So you are worried that you will be ripped off because there are different prices for the same thing and you will be given a higher price because you are a traveler, with an obvious accent, not from our barrio?! It does feel a bit icky, and I used to obsess about this traveling in Nepal; I would feel jipped if I paid 5$ more at one place than another place. I swear I shopped for my Singing Bowls for 3 hours . . . and we still use them in relaxation therapies.
By and large in Mexico, people are not out to rip off the tourist. Most prices are posted and people are consistent in their pricing. However, Mexcio is large and just like traveler safety, tourist pricing varies. In tourist areas in Ensenada, like on La Primera or Bufadora Markets, this is prevalent since there is consistent tourism traffic.
In many shops the price is not posted. And if it is posted, it still can be negotiated. How do you know if it’s negotiable? Ask. Yes, there are sometimes different prices on the same item.
How do you deal with this and avoid paying extra?
Don’t be a Gringo. Dress, talk, walk like you are on vacation, and don’t shop on La Primera 10am to 5pm when the ship is in. Or just embrace who you are in this moment - a Gringo on Vacation, and go with the flow.
Negotiate, but don’t get too emotionally involved. Remember the vendor may be an expert with practice 10 times a day for the last 10 years.
Ask several places for the same/similar item and then buy or negotiate with the one you like. Most items are sold by several vendors within walking distance. BATNA anyone?
Use your Spanish, or learn a bit.
Enjoy the game, some say life is just a ride.
Buy my short course on Negotiating for $9.99 pdf. I taught Business Negotiations at CETYS University, so I am a qualified expert. Just kidding about the purchase part, not lecturing though.
If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. The vendor is not out to rip you off, but just find a price that you value you the item at.*
Sometimes there is a reason for the price difference. People aren’t tying to take advantage of you always, they are often just covering there costs. For example, if the difference is dollars to pesos, keep in mind that a small vendor may lose 5% if they need to exchange currencies to pay expenses in pesos. This is a real cost to the seller. If you are using a credit card there are higher bank fees for cards in Mexico than in the US. If you ask for a receipt or are paying electronically, the vendor may add 8% tax that will be passed on to the tax authority. Often this fee is not added if the business is not formally in enrolled in the tax system. Does they have a website, online booking, advertising?
What about services? Keep in mind the tourist often expects/ demands a higher level of service and this is more expensive. Keeping a restaurant clean, answering the phone, being open on time every time, customizing food orders, changing the food if you are not satisfied. These are things that I was taught to expect mostly in my home, but I recognize now they are a costly to the business, and many businesses don’t run that way here. Especially informal businesses very local clientele and very low pricing. To meet my high expectations and pricing, it is more expensive.
Rentals: Same for a good landlord, security for my house, responsiveness to my requests. I pay a slightly above market rent for my apartment - am I getting bad deal? I don’t think so, and here’s why:
Yes, it is more expensive. I can always choose lower price/service and sometimes I do. Often I know I am paying more because of the frustration it causes me to try and deal with different service standards. (I haven’t discovered the well of infinite patience so need to choose how I use my daily supply.) My point is, the Gringo pricing is not just to extract money from your pocket, sometimes higher costs of business to meet the service standards that our culture expects. Not just US/Mexico cultural divide, it is also city/urban divide within each country.
* Econ footnote: Charging a different price to different people for same item/service is called price discrimination (microeconomics 101). In the US it is outlawed; except for senior discounts, military, students.
Jesse is Resident of Ensenada, Mexico since 2011 and founder of Ensenada Massage.