mexican pesos You can expect to be charged a few extra pesos for the gringo tax.

With limited Spanish, beware the gringo tax

A mainstream, retail business tried some retail piracy when a gringo showed up

I know I will always be considered an extranjero while mingling among the masses here in my adopted country.


Being on the other side of cultural prejudice, as an exploited minority, is something that is always lurking in the cavernous recesses of what’s left of my mind. However, an incident four years ago clarified the murky issue of the gringo tax; the higher cost of goods and services for foreigners.

The Mexican consumer protection agency, Profeco, requires all merchants to clearly display the cost of their goods, but this is Mexico where even simple traffic laws are rarely enforced. So, when unscrupulous merchants see an opportunity to make a few extra bucks from an unsuspecting Anglo, they are not deterred by any pesky regulations.

Bartering with roving vendors or haggling with the owner of a curio/t-shirt shop is standard fare for both the haggler and the hagglee. Both parties will attempt to best the other, and both know a gringo tax is in included in the starting price.

However, when you deal with an established, mainstream, retail business, a bit of professionalism is to be expected without regard to the nationality of the customer.

I learned early on that here in Mexico if you are spending more than 200 pesos it really pays to shop around. Sometimes the different prices for the equivalent or similar products are all in the same ballpark, while at other times the disparity is staggering.

Four years ago, I experienced the absolute zenith of my gringoness, the pinnacle of retail plunder, the precipice of profiteering, an unabashed malfeasance, a full-blown in your face attempted rip-off.


While I was doing some interior finish work for a client I came to a point where we needed to order some wood beams. There are several lumber yards around town that would be able to supply me with what the client wanted.

To save time and language problems, I had Juan, my executive assistant, call around to get a firm price for the lumber we needed. We got prices from three different suppliers that ranged from 9,000 to 14,000 pesos for the package.

There was a fourth lumber yard we could not reach by telephone, so I stopped by after work and handed my list to the man in charge. He looked the list over, made a couple of phone calls and pushed buttons on his calculator.

It took him about 15 minutes to come up with a price of 22,000 pesos. I looked at the price, looked back at the list to make sure my quantities and sizes were correct and then looked into the wide smiling face of the pirate that wanted my client’s pesos.

I thanked him for his time and promptly left before my simmering temper forced me to spew forth my extensive vocabulary of Mexican obscenities.

We were into our third day of attempting to locate a source that could actually produce and or deliver the beams some time before next Christmas. I was outside dealing with a minor plumbing disaster when Juan came out and announced he found a supplier that had the beams in stock for a mere 12,000 pesos.

Since the other suppliers could not give me a firm, or even a vague delivery date, their prices were meaningless. I told Juan to have the man put it in writing and email it to me and we would stop by in the afternoon.

On our way to the lumber yard the neighborhood began to look very familiar and I simply assumed there was more than one wood supplier in this colonia. When Juan told me it was in the next block and to take a right turn into the driveway, I realized I was about to reenter the pirate’s lair from three days before; this was going to be interesting.

It was then I understood that the gringo price for the beams was 22,000 pesos and the price for a local was 12,000 pesos. We entered the office and Juan presented a copy of the emailed bid to the now somewhat confused culprit and asked to look at the wood.

There are few times in life when you can catch someone so blatantly in flagrante delicto and I was vastly enjoying the moment. The man’s face started to twist into a sheepish grimace and suddenly developed several nervous tics.

This once proud pirate quickly transformed into a humble but gracious business owner who could not do enough to accommodate our needs.

This experience has taught me that unless I can speak perfect Spanish, I need a trusted Mexican friend to negotiate certain types of transactions, especially when significant sums of pesos are involved.

Also, I would like to thank the Acme Expat Immersion Therapy and Attitude Modification Program for helping me view this incident with the proper perspective, thereby maintaining my tentative grip on sanity.

Bodie Kellogg describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at

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  • Henry Wilson

    “limited spanish”? hell i’m fluent in the language and they try that nonsense with me every day. my response: just because i’m a foreigner does not mean i’m stupid. whenever possible, make your purchases only where the prices are listed. if they try it still, flip them off the italian way, make a comment about having sex with his mother and walk out.

    • Ronny

      Or go to Profeco, I did when I got conned and won the case! They are 99% on the side of the consumer.

