Haggling tips to avoid getting ripped off by locals in Indonesia

But for a few exceptions, haggling is the norm throughout Indonesia. It can be a little daunting for beginners and even those with experience.

Sofia Vallasciani
Sofia Vallasciani

Sofia is a sustainable travel writer currently exploring Indonesia. She loves finding local gems and uncharted spots.

Haggling tips to avoid getting ripped off by locals in Indonesia
Photo:Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock

Indonesia is known for its two weights, two measures policy when it comes to pricing. While the locals in this part of the world are incredibly hospitable and generous, they like playing the haggling game with naive tourists. Merchants are known for labeling their goods with two unwritten price tags, a cheap, official one for the locals, and a more expensive (sometimes, three times as much!) for ‘bule’ or foreigners. Being able to master the art of haggling can not only cut the travel costs in half but also help to initiate potentially precious friendships within the community.

1. Be aware of the real price

Shopping in Indonesia

Photo: Artem Beliaikin/Unsplash

It is normal that the prices of goods change depending on how touristy a specific area is and the kind of travelers that visit it. However, researching in advance how much a pineapple should cost will help you determine whether the 100k IDR ($7) that the lovely local seller is asking for is a good price for it, looking around, there will be a local buying an even larger one for 5k. Also, while the best food can always be found in Warungs, in mass tourism areas such as Bali, make sure that the prices are stated on the menu. This will avoid you getting in a half-an-hour haggling operation with a food coma. However, coming from the isolated areas of central Java, it can be surprising that the same nasi goreng in the charming Ubud can suddenly be worth 3 times the price.

2. Play it cool

Traditional souvenir in Ubud market

Photo: Boyloso/Shutterstock

In the haggling etiquette, it is perfectly acceptable to pretend that those are not the shoes you had been dreaming of since you were 10. Looking only mildly interested will boost your chance of success in the ensuring bargaining battle, hopefully with both your wallet full and the sandals of your dream in your hands. If the merchant is unwilling to lower the price to an acceptable level, the most efficient technique is to walk away, or at least pretend to, the seller will most likely come running outside with a special price just for you.

3. Patience is key

batik fabric and clothes being sold in Indonesia

Photo: Anom Harya/Shutterstock

Perfecting your bargaining skills is both an art and a science. It is a custom ingrained in the Indonesian culture and, with its slow pace of life, the locals have all the time in the world to make you pay an even slightly higher price than you are willing to. So, starting the haggle ballet 10 minutes before your bus will yield opposite results than the wanted ones. It can also go really badly, and you’ll be walking away with an overpriced, low-quality purple hat you didn’t want in the first place.

4. Do your research

man doing smartphone research

Photo: William Iven/Unsplash

Researching the price of the same item in different shops can give an idea of what the initial cost was and how much it is actually worth. By going back to your preferred seller with only the maximum cash amount you are willing to pay will establish the parameters of the upcoming haggle. Additionally, Learning a few polite Indonesian words and maintaining a welcoming and open attitude will buy you points while looking like you’ve just gotten off the plane will not help your prospect of getting a good deal. The “best price for you sir” call should not be luring you in, it is never the best price anyway.

5. The no-no’s

Rattan round bags at a street shop

Photo: Artem Beliaikin/Unsplash

Indonesians are an incredibly welcoming friendly people, particularly toward the throngs of tourists that visit their country each year. They have strong customs and social etiquette, which encourages politeness and respect. Most haggling will happen in local shops, small businesses, or family-run crafts shops. It is incredibly important to respect the owner’s efforts and products, even if they do not necessarily meet your taste. Also, some sellers might not be open to haggling, in this case, offering a very low price for a handcrafted batik shirt might not be appreciated.

6. Embrace it

local market in Indonesia

Photo: Anton Luzhkovsky/Unsplash

Haggling it’s fun, It might be a difficult concept to understand for visitors from Western countries as it is a completely different approach to buying than they are used to. However, the locals treat this process similar to a game of Chess, and for the most part, they do enjoy it. Just by having as much fun as they do, you can get a great deal out of it and start a friendly relationship with the seller. Also, using a light sense of humor will keep the transaction going!

Bottom Line

While shopping in big malls can be much easier, it takes away from getting a truly holistic experience of Indonesia. Buying the same product in a small shop can be tiring but it does help the local economy. As the great guys at Nal’s Kitchen say, you would be helping a little girl pay for her dance lessons. Ultimately, to sharpen your newly found bargaining skills, there is no better way than to set your eyes on the perfect t-shirt and start haggling.

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