We’ve all heard boastful tales from seasoned travellers about walking away from a busy market stall with armfuls of authentic souvenirs, for a fraction of their stated price. Bartering and negotiating over items is much more commonplace in almost every country outside the UK, and so occasionally us Brits are reluctant to quibble on price – but it’s gotta be worth a go, right?
Haggling is not only a great way to spend less for more when abroad, it is also key when getting to grips with local culture, and getting to know the locals themselves. We’ve put together a handy guide to haggling in some of the most popular holiday hotspots around the world, to help you bag a bargain that even David Dickinson would be envious of!
Haggling in Singapore
Haggling in Singapore is a somewhat more subtle process than in most of Southeast Asia – a delicate dance well worth learning. Although this tiny country is well known for its glittering malls, in which haggling over designer goods is a rare sight, areas like Chinatown and Little India are bursting with bargaining opportunities.
- The best places to try haggling: Tekka Market, Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza, Little India, antique shops at Tanglin Shopping Centre, Arab Street and Chinatown. If you’re in the market for electricals, or buying a number of items, asking for a discounted price in department stores is also acceptable.
- Singapore is a comparatively expensive country, and so a good rule to ascertain the value of an item you have your eye on, is to consider how much you’d be willing to pay for it back home. This should be your maximum value.
- Simply ask the vendor ‘how much?’
- Start by knocking offaround 40% of his/her asking price as an opening offer. Now the haggling begins.
- The key to bargaining in Singapore is to maintain a respectful and polite demeanour. Vendors here are a lot more honest about the value of their products than you may find elsewhere.
- Take your lead from the vendor – the cheeky wheeler-dealer act probably won’t go down too well!
Killer move: If at all possible, try and buy more than one item from a vendor, as this will give you a lot of leverage to ask for a larger discount (it could even end up being even less that you would have paid for one item).
Haggling in Peru
With such a large amount of daily shopping done at local markets, haggling over the best price of an item is part of everyday life in Peruvian culture. Because of this, you’ll need to have your wits and sharpest bargaining skills about you when shopping in any Peruvian town.
- The best places to try haggling: Any craft and food markets in cities like Lima, Cusco, Arequipa and Ica.
- Due to the nature of Peruvian haggling, stallholders will rarely have prices on their items. Get a starting offer by simply asking ‘¿cuánto cuesta?’ Try asking this for a few different items – if the vendor sees you are interested in just one, it puts them at an advantage.
- This is where you should be extra savvy – monitor the vendor’s reaction to your question. If he/she thinks about the price, it means he/she is not used to selling it, and so you have greater room for negotiation. If the answer is more instant, it is likely to be more genuine.
- If the price you are offered seems reasonable and genuine, try knocking off about 25% and offering that. If you suspect you’re being quoted a so-called ‘gringo price’, deduct 50-60% and haggle from there.
- As bartering is part of daily life in Peru, stallholders will be glad to haggle, and the whole process is seen as a friendly, lighthearted game. Try to maintain a sense of humour and a smile throughout – this will endear you to the vendor! However, if you are haggling in a smaller village or at a stall by the side of the road, a less boisterous approach will be appreciated.
Killer move: If you reach an impasse, try saying ‘no tengo dinero’. This literally translates as ‘I don’t have money’, but the vendor will understand that you have reached your maximum offer. Attempting to barter, however little, in the Peruvian national language will sweeten the deal.
Haggling in Rome
European capitals are not automatically associated with haggling or bartering, but in the most popular tourist areas, stallholders are used to getting more than they should for their wares and Rome is no exception. With countless antique, food and flea markets to explore, negotiating over prices is a savvy move that is sure to pay off!
- The best places to try haggling: Porta Portese, Mercato delle Stampe, Lungotevere Castello and Via Sannio Flea Market.
- You are likely to find stalls in Roman markets selling objects that have marked prices. An important thing to note is that prices are denoted with commas and stops used in the opposite way to what you’re used to, e.g. £1,00 instead of £1.00 or £1.000 rather than £1,000.
- If the price is not stated, ask the stallholder ‘quanto?’
- As much as you might be tempted, don’t buy from the first stall you see. In most markets, there will be multiple stalls selling the same things, so shop around a little, and get a rough idea of the value of the item you want to buy.
- When you settle on the stall to buy from, try knocking off around 30-40% of the marked price. The stallholder will be keen to haggle with you, as many are not used to the back-and-forth interaction with tourists (many just pay the marked price).
Killer move: If you get stuck when haggling, walk away from the stall and return an hour or so later. You are more than likely to find the price has fallen significantly!
Haggling in Tenerife
The Canaries are perennially popular with tourists, and some of market stallholders, shopkeepers and craftspeople of the Canary Islands are used to getting a lot more from visitors they would from local people. Whilst bartering in supermarkets and chain stores is not commonplace, in smaller, independent shops and markets it is encouraged and a lot of fun!
- The best places to try haggling: Torviscas Market and Los Cristianos, as well as any knick-knack or antique shops.