      • Henry Wilson

        what is profeco? im serious. i have lived and traveled in mexico for 15 years, speak good spanish, and have never heard of it. sort of like a consumer protection agency? in mexico? are you high? (just kidding…well…sort of.)

        • Herradura Plata

          If you were fluent, you woulda knowed, amigo……

          • Henry Wilson

            says who? you? lol! veta ala chingada pendejo.

        • Yep, a consumer protection agency. Surprised you don’t know of it. I’ve never used it, but I hear it’s very effective, and they almost always learn toward the consumer.

          • Henry Wilson

            thanks for the info and not posting a smartass response as did another commenter.

          • Henry, I don’t do smartass responses unless I’m responding to an earlier smartass. And even when I do that, I do it intelligently, which is better than doing it stupidly, which is how most people do it. Online anonymity brings out bad manners in people. Sad.

          • Henry Wilson

            naw…… those jokers never had good manners to lose.

        • Henry, What are you going to do? Run to Profeco most every time you have to buy something?

          • Henry Wilson

            i already said what i do when some local tries to stick me with a rip off.

      • taxicab killer

        what did they win for you just kidding. i have so many issues with taxis. just yesterday i got a taxi before getting in asked if he knew place i was going he did. day time prices are around 150 pesos night up to 200 but in actuality if i take a taxi to a place literally 5 minutes from where i live it cost 80 pesos then another 35 pesos from there anyway yesterday i told the guy i dont feel like negotiating so ill let you know now ill pay dos cien and thats all, he counters with 250 and i start walking away and he ssays fine get in and i was on my way walking to the autobus so 2 minutes into the trip he asked me if i had the money and i said yes dos cien i have and he takes out his money he had in his sunglass holder 300 pesos 200 verde and 100 amerio and i said si dos cien pesos and i took it out and showed him and he says no dos is 200 pesos and cien is 100 pesos more and i said get the fuck out of here stop the car let me out and he was able to actually grab my 200 pesos and now hes looking for change to charge me 50 pesos for 2 blocks he lied to me about the price so i am not paying anything fuck him i snatched my bill back and threatened to call police and i said go ahead i dont use drugs i dont drink so you have nothing on me and then as im leaving his taxi without giving him a penny he tells me fine get in and we come up to a police check prob fo dwi and he says here cops now i said ok you ask only what i asked and if the officer says its 300 pesos then ill pay you ut say it exactly dos cien pesos how much is that and of course he has a 2 minute conversation saying im trying to not pay for fair or i dont have enough to pay and i tell cop listen this guy was supposed to ask you how much money is dos cien because he is playing games and first agreed it was 200 pesos then 2 blocks down road tried to say 300 when he countered me with 250 so why would i ever pay 300 and of course the cops work with the taxis and the cop says listen just give him 250 and we ont have a problem ok you dont want problem do you. i said look officer i have alot of respect for you and i hope you dont take this the wrong way but ive lived in this country to know well enough dos cien cannot be mistaken for 300 pesos and fact your taking this taxis side means that when i call profeeco on him and i will he could easily name you as an accomplice to get out of paying huge fines and losing his taxi licence for 6 months and also fined for not having a meter ut you know what its holidays ill pay the extra 50 pesos no problem but dont pretend that your doing me favors because ill go to the judge ith you right now and i will have a long talk about how many different ways the police and taxi drivers scammed me and every single way they did it with some being very creative and some being criminal like having drugies on the street try and sell drugs to tourists and when someone nice like me wont tell them get out of my face and i give them a minute for me to decline you now come pull me over or stop me cause you seen me talking with a known druggy and try and make me feel guilted into paying a fine to you personally, ive been there done it before. no more. and that taxi driver had a tshirt on he was covering his face with it was so cold, you know damm well i opened up my back 2 windows and tried to open up front passenger but he stopped me. i also told him that i hope that the extra money you scammed is for a sick child and normally you wouldnt do this because you had to beep and harpoon me to get me as a fare as i was walking to the autobus… revolution on a friday night and you gotta hustle to get fairs… why do you think that is… because of all the scamming and manipulating and stealing by police and taxi drivers in the area has killed tourism and thats why its friday night and the streets are dead and on a the biggest drinking night of the fucking year none the less…. i want you to think about that really well on your way back to tijauan because you are responsible for the decline in tourism not them but you

