If you are a foreigner in Costa Rica, you might find out that some items here are way more expensive than back at home depending on where you are from. The truth is that sometimes it’s not the merchant’s fault, import taxes are very high here.
For example, if you buy an acoustic guitar on Amazon just like this one it will cost you around $140. To ship it to Costa Rica will cost you an extra 30% tax, plus a transportation fee and insurance. At the end it will cost you around $220 but if you go to a store here in Costa Rica the same guitar might cost you $260 or more.
I know it sounds very expensive but merchants do need to make money. If you buy your products here you will have the warranty from the store, which is easier than shipping the item back to the US in case the product is damaged or doesn’t work well.
I always think twice if I want to buy products in Costa Rican stores or online since warranty is always something to consider.
Did you know that every Costa Rican citizen gets a tax exemption of $500 every 6 months? The only condition is that the item must be sent by a friend or family and not from the store. They might need to fill some paper work but most of the carrier companies will do it for a small fee.
How to bargain in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica it is common to bargain prices in stores but in order to get the best out of it, it will be better if you do it in the “tico” way. Before we start, let me tell you that you can’t bargain in super markets or small grocery stores but you can do it at pretty much every medium/large size business.
If you ask for a discount at most of the stores in Costa Rica, they will give you one but you have to do it in a nice way. Remember Costa Rica is a “pura vida” country and if you walk into a store and the first thing you say to the sales man is “I will give you $300 for this” when the product costs $400, it is NOT going to work.
- Be nice with the sales person and you will see that they will be nice to you. Tell them that Costa Rica is a beautiful country and try to make a small conversation.
- Once you know what you want to buy, ask the sales person if they have discounts going on (ask just to be polite) and most of the times they will offer you a 5% or 10%.
You can say something like this in Spanish “Me podría hacer algún descuento por favor” which means “Can you give me a discount please.” I know that in some countries it’s not common but it is kind of normal here to ask for it. You can learn some useful phrases and words in Spanish for shopping first.
Then the next move after you get the first 5% or 10% offer is to check the possibility to get more discounts if you pay with cash. As we all know credit cards companies charge a percentage fee for the sale and if you pay with cash, the business will be saving that fee. Also businesses love this because they might not report all the cash sales to the tax system.
So at this point you might get another small discount which by now could be from 15% to 20%.
If you want to get more for your money, add more products to your purchase and the store might give you extra discount for big purchases. I always do that and it usually works.
Don’t feel bad asking for a discount
I have worked in stores in the past and I know that one of the strategies for sales is to offer “special prices.” It’s common to go to a shoe store and see the sales person with a calculator in their hands, ready to tell you something like “Hi, do you like that pair? The price is 30 000 colones but with a discount you will pay 27 500 colones just for today.”
I mean why offer a discount without asking?
Just to make this more specific, take a look of these pictures and see the prices.
In this shop the base price is 480 000 colones for a laptop. If you do separate payments, the price is 399 900 which represents a 17% discount and if you pay in cash you will pay 379 900 which is 21% less than their “base price.”
Here is another example.
In this example you will be saving 20% if you tell them that you are paying in cash but I bet that you can get more if you start talking to them.
As you can see Costa Rica is a nice place to live but the cost of living is higher than many countries in Central America. So if you are coming for vacations or moving here you might save some money if you learn how to ask for discounts in stores.
Bargaining at souvenir stores in Costa Rica
The same idea applies to souvenir stores. If you’re buying multiple items and paying in cash, definitely ask for a discount. Another important tip is to check the exchange rate. Some souvenir stores will be lazy and use a 500 to 1 exchange rate when it’s actually about 570 to 1. So I recommend paying with credit card if they have a machine or pulling out your phone and calculating the exact amount before forking over your dollars since you will lose a little if the vendor uses 500 to 1.
Some souvenir stores are a bit tricky like that as they know foreigners don’t keep up with the current exchange rate and typically are told to use 500 to 1 so if you pay in USD, they will give you your change back in colones and use that ratio, meaning you lose a little bit. Right now, the exchange rate is about 570 to 1.
Learn more about the Costa Rican colon, exchange rate and using USD in Costa Rica in this post.
More travel in Costa Rica tips
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