Is It Fair to Charge Foreigners Higher Prices?

Chang beer two prices

We were in Ayutthya, Thailand, and noticed two signs in front of a restaurant/bar – one in English, the other in Thai script. We were learning the Thai alphabet and one of the few words I knew how to read and write at the time was Chang, or Elephant. I knew this because each letter in the Thai alphabet has a word associated with it, like A for Apple, only in Thai is  for ช้าง. Chang also happens to be one of the most popular brands of beer.

Chang beer two prices

I said to my wife, “Hey look, I am pretty sure they are selling beer cheaper to locals. It is says Chang beer 69.50 in Thai but 80 in English. Plus, there is a heart on the bottom of the sign, a little knowing wink.” As we stood there looking at the sign, a bubbly hostess came up and asked if we’d like a table. Maybe, we said, but why are there two prices of beer?

“Oh, for Thai people it is 69.50 and they get free ice all night!” she said cheerfully. Then, realizing what she’d just said, she added, “But since you can read the sign you can be Thai people for the night.”

Listen: 10.50 Thai Baht is only 30 cents US, a third of a dollar. This may not seem like much of a discount, but you haven’t seen the Bells drink. That could end up saving us upwards of $25 by the end of the night.

Even though the discount was small, it raises a larger question about fairness. Is it okay to charge some people more than others?

Earlier in the day at the temples we noticed that the price was 10 Baht for Thai people and 50 Baht for foreigners. I have seen this in other relatively poor countries and I actually have no problem with this. Local people pay taxes that may directly or indirectly go to the preservation of the temples. Even if none of their tax dollars go to the park, they do pay for roads, police, trash collection, and assorted other things that allow people to travel to and enjoy the site.

Ayutthaya two prices

Dual pricing for Thai and Farang.

I also have no problem with the discount at the bar. I have worked in tourism for many years and we have offered a 10% discount to locals for food and activities. When your customers are a constantly changing stream of tourists, it is nice to reward your local regulars.

However, there are times when this can go too far. Travel writer, school teacher and Thailand expat Richard Barrow, posted on his Facebook page a photo of honey sold at a store/tourist area in Chaing Mai. The price is a whopping 465 Baht, or 13.50 USD, for a jar of honey. Thirteen fitty USD! That better be some damn good honey. It better taste like liquid gold.

But, under it in Thai script with Thai numerals (which aren’t often used) you see that the price is a more reasonable 145 Baht, a huge discount off the regular price. That seems shady to me. If you want to give a local a small discount I can understand, but to be able to sell it to all Thai people at 145 shows just how overpriced the honey must be in the first place. That is a true ripoff.

Bee Water

Mr. Barrow has an entire website dedicated to this subject, with listings of the dual prices all over the country. His opinion is that the dual pricing, if it is going to exist, should be out in the open instead of hidden behind the rarely used Thai numerals.

His website lists a number of places that have the dual price scheme. For example, the Grand Palace is free for Thai people, yet nearly $15 for foriegners. Again, I am okay with this. The Grand Palace is a national treasure, something Thai people should be able to enjoy for free or a cheap price. Asking them to pay 500 Baht would price most of them out of the market.

Mr. Barrow recounts a story of going to a Muay Thai kickboxing match and the price was 2000 Baht for a foreigner and only 450 for a local. He used his best Thai and tried to get tickets at the local price to no avail, and decided to skip the match. It wasn’t worth paying nearly 60 USD for the same seat as someone else, especially because he lives in Thailand and earns local currency. I have to agree – that seems totally unfair.

What do you think? Is this fair? Have you seen this in other countries? 


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Further Reading: The Argument against Dual Pricing in Thailand – What’s on Sukhumvit

51 Comments on “Is It Fair to Charge Foreigners Higher Prices?

  1. Oops, nothing there!Jeff, I think you forgot to make the link to your article.It’s not working on my end.Steve C

  2. There’s a big difference between a discount for the locals and a ripoff for foreigners. As you said, the former is a gesture to appreciate the locals, often regular customers. While the latter shows greed, and in most cases no one knows where that much money goes. It’s even more appalling in countries where corruption is rampant.