        • 🙂 I was actually kidnapped by a taxi driver. Having arrived at the destination, I refused paying his then stated price amounting to five times the public rate. He stomped on the gas to the police station where the driver told the so-called cop that hhe wanted me arrested for my not paying the fare. The so-called cop told me to pay. I told him I wouldn’t because the driver was trying to rob me. The moron of a cop then told me to pay the driver at the public rate which I refused to do. “Why?” asked the cop. Because I contracted him to take me to the Public Market not here. The cop then arrested me (three days & nights) in jail. “Why?” I asked. “When you should be arresting the driver for attempted robbery and kidnapping”? “Because you insulted Mexico” replied the cop. In other words, if a foreigner does not concede to being robbed and even kidnapped in Mexico, one is simply not respecting Mexico. Why shouldn’t the cost of living not cost foreigners more in Mexico? Mexico is a sick society —made sick by a literal mafia of a government. Fit only for the most dedicated masochists.

        • Walter

          Pure poetry.

      • disqus_P0ehDdImA2

        i ish i knew about profeeco when m casino screwed me on 49k peso jackpot so criminal next day went to police station with my mexican wife who knows i dont and cant drink and the officer behind our officer said in spanish i was drunk and beligerent and didnt win he was working there last night when she heard that knowing i dont drink it scared her into thinking the cop was mafia or part of scam at least and now they have our home address so her and her mom talked me out of filing a complaint but if i knew about profeeco then i would of went that way oh and i had photo proof of my jackpot win and they made the mistake in showing me my account on screen where i snapped photo with my watch showed 2 adjustments totaling exactly 49k the exact amount won. they had decency to pay me the 4k pesos i deposited. but too bad for them i was a local and would of probably given it all back in a few months instead i tell story to every tourist i know that likes to play the slots

        • disqus_P0ehDdImA2

          im sure ive cost them alot more then 50k pesos past 2 years

    • disqus_P0ehDdImA2

      profeeco will fine huge for retailers that quote in dollars as well as taxis who do plus dont have a meter. my biggest complaint is taxis and cops work together and cops will always side with taxis and if your new it might be confusing cause you thought you knew price and how could a cop lie well they tip off cops to tourists trying to buy things they shouldnt in return for permission to gringo tax us but cops usually back off when they see you know the deal by holding your money while being searched and best is having profeeco number on you most taxis ont even take you once they kno they cant rob you cause on a friday night so many that willing to pay 20 bucks for a 50 peso ride why waste time

  • Güerito

    The above advice is even more important when looking for rental housing. Never call and ask for the rental price, no matter how fluent you think you are. Even worse is to go by and ask. Have a Mexican friend do it.

    • Herradura Plata

      Agree it´s most critical to have local “talent” do the negotiating, esp. concerning housing. Also agree that competence in “español” won´t necessarily save your “gringo” backside — Mexicans play a great shell game because they have been practising — on each other — for generations. And don´t we love the way they admit it, with that beguiling “aw shucks” grin?

      • JJSmith

        Which is why the US doesn’t need Mexicans to bring that crappy culture with them. All corruption all the time. Yeah, let’s Make the US Mexico – 3rd world cesspool.

        • linda

          I bet the native American Indians say the same thing about all our European ancestors who came and stole their lands and made slaves out of many. Stop being racist. There are good and bad in every race. For every honest American there is one just as corrupt. Look at our president. Trump is the biggest corrupt con man walking the planet.

  • Francis Dryden

    If you don’t like the price… walk away. Period. I was in retail for many years and have heard these kind of stories for years… it’s called low-balling. A person says another store can supply “such and such” for way less… my response “why didn’t you buy it?”… “he didn’t have it in stock”… me, “If I didn’t have it in stock I could sell it to you for that too”.

  • Mick McCarthy

    AEITAM program? Bodie, what do we need to offer, besides large sacks of money, to hear more about your unique
    Therapy Modification Program?

  • Speaking perfect Spanish won’t help. It’s your face that does the trick.

    There really is not a Gringo Tax. What there is is higher prices for people considered well-off, and that applies to everyone, even Mexicans. The Gringos catch it about 100 percent of the time because we are all considered filthy rich. One of the reasons we are not only considered well-off but stunningly stupid with money is that we almost always over-tip, overpay when unnecessary, etc. We do this without anyone asking. A friend in Jalisco recently told me that he left the routine annual tip at his local post office where only three people work. The tip he left was 600 pesos. No one asked him for it, he simply was demonstrating his inner King Midas. This type of thing is why we get overcharged so often. My friend needs to learn the “When in Rome” thing.

