Bargaining In a Foreign Country
In most countries outside of the US and Canada, bargaining is the way of life. If you’re planning any sort of budget conscience long-term travel, it must become yours too. We, as North Americans, are at a great disadvantage to this shopping concept. Seldomly do we negotiate any types of trade or transactions on a regular basis. Most people even hate the idea of car shopping; not wanting to go back and forth in making a deal. But in order to make the most of your world travel, you must learn, practice and get comfortable with the art of bargaining in a foreign country.
Few Things to Keep in Mind
First few things to keep in mind are that locals will think Americans are wealthy, almost everything is negotiable and most importantly, you have to change your mind frame to think in local terms. Being a ‘born and bread American’ I sometimes forget this point.
A good example of the first two points actually happened this afternoon while Rob and I were out for lunch on the Nile.
Rob immediately agreed to order the grilled chicken entree described by the waiter for 65 Egyptians pounds with no thought to first bargaining. What can we say? We come from a place of set prices. The waiter continued to describe their mixed grille plate, which came with Shish Tawouk, Lamb Kabobs and Beef Kabobs for 85 Egyptians pounds. Instead of agreeing right away, I told him I wanted the mix grille plate with rice and a side of veggies for 45 pounds. We agreed to 60 Egyptians pounds. My plate obviously came out to be much larger than Robs (I was nice and shared) but for lower the price. In hindsight, we should have negotiated from the beginning before we even ordered our afternoon tea and sheesha (didn’t see those prices til the bill came).
Second step is to shop around to get a feel for the price. This can be a little of an annoyance for smaller items such as scarfs, selfie sticks, shoes, sweaters and other miscellaneous items. But again, bargaining is the world were traveling in. Shopping around and keeping an eye open on prices will help you gaze the going rate for things.
Shop around even if you’re not interested in actually buying anything. Practice bargaining with a shop owner here and there and see how low they’ll go. You don’t have to buy anything just because you’re taking a look around and striking up negotiations. This will help when the time comes when you do actually want to purchase. Now you have a feel for the going rate for different items and hopefully, figured out that the initial quoted prices are usually double and triple the price the shop owner intents to actually land on.
Since I mentioned selfie sticks, I actually overpaid by twice as much from a shop in Rome for one. I didn’t shop around and only later saw the going rate of this nonessential at a pharmacy a few days later. Oops. So back to point one, no matter how big or small, everything is negotiable when bargaining in a foreign country.
Change Your Mind Frame
This goes with the second point mentioned above about shopping around (that’s what locals do for everyday produce, clothes, household items, etc) as well as, most importantly, when in the act of bargaining itself. A lot of times when traveling abroad to a country with weaker currency, the salesman will either convert the price to USD or will use the argument that this cost nothing to you because of the high dollar value. Do not get trapped by this. You are not in America, shopping American products. You are in Southeast Asia/Central America/X Country.
Yes, 100 Thai baht is only $3 USD to us, but to them – 100 Thai baht is still a LOT. So don’t ever bargain in your home currency or even try to figure out how much it is in your home currency. Wipe out your home currency from your mind – forget about it – and learn the value of the local currency. How much does things cost relative to other items in that country. Think in terms of local measures and negotiate and bargain in local currency ONLY.
Don’t Be Rushed or In A Rush
Next key is to not be rushed and agree to services without first checking and agreeing to a price. Don’t just rush into a tut-tut and expect to be able to bargain once on board. Inquire the price first, bargain then confirm.
Confirm the Terms
Confirm the terms to make sure you both understand what you’re getting. This is particularly true for hired services – where they may make it seem like it was a language barrier that was the cause of disappointment. I’ve gotten into situations where after bargaining and coming to an agreed price, and after the service was rendered, they changed the terms to state the price was per person instead of total. You have to be kidding me.
Other times, I agreed to services to be taken to a high view point of an attraction, only to be taken to one that wasn’t exactly what I was talking about. Now you’re left disappointed with half the experience and now face a more-than-ever eager salesman wanting to up-sell for the “other” ride/tour/service. You don’t want to have to go through the bargaining process again; especially after you thought you already came to terms with the agreement. When bargaining in a foreign country, agree to all the terms, the exact service, duration and location upfront along with the price.
Strategy of Walking Away
Lastly, be prepared to walk away. Don’t appear overly interested to make the deal. If you can manage, try to appear indifferent. Yes, you do want to purchase the item or service, but you can go without. If you can’t seem to settle on a price that you are comfortable with, simply say thank you and walk away. You can always find what you’re looking for from somebody else or from a shop around the corner. Shop around, bargain with different people to see what the going rate is and shop around some more.
Some countries such as Egypt, where I’m currently traveling, people do not give an inch in their quoted price when bargaining with foreigners until you actually walk away. Don’t worry, they will come chasing you with much better prices and a willingness to lower their previous strong stance.