    • Great way to put the distinction – discount vs. rip off. When we went to Indonesia several of the parks jacked up the prices in the weeks or days before we arrived. I remember 17 Islands National Park entrance increased significantly and the tour guide gave the ranger an earful, but to no avail of course. If the money goes towards protection of a park that is all good, but to go to the pockets of the government that isn’t right.

  3. I agree with the discounts at temples and national monuments, to a point. Although, image if we tried to do that at our national parks. You can’t invite tourism then rip off the tourists. The examples of the honey and kickboxing match – just wow! The other problem, is what qualifies as being a “local”? Do you have to be born there? Live there 5 years? 10 years?

    • Laura, you make a great point – invite tourists then rip-off the tourists. That is how it can feel some places. The big problem is it can harm the local people who depend on tourism and the extra money often goes to a corrupt government. And yes, the definition of a local can be tricky. I’d had people who live 100 miles away claim to be a local 🙂

  4. I have seen them in the ASI (archeological survey of India) associated tourists places. My friend who is a non-Indian was wondering why the locals were charged 10 Rs for entry whereas foreigners were charged 250 Rs. It is too much. In local shops, people do raise the value of the items if they see a foreigner and so bargaining is always a necessity.

    • You bring up a whole other situation – people in markets, taxi drivers, etc, trying to charge more for tourists or foreigners. When it comes to taxi drivers, I always try to pay the local rate because I don’t want taxi drivers to focus on tourists they can rip off and ignore the locals who need transportation too. Although I can’t blame local people for asking for an initially higher price to a foreigner. On the other hand, 10 Rs for a local and 250 for a foreigner is a big difference, but again, that isn’t maybe all that expensive for a European, American or Japanese tourist to pay, but the 10s might be a lot for an Indian.

  5. I think you hit upon the true issue in the final paragraph.
    A discount for locals is one thing, but when someone who lives and works there still can’t get the discount, it starts to look like a form of racism.

    I am keenly aware that when I travel to many parts of the world, I am perceived as being very wealthy just because I am able to travel.

    • I’ve heard mixed reports of foreigners working Thailand getting the local price when they show their passport or work permit. It seems like this sometimes works, sometimes not. If you earn local currency, it is hard to justify paying extra!

  6. I have had to deal with this so often. When I walk down the market and I see people taking signs off their stands of fruit and vegetables. I agree that some places should have a discount for locals, but it reaches a level of racism. What the locals always say is, “you are rich, you can afford it.” It is a hard line between discount and ripoff, but I think it needs to be drawn in a better way.

    • Dominick, I haven’t noticed people taking down signs at a market yet, but I’m not surprised to hear that. That is really interesting.

      “Rich” people often become that way by being smart with their money. Paying extra for goods or services will make that person less rich over time.

  7. Nice post, Jeff! It is a topic that follows almost everywhere you go, when you are travelling. Here are a few thoughts from my

    I guess there are different types of double-pricing and some are perfectly fine, such as having the rich white wo/man finance the preservance of national treasures or wildlife. And then there are the ripp-off situations where your bus ticket costs ten-times as much because a bunch of youngsters has figured out that it’s quite easy to trick the tourist.

    The former, as you mention already, is really perfectly fine and I appreciate it. Most people unfortunately forget in what wealth they grow up. Being able to afford a 1500$ return ticket to Bangkok is something only a small share of the locals (and of this planets population to be honest) will ever achieve, despite a life dedicated to hard work. So even if you pay ten-times the entry fee to a temple, it is still a small amount relative to your income. If you don’t think so, well then why not stay at home and check out how far the same amount of money gets you there…

    The ripping off of tourists is annoying, but many people actually deserve no better to be honest. If anyone really falls for over-priced honey tha you mention in you post then my true respect goes to the seller, but I won’t feel pity for anyone who buys it at such a price. After 4 months travelling through Southeast Asia last year, I also got the feeling that many people really have fucked up expectations and priorities. So often I saw in particular backpackers bargain for the last 10 cents as if it was making any difference to them, just so they could afford also their 15th beer that evening.

