Bargaining in Bali

For many people, bargaining is an alien concept. You see a price tag, you pay it. But for Southeast Asians, bargaining is a way of life. While we are experts in bargaining back home in India, we didn’t bargain much on our first trip to Bali, to be honest – one of our biggest mistakes. By the time we had our bargaining game figured out, it was time to leave! 

Without a keen bargaining sense, you’re bound to be overcharged and even scammed, especially in tourist-ridden areas such as Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, Canggu, Uluwatu, and others.

Bali runs on the Indonesian Rupiah, which is not one of the most powerful currencies in the world. Tourism makes up 80% of Bali’s economy and as such, most of the locals are looking to make their money in the tourist industry. While the locals are friendly and helpful, they’re always looking to make an extra buck, and will definitely overcharge, especially if they know you aren’t from around the area. 

If you’re new to bargaining, here’s what you need to know:

Don’t convert to your currency

Every time you convert to your currency, you’re comparing the cost of an item to prices back home and going “Oh man, that’s super cheap!” without realizing that you may actually be paying much more than the usual local cost. It’s normal to feel better about paying a higher price when an item costs double or three times as much in your home country. This mindset prevents you from bargaining.

Understand local costs

Visit supermarkets, local markets, and night markets to understand how much stuff should cost, so that you can tell when you’re being ripped off or getting a deal. Sometimes things will be cheaper at a supermarket, and sometimes they’ll be cheaper locally made. This requires a bit of research and understanding on your part. For example, it’s cheaper to just buy a box of teabags and make your own tea at the hotel, instead of ordering a cup of their tea, since most hotels serve Sariwangi teabags anyway and charge much higher than the going price of store-bought tea.

Save your shopping for the end of the trip

Unless you see something very exclusive that you’re 100% sure isn’t available ANYWHERE else, try and shop towards the end of your trip. This gives you time to see and compare prices in different areas.

Don’t buy at the first place you see.

Buying in the first shop you see means you don’t have anything else to compare the prices or product with. When at a market, be sure to inquire prices and bargain in several different shops before committing to one.

Additional tip: Be careful not to offer a price of your own unless you’re prepared to pay it – it’s bad form.

Start at half the offered price

For most commercial vendors that don’t have a pre-set price (this includes street markets, small hotels, and taxis), start at half the rate they initially quote you, or less than that if the price sounds ridiculous.

When you turn down a vendor’s first offer, they will often ask for the price you’re willing to give. Before you give them that figure, say that what they quoted was too much, and ask them for the best price they can give you, then go for half of that. 

Vendors will try to be charming and say they are giving you the best price, but don’t fall for it. When a vendor approaches you to sell their goods/services, you have the bargaining upper hand. A little less so when you approach the shop or vendor. The more desperate a vendor is to sell and the stronger their competition from other vendors, the more you can haggle with the prices.

Walk Away

The greatest trick of them all is to walk away. It may not work all the time, but where there is high competition, walking away usually means the vendor will call you back and offer a better price. Once again, gauge your odds by enquiring prices at more than one vendor so you know when to walk away.

Show Confidence

Don’t be afraid to show off your knowledge. Make sure the vendor knows that you are aware of the prices around town and they can’t take you for granted. Exude confidence, and the vendors will know you know your stuff and can’t be fooled. 

Don’t let vendors think this is your first time in Bali, or that you are unaware of common market prices.

Most tourists are clueless, and the locals know they can take advantage of that. First-timers usually end up getting taken for a ride. Locals tend to be overzealous to find out whether it’s your first trip to Bali – it’s okay to lie about this to avoid getting cheated. 

Learn local phrases

Brush up on some Bahasa/ Balinese phrases before you go. It will give people the impression that you have been there for a while or have visited multiple times before. This not only makes your act of being “local” more authentic, it makes the locals smile, happy that you’re making the effort to speak their language!

Always ask for a deal

Sometimes we shy away from asking for a discount because we assume they won’t give us one. You’d be surprised that local hotels, vendors, and restaurants often give great discounts if you just ask. It doesn’t hurt to try -if they say no, you don’t lose anything. Asking for a discount works especially well when renting a scooter to get around.

And that’s it! Keep these bargaining tips in mind and you should get some amazing deals in Bali. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments below.

Vaishnavi is one half of the travel duo, CheckOutAtNoon. A media personality and animal lover, when she isn't traveling with her partner, she's planning customized trips for other people or rescuing abandoned animals.

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