Bargaining in Rio – How to Avoid the ‘Gringo Tax’

What's New — By Lucy Bryson on September 7, 2010 at 11:50 pm

It’s an unfortunate truth that most foreign visitors to Rio will be charged vastly inflated prices on many occasions during their visit.

From opportunistic taxi drivers to wily street vendors, there is no shortage of locals trying to take advantage of dazed and confused foreign visitors.

And try as we might, there’s no disguising our gringo/gringa status. From hair colour and clothes to differences in the way we walk and carry ourselves, our ‘foreign-ness’ advertises itself long before we even open our mouths to blurt out our best attempts at Portuguese.

Call it a ‘preco especial’ (special price, the street seller’s favourite line) or call it a ‘gringo tax’, but where there’s no officially displayed price, we foreigners are likely to be charged a whole lot more than the locals in many situations.

But while this can be more than a little frustrating at times, it’s somewhat inevitable in a city where there is such a cavernous divide between rich and poor.

Foreign visitors are, quite naturally, viewed as rich (we can afford foreign holidays, after all) and therefore fair game for anyone who wants to chance their arm at making a few extra reais.

But just because the locals might want to try their luck, that doesn’t have to mean you will spend your entire time in Rio paying bumped up prices.

Be wise to certain situations, and you should be able to pay more or less the same as the locals. Firstly, always ask prices first where they are not displayed. Whether you are at a beach bar or hailing a taxi, check the price before you make an order or jump in the cab. If the price doesn’t sound right, feel free to walk away. Very often the seller/driver will be in pursuit, offering a better price.

If you are buying items on the street or at an open air market where prices are not displayed, you will sometimes be able to haggle a little. For example, if you wish to buy a Brazilian football shirt (bear in mind these are not usually originals, but very convincing copies), and the street seller tries to charge you R$70, try telling them that you only have R$50, and he will often do you a deal. Alternatively, if you want to buy multiple items, try to get a reduction on the overall price – if a seller is charging R$60 each for shirts, for example, say that you can pay R$150 for three and you will probably have a deal. Most street sellers will drop their voice to make a deal, anxious to avoid other customers thinking they can get a similar low deal, so try not to shout.

Generally, a street seller’s first price will not be their best price – look dubious and prepare to walk away, and they will often up the offer. For example, sellers hawking DVDs at R$10 each will very likely offer two for R$10 if you appear interested and walk away.

Above all, don’t make things easy for anyone trying their luck with the ‘stupid foreigner’. Order a plate of food and cocktails at a beach bar without first confirming the price, and you are virtually guaranteed to be overcharged.

Tags: Bargain-hunting in Rio, Brazilians, holidays in Rio, Rio de Janeiro taxis, safety in Rio