Shopping in Thailand is one of visitors’ favorite activities. Consequently, these Thailand shopping tips are intended to help visitors make the most of their Thailand shopping experience. Knowing when and where to shop, how to haggle, what forms of payment are accepted, how VAT refunds can be processed, and what are typical return policies should help visitors on a Bangkok shopping spree or simply picking up a few souvenirs enjoy their time shopping in Thailand.
Most shops, including those in malls and departments store complexes, are generally open from 10 am to 10 pm, though opening hours are typically longer in tourist areas than in smaller local towns. Furthermore, some shops close on Sundays, though most major stores in Bangkok and those in tourist towns are normally open seven days a week. Night markets typically begin at dusk and close around midnight. Wet markets, where local Thais purchase food, open around 4 am and close around 9 am.
Usually, fixed prices are the norm in department stores, while bargaining is expected at most other places, particularly at night markets and local central markets. Generally, the price in Thailand is variable and you can obtain a final figure of between 10-40% lower than the original asking price. Much depends on your skills and the shopkeeper's mood. But remember, Thais appreciate good manners and a sense of humor. With patience and a broad smile, you will not only get a better price, you will also enjoy shopping as an art. A good strategy is to casually inquire about an item the first time you see it in order to get a ballpark estimate of the price. Also, you will learn that walking away will often be met by a lower figure shouted at you to lure you back. Also, you are more likely to get a good price if you shop just as a market is opening, as vendors believe an early sale is “lucky” and will help them have a prosperous day.
Major credit cards are accepted in most establishments and shopping centers, particularly the larger ones in Bangkok and the more touristy areas. However, there are occasionally additional fees placed on charges by both the retailer and your card provider.
In fact, you may be better off reserving the credit card for emergencies and paying cash for most purchases. While it's against the law for the Thai vendor to pass the fee that the credit card company charges them on to the customer(approximately 2.25% to 3.5%, depending upon card type), it's quite common for them to do so, and it's usually not negotiable -- you either pay the surcharge or don't use your credit card. They may even attempt to charge 4 or 5% instead of the 2.25% to 3.5%.
For lost cards:
Master Card: (662) 256 7326-7
Visa: (662) 256 7326-7
American Express: (662) 273 5100 or (662) 273 0022
Diners Club: (662) 238 2920 or (662) 238 2680
The currency in Thailand is the Thai baht, though any currency can be brought to a Thailand money exchange counter and converted to baht. Furthermore, visitors have a variety of options for using money in Thailand, from travelers checks to credit cards, though bargaining for goods is best done with Thai baht.
Banks or legal money-changers offer the best rates to exchange Thai baht or foreign currency. ATMs that accept Visa and other credit cards are easily found in the large cities and dispense Thai baht, while many exchange booths will give you a cash advance in Thai baht on your credit card with a good exchange rate, though they will levy an extra fee.
It is always advantageous when returning an item if you have a receipt. However, returning and exchanging items in Thailand isn’t as accepted a cultural practice as it is in western nations. Consequently, before purchasing any item it is best to sample the item in the store by plugging it in or attempting to operate it, and making sure all parts are included in the box.
When purchasing jewelry, make sure you obtain a certificate of guarantee, though it is common that such items cannot be returned –certainly not for full value anyhow.
Visitors entering the Kingdom on a tourist visa are entitled to a 7% VAT refund on goods purchased at registered retail outlets and Thailand duty free stores. The VAT refund may be claimed on a minimum total of purchases worth 5,000 baht from receipts totaling no less than 2,000 baht/receipt/day. After purchasing goods at a store, visitors must fill out VAT refund paperwork at the store, providing passport and travel information at that time. At the airport, paperwork must be presented to customs officers before passing through immigration at the VAT refund office; at Suvarnabhumi the VAT refund office is near the entrance to Domestic Departures.
As millions of visitors enjoy shopping in Thailand and frequently ship items home, it is commonplace for shops to provide services shipping from Thailand. Such services are surprisingly inexpensive, and Thai shopkeepers are experienced in assisting you with obtaining insurance, customs permits, and other documentation you may require.
There are also many private packing and shipping services around the major tourist destinations that will pack and ship items for you via UPS, ship, or post. The Central Post Office in Bangkok also specializes in packing goods and shipping from Thailand to any overseas destination.
It is unlawful to export Antiques or Buddha images out of Thailand without approval. To do so, you must contact the Fine Arts Department of the National Museum, though an authorized and experienced antique dealer will have the appropriate paperwork and information for you to process it correctly so you do not violate Thailand export regulations.
Additional restrictions requiring Thailand export permits include firearms, plants and plant products, animals and animal products, and certain medicines and medicine products.
Thailand is a major exporter jewelry particularly as Bangkok has become one of the global centers for cutting and setting gemstones. Consequently, those in-the-know should have many opportunities for purchasing quality Thai jewelry and good prices. Most of Thailand’s gold shops are found in Chinese districts, the largest being Yaowarat in Bangkok. Thai gold is very yellow, owing to its high level of purity, and gold Thai jewelry is quite inexpensive as the labor costs are quite low.
However, there are numerous instances of visitors to Thailand getting ripped off by unscrupulous dealers of “precious” gems. While there are certainly some good deals on gems and Thai jewelry, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Furthermore, unless you have some experience evaluating gem stones, you will be unlikely to tell a high quality stone from a low quality or fake stone.
Visitors to Thailand are encouraged to only buy gemstones from reputable gem dealers, particularly those that are members of the “Jewel Fest Club” an organization that aims to offer quality stones at reasonable prices and money-back guarantees.
Buyer beware: There are many counterfeit goods in Thailand of varying quality, some more convincing than others. Unless you purchase a handbag at a Louis Vuitton store in one of Bangkok’s finer shopping malls, you are undoubtedly buying a fake, the quality of which cannot be guaranteed. Just as obvious as that sounds, all goods purchased in Thailand, such as gems or electronic items, should be examined closely before purchase. Be wary of purchasing expensive items from a new “friend” that happens to know someone who can get you a great deal. Ask stores for return policies and always ask for a receipt. And if things ever get frustrating, don’t forget to maintain composure and try to realize that you are holiday and are supposed to be having fun.