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What is Grease Money?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Grease money is money that is paid to an official to facilitate the rapid processing of bureaucratic paperwork. Such a payment is known as a grease or facilitating payment, and the legality of such payments varies, depending on the laws that govern the activities of the official and the person or company offering the payment. Some people consider these payments to be a form of bribery, since they involve offering money to a public official with an expectation of a result, while others argue that they are only used to expedite a task that will be performed anyway, whether or not funds are offered. As such, it is simply a cost of doing business in some parts of the world.

As a general rule, grease money is offered to an official to speed the process of what is known as a “nondiscretionary task.” In other words, the task will be performed eventually, because it is part of the official's job description, but the process could be dragged out over a period of weeks or even months. The payment is offered to rush the process through.

Grease payments are most common in the developing world, where public officials are often paid minimal salaries, forcing them to rely on this money to make a living. In a classic example, someone who wants a travel visa might offer a sum higher than the typical visa application fee to rush the application through, ensuring that it will be ready in time for the trip. Such payments are also used to get things through customs and for a variety of other bureaucratic tasks.

In some countries, companies are specifically banned from offering grease money, whether at home or overseas. In other regions, these payments are considered acceptable, and they may even be tax deductible, as a business expense. Taking this action can be a very slippery slope, however, and it is easy to cross the line into bribery, given the nature of such payments.

Opponents of grease money argue that it promotes unfair competition, as people and companies without excess funds cannot offer payments, and they may find themselves unable to accomplish basic bureaucratic tasks in some regions of the world as a result. Such payments also promote questionable business practices, making it easier for unscrupulous individuals to cross the line into more dodgy dealings. Demands for money can also ultimately hurt a country by driving off foreign investors who frown on such practices.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By candyquilt — On Aug 13, 2011

I think the hardest part about dealing with this issue is finding out about it. Mostly, it is done in secret and both the giving and receiving end are okay with it. That makes it really hard for authorities to find out and try people for bribery and corruption because it will be hard to prove it.

I also don't understand how grease money can be seen as "normal" or "acceptable." If it was normal, we wouldn't even be discussing it. It's clearly out of the ordinary and unfair to people who can't afford it or don't want to give it.

I know of an NGO in India that is trying to fight against grease money there by getting people to give out paper monies instead of real money to get their government work done. The paper money has written on it "I refuse to bribe." It's actually a growing movement and I think it's great!

By fify — On Aug 13, 2011

A friend of mine just came back from Afghanistan and he says that giving grease money is normally how things run there.

It's a little bit different than what the article described. Apparently, not giving grease money doesn't mean that your job will take a few more weeks or months time. It means it will take years or maybe not get done at all. But there's actually nothing preventing people from doing it, other than the fact that they expect grease money but didn't get it. He said that some officials wouldn't even sign a document until getting grease money.

The interesting part is that, in Afghan culture, grease money is not bribery. It is seen more as a service fee and is expected from everyone. It's not uncommon to give gifts and other things in place of grease money as well.

Americans and other foreigners who want to work or do business in Afghanistan appear to be having a lot of problems with this system. But it is so embedded in the society, that the only way to work there is to accept it and do it.

By serenesurface — On Aug 12, 2011

I agree that the line between grease money and bribery can be thin. It really depends on the rules and customs and also what you are trying to achieve.

In developing and developed countries, I know that for example there are various options for having a passport issued or renewed. If you pay a higher fee, you can receive it in a much shorter time frame. This is not considered bribery because there are rules and regulations that allow this. It's basically more options.

When there are not official rules and regulations about paying extra fees to get something done, then it is generally considered bribery.

I think it's acceptable for grease money to be given in some situations but unfair in others. It really depends on the situation.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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