The Most Simple but Useful Tips for Negotiating Abroad


So many pursuits can take you out of your country. Business, studies, volunteering, tourism, sports, specialised training, and visiting loved ones are some of the most common reasons we leave our home countries to cross borders and oceans. While outside your country, you may have to overcome cultural barriers to get around and be successful.

Language barriers, misunderstandings, and mistrust are some of the cultural barriers you might come across. Applying common sense, some cultural knowledge, and some core negotiation skills training can make your life more comfortable abroad. Here are eight tips for negotiating when you’re abroad.

Learn the Language

You don’t have to be fluent in the native language but knowing a few common words can work to your advantage. Some simple phrases to learn are:

  • Hello
  • Good morning/evening
  • Thank you
  • My name is…
  • Please
  • Goodbye

Being able to greet and show politeness in the local language shows respect for the culture and the people of the area in which you’re staying. Learning the local lingo shows you’re making the effort to connect. If your knowledge of the language allows it, you could even include some slang terms for good measure.

In some cultures, when locals realise you know a bit of the language, they tend to quote the local prices. The locals may also assume you already know the right price, so they are less likely to overcharge you.

Negotiation Cultures and Customs

In the business world, knowing the cultural norms is key. Learning how to work within foreign cultural norms could mean the difference between success and failure in your deals. With this in mind, corporate procurement or sales teams could do well to attend onsite negotiation training in the country their company is doing business in. At the very least, ensure you research the local cultures and customs before you engage in negotiations.

It’s important to remember that in some countries, bargaining is standard. In others, haggling is almost unheard of. For instance, in Middle Eastern countries, negotiation is an enjoyable part of commerce. You can even find starting prices that are more than double the paid amount.

In North America and Northern Europe, bargaining applies to very few purchases. Unless it’s a bigger purchase like a car or a house, you’re unlikely to haggle for your purchases. However, even in countries where haggling is common, there are items where bargaining may seem rude.

Generally, for personal purchases, souvenir prices are negotiable while restaurant food is not.

Be Aware of Communication Characteristics

You’ve probably heard jokes about how Italians love wild gesturing during conversations. Gesticulation is global, and every community has its unique gesticulation traits.

Each community has unique visual and vocal cues. Some quick training in the local characteristics should be enough to ensure you don’t offend anyone. You can also catch nuanced meanings and other non-verbal cues.

For example, in Greece, the most offensive gesture to show someone is to face your palm towards them with your fingers extended (known as a ‘mountza’). The offensiveness increases the closer you aim the gesture to a person’s face. In most other countries, such an action could be completely harmless. At worst, in some countries it may be considered the gesture of a standoffish negotiator, but nothing too serious. In Greece, however, locals may interpret this hand gesture as intending to cause a great deal of offence.

Keep the Conversation Light

Be assertive and firm with your prices. However, avoid being too aggressive when negotiating. In some parts of the world, skilled haggling is an enjoyable part of the sales process. Being too aggressive puts other people on the spot and erodes the fun nature of the transaction. In particular, pay attention to the volume of your voice and level of negative, defensive emotions .

Carry Loose Change

As an international traveller, it’s wise to carry loose change or small notes rather than large notes. Be sure not to flash your cash before agreeing on a price. Otherwise, when vendors see your wad of money, they are likely to stick to a higher rate.

Carrying smaller notes and change also ensures you can pay the exact price. Some vendors may not have change for large notes. Some may even delay giving back change in the hope you will ask them to keep change or offer them a large tip.

Get Some Rest

It’s common for people travelling on business to walk off an aeroplane and head straight into the negotiation room. Business people wanting to save time and costs may want to jump right into discussions. Being tired is a sure-fire way to lose value in negotiations. You may miss important points and skip critical clauses in a contract.

Jetlag may lower your resolve, and has been proven to create a state akin to being drunk. Exhaustion can make your brain more susceptible to suggestion. Try to schedule your trips to give yourself a day or two to acclimatise before any important meetings.

Know the Exchange Rate

In some countries, currency values may leave you feeling like you’re playing monopoly. You may find yourself paying in thousands for simple items like a cup of tea.

When you’re not clear about currency exchange rates, it’s easy to lose a sense of value. Keep track of foreign exchange rates to understand what everything is worth. Knowing the exchange rate makes it easier to compare the worth and value of items home and abroad. Don’t be shy about training yourself to use your smartphone’s calculator function to convert prices.

Exchange Value for Value

Often, you get to a point where your foreign business partners or everyday merchants need a concession. It’s okay to make a concession, but make sure you find something of equal or higher value in return. In most instances, skilled negotiators seek a win-win agreement.

For example, you may be haggling the price of a bead necklace with a market vendor. If the vendor sticks to one price, offer to pay just a little bit extra if the vendor throws in a matching bracelet. Your new deal should offer you better prices per piece while the trader is able to sell more.