    Overall I think there is far too little humbleness and gratitude among many travellers for their own, extremely priviliged position, I found. Rather, there is a certain Western arrogance along the lines of “Here we are now, entertain us!”. We fly to Bali and expect to get off the beaten path, mingle with the locals, and spend 2$ a day for food, drinks and accomodation, is not quite the way things work in any of the hyper touristy places of the world. Yet, I had the feeling there are far too many who had exactly these sort of expectations when boarding the plane to their backpacking adventure

    Just my two cents 🙂

    • Thank you for your two cents, but of course yours will cost 20 🙂

      You make some great points. I found myself laughing at the thought of anyone buying honey for $13. The vendor probably lost more money than he made on that deal, just guessing. Some people do deserve to get ripped off/pay higher prices – it is an idiot’s tax.

      I think we agree on most points: It is okay to pay more at museums or monuments and in some situations, outright ripoffs are bad, and worrying about pennies for westerns in poor countries is just stupid.

  8. Isn’t it wonderful when you have real world applications of supply and demand? This is how the economic concept works. They, the suppliers, get to put whatever price they think they can get from the market. We the consumers, whether Thai, foreign from a rich Western country or foreign from a less rich, developing country, get to choose whether we want to buy their product or service! In most cases (99%?) we retain the right not to buy and to go to the next establishment, if we so wish. The only time we have encountered and been frustrated by excessive price gouging is when faced with monopolistic practices … For example, transport from an airport to a city.

    We personally hate to see tourists bargaining and often bargaining aggressively with a vendor over small amounts, particularly so when the vendor has handmade an item or craft. And that item is a fraction of the price it would be in their home country, if available at all. We enjoy being able to contribute to a local economy…especially by buying handmade products. Are there times when we have experienced price gouging? Of course! An example that comes to mind was a bird park in Bali that was $60 per person for foreigners and a fraction of that for locals. Supply and demand: we chose not to go in, because we, despite being foreigners, could not afford that amount. It came down to whether we wanted to pay that much for this particular experience, not whether it was fair.

    In the US, seniors often get lower prices than everyone else. Makes sense right? And in some bars, girls get drinks 2 for the price of 1!

    • You make a great point on bargaining for handicrafts and such items. Not getting the lowest possible price isn’t going to affect the traveler, but that extra dollar might be huge for the vendor.

      On some items though, I think bargaining is necessary. In taxis, tuk tuks, motor rickshaws, etc, I do my best to get the local price. I feel like by not doing so the price goes up for locals. Just as bad, the drivers will ignore the locals as they look for tourists who they can get more money from.

      I have a feeling the $60 bird park was so overpriced you’d have declined had it been the same price for foreigners.

      Thank you for the feedback. I appreciate your thoughtful comments!

      • Totally agree when it comes to tuk tuks and taxi rides! When those get inflated one just feels ripped off.

        The $60 WAS the foreigner price ( on the bird park.)

  9. I think we have to find some sort of balance. Recognizing that in many cases, the tourist has more of a disposable income than a local, I can understand the “business” of charging a tourist more to a degree. The danger is overcharging as many tourists chose to travel to a certain destination with the idea that it is economical to do so.

    • Agreed. And if the place gets a reputation as a hassle spot or ripoff, it can turn away the very people they are trying to attract.

  10. Wow it gets complicated when it’s a lot of shades of grey. Good thing you charge the same for everyone to read your blog or am I paying more:)

  11. In Cuba there is a currency for the cubans (the CUP) and one for the tourists (the CUC). However, I don’t feel too bad about this phenomenon. Often, the thriving tourism drives prices of goods skyrocketing high over the real possibilities of the locals. And that’s not right either.

    • Cuba is a whole other discussion, since all the prices and currency are controlled by the government anyway.

      Tourism can definitely drive up prices for locals, especially for transportation, so it can be hard for people at the bottom of the economic scale.

      Thank you for your input.

  12. Jeff I think a small discount is reasonable but when tourists are being gouged that doesn’t sit well with me. i think it will serve you well to learn the entire alphabet quickly. Will you need to show some ID that you are actually locals and not tourists? It becomes a bit slippery I think.

    • I am trying to learn the numbers! The funny thing is that Arabic numbers are used almost all the time unless they are trying to be deceptive and then they use the Thai numbers. We live in a Thai neighborhood and so we don’t experience this on a day to day basis, but at touristy places it is a real drama.

