Do’s and Dont’s of Bargaining in Colombia To Get The Best Deals!
Bargaining in Colombia is an art. It must be done in a certain way so sellers don’t get put off.
Unlike my bargaining experience in several Asian countries, sellers aren’t as pushy and don’t tend to insist too much…at least that’s the case in Bogota.
Sure Colombians in the coffee triangle or the coast might be a little bit more insistent and the starting price might have a higher markup, but generally speaking, there tend to be common trends when bargaining in Colombia.
Thanks to living with a Colombian guy who has learned from his family that EVERYTHING can be negotiated (right down to our rent) I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade to get the best deals when buying anything from tour packages, hotels stays and basic things such as souvenirs and food.
Below I’ll share my tips for bargaining in Colombia.
Avoid speaking English at all costs
Speaking English is a death wish if you plan on getting any kind of deal in Colombia. There’s a totally false conception that ALL foreigners are rich. Perhaps compared to the seller you are, but let’s be real, like most of us, you probably budgeted your vacation spending and don’t have an arm and a leg to spend. Speaking English in earshot of the seller will not only ruin your chances of getting any deal but will increase your chances of getting ripped off. If there is no price sheet, the rip off can be anywhere from 500 pesos surcharge ($.15 USD) to double the worth of the items or service you are trying to acquire.
TIP: If you don’t speak any Spanish or don’t have the negotiating capacities just yet, ask your local guide to ask and negotiate for you. The seller will more likely give a reasonable price.
Don’t show interest
As excited as you are about the beautiful new gadget, if you want to have some bargaining power, it’s always best to not show too much interest. Unless you really don’t care how much it costs!
It’s a bit like acting. As if you were passing by and nonchalantly decided to ask for the price with no real intention of buying. Approaching a seller head on with eyes wide open will automatically set the starting price higher than if you would have been cooler about it.
Small talk first
Colombian business is built on relations, right down to the small negotiation deal you’ll make buying sunglasses to the corner shop.
Instead of straight up asking for the price, approach the seller with a polite ‘Buenos días, como le va?’ and don’t be afraid to engage in 1-2 minutes of casual chit chat. This will automatically put you in favorable terms with the seller come the time to negotiate.
In Spanish class, you probably learned ‘cuanto cuesta?’ or ‘cuanto vale?’ to ask the price of things. Although this is perfectly valid and understood, the Colombian way of saying it is ‘a como está sr./sra?’.
Know how low you can go
Except for a bad shoe shining experience here in Bogota, I feel that I’ve never gotten ripped off. Colombians in Bogota tend to be fairly honest (or at least this has been the case with me). When negotiating items that are $50,000 and below, you can expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000 pesos ($1.50-$3.00 USD) less.
For every $50,000 worth of the item, you can expect to pay $10,000 less. (ex. For an item that costs $100,000, you can expect to pay $80,000, an item that costs $200,000, expect to pay $160,000)
But in order to pay that price, you’ll need to state double or triple the discount (ex. If you want to pay $80,000 for a $100,000, offer $60,000-$70,000).
NOTE: It’s well known that people in the coast up their prices by 50%, so be ready offer half the stated price!
Tell them the guys across the street offered the item at a lower value
I always do this and it always works. This is when I know how much something is really worth and what I’m willing to pay for it. I tell them the guys at the other end of the market where offering the exact same one at a cheaper price. It lets me skip the back and forth exchanges and cut straight to the chase. If they offer me the price I want, I can buy it right away. If not ‘bueno, gracias!’
Negotiate hard only if you’re willing to buy
When bargaining in Colombia, after about 3 or 4 back and forths with the seller you have committed to buying the product. Walking away can make sellers angry.
You can test the waters of how good of a bargain you can get with about 2 exchanges. Afterward, it’s understood you are willing to pay that price range, are interested and are just finalizing the agreement with the seller.
Let them know you are shopping around and will come back if the price is fair
When approaching a seller, be even more specific with your question and ask ‘A como está aquí sr./sra.?’ The extra word ‘here’ makes the seller believe this isn’t the first time you ask the price for that certain object and that you are shopping around.
Automatically, the seller will want to beat the price of his neighbors and offer you a better deal! From there you can start your negotiation.
If after 2 exchanges you don’t like the price you’re getting, say ‘gracias, voy a mirar y sino vuelvo’ which lets them kindly know you’re not interested and will quote around. This also leaves the door open to a better price before you walk away. And if you do find out that it was a fair price, you can always come back!
Be friendly and smile. Have fun. Don’t get upset.
Bargaining in Colombia is an art and part of the culture. It’s expected that you negotiate. Whatever you do, enjoy the experience and exchange. See it as a game. It should be fun! If you play by the rules, no one will get upset or worked up.
At the end of the day. Even if you are paying $3.000 or $5.000 pesos more, it’s not a big deal to you and makes all the difference for them. What is $1.50 for you can be a lunch for a small family believe it or not. See it as a charitable act and just move on.
What to avoid when bargaining in Colombia
There are obvious things you don’t negotiate, such grocery store prices for example. Other things include crafts obviously made by the seller. Respect their art and time. (Third party intermediaries that resell don’t count, you can bargain those as you would otherwise).
Also, don’t ask how much your souvenir costs once you bought it. It could potentially make you feel bad! Save yourself the grief. What’s done is done and you did the best you could.
Have any tips you’d like to add about bargaining in Colombia? Share them with me in the comment box down below!