- Stallholders and vendors won’t always be used to haggling from holidaymakers, and so if you ask ‘how much?’ use his/her hesitation to your advantage.
- Use shock value to manoeuvre, and knock off about 65% of the asking price. When it comes to negotiating over prices in Tenerife, silence is often your most powerful tool. If you seem to be considering and distracted, the vendor will work even harder to get your business.
- As well as this, playing down the item you are interested in will work wonders – if you point out any ‘flaws’ you might find it has, you’re in a much better position to agree on a lower price for it.
Killer move: Hesitate after you are offered a price. The longer you can stay silent, the more tension will be created and then vendor may well crack first.
Haggling in Sri Lanka
Stallholders and vendors in Sri Lanka see haggling and bartering as a social interaction, and love to really get into the game of ‘bluff and counter bluff’. The majority of goods are sold at markets, but haggling is also acceptable in most shops (although shops may have price labels). Above all, enjoy the bargaining process – you may even make a few new friends whilst doing so.
- Best places to try haggling: Colombo Flea Market, Pettah, Jaffna Market and The Good Market in Colombo.
- If not immediately obvious, begin by asking ‘kopamaṇa da?’ Which is Sinhala for ‘how much?’
- Vendors in Sri Lanka will often begin the game of haggling by offering a ridiculously high price. If you suspect this is the case, the best way to proceed is to counter it with an equally outlandishly low offer. Think 75% off the asking price.
- In some cases, particularly if you are haggling in a shop, you might be offered tea and snacks by the vendor. This is all part of the social aspect of haggling, and does not place you under any obligation to accept a higher offer than you’d like or even purchase at all – just enjoy the experience!
- It is also common for stallholders to pretend that selling the item to you at a low price will mean he/she is unable to feed their family, and that they would be practically ‘giving it away’. Take this with a large pinch of salt. It is all done in good humour and the seller will never sell something at a loss.
- Just as it does in many other countries, playing down your interest in the item you want to buy works wonders for dropping the price.
Killer move: Try laughing at the vendors suggested price, but don’t be derogatory. Act as though their offer sounds wildly high to you, but that you are keen to play the haggling game!
Haggling in Bangkok
Thailand’s vibrant markets and stalls are known the world over, and none are more bustling, bright and full of bargains than those of Bangkok. Haggling here is not only par-for-the-course, it’s essential if you don’t want to end up paying a whole lot more than you should. Malls in Thailand are also not unused to a bit of bargaining over prices!
- Best places to try haggling: Khao San Road, Silom, Chatuchak Market, Nana BTS Station stalls, Klongsan Market, Bangkok Farmers’ Market and any informal looking shop.
- A great tip for shopping in Thailand is, where possible, to go early in the morning. Vendors believe that the first sale of the day is lucky, and will be keener than at any other kind of day to seal the deal.
- Rather than asking the vendor how much they want for a certain item, try telling them how much you are willing to pay for it first. This will set the tone, and let them see you are serious about haggling.
- After you have made your suggestion, the stallholder will counter it with a much higher one. Your next offer should be about 50% off their counter.
- If buying multiple items, try asking ‘lot noi, dai mai?’ which means ‘can you discount?’
- When bargaining in Thailand, be a little more discreet than you may be in other countries. Thai stallholders are less appreciative than most of you revealing potential price-cuts to your fellow shoppers.
- If you’re really serious about bartering your way to a real bargain, have a calculator to hand. Using it to make your offers will show the stallholder that you are being thorough and exact, and means he/she will be less likely to try and confuse you with ‘exchange rate’ talk.
Killer move: Have the maximum amount of cash you are willing to pay for the item counted out before you start bartering. Then, if you reach an impasse, show it to the vendor – often seeing the cash in reality is enough to clinch the sale.
Haggling in Goa
A mecca for multi-coloured mishmashes of stalls, trinkets and curio, Goa is the perfect place to give haggling a go. Stallholders will rarely expect you to pay the asking price for an item straight away, and relish a bit of spirited banter and boisterous back-and-forth.
- The best places to try haggling: Mapusa Market, Anjuna Flea Market, Calangute Market Square, Arpora Saturday Night Bazaar, Mackie’s Night Bazaar and Margao.
- Knowing a few phrases in Konkani (the language spoken in Goa) is an incredibly useful tool. The vendors will immediately hold you in higher esteem, and therefore will be less likely to take advantage.
- When you notice an item on a Goan stall that takes your fancy, begin by asking the stallholder ‘kit ke jaale?’ (how much?) Other phrases like ‘khup saangta tu’ (the price is too high) and ‘naaka’ (no thanks) are also very useful.
- Your starting offer should be about 50% off the vendor’s stated price.
- Let the stallholder know you’re aware that he/she is trying to cheat you. This will build up a playful rapport and level the playing field.
Killer move: Walk away. If the stallholder is refusing to sell an item to you at your maximum price, try leaving the stall. If he/she follows you, you’ll get your price. If not, you’ll know that they legitimately could not have gone any lower.