Have you ever worried that you are paying an unofficial “foreigners tax” on things you try to buy in another country? If you are a foreigner traveling in India, particular a Westerner, the reality is that you are a perfect target for locals looking to earn a little more money. If you are traveling to India and are looking for ways to save money and avoid common foreigner pitfalls, the following are important tips to take to heart for your wallet’s and your safety’s sake:
1. Bring Cash to the Airport: Bringing a small amount of cash to exchange for rupees at the airport is a must, but remember that the exchange rates are much higher there. Bring just enough to purchase a taxi to your destination and to pay for a few meals and a guest house. Retrieve the rest of your money from an ATM later.
2. Haggle for the Price of the Taxi Cab Before Getting In: Local taxi and rickshaw drivers quote exorbitantly high fees for Westerners, sometimes two or three times the real rate. When a taxi or rickshaw stops for you, ask them how much it will cost and negotiate a price before getting into the car. Be firm and show that you mean business. This is a good tactic to use with hotels as well. Don’t be afraid to turn down a ride or guest house if it does not seem fair.
3. Break Larger Notes into Smaller Amounts of Cash: To avoid looking too rich and showy with money, try to break big notes into small cash at a bank or larger store. Many small shops do not have change for larger notes and bills. This trick will help you avoid the risk of robbery and will also help you when you try to haggle for fairer prices.
4. Carry Small Amounts of Cash. Never flaunt a wad of cash by pulling out a stash of notes in public. To reduce ATM fees, you may be tempted to withdraw a maximum amount from the machine. If you choose to do this, just leave the full amount you take from the ATM in a safe and secure place where you do not have to carry it around. This also reduces the chance of having your pocket picked.
5. Haggle for Goods by Bargaining for Half the Price: When a buyer quotes a price, start with offering half of what they asked. This will allow you to start negotiating a price towards the middle. Often, walking away from the situation is an effective way to get a shop keeper to drop their price even more. Playing sellers off of each other is also a good strategy. Some staple products like bread and water are set prices, but for the most part, haggling is a way of life in India.
6. Never Use a Credit Card: Try to use cash for everything, and avoid entering your credit card number on any internet café computers or on any shared internet servers. This is a common way foreigners unintentionally invite fraudulent charges.
7. Scan the ATM: Look over the ATM before putting in your debit card. If you see any signs of scratching around the card or money deposit hole, look for a different machine. It isn’t worth the risk.
8. Avoid the “That Hotel Burned Down” Ploy: Do not let a rickshaw or taxi driver convince you of the old line that the hotel or hostel you are going to has burned down or shut down. This is a common trap tourists fall into. Often these drivers take you to a different guest house where they earn some commission for their efforts. If you are in doubt, call your hostel prior to arriving and see if they are open.
9. Don’t Pay Baggage Fees When Traveling on Trains: Keep your bags with you at all times when you are traveling in India on the train. Don’t let anyone tell you they need money to take your luggage to a “baggage car.”
10. Be Mindful of Where You Keep Your Money: A money bag that you keep on your stomach or ankle might be something to consider when traveling in India. If you carry a purse or a backpack, make sure you always have it strapped around you on the trains and at bus stops. Also make sure they have zippers. Keep your backpack on your chest when you are in large crowds to avoid pick pocketers. Try not to store money in the front pockets.
11. When in Doubt, Watch What the Locals Do: If something does not seem quite right, ask a local what a fair price is. Watch what others are paying and ensure that you are not paying an unexpected “foreigners tax.”