Is it true that foreigners are heavily subjected to the Thai dual price system? Although there are some instances where a lower price is offered to Thai locals and higher prices are offered to everyone else, it’s not as bad as you may think.
We’ll be upfront and say that, in our experience, most purchased goods or services are not subjected to the Thai dual price system.
As expats in Chiang Mai, we shop regularly at our local market and pay the same for meat and produce as Thai people. We go to our favorite Thai restaurants and bars and pay the same for food and beer as Thais. We shop at the mall, buy gas, send off mail, all for the same price as Thais.
These examples, which make up the majority of our purchases in Thailand, are no more expensive for us than it is for our Thai neighbor. That or the local Thais do a phenomenal job at making us believe we pay the same amount as them…but we suspect that’s not true.
Where Can You Expect to Find This Two-Tiered Price System?
There are several rumored reasons why the Thai dual price system exists. One is that the average foreigner is assumed to have more money than the average Thai and can afford to pay more. Others say that because foreigners don’t pay taxes, it’s a way to cover maintenance costs at government operated facilities, such as at national parks.
The Thai dual price system does exist in some forms of public transportation, popular travel destinations such as temples and national parks, and sometimes at touristy markets.
These price differences are typically found at places that are visited more by tourists and generally less by expats.
Taxis, Tuk-tuks, and Songthaews
Not all public transportation is more expensive for foreigners. No matter what nationality you are, you can expect to pay the same for train, bus, and airline tickets.
But it’s true that visitors can expect higher quotes from taxi, tuk-tuk, and songthaew drivers. These one-man businesses have the opportunity to up the price and earn a greater fare from foreigners. It’s not uncommon for drivers to count on the foreigners not knowing the going local rate and charge them more.
A ride for 200 baht ($6 USD) around a Thai city is a steal for anyone who has hailed a cab in a Western city for ten times the amount, so why question the price? Of course, the ride home with a metered taxi at half the cost may turn you sour at the thought of being ripped off earlier.
Here are a few ways to prevent being overcharged:
- Request that the meter be turned on in a taxi since it’s not usually used by default. If the cabbie refuses or makes up excuses such as, “Gas is so expensive”, or “The meter is broken”, pass him up and hail a new one.
- In the case you find yourself dropped off at a popular yet isolated tourist area (at border crossings, country train stops, etc.), the cabbies unfortunately have the advantage and know you have no other choice but to use their service. In these instances, barter politely, but you may just have to grin and bear the higher prices. And yes, even local Thais are subjected to these higher prices if the drivers know they have the upper hand.
- During your first day in a new town, ask your server or hotel concierge for the flat rates of the local public transportation. Knowing this will significantly reduce the chance of being over charged. Also, avoid asking, “How much?” Drivers will see it as an opportunity to make more money and suggest a higher price. Saying something like, “It costs 30 baht, right?” works well, in addition to asking in Thai if you know how.
Temples, national parks, and some entertainment and attraction venues have signs at their entrances advertising a higher price for foreigners than local Thais. Often, this is advertised discretely in Thai numbers instead of Roman numbers. Sneaky sneaky! In fact, there’s a site called 2PriceThailand.com that has a long list of attractions that charge different prices based on nationality, whether the prices are discretely listed or not.
National parks are notorious for the Thai dual price and are probably the worst offenders. We’ve personally seen prices that range from twice as expensive to ten times more expensive for foreigners the last time we took a short trip to Krabi.
Some temples charge an entrance fee for foreign visitors but allow the locals to enter for free. However, others still rely on donations from all visitors.
Lastly, there are some entertainment facilities that charge more for foreigners than they do the locals. For example, the Art in Paradise 3D art museum charges 300 baht for foreign adults and 180 baht for Thai adults. On the other hand, movie tickets are the same price.
TIP: Sometimes you are granted the local price if you can prove you are here long-term by showing a Thai drivers license, a work permit, or a Thai residence card. Also, politely speaking Thai to the person supplying tickets might get you a discounted rate as well. While it doesn’t always work, it’s definitely worth a shot!
We haven’t (knowingly) eaten at a Thai restaurant and been handed an English menu where the prices listed are more expensive than the menu written in Thai. In fact, many of the mom and pop Thai restaurants have menus written in both Thai and English with one price for everyone.
When we order from street stalls, we overhear the vendors giving the same price (spoken in Thai) to Thai diners as they give us. We can read both the separate Thai and English menus and those prices are still the same, too.
We admit having had a few mishaps at Thai restaurants during the high season in Chiang Mai (October through January). Particularly on the hand written receipts, we’ve been overcharged on several occasions by 5 or 10 baht on an item or two we ordered. Perhaps our server thought they could squeeze a few extra baht out of us, hoping we wouldn’t notice? It could have been an honest mistake, too.
We haven’t noticed obvious Thai and foreigner prices at the outdoor food or walking street markets. When buying produce, often the price signs are on display and you can watch them put the food items on a scale and calculate the total price for yourself.
In the sign advertising drinks above, you’ll notice there are two prices. These prices have nothing to do with your nationality. Instead, it’s the cost of having your beverage put in either a plastic bag (toong, ถุง) for 12 baht or a large plastic cup (gaeo yai, แก้วใหญ่) for 15 baht. In all honesty, the vendor will probably default to the large plastic cup if you can’t specify what container you want. But really, that’s a pretty lackluster example of being subjected to a higher price because you’re a foreigner.
As for shopping at a walking street markets, expect to be quoted a high price at the beginning of a transaction. Remember, in Thailand you can haggle! Vendors quote a high price – you can accept it, but it’s better to barter because it’s part of the fun. Certainly don’t take it personally if you’ve just paid 400 for a pair of flip-flops when a Thai customer bartered them down to 300 baht!
Why Get Upset About the Thai Dual Price System?
We understand why people are turned off by the Thai dual price system. It’s especially bothersome for a person who comes from a country in which tiered prices, i.e., discrimination, are illegal, such as America like us. It’s the principle of the matter, right? Many people believe that inflating prices based on a person’s nationality is insulting.
We try to not let it bother us. We think past it and remind ourselves that we are traveling around and exploring this beautiful, friendly, and incredibly affordable country. And of course, if we think the price is too much, we spend our money elsewhere. Mai bpen rai, na ka.
All in all, there are only a handful of situations where prices differ for foreigners and Thais. Even so, the differences are generally small enough to just shrug off. Otherwise, relax and know that wherever you are, you’ll be sure to pay much less than anything back home!