The first cardinal rule to avoid tourist scams is to ALWAYS KNOW EXACTLY WHAT SOMETHING WILL COST BEFORE AGREEING TO PURCHASE IT.  If a price is clearly marked you should be OK but prices for many services or products are vague or not specified at all.  This is a red flag alert for tourist scams.  Below are five potential tourist scams or overcharge situations and how to avoid them.


ORDERING FOOD:  The server tells you about the mouth-watering specials not on the menu but doesn’t mention the price. You select the seafood special he describes which is so good you want to stop strangers on the street and induce them to try it.  The bill arrives and you are shocked.  It takes your budget for the next two days to pay for it and you end up calling your sister collect to ask her to wire money to you so you can continue your vacation (this actually happened to me in Barcelona).

You could have avoided this by asking the server for the price of the special first and then deciding whether to order it or settle for something else at 1/4 the price. You won’t look cheap or tacky asking for the price beforehand even in an upscale location. In any case, you will never see that server again so don’t worry about it.

ORDERING WINE SUGGESTED BY THE WAITER:  The waiter comes to take your order and explains the off-the-wine-list selections available for pairing with your meal.  Simply ask to see the wine on the menu or ask the price straight out before you order it. Then decide if you want it or not. Avoiding surprises makes for a more pleasant meal.

TRANSPORTATION IN UNFAMILIAR LOCATIONS ARE PRIME OPPORTUNITIES FOR TOURIST SCAMS: You flag a taxi, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, water-taxi or horse-and-carriage.  You get in and communicate your destination. When you arrive the driver quotes you some ridiculous price you just know doesn’t sound right.  There is little you can do but pay at this point.

You need to agree on the price with the driver beforehand. If language communication is an issue, have the address written down beforehand in the local language and show it to the driver.   If a taxi is metered, check and make sure the meter is turned on and if not, don’t be embarrassed to tell the driver to turn it on.  Use hand signals if necessary.

TOURS: You see a very reasonable price for a tour you are interested in.  You take the tour and it’s really very nice.  At the end of the tour, the guide tells you the price is per person, not per tour.  There are five of you. At this point, you can either pay and chalk it up to experience or engage in an uncomfortable situation with the provider. Again, knowing the specific details of a transaction before agreeing to purchase will help you avoid unpleasant surprises.

CULTURAL CEREMONIES OR SHOWS: Here is a tourist scam that is popular in Beijing. You learn about a tea ceremony, traditional dance or some other cultural event.  It sounds like fun and the admission price is not too bad so you go. At the event, you drink some tea or a traditional drink. At the end of the event, you are handed a bill for the advertised admission price plus an inflated price for whatever you had to drink. Turns out the tea is a rare blend and the traditional drink is specially made just for this event.  These scams are especially hard to guard against.  Your best defense is to ask upfront if there are any other costs associated with the show or ceremony.  If the answer is vague or iffy, stay away.

Foreign travel carries with it the possibility of walking into tourist scams but this should not stop you from enjoying the pleasures of the traveling experience.  A little caution and foresight will go a long way to avoid unpleasant surprises. And remember…ALWAYS KNOW THE PRICE BEFORE YOU BUY.



Here are some European tourist scams that have been around for a while and are still practiced.  And still more scams in Europe. But Europe doesn’t have a monopoly on scams. Tourist scams in Africa and Asia are also big.

What are some tourist scams I may have missed?


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