How to avoid getting ripped off in Nepal
For over a decade I’ve watched tourists come and go from Nepal along with the tour agencies that have served them. I’ve also witnessed tourists getting scammed, ripped off and cheated from small change to hundreds of USD.
This sort of thing happens in all parts or the world. Nepal has, for the most part, been quite good about ripping tourists off. Most rip-offs and scams in Nepal do not come from local people but from big business. Duel pricing of “foreigners” is a prime example as it is for a lot of Asia. Sadly, Nepal also participates in this discriminant pricing.
The good news for tourists is that Nepali people, for the most part, are very honest.
However … times are changing. Some people within Nepal have profited immensely post earthquake and will stop at nothing for a buck. Other Nepali who have been living overseas making good money are returning to Nepal and setting up businesses that are outright ripping tourists off. This dark list goes on …
Let’s look at scams and rip off tourist agencies that tourists should be aware of and how to avoid them … Political correctness is dropped in this post and I bet there are some white knuckle Nepali tourist agencies reading this now – for good reason.
Duel pricing at heritage and national parks
All Nepali heritage sites and national parks have duel pricing – also known as two and triple tier entry pricing based on your nationality – a blatantly discriminatory practice