  13. Yes I’ve seen this in other countries, but can’t remember what or where at the moment. I think it may have been India (Taj Mahal and places like it?)
    I pretty much agree with you – I’m happy to pay the extra, especially in poor countries where much of their GDP depends on tourist dollars. At the asme time nobody likes to be ripped off – the honey pricing really is extreme.
    Alison

    • That honey was really bad. But as one commenter said, if someone pays $13 for honey, that is on them! You’d have to be crazy of pay that.

  14. India was one place with the biggest discrepancy for entrance fees between foreigners and tourists, but I don’t mind paying it. Traveling is truly a privilege and the fact that I can even be in a place like India, noticing the difference is important. For sure, there’s a level of greed involved when markets etc…are gouging tourists for no reason, but at the same time, I feel like it’s just part of it all, and in a way WE as western tourists “teach” locals that they can do this.

    I think about when we visited Sri Lanka, just after the war had ended, and there was hardly a tourist in sight. People were so grateful to have anyone visiting their country again, they were happy just to talk to us and welcome us to Sri Lanka. No gouging, touts or bargaining anywhere! Fast forward a few years, and things sure have changed there.

    • You make a great point that we often encourage it. I met a couple of first time travelers in Bangkok recently who were so amazed at how cheap everything was that they constantly over-tipped. Thai people don’t tip like Americans, maybe the change at a restaurant, but that is it. They were telling me they left double the price at a street food spot because the people were nice and the price was cheap. Although I think their generosity was nice, it does send a strange message I think.

      India was a real struggle to get a fair price for tuk tuks and taxis. We tried to use the pre-paid auto rickshaws when possible, but anytime we had to negotiate it was a small war! 🙂

      I need to write a follow up post about how hard we need to bargain for certain items.

      • Yes, I think as travellers we really have to educate ourselves on the cultural etiquette of the country we’re visiting, in order not to “corrupt”it too much. In Korea, there’s absolutely no tipping, with taxi drivers even getting mad at you for trying to leave leftover change, and I’m constantly telling my sis-in-law not to leave anything, but she feels guilty not doing it. It’s funny how North America has SO ingrained that need…even when not required!! And honestly I’m so frustrated that I have to do it myself when I visit there, because usually, the service is much worse than what I get in most of Asia, and not deserved at all!

      • I had a waitress chase me down the street in China saying “sir, your forgot your money!” after I left a small tip. I left the tip because we ordered a hot pot and she ended awkwardly helping me the whole time, nearly feeding me.

        I think we tip way too much in the USA and it is hard to break away from that when we go places, but you are right, we need to educate ourselves and stick to it.

  15. Great post and great discussion! It’s definitely a complicated situation – who counts as a local and who doesn’t, what to do when there’s collusion (everyone charging the same foreigner price so that you don’t have the option not to buy), and at what point does it become counter productive for the place trying to attract tourists? I think in regard to the last (becoming counter productive) it has a lot to do with openness and honesty – e.g. in the sailing world, certain countries charge high entry or exit taxes (French Polynesia, Australia), but that doesn’t deter most sailors because it’s up-front and so you can decide whether you want to go in the first place. Other countries have a reputation for officials whom you need to bribe and fewer people sail to those because you’re not sure what you’re going to get and it feels dishonest. Since most offshore sailors are actually really not rich – they’ve sold everything they had and are now trying to live off the dwindling proceeds of their car – there’s also a feeling that whatever you’re paying for should be worth it. So places that charge you to anchor (which ought to be free in natural coves/bays with no man-made breakwaters or moorings) lose out – people go elsewhere and shoreside businesses suffer. On the other hand, places like Niue (a tiny Pacific island), which puts out free moorings for sailors, get tons of business and is really thriving!

    • Thank you for your unique perspective. The thing about free moorings is that it benefits everyone. All the locals get a chance to sell goods and services to the people who anchor there. The problem with paying a bribe or a high tax is that it benefits either a government (which can be corrupt) or a dishonest border guard. That benefits few people.

      Have these issues personally affected where you’ve gone?

      • You hit the nail on the head!

