The Expat Life: Dishonest Salesmen and Unexpected Costs

Let’s talk about the expat life again. While there are many positives to starting over in a new country, there are negatives as well. Two of them are dishonest salesmen and unexpected costs.

Dishonest Salesmen

Wherever you go in the world, you will find dishonest salesmen. I’m sure you’ve experienced sharp sales pitches that leave out inconvenient details. And you’ve probably had salesmen lie to your face trying to get you to sign on the dotted line.

That stuff happens everywhere to everyone, but there are some twists to watch out for when you are an expat. Here are two I’ve seen:

“Gringo” Pricing

Most foreigners come to Ecuador from a place that has a much higher cost of living. And many are downright ignorant. Both of the language (Spanish) and of what things actually cost around here. As a result, prices often shoot up when a “gringo” is buying or is even in a party of shoppers.

Whether it is a price in a local market, or the rent on an apartment, some people try to take advantage of foreigners. Here in Ecuador, it is called gringo pricing.

For example, my brother and I went to look at an apartment that had been listed in a local newspaper. The rent was something like $325 per month. But when us two foreign boys showed up at the door, the landlady insisted that the rent was $375 per month. She stuck with it, even when we told her we had seen the $325 advertised price.

Your best bet here is to wait outside while a trusted local friend shops for big-ticket items. Once they settle on a price, you can go inside and pay the bill.

Different Ways to Play the Game

Another thing to watch out for is that the tricks salesmen use can vary from place to place. When I lived in the USA, the price that was posted in a store was the price you paid. That is not always the case here. In most stores, prices are open to negotiation.

But you need to know how to play the game. My wife illustrated this brilliantly when we were buying a rice steamer of all things. I should have realized something was up when she got dressed up to go to the appliance store. We are not part of the local elite, but she can present herself as someone of importance when she wants to.

I didn’t wait outside the store but followed her around the store, trying to look imposing. I am about 6 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than the typical local guy here in Cuenca.

She spotted the rice steamer that we wanted, but the price was something ridiculous like $109. She told the salesman that we wanted that rice cooker, but were not going to pay that price for it.

He countered by offering to let us finance it at some ridiculous interest rate.

She told him no, we were going to pay cash, but we would only buy it if he gave us his best price. She looked and acted like someone important, and I didn’t do anything to disabuse him of the notion.

He caved and gave us the rice steamer for $58.

Later, my wife explained that the high posted price was for regular people. It was also useful for making things too expensive for many local people to buy with cash. They would then have to use the store credit. As a result, they would end up paying several times what we did for the same item.

Unexpected Costs

The rice steamer incident leads nicely into the topic of unexpected costs. But here, I am referring to different kinds of costs. Some things that are cheap in your home country will be expensive in another country and vice versa. This goes for services as well as goods.

Unexpected Costs of Services

In the last year, I’ve had to get a lot of documents notarized and mailed to one place or another. In the US, that is not a big deal. You go over to your local bank and get someone to notarize the document, then you throw it in the mailbox. Cheap, easy, and quick.

getting documents notarized can be costly

Notarizing documents is easy in the USA. Not so in Ecuador.

But getting things notarized here is harder. There are a limited number of notaries that you can use. The price for notarizing a document is low, if the stars align for you. Some documents first need to be translated into Spanish by an approved translator.

Other documents need to be apostilled (authenticated in some government office in your own country). Once apostilled, they need to be translated, then notarized.

It Gets Worse

Sometimes a local notary is not acceptable. For most of the documents I was dealing with, the notary had to be an official US notary. And the only allowed official US notaries in Ecuador are in the US Consulates.

For me, that means making an appointment with the Consulate days or weeks in advance. Then a 3 1/2 hour trip over the mountains, several hours at the Consulate, and a $50 fee for each notarization. All followed by the 3 1/2 ride back home.

Once the documents are properly notarized, I can’t simply toss them in a mailbox. It will usually take weeks for mail to get from here to the US, if it even arrives at all. So mailing a notarized document means a trip to the DHL office on the other side of town. Depending on the size of the document it costs around $60 in shipping fees.

Unexpected Costs of Goods

Aside from examples like my rice steamer, you may still find that certain things cost far more than you expect. Your favorite brand of pretzels may cost double what they do at home, since they now have to be imported.

Depending on your new country’s trade policies, other costs may be far higher than you expect. Ecuador has had large import tariffs on hundreds of products for years. Phones and computers are particular sore spots. The latest tech is often not available here at all. And when it is, the price will be at least double what you would pay in the US.

A popular tactic is to get someone coming in from the States to carry these kinds of items into the country for you. Many people travel to a country with more liberal trade policies once or twice a year. One goal of the trip is to stock up on stuff that is way too expensive here. I’ve heard that if you do it right, you can save enough money to more than cover the cost of the trip!

Conclusion

Wherever you go, there are negatives as well as positives. The key is to be aware of the negatives so you can at least try to avoid them.

Things in the USA look ever worse for anyone who wants a freer tomorrow. Charlottesville is just a taste of what’s to come. Things like dishonest salesmen and unexpected costs may mar the expat lifestyle. But they are small things compared to what’s happening up North. If you value your freedom, I urge you to consider getting out while you still can.

P.S. For a fascinating take on the current events in the USA, check out this post by Scott Adams.