India and Sri Lanka: Ripping-off Johnny Foreigner

Ever wondered why we, as foreigners, get charged up to 10 times more for admission to major tourist attractions in India and Sri Lanka? This has been a bugbear of mine for a long time, and the discrimination doesn’t show any sign of abating anytime soon.

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I first noticed this at major attractions like the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, and at Sigiriya in central Sri Lanka. Both were amazing experiences that I had been planning for a while, and despite the extortionate rip-off entry fees, I still gladly bought my tickets, which for the Taj was 750 Rupees (whereas locals can enter for 20 Rupees). This is 37x more expensive, just because I am a foreigner! So why does this happen?

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It must be said that some people on the Sub-Continent are hell-bent on scamming tourists out of their money, but generally people over there are extremely friendly and honest. However, when it comes to ticketing for attractions, it is simply commonplace to charge more to those who are not of Indian (SAARC) origin. The belief is that the average “Johnny Foreigner” has more money to spend compared to the locals, therefore the price must vary accordingly. However, this is not a reasonable pricing structure and it, as you can imagine, draws a lot of criticism. Some backpackers even blindly refuse to travel in Sri Lanka and India on principle.

Relics at Polonnaruwa
Relics at Polonnaruwa

In Sri Lanka’s cultural quadrangle, one of the main highlights is Polonnaruwa, and I had a great (albeit hot) time there. Yet the $30 entrance fee was somewhat extortionate when considering that Sri Lankan tourists can enter for less than half of that. The authorities at Polonnaruwa claim that most of the entrance fee goes back into restoring the site and helping with the upkeep of the facilities. I am sure this is true, but as with everything that is overpriced, you will get people refuse to pay the full price, and instead use the so-called “black market” is pay for tickets. Tuktuk drivers around Polonnaruwa (and Anuradhapura) offered me the chance to “illegally” enter the complex for $10. Of course, this money goes straight to the tuktuk driver and none to the authorities (the opposite of what should happen), and it’s a shame that tourists’ heads are turned this way.

We are all Human, and we are all interested in seeing the same cultural attractions that help give a specific country its identity, so in my opinion we should all pay the same price to see these places. Yet this will probably never be the case while I am travelling; maybe for future generations, but never for us. It sucks being Johnny Foreigner.

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22 thoughts on “India and Sri Lanka: Ripping-off Johnny Foreigner

    1. Hi Mukul. I am not discriminating. I am trying to argue that maybe the authorities in India/Sri Lanka discriminate against westerners with their ticketing strategy? I love to visit India and Sri Lanka, but it’s very expensive compared to what locals pay.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your comments. You need to take a broader perspective and not feel bad. The underlying principal is as followed by all Govt across the world. The poor are not taxed whereas the rich are. Indian GDP levels are much lower than of those across the world. Low entry rates will not permit the premises to maintained. So the richer are taxed to achieve this goal.

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        1. I see it this way.

          The Government charges foreigners 10 to 20 times as much as locals and everyone else follows there lead. Consequently for the whole month we just spent in India, we were constantly on the look out for potential scams.

          Upkeep you say… Perhaps you mean that in irony.

          Most places we went that had high charges for foreigners only had signage in Devangari, exhibits were often incomplete or missing entirely and the toilets were filthy. A few places had audio guides, but at at least three places the booths were unattended and in one case the attendant was asleep.

          In something of a contradiction the best museum I went to was the Gandhi museum at Birla House, which, like most Australian museums, is free.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. It would be great if you post pictures of all such places and enlist them. I will try to waken up those asleep. I for myself do look for beauty instead of finding fault. It keeps me happier,

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  1. In countries where the average income is so vastly below that of the UK, Western Europe, North America etc, I really do think this sort of dual pricing is entirely justified. I don’t really resent it, unless the tourist price is stupidly unreasonable.
    I first encountered dual pricing in Vietnam, a country that is surely the champion at extracting cash from tourists. There it seems normal for locals to get in for free to see their local tourist attractions in fact. And rightly so.

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    1. I am kinda torn. I do pay the fees, but I just think the dual pricing shouldn’t be in operation. Then again, like you say, SAARC nationals don’t have as much money as western tourists so it’s all relative. I wish I could go and visit Stonehenge for free… 😉

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    1. Yeah, but this is not really very fair is it? Tourism should be encouraged and strategies like this will only prevent people from coming back (whether they can afford it or not is irrelevant; it’s the morals of the practice).

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    1. I think it is important to bring money to the local economy – I am a big fan of tourism in this way. However, some people won’t want to pay the going rate and will look to get in cheaper to the attractions (on the black market etc.). When this happens, there is no money going to the economy at all, only to the fraudulent tuktuk drivers etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I look at it more as a discount for the locals to be able to see the sights in their own country. If everyone was paying the same price, the price would have to be somewhere between the tourist and local price to still be able to maintain the site and that would price most locals out in countries such as India or Sri Lanka.

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    1. That’s a good point I guess. I am a fan of free entry to all, with donations optional to put towards the upkeep of the tourist attraction. However, I doubt this will ever happen at places like Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal etc..

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  3. I’ve just got back from Sri Lanka with my two kids and would like to know the following: How can a country where an average monthly wage is £75 charge £20 for rice and chicken for three people?

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    1. Wow, that is expensive. That works out at around £7 per person, just for chicken and rice. That must have been from a restaurant or a hotel yeah? If it was street food, you could get it at a fraction of that cost.

      I think Sri Lanka (and India) like to overcharge tourists because they know we have more money than they do, and therefore we can afford it. 😦

      I hope the rest of your Sri Lankan trip was good! 🙂

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  4. Western countries have rigged the international forex market in such a way that their currencies are very strong. This allows them to virtually import anything at will for peanuts and enjoy a very high standard of living. The us dollar for instance is simply propped up by the rest of the world and what we pay for in exchange is the “market value” of the dollar. The flip side of this arrangement is that manufacturing and jobs have moved overseas. And when you go abroad , you find that the differences in value of currency can be quite stark.Well nothing lasts for ever and the laws of gravitywill eventually pull the over valued dollar and euro down too.

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