Useful Tips to Avoid “Gringo Prices” in Costa Rica

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Costa Rica | 1 comment

First, let me state this: I don’t like the word “gringo”, because its connotation among Spanish speakers has a somewhat pejorative, sometimes even racist, meaning. Although also, in a kinder sense, it refers to any American or European person of Caucasian appearance. So even though I don’t like it, in this article, I must use it.

Although here I am referring to life in Costa Rica, almost everything explained here is common to all the countries in the region.

Why do the gringo prices exist?

Increasing the prices of products or services when the recipient is a foreigner is not something new. The gringo prices for the famous (and infamous) exist in Costa Rica and in all of Latin America, but also in a large part of Asia and Africa. A popular belief among natives sees foreigners as rich people who do not care what price they pay for goods and services.

Why gringo prices exist Photo by Freepik
Why gringo prices exist Photo by Freepik

But that stereotype is far from reality. Everyone’s budget is different, from the backpacker who goes on an adventure, to the tourist or new resident with significant financial support. Each of them will live and spend according to their circumstances.

Many times, we hear people say, “You must go unnoticed, don’t be a gringo.” So, they recommend the usual: dress like a local, don’t wear straw hats, don’t carry a hanging camera.

Again, we are facing a stereotype. In many countries, no matter how hard you try to look like a local, one’s complexion, eye color, and, of course, language, will make a difference. And I’m not making it look racist, but it is something natural, something that exists everywhere we visit.

So, not being a gringo is more of a mental and common sense attitude than having to do with physical appearance or accent. Do you want to wear a short or a floral shirt? Do it! Do you want to carry your camera on your shoulder? Take it. Enjoy what you like to do, but avoid becoming easy prey for gringo price. How do you do that?

Useful Tips to Avoid Gringo Prices

First and Very Important, Always Pay With Local Currency

Although in most stores you can pay with dollars (and sometimes with euros), the local currency price will always be lower than the official exchange rate. And surely, the change will be received in national currency. So, simplify your life and use “colones”.

Learn Spanish

Although you may never speak Spanish like a Tico, having a certain ability with the language shows others you are trying to fit in, and it will be harder for them to fool you and they will be kinder to you.

Hiring Professionals: Always Ask for Several Estimates and Check References

Don’t hire the first contractor or company you come across. If you have work to do on your home, ask for several estimates and check the quality of previous work the contractor or company has done via referrals. That time invested can save you a lot of money.

Use Local Food Markets

These markets offer fresher products and at better prices than supermarkets.

Local Market Costa Rica - Photo by freepik
Local Market Costa Rica – Photo by freepik

They almost always have the prices advertised on signs in front of the products. Be kind to the person who attends you, and many times you will receive a “feria” (“ñapa” or “yapa” in other countries).

That is sometimes no more than a few ounces more, or a free product for your purchase. For example, if you are going to buy vegetables at a stall, depending on the size of your purchase, you can get lettuce, a mango, or a bunch of parsley as a goodwill gift of appreciation.

Become a Frequent Customer – A Regular

In those same markets, local stores or small grocery stores become regular, and you will get better treatment and prices.

When Traveling by Taxi, Use the GPS on Your Cell Phone

Study the route from the place where you are to your destination and follow it with the GPS. This will prevent the taxi driver from giving you an unsolicited ride around town. If you see that the taxi driver deviates from the primary route, tell him you have noticed. If you feel unsafe, get out of the vehicle.

Avoid Using “Gestores”

A gestor is a person who helps you with various procedures, from buying a property, processing a visa or document, to legal functions. Instead, get a real estate broker, attorney, or other reputable professionals to avoid headaches later.

Use the Magic Word: “No”

Reject any offer that doesn’t interest you, from trinkets on the beach to any product or service in the city, taking care to always be polite when expressing your refusal. Not only will this save you from unnecessary expenses and overpricing, but it will also help protect your personal safety.

Never Pay Up Front

When hiring a contractor, pay no more than 50% in advance and always ask for a receipt for your payment, or make a contract for that work. Always have a document that will serve as support for any legal action. The Ticos are friendly and honest for the most part, but like everywhere, you can always find a scammer.

Feel Free to Haggle

You can always get a better price if you learn to haggle. If you are interested in buying, the other person is in selling to at least the same degree, so you can break even between the two where you both win.

Always Be Informed Before Doing Anything

Use the internet and social media to gather information. Facebook, WhatsApp, and other online community will offer expat groups.
Better yet, get in touch with a TCI Alliance member. Lean on the experience of people who have already been in your place. Not only you will get the solutions, but you will also be part of a group of friends.

by: Román Vergara