It’s a fact of life and it’s as universal as it gets. Wherever there are North American, European and other foreigners visiting developing countries, you can also find the ‘Gringo Price’ – which is the overcharged price that foreigners may be presented with when shopping for something in these countries.
Naturally, you find it in Colombia as well. And it’s safe to say that you find it quite frequently. The idea behind this is very simple. Colombians believe that, because you come from Europe, the US, Canada, Japan or Australia, you are relatively (or very) wealthy. So some Colombians will have a special price for you (and not in a good way).
Surprisingly enough, this may sometimes be official. For example, when you visit the “Catedral de Sal” in Zipaquirá, a beautiful cathedral inside a mine, at about one hour away from Bogotá, Colombians pay less than 30,000 Pesos to visit the place, whereas foreigners are officially charged 50,000 Pesos. Obviously, this is a policy that can backfire against the place, since no tourist wants to be treated that way, but the government agency managing the place believes that this is a good policy to keep, apparently, and, in that case, there isn’t much you can do about it.
However, when that happens informally and in other contexts, you can actually protect yourself against that.
For example, if you want to rent or buy an apartment, it is a good idea to find a foreign realtor who is active in the Colombian market. Being a ‘Gringo’ as well, he will probably give you the real prices, and not the over-inflated ones. Alternatively, you can research the market first so to determine what are the real Colombian prices that you should expect (something which you should always do), and you can go prepared with that information, when meeting a Colombian realtor.
In restaurants and supermarkets, make sure that you see the prices of everything, and, if you don’t see them, ask for them. If you see a price on the menu or shelf, and another price when you get to the cashier, complain about it.
You can do the same about everything, and you should always think in terms of the local currency – the Colombian Peso (COP) –, and not in terms of the currency from where you come from (the US Dollar, the Euro, or any other). It’s good to keep in mind that right now 1 US Dollar equals 3,000 Colombian Pesos, and 1 Euro equals 3,350 Colombian Pesos.
Still, while you should stay sharp and pay attention to any overcharge that you may be presented with, sometimes you should just let it go. This is especially true in taxis, because several times you may be charged an extra 3,000, 5,000 or 10,000 Pesos for no reason… and let’s just say that, usually, arguing with taxi drivers is not a very good (or safe) idea.
Other than that, avoiding the ‘Gringo Price’ is ultimately about you doing your best to think like a local. Make sure you understand the local economic dynamics, that you speak and understand at least a bit of Spanish (or that you are with someone trustable who does and who can help or represent you), and that you know the market, the prices, and how to effectively show that you may be a foreigner, but you’re not an easy target. Actually, this is something that any foreigner in any country of the world should do – not just in Colombia.
Written by: Miggy, check out his site for more from him.