Gringo pricing is when you are charged more for something just because you are a foreigner living in or a tourist visiting Panama. It can happen. It has happened to me a few times too. But there are things you can do to avoid being gringo priced.
Gringo pricing is more likely to happen when you use a taxi. If you get in a taxi and then tell them where you want to go without asking the price in advance, you may be in for a surprise when you arrive. Here’s an example:
One time a friend and I grabbed a taxi to a grocery store in Panama City. We are both blondes, so even with perfect Spanish, the taxi driver knew we were “gringos”. I did not ask the price before I got in the cab because I had taken that trip before and knew the “right price” was $3. But when we arrived at the grocery store, the driver wanted $10 EACH. We said no way and gave him $5, then got out of the cab. If I had asked how much (cuanto cuesta) before I got in the cab, this situation could have been avoided.
There are two solutions to avoid gringo pricing with a taxi: (1) use Uber where available because you will know the price before the driver arrives, and the fee is charged to your credit card, so no change is necessary, (2) when using a taxi always… ALWAYS.. ask for the price before getting in the cab. If you don’t like the price, use a different taxi or an Uber.
DON’T LOOK LIKE A TOURIST
The more you look like a tourist, the bigger chance you could be charged a gringo price. If you wear a flowery shirt, have a fanny pack, always have a backpack with you or have a big camera around your neck, you scream tourist (aka stick out like a sore thumb). Tourists are much more likely to experience gringo pricing than other foreigners in Panama.
Sometimes it is gringo pricing, and sometimes a company is just more expensive.
A few weeks ago, I got three bids for getting a new septic system installed at my house. The company most recommended by other ex-pats wanted $2400. I paid $700 by using a company recommended by my Panamanian friends instead. The company that wanted $2400 spoke perfect English. The company I hired charged me $700. They spoke some English. I got another bid for $800, but they did now show up when they told me they would give me a bid (24 hours late), so I marked them off the list. When you need to get a project completed, it pays to get bids. You can always hire a translator if you need help communicating with contractors.
If I were getting a septic system installed in Texas, there would be a wide variety in pricing too. Is it gringo pricing, then? No, not necessarily, it’s just that some companies charge more than others.
THE PANAMA ‘GC’ TAX!
Gringo pricing could be considered the “gringo convenience” (GC) tax. Sometimes, the more English the Panamanians speak, the more you will pay for their services. You often see this with “private drivers” who jump on every Facebook post when someone mentions they are coming to Panama.
Everything is negotiable. If a driver says, they want $100 for transportation, offer $50. You might mutually agree on $75. Is that a gringo price? It could be! The more English they speak, the more you will usually pay unless it is UBER which is not available outside of Panama City… yet.
The gringo convenience tax can also happen with gardeners, housekeepers, at salons, and contractors. It can happen anywhere that a clear price is not posted or agreed to upfront.
Instead of only working with people who speak English (and paying the GC tax), hire non-English speakers too. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can use Google translate to communicate. Slowly, you will learn more Spanish, and your workers will learn more English – so you can communicate in Spanglish.
AVOID GRINGO PRICING
To avoid gringo pricing surprises, always ask what something will cost upfront. Even if you have been quoted a price before arriving in Panama, it would be a good idea to confirm the price again after you arrive. Keep a copy of all written communications. Clarify the price before the job starts.
HAVE THE CORRECT CHANGE
Have the correct change! If you have been quoted $25 for a job. Have exactly $25 to pay for the job. If you give them $40, they may pull the excuse that they don’t have change.
If a taxi trip is $6, but you give the driver $10, the driver will usually say they don’t have change. Always have plenty of small bills like $1 and $5 to avoid this kind of gringo pricing. Remember that Panama uses the US dollar as currency. There are Panamanian coins, but all paper money is the US dollar.
IT’S NOT ALL BAD
Most places you go to, like restaurants, hotels, and stores, have prices clearly posted, so you don’t have to worry about gringo pricing there.
You can avoid gringo pricing by getting the price upfront, don’t look like a tourist and always having plenty of small bills.
Tony de Wit says
Fun and informative reading, had to chuckle at the fannypack though. Thank you Jackie.
Any examples of how the Panamanians dress?
Dustin Lange says
This article does a good job of describing how Panamanians dress.
Michael Spencer says
Down here in SW Florida, we call it Zipcode Shock: everyone knows the upscale zip codes. Some zip codes, though, include neighborhoods that are considerably less upscale.