-tuk drivers ask your accommodation, apartment concierge or tourist information for recommendations. 

Someone may try to push a flower or bracelet onto you but if you take it you discover there is a cost. Or something may be spilled on your clothes and it is only after you walk away from the situation you realise your wallet or phone is gone.

Distraction scams come in many different formats but no matter the ruse, the end result is the same to either extort or steal money or valuables from you while you are in a vulnerable situation.

How to avoid: don’t accept anything from anyone on the street. Always be mindful of your possessions. Be aware of your surroundings, avoid wearing earphones and don’t leave valuables on tables or chairs in restaurants. 

In recent years card skimming has become more prevalent, particularly in Europe. It involves fraudsters placing a device on a cash machine that will copy your card’s details. Also be cautious if your card gets stuck, particularly if a ‘good Samaritan’ arrives on the scene quickly. Fraudsters may have tampered with the machine, but they will suggest entering your pin again to retrieve your card. When that doesn’t work and you leave the scene they may take your card and use it. 

How to avoid: always inspect the ATM machine for anything that looks loose or damaged or like it shouldn’t be there. If you are suspicious, walk away and find another ATM. Where possible use an ATM at or inside a bank, they are more likely to be monitored by CCTV.    

Although the move to plastic has made this scam more challenging. If you are paying for something in cash, always check your change carefully particularly early on when you may not be familiar with differences in notes. Although it happens accidentally sometimes, there may be something more sinister afoot if you are returned a smaller note than you are due.  

Another area to be cautious about is changing cash into local currency. Some legitimate exchange businesses may advertise that they do not take commission but what they fail to leave out is their exchange rates are much higher than the norm.

How to avoid: familiarise yourself with the bank notes in the country you are travelling to and check your change before you walk away from a cashier. If you want to exchange currency, a bank is the best option. 

Thinking about visiting a bordering country for a weekend or a holiday? You may be aware that you need to pay for a tourist visa but when you arrive at the border crossing you are approached by an official looking person offering to process your visa. Sometimes they may also offer to bring you to a nearby town or city to sweeten the deal and it is only when you speak to other visitors that you realise you were charged far too much.

How to avoid: get your visa at the official border office and research the visa fee in advance so you know what you can expect to pay.

Sometimes used in tandem with a visa scam, fake police often ask for your ID and issue you with a fine which has to be paid on the spot. Or they ask for money to give you your ID back. Sometimes they will have a uniform or they may claim to be ‘plain clothes police’. 

How to avoid: real police may ask to see your ID but they will not usually take it from you. Ask to see their ID. If there is a fine, agree to go to the police station to pay. This will often be enough to deter a scammer. 

Street games are one of the most well-known tourist scams in the world. It looks easy, pick the right card, the cup with the ball under it or some other simple task. It’s rigged and the house will always win.

How to avoid: avoid gambling on the street, no matter how tempting it may be on a fun night out or while exploring a new city. Not only will you lose but it may also be illegal.

Timeshares or holiday properties with divided form of ownership are sometimes sold to expats as a good investment or to provide them with somewhere to go on holiday. Be cautious if you are considering an investment like this. Timeshare holiday memberships can be sold by fraudulent tour companies. A recent example in Dubai saw hundreds of expats lose their investments.

How to avoid: be conscious about investing in timeshares. If you do want to invest in property, consult a financial expert for advice on the best course of action. 


These are just some of the ways you may be parted from your hard-earned money. The best advice is to be vigilant and most of all, if anything seems too good to be true...it probably is.


If you are moving to a new destination with your family, our safety tips for expat families will help protect you and your children while you get to know your new home.

If you are concerned about your security or that of your family while you are living overseas expat travel security services can be accessed with some of our international health insurance plans.