Haggling – Negotiating Prices Abroad

The definition of HAGGLING by the Cambridge Dictionary is: to attempt to decide on a price or conditions that are acceptable to the person selling the goods and the person buying them, usually by arguing.

Usually by arguing…




At one time or another, we have all found ourselves in a position where we had to negotiate a price in the hopes to bring the price down:

  • The purchase of a first house.
  • Buying a new car.
  • Buying sunglasses in Thailand.
  • Getting fruit in Tanzania.
  • Hitching a taxi ride in Peru.

The list goes on…

As travellers, we are targeted by vendors no matter where we go. The moment the seller sees or hears we’re not from the place…BOOM!…there seems to be an immediate inflation touching the exact thing(s) we want to buy, while dollar signs suddenly appear in the vendor’s eyes. We’re about to get screwed.

But why is it like this??? Why can’t we all just get along and not try to rip each other off??? And ultimately, is there anything we can do to help ourselves??? Because at the end, a penny saved is a penny earned right?

So, without much further introduction, here is a list of my best haggling techniques:

Learn Your Numbers

This doesn’t mean becoming a numerology expert, or learning to pronounce each number from zero to infinity. It is rather about recognizing the sounds of numbers from 1 to 10, and from 10 to 100. This makes it easier to fake being an expat living in the place I’m in rather than a tourist, and gives me a tiny bit more cred when negotiating prices.

But I know how to say “how much?

No. Nope. Not enough. While I was in Thailand, I broke my sunglasses and went to buy a new one at a local street market. I notice the realest-looking fakest Puma sunglasses ever, and the exchange with the vendor went something like this:

Me: Tâo rài? (how much?)
Vendor: gibberish

Me again: Kŏr tôht? (excuse me?)
Vendor: different gibberish

Me resignedly: I’m sorry, I don’t speak Thai
Vendor: 400 Baht

I don’t need to be fluent in Thai to know that the first price given to me the first time was different than the second. However knowing the numbers would have made it easier to argue that there was a “sudden” change in price. Ultimately I ended up paying 300 Baht, and even though I knew I was still paying a higher price than these were worth, I still took the 100 Baht I didn’t have to pay as winning the lottery, which leads me to my second haggling technique:

Never EVER Take the First Price

This is a no-brainer, the first price you will be quoted is ALWAYS way higher than the one you should pay. Vendors expect you to negotiate on the price, so you should never ever EVER take the first price quoted to you. Instead do a combination of the following:

Compare prices:

Annoying: yes. Time-consuming: yes. Potential savings: absolutely.
The best way to make sure you are getting a fair(ish) price is to go to the competition and compare prices. Visit a few places and ask for the price of the same or similar product to the one you want. There will always be someone charging less.

Offer 50% of the asking price:

I know…stiff.
50% might sound like a lot (it is) and chances are that you will not get anywhere near 50% discount on the quoted price. But remember, the first rule of negotiation is: If you never ask, you’ll never get.
Take the 50% as a starting point, the vendor is very unlikely to agree to that price anyways and will negotiate your price up. From then on, keep meeting him/her halfway between your last price and theirs until you get to a reasonable price.

Don’t be afraid to walk away:

Yes, walking away from any conversation, let alone a negotiation, is rude. But it could prove to be a crucial decision if you have given your highest price and the vendor just won’t budge any further.

While buying souvenirs in India, I came across a store where the vendor spoke little English and communicated using a calculator.

As I try to buy something, she enters 600 on it and passes me the calculator. I enter 250.

She takes the calculator away from me, and enters 500, to which I reply on the calculator with a bold 300.

As I tell her that I won’t pay one more Rupee, she kept negotiating, so suddenly I say “no, it’s fine, thank you”, and walk away. I then went to the stall besides and bought something small. As I walked past by the first store, I suddenly heard someone running after me. As I turned around in a panic, all I heard was “OK OK, 300!!!!!”.

Walking away is a bold move, and you have to be ready for the possibility of leaving without what you want, or at least paying a higher price than you were originally willing to pay. But the number of times this has worked for me makes it still a worthwhile technique I use and recommend.

Ask Locals for the Price You Should Pay

There is nothing like a local to steer you in the right direction. Whether you are lost, or simply want a recommendation on a place to go, the advice of locals is second-to-none when it comes to advice on the city you are at.

The same goes for knowing the price you should pay for something.

Taxi rides  in Peru

Taxis are not metered in Peru, and the price is set between you and the driver before you enter the car. The fare depends on the distance to cover, the time of day and traffic. Needless to say, if you’re unfamiliar with the area and the concept, especially in cities with large distances like in Lima, you may be overcharged.

Before looking for a cab, I always make a point of asking a local person for an idea of the price I should pay between X and X point, and this becomes my negotiating point. I would not go into a taxi that charges me quite a higher price than this, as my negotiating price would become quite hard to reach as I am probably getting screwed to begin with.

Buying fruit in Tanzania

While in Tanzania I tried to purchase fresh fruits from street vendors at local markets as much as possible. Not knowing how much to pay and not wanting to be overcharged, I would sometimes wait for somebody to purchase what I wanted to buy and ask them for the price they paid.

The number of times I was quoted twice this price is unbelievable, and had I not known the fair price for what I wanted, I would have probably ended up paying the price I was given.

Last Words of Wisdom

Haggling, or negotiating, should not be about getting the lowest price at the expense of the vendors. We should always remember that, like all of us, these are hard working people who are also trying to make ends meet, and selling their products is, for many of them, their only source of income.

With that said, negotiation should be done with respect in mind, while at the same time making sure we do not overpay and get separated from our hard earned cash.

What are your thoughts on this list? Do you have any other haggling techniques which were not mentioned above? Or do you have any other tested and true methods? Comment!




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