    But back to the Gringo Tax. Have a well-dressed Mexican pull up at that lumber yard in a BMW, and watch him get over-charged too. It’s not just us.

    Speaking of tips, here is one my (Mexican) wife told me years ago, and it works. Whenever someone quotes you a price on anything at all, pause, and say. “¿Es lo menos?” The price will drop 95 percent of the time. Try it.

    • Güerito

      Yeah, I used to hear, “Y eh lo menos?” often when I worked in retail. I use it all the time. Then be sure to ask for your “pilón.” And if you’re buying more than one of an item ask for “precio mayoreo.”

      • Try “No me mamas pendejo!” “Tome el dinero o bese me culo!”

    • Ugh! And all “Gringos” “are considered well off” whether they are or —knowingly—not!

      • Pesobill

        They are “well off” when they don’t go down there ..

  • Jumex

    One thing I have noticed about buy things in Mexico is –

    Many locals buy the same things from the same people day in day out, they have prices established. When they go to buy from a new source they spend some time asking, negotiating and discussing price.

    Don’t be scared to walk away. I see many locals do it. You can always come back, when they do not yell a cheaper price as you are walking away that is most always their lowest price. Then check with their competitor.

    As far a tourists, many do not have time to discuss prices or check competitors they get charged more.

    • I —a gringo— worked at times in a Kihuic (flea market selling souvenirs to tourists). If I didn’t charge “the gringo tax” I’d be beaten up by other salesmen. The minimum prices were set plus, for “gringos,” the “gringo tax.” Set by the wholesalers holding the MxGovernment concessions —-and thus controlled by the MxGovernment— supplying nearly all the goods to all such flea markets. Btw, to say, as some are claiming, it is directed at “foreigners” —implying it is not racist — is not quite true. Foreigners who were/are Hispanic were/are never targeted. Why? “The capture of cash US Dollars” for their mandated exchange for pesos and, thus, the collection of cash US Dollars by, and for, the MxGovernment without risking an anti-Gringo/US (in particular) alliance among all Hispanics under the lead of the MxGivernment.

  • “Cultural prejudice”? The “gringo tax” —over and above bargaining also— is outright “racist.”

  • K. Chris C.

    To prevent “gringo-prices,” I don’t shop for anything outside WalMart, places with posted prices, or places that I know and trust. If I really need something not available at the above, I utilize my Mexican wife or trusted friends armed with “price-intelligence” beforehand.

    For price-intelligence I utilize the Web and information from friends–“About how much should this and that cost me…” I have become a walking encyclopdia of price information.

    This week is a good example of dodging “gringo-prices”: Local shop wanted $1,700 for a car battery–later $2,700 LOL! A friend told me that certain places in the city should have it for $1,000 to $1,700, but that, believe it or not, AutoZone should have for about $1,700. Since I could not bring a “price-beard” with me, I got it at AutoZone–so much for “Shop local.”

    My wife and I used a sticker system the time we outfitted our store with used fixtures. I would visit shops first, get price quotes, and then mark desired items with stickers. My wife would then visit sometime later. She was always quoted prices 50% to 75% less than what I was told–“There’s more than one way to skin a Mexican shopkeeper.”

    The local bazzar caught us, and now we are effectively banned from the premises–Damn! I can’t buy my own stolen bicycle back.

    An American citizen, not US subject.

  • Pesobill

    Yes , having lived there for year and speaking Spanish they always try to rip off the gringos . Seriously crooked people and seemingly they have no conscience when they do it . Here in the USA , Mexicans whether legally here or not get the same prices , we don’t get a better price for blonde hair and blue eyes .. Never again will I deal with business down there ,just a bizarre mix match of corruption and I’m glad so many gringos have bailed after selling the homes ..

  • Pogo

    I found out right away that the Mexican merchants are just doing their best to survive, thus the lack of price tags in many places. I got a very nice buckskin jacket in TJ for exactly half of the first mentioned price. We were both happy with that.

  • linda

    What I am curious about is why would this person white, purple, pink or any color have problems looking for wood when every city has a Home Depot which carries everything. You deal with back street people or businesses you are going to risk getting taken, that’s only common sense .