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12 tips to haggle effectively abroad

There’s no reason why should pay full price when you are travelling or living overseas, just because the haggling might be done in a language you are not fluent in. Here are my 12 hints and tips to help you get a good deal in any language…

A woman's hands holding lots of euro banknotes
Use cash where possible but don’t flash too much of it!

I can still remember the first time I tried to haggle. It was for a poncho in Ecuador. I must have made it obvious that I was desperate to buy it. I was, it was blinking cold, I was freezing, and my Spanish was way too rusty. The vendor wouldn’t budge on the price, she knew all too well that I would succumb, even though I walked away. She was right, I came back, even colder, and bought it at full price. Happily, she threw in a pair of gloves, with a tiny hole, for free. Ah bless her, I must have looked so pitiful.

Do you pay the full price for everything because you feel you can’t haggle in French, Spanish, Mandarin or whatever language it might be? Are you “frozen” and an easy target like I was?

Well, the good news is I’m here to help with 12 tips and hints to help you “defreeze” and strike a good deal!  

If you get it right, you can practice your language skills and, more importantly, learn more about the culture you are living in or visiting. Having said that, I do realise that trying to negotiate on the price of a car in France is – having tried it twice myself – probably going to get you nowhere! But negotiating at a market with another seller who may come from a culture that does haggle could get you a great deal!

1. Find out if bargaining is appropriate

In some cultures, haggling or bargaining just isn’t acceptable.

2. Find out how much it “should” cost

Do some research, ask your neighbours, your landlord, the tourist office, anyone local, so that you can get a handle on the true price (though if you’re in a very poor area, expect to pay more because you have more, so it’s your way of putting a bit extra back into the local economy).

3. Decide before you start what the item is really worth to you

If the rug or trinket is worth $100 or $10 keep that price firmly in your mind while you haggle. Make it your absolute upper limit, that way you will appear confident and in control.

Would it be vital to have or would it just be a happy reminder

4. Does your life depend on the outcome?

Remind yourself that this is not something that your life depends on (if it was you wouldn’t be haggling!), and that you really can walk away from the negotiations, in a polite way. You’ll feel more relaxed with that in mind.

5. Visit first with a local

If you plan to go back to the same market and stalls regularly, try to visit first with a local person who also shops there. The vendors will view you differently if they know you are connected to other locals and will be more likely to accept your bargaining efforts.

6. Offer to pay cash

In haggling terms, cash is always king. If you see the vendor accepts banks cards, let them know you will pay them in cash.

If there are lots of the same items, you’re sure to be able to haggle (Image: Anton Ivanov / Shutterstock.com)

7. Ask for a deal on multiple items

I’m not thinking about supermarket BOGOF deals, but a discount for buying more than one. If you don’t want more than one of the same item, perhaps a friend might like to join you so that you can negotiate this kind of deal.

8. Don’t worry about not having the exact money

Even if you have one big banknote, don’t let it put you off haggling. Once you’ve agreed on the price, the seller will stick to it. They won’t ask for more just because you’ve got a large banknote. Who’s to know that you have to go on and purchase more things or pay the monthly rent, or buy a train ticket?

9. Know the exchange rate

If you know how much the local currency is worth in your usual currency, you can quickly calculate what the offered price really means to you. And if your maths is a bit shaky, work out an easy approximate formula to make the conversion. You really don’t want to have to fumble about with a calculator if you can avoid it.

Girls holding a speech bubble with a Union Jack in it
Even if you only speak English you can mime in any language

10. Practice the language of haggling

Start with an appropriate greeting (even if you’re not fluent), like “Good morning / afternoon / evening”

Then decide on your opening question. Perhaps: “What is your best price for…?”

“That’s too expensive for me. Can you lower the price?”

“The most I can pay is…”

“If I buy more than one, what price could you give me?”

Now, if you’re not fluent in the language you’re probably thinking, hmmm easy for her to say. But look at the phrases again. I bet you could say a few words and mime the rest!

11. Be firm, but friendly, don’t argue

Arguing is negative and unpleasant; haggling should be a bit exciting and fun. Try to use positive emotional language to soften the seller, they’ll be doing the same back to you.

12. You don’t have to blend in and strip yourself of branded goods

My uncle was the best negotiator I have ever watched. He always dressed well, and he approached every “haggle” like a business negotiation, an enjoyable one. He would smile, showing that he was friendly and wanted to strike a deal that would make both parties happy. He always got the deal he wanted.

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