10 Years of Blog Archive

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bargaining in Ecuador: I Don't Want to Be Gringoed! How Will I Know What the Going Rate Is for Food and Rentals?

The biggest setback for foreigners when shopping for food, clothing, rentals, and other merchandise in Ecuador is they do not know what the going rate is for whatever it is they are wanting to buy. 

Before you can bargain intelligently you need to know what the going rate or price is for what you’re buying, whether it is an apartment or if its ten mangos from the mango vendor. In other words you have to KNOW what the LOCAL price/market is.  How do you go about finding that out?  

Well, it takes a little bit of patience and keeping your eyes and ears open and listening carefully when sellers negotiate with the locals. If you speak Spanish then that will be very helpful, if you do not speak Spanish, learn your numbers in Spanish first and foremost, so you can make out what they are saying what the price is to the locals.  

Remember: when shopping at grocery stores and department stores the prices are fixed so you can’t negotiate. Also, the price is not what is labeled below the item like what you see in the states; instead the price is what is marked on the product in little tiny text so small you have to squint to read it. You may want to bring your glasses or magnifying glass—no kidding! LOL 

Where can you bargain in Ecuador?

Bargaining is expected in the open air markets and the Mercado’s where souvenirs and other crafts and produce are sold. You can bargain at some of the little souvenir shops around town as well as any of the family owned businesses in and around Cuenca. This includes bakeries (pandaerias), grocery-marts, jewelry stores, and clothing and toy shops. Home purchases are always negotiable.

Rental prices are also negotiable—accepting the asking price for a rental is never a good idea because it “sets” other rental prices and it establishes a precedent for others, including the Ecuadorian landlords to higher their rental prices to that gringo precedent. 

We’ve even negotiated with the price in the government offices. getting one document notarized in Ecuador is like $10 to $12 compared to $2 or $3 in the states and when there is five people getting paperwork notarized the cost adds up significantly, and so Frank manages to negotiate a “family discount” at the notary office downtown Cuenca.  We have saved a good chunk of money just because he was assertive and asked for this discount. It has probably never been done before, and it may seem odd, but they actually liked the fact that Frank asked them for a discount. We’ve done business in that office several times now and they automatically give us the discount. 

Many foreigners just pay whatever they are told without batting an eyelash, but in most Latin American cultures it doesn’t work like that, unless, of course you simply don’t care and you allow it to work like that. But this is what ups prices considerably.

In many instances, the minute a gringo shows up they are quoted 20% to 50% percent higher on purchases, just because the seller thinks/knows they can get away with it. Remember: all gringos are rich. We know this is not true but try and tell the person behind the counter that. 

Can they get away with it? Obviously it depends on the gringo. Let us put it to you this way; WE DO A LOT OF WALKING AWAY.  Sometimes they call us back with a new price quote and sometimes they let us walk away. Often we go back into that business on another day and we get quoted the local price.   

You see, if more people would simply just walk away then prices will not go higher like they have on many things here in Cuenca, such as food and yes, real-estate. 

Some people don’t want to take the time to bargain or they have the money and simply don’t care to negotiate the price, but remaining lackadaisical about “gringo targeting” is doing yourself a disservice, and all the future expats the come after you a disservice, and the whole community of Ecuadorians a disservice!

Five Ways to Find Out Going Rates
for Products & Services

1. Listen carefully when the vendor is selling to the locals; if the locals aren’t negotiating about the price then that price is usually the going rate. Believe us, Ecuadorians love to haggle and especially those who are buying! 

2. Establish friendships with the locals and ask them what the price should be on something you are interested in; take your Ecuadorian friends shopping with you the first couple of times so you can see how bargaining is done. Fortunately, Frank, when he was a boy used to do it with his mother in Italy all the time so it is just like second nature to him. 

3. Learn Spanish—knowing just a little bit of Spanish will help you get the going rate. Speaking English will not help you get them to lower the price on anything. Speaking Spanish will help you get a better rental price from the Ecuadorians too. 

4. Walk away – if the vendor wants to sell something she will lower the price once she sees you are WILLING to walk away. Works the same way when looking for a rental; you have to be willing to walk away. 

5. Dress Like Them – Don’t wear flashy clothing or jewelry, or walk around with an expensive cell phone in your hand. Also, don’t wear fancy watches and sunglasses. 

It’s like what Frank said in one of our videos, “once a place becomes expensive, it just becomes another place to go”.  Cuenca is a nice place and everything but MOST people come here because the “cost of living” is low, not because it’s a nice place and everything. Hawaii is a nice place and everything too, but we don’t think a lot of people are retiring in Hawaii. Do you want Cuenca to become “just another place to go”, or should we all work together to keep Cuenca livable for everyone? 


  1. Are you all members of the Co-op based in San Joaquin -- on the outskirts of Cuenca?

  2. No. We're very active in just shopping from street side vendors we haven't thought about it. Actually, we went to the highly touted "organic market" (is that what you're talking about?) and couldn't see a reason for patronizing...

    1. I have a question about the notary you used. I am in need of a Cuenca notary. Was it an English-language document that you had notarized? I'm sending someone in Cuenca a document in English and it must be notarized. I have a Spanish translation of the document if it's required. The notary is simply attesting to the fact that the person came personnaly, showed I.D. and signed the document. Could you give me the contact info for the notary. Thanks.

    2. Thanks for commenting, we don't publish personal information on the public website. Best thing come down and see for yourself. Things are always changing. This is a developing country.

  3. I'm going to send you an email about the Co-op -- so please look out for it.


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