Gringo pricing is when you are charged more for something just because you are a foreigner living in or 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 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 go 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 drive 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). Tourist are much more likely to experience gringo pricing than other foreigners living in Panama.
Sometimes it is gringo pricing and sometimes a company is just more expensive.
A few weeks ago, I got 3 bids for getting a new septic system installed at my house. The company most recommended by other expats wanted $2400. I paid $700 by using a company recommended by my Panamanian friends instead. The company who wanted $2400 spoke prefect 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 to 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 was getting a septic system installed in Texas, there would be a big variety in pricing too. It is 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 see this a lot with “private drivers” who jump on every Facebook post when someone mentions that 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. It 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 happens with gardeners, house keepers, at salons, and contractors. It can happen anywhere that a clear price is not posted or agreed to up front.
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 both communicate in Spanglish.
AVOID GRINGO PRICING
To avoid gringo pricing surprises, always ask what something will cost up front. 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 pricing up front before the job starts.
HAVE THE CORRECT CHANGE
If a taxi trip is $6 but you give the driver $10, the drive 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 up front, don’t look like a tourist and always have plenty of small change.