Tips for Better Bargaining When Overseas

People shop at the Grand Bazar in Istanbul, Turkey, one of the largest covered markets in the world.
People shop at the Grand Bazar in Istanbul, Turkey, one of the largest covered markets in the world. (Wikimedia)

In the U.S. we’re not as used to it, but in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Southern Europe, Latin America, and other parts of the world, bargaining is an expected part of the buying and selling process. While we usually think of a price tag as noting the amount we are actually supposed to pay for an item, others see it merely as a starting point in an artful negotiation.

So, when traveling to one of the many places where bargaining is the norm and haggling is considered a high art, here are some tips to sharpen your skills:

  1. Figure out if you’re in a place where people bargain. If you’re at the Grand Bazar in Turkey, you know you’re in the right place. But, what if you’re in an open market in Northern France? Before you act, look to see what other people are doing. If they’re bargaining, then go to it!
  2. Learn what the local customers pay for items. You can do this simply by asking them. At bazars and places, prices often aren’t posted. This sometimes means that a double standard is at work. Locals pay one price for items, and Americans and other tourists pay another. When you know what a local has paid for an item, you can use that information as leverage to get a vendor to lower his or her price.
  3. Figure out how much you are really willing to pay, before you begin to haggle. This clarifies your thinking immeasurably. If your bargaining doesn’t get you close to that amount, then simply walk away. More than likely, the merchant will yell one last price at you, and that will probably be the best one you will get. If it’s still not good enough, then keep walking.
  4. Keep a poker face. As in games of chance, don’t give your hand away. Merchants are excellent at detecting enthusiasm for an item, and they assume that all American tourists are rich. So, be cool.
  5. Play “Good Cop, Bad Cop.” One strategy some travel experts suggest is to role-play with a travel companion. You want to buy an item, but your companion constantly frets about the shrinking travel budget and your exorbitant spending. This ploy can often get the merchant to lower a price more quickly.
  6. Do your homework. If you’re interested in getting a high-quality item for a good price at a certain destination, do some research before you travel. When you’re ready to shop, you’ll have a specific price in mind. You’ll probably impress the merchant with your knowledge of the going prices locally, too, which never hurts.
  7. Respect the rules of bargaining. Yes, there are rules. One is not to hurry; bargaining is often seen as a process to be savored. And bid with care. If either you or the merchant accepts a price, the deal is done. There is no going back. You need to pay for the item then and there.

If you want to get some additional ideas on bargaining while traveling abroad, here are a couple of interesting articles to look at. One is How and When to Bargain Abroad on the site, gooverseas.com.

And, while we’re sharing tips, do you have any that you’d like to pass along to us? If so, we’d love to hear. Just post a comment at the end of this blog.