        These issues have affected us to some extent, though in the case of Indonesia (whose officials have an unsavory reputation among sailors), it was more due to running out of time that we didn’t go. On the other hand we do avoid places that charge outrageous sums to anchor (on your own anchor – not even on moorings they provide, which I don’t mind paying for at all – and in bays with no man-made improvements, which I don’t mind paying for either). I think most sailors also avoid these places, so – like I said – it’s ultimately the local population that suffers from lack of business. And last, we had an absolutely horrible time in Panama with the Canal Authority – it’s a long story – so we hope never to have to transit the Canal again – Cape Horn it is!

      • That must have been a really horrible experience in the Panama canal to be willing to go all the way around Cape Horn!

      • Overall it was… We might have the record for longest canal transit ever – we broke down and were then treated really horribly by the authorities. Happily, though, there were some wonderfully generous, kind people we met through it all who were beacons of light, so to speak! Individuals are usually great – it’s the lumbering bureaucracy and the few who rigidly adhere to rules that make no sense that are the trouble.

  16. I agree with you 100%, Jeff. The dual-pricing system is a given in most developing countries – I don’t have a problem with it as long as the difference between the local and foreign price is not too great.

    In the case of Indonesia, the national parks had their admission fees jacked up by the hopelessly corrupt Ministry of Forestry (that manages them) without consulting the tourism sector. So if you’re a foreign visitor to Bromo and you happen to come on a weekend, you’ll have to pay almost 10 times the local fee. And it’s not cheap – the new rate is a whopping $48.50, compared to the old price of $5.50. As Bama said, we don’t know where that money is really going. Is it being used for maintenance and an improvement in visitor facilities? I’m 99% sure it isn’t. Frankly, the move is sheer stupidity on the part of some greedy bureaucrats. I have heard of people avoiding Indonesia altogether because of these price hikes, which is a real shame.

    • WOW! $48.50 for Bromo! That is stupid. You can get a 1-year family pass to all US national parklands – over 2000 locations including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone – for $80. If Indonesia did something like that, they’d still make money but you could get into Bromo, 17 islands, vs. other parks, for that one price and it would probably boost tourism.

      That is a real shame. I remember Bromo being expensive, but that increase would be enough to make me not visit.

  17. Very common worldwide practice. How much gouging is too much? Ain’t no guidelines, other than as much as you can get in extreme cases. Nice thing about Thailand is the extreme minimal tipping culture, which is refreshing if you ask me!

  18. Ripping off foreigners here in Rome is a classic, there are scandalous cases in the papers from time to time, like charging a Japanese couple € 600 for dinner, and double that for another couple two years ago. But mostly it’s smaller harder to detect scams, so watch it if you come here. I’ve got into nasty discussions a number of times with vendors I’ve caught overcharging tourists.

    • That is crazy! Charging 600 Euros for dinner! That is theft right there. Rome does have its share of scams and pickpockets. Thanks for sharing.

  19. I don’t think, there should be any difference in price, for local and foreigners.

    In India, I could see that, they does it with respect to entry tickets to the archaeological sites and museums.

    They may have their justifications, but I can;t buy that 🙂

    But, I have never seen different prices for food/beverages anywhere in India…

    “but you haven’t seen the Bells drink. That could end up saving us upwards of $25 by the end of the night.” OMG, Really ?

    🙂 🙂

    • I don’t remember seeing dual pricing in India with food/drink either, but of course you must be a savvy negotiator when taking an auto rickshaw!

      • Absolutely, in Indian cities, that’s the most difficult part to deal with, Auto rickshaw drivers.

        If you are a seasoned India traveller, you can deal with that easily 🙂

  20. Hi, great article i enjoyed reading it.
    I feel like this is something that is done based off the fact that being foreigners we probably have more money on us so they capitalize off tourism in their own way by doing so. They know we are foreign and to them that screams out unlimited cash (even though when we come home we’re regular individuals just like them).
    I experienced this when i went to Laos to visit my dad, he got away with paying local prices when we went to visit the river site but i had to pay FALANG fee, which we joked about and found funny even though i am technically quarter Lao.
    I agree with walking away from that Muay Thai fight it wasnt worth paying that much compared to what the locals paid but hey i hope that doesn’t put anyone off visiting other fights.

    • You make some good points and in the end, a person is a person and it shouldn’t matter where they come from. A price should be a price, but funny your dad paid a different price than you! Thanks for sharing.

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