One of my first solo trips was to Rome, Italy. I spent my days touring churches, ruins, and museums, but come nightfall, I was always lost somewhere unfamiliar and couldn’t seem to hail a cab back to my hotel to save my life. I kept trying to flag the taxis that whizzed past, but the drivers either completely ignored me or wagged a finger back and forth at me like I was doing something wrong.
As it turns out, I was doing something wrong—in Italy, drivers aren’t allowed to pick up passengers on the street. As an Italian friend later explained to me, in Italy you’ve got two choices: head to labeled taxi ranks or call and wait for a ride. Oops. If I’d known, I would’ve walked into a restaurant and had someone order me a cab, but instead, I trekked all the way back to my hotel on tired feet, night after night.
It just goes to show that wherever you’ve landed, getting a cab may not be as straightforward as you imagine, even if you’re a pro hailing from a big city. Here are some surprising ways that locals flag down taxis in destinations around the world.
Point to the ground
In Cuenca, when you see one of the city’s yellow taxis driving in your direction, stretch out your arm and point toward the ground. If the driver doesn’t stop, he’s busy or off-duty. Be sure to check that the cab’s got the standard rates advertised on the door, and pop your head inside to see that there’s actually a meter, although many drivers will try not to use them.
In bigger cities like Guayaquil, Manta, Portoviejo, and Quito, for safety reasons you should hightail it to a hotel or restaurant and have the front desk call a registered radio taxi for you—or, upload the Easy Taxi app and hail one from there.
Shout your destination
Instead of walking all the way back to your hotel from the Acropolis, you can yell out your destination to taxis rushing by. If your stop is on the way, drivers may even pick you up for a shared ride. Just don’t use the open-palm stop signal to hail a cab—this is a not-so-nice gesture in Greece.
Another option? Order your cab using the Taxibeat app—it includes info about the vehicle, the driver, and what languages the driver speaks.
Seoul, South Korea
To wave a cab over in Seoul, stick out your hand, palm down and move your hand toward you in a sort of reverse shooing motion. Don’t bother waving at cabs with the green light on—in Seoul, red lights mean a taxi’s available for hire.
On a budget? Don’t hire a black cab. Regularly priced taxis are silver, orange, and white. “Deluxe” black taxis cost twice as much. Always get in on the passenger side—the driver-side doors (front and back) are usually locked.
Call ahead for a lower fare
Unlike in many places around the world, in Warsaw, calling ahead won’t cost you extra. Here, calling ahead is 30 percent cheaper than hailing a spur-of-the-moment ride.
Another important tip? Mermaids are your friends. In Warsaw, all official cabs have sirens of the sea on their front doors—they’re an official symbol of the city. In the front window, there should also be a hologram with license and registration number.
Stick to tourist taxis
While many different kinds of cabs circle Havana’s streets, only some can legally transport visitors, which is why it’s important to choose carefully. Sure, drivers who are legally limited to local clientele will take on tourists sometimes, but they’re also likely to kick you out in a hurry if they spot any authorities hovering nearby.
Sadly, the cheapest (and greenest) way to get around town, a bici-taxi, a rickshaw of sorts, is off-limits to tourists. The city’s moped “coconut” taxis come in two versions—yellow for tourists and black for locals. Want to ride around in one of Cuba’s classic cars and meet lots of locals? Hop in one of the city’s taxis colectivos—just be sure to tell the driver where you’re headed first, as these cars tend to follow a set route around town.
Hold out your hand to be kissed
The best way to hail a cab on the street in the Mongolian capital is by holding out your hand as if you’re a queen extending your arm to let an admirer kiss your hand (palm and fingers down). That said, this gesture will attract official and unofficial taxis, as many locals pick up riders for extra cash on their daily commutes.
After dark, you’re best off arranging a car ahead of time; whatever the time of day, locals will tell you never to accept a ride in a car with two or more men.
Smile and ask nicely
Unsurprisingly, in the Land of a Thousand Smiles, it’s important to smile at the driver. It’s polite to ask if the driver will take your fare through the rear door before trying to get in.
It’s also important to note that here, as in Seoul, locals “beckon” cabs over with palms down. Why? Because the standard Western palm-up “come here” gesture is considered aggressive and rude—not to mention an invitation to fight.
A Few Tips on Hailing a Cab Anywhere
Only hail official cabs. Before you go, learn how to spot registered taxis at your destination, and don’t get in a vehicle that doesn’t fit that description.
Get away from touristy areas. Walk a few blocks from whatever attraction you’re visiting, and then look for a taxi. Whatever you do, don’t get into a car with anyone loitering around hotels and major tourist sites—they’re either waiting for someone who called ahead and you’re stealing someone else’s cab, or worse, you’re about to get taken for an expensive ride.
When in doubt, head to the ranks. If you’re not sure about getting a ride from a random driver on the street, don’t. Head to taxi stops or ranks, have a hotel or restaurant call you a registered taxi, or use whatever taxi apps the locals use.
Know how to spot an available taxi. Want to save yourself a lot of stress? Get familiar with how local cabs signal their availability. For example, in London, the “taxi” light on top should be on, and in Tokyo, Bangkok, and Seoul, a green light means a cab is occupied, whereas a red light means it’s free.