Will I need to bargain in China? Learning how to bargain in China is among the most important things you will want to prepare for leading up to your trip. In street markets, souvenir shops, and small stores, bargaining is a fact of life to follow. In this guide, I’m going to share eight tips to help you successfully bargain in China.
Below you can read all my best tips to haggle in China. By following these pointers, you will be well versed in all the different places you can bargain and haggle like a pro.
I start with sharing where you can and cannot bargain and then introduce the nitty-gritty rules to follow when haggling for an ideal price. These tips personally saved me lots of money during my trips to China and I hope they will serve you well too!
#1: Where Can You Bargain in China?
For the most part, almost anything is up for haggling in China. For foreign travelers to China, you are most likely, and encouraged, to bargain at any market where you will buy souvenirs. You should actually do your hardest haggling at souvenir shops as store vendors typically demand sky high prices from foreigners.
Apart from souvenirs, you can also bargain for clothes and shoes, fruit and vegetables at farmers markets, and even haggle with taxi drivers.
Where you cannot bargain in China is generally anywhere you can see physical price tags on merchandise. Also, don’t anticipate being able to haggle in China at shopping malls or places where you can buy genuine name brand items.
#2: Decide Your “Final Price” When Bargaining in China
Before you bargain in China, decide on the price you are willing to pay. To help inform your decision on what to pay, do a little market research before haggling.
Whether you want to buy a souvenir or something as simple as an apple, it’s likely the shop next door is also selling the same item. Therefore, start by learning the asking price at multiple shops and then bargain with the vendor with the lowest asking price.
Here are a few more additional tips to help you determine your price:
- Name brands that you can bargain for are fake. Therefore, don’t let the name brand fool you into raising its value.
- If the same shirt would cost you $20 at home, you can probably get it for 25%-50% of the cost in China.
- Whenever you bargain, offer no more than a third of the asking price and work your way up.
The last point above is super helpful if you aren’t entirely sure what a fair price is for the item.
#3: Use Your Calculator to Haggle in China
You shouldn’t feel obligated to bargain in Chinese. In fact, when bargaining in Chinese, you always run the risk of misunderstanding (I agreed to a price thinking they asked for 50 RMB when in reality they said 80 RMB).
During my first visit to China, I had already studied Mandarin for a full year and there were many situations where communication barriers negatively affected my ability to reach my desired price.
To focus on quickly reaching your desired price without any language barriers, try bargaining in China with a calculator. Simply catch the shopkeeper’s attention, point to the item, and list out your starting price on your phone’s calculator. From there, things should work out on their own.
A Chinese vendor with a calculator, via China-Mike.com
Often times, shopkeepers already have calculators handy and even show their asking price on them. So if numbers are already a common language, use that to your advantage!
With that said, if you are gung ho on learning and trying to haggle in Chinese, check out you can either try using one of these recommended Chinese phrase guide books or you can even download some fun Chinese voice translator apps for your phone.
#4: Start the Bidding, Don’t Ask the Price
Most China travel websites tell you to ask the price and then counter-bid at a fraction of the price. You can do this, but there is a better way to haggle in China.
Instead of asking the price, begin by offering 50% of the price you are willing to pay. This usually puts the seller off guard and forces them to counter-bid. Work your way up to the price you’re comfortable with and then make the purchase.
This is my favorite and most effective way to bargain in China. Generally speaking, it’s easier this way than asking for the price and working down from there.
#5: Be Prepared to Walk Away
One of the most popular and used techniques when haggling in China is the “walkaway”. If the seller isn’t getting down to the highest price you’re willing to pay, walk away.
Of course, you have to be willing to not purchase the item should the seller not give-in. Often, however, the seller will call you back and either agree to your price or restart the bidding process.
Should the seller completely ignore you as you walk away, try haggling over the item at the shop next door and consider raising the highest price you’re willing to pay by a small amount.
#6: Buy Items in Bulk (if it makes sense)
Buying in bulk should always yield a discount right? Use this to your advantage when you haggle in China.
This tip primarily applies to buying things like fruit, vegetables, and clothing. Should you want to buy a single apple, there is no way the shopkeeper will come down in price. But should you propose buying 2 kilos of apples, you are better positioned in demanding a lower price.
You can also bargain in bulk at souvenir shops should you be willing to buy many items at once. But definitely factor in your highest price you are willing to pay before you haggle.
#7: Don’t Empathize with the Seller
Getting chummy with a seller doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get a better price. In fact, it often works in their favor because subconsciously you don’t want to hurt this seller by cheating them out of money.
Get one thing straight: sellers will never sell at a loss.
It doesn’t matter what they say or how mad they act, if they sell, they are making a profit. You have to be able to distance yourself from the seller enough to “hurt” them by getting the price you want.
#8: Bring Small Bills
One of the most successful tactics used to haggle in China is to determine what you’re willing to pay for an item and to put only that amount of cash in your wallet.
When the seller bids you higher, just take out your wallet, count your money in front of them and say “I only have 50RMB and that’s the highest I can go”. They’ll see that it’s either sell at that price or lose the sale, and most of the time they’ll bite (as long as it’s still profitable for them).
Don’t have cash? With most shopping centers you can use a Chinese ATM to get cash.
Also, it’s a good idea to use small bills anyway. The use of large denominations is just begging for people to give you back fake bills.
Questions about money in China?
Download my FREE, 24-page Expat Guide to Banking in China, which goes even more in-depth on money matters in the Middle Kingdom!
Final Thoughts: Enjoy Yourself !
The tips shared above will help successfully bargain in China. The key take away is decide on the highest price you are willing to pay and work up to it when haggling.
Some people consider bargaining a chore, but if done right it can actually be enjoyable. Give yourself plenty of time to shop and figure out what you want to buy and your budget.
Oh and remember, that bargaining is the cultural norm in China. If bargaining or any of tips above make you feel uncomfortable, just remember that not bargaining would be a huge mistake as it can result in sharply increasing the costs of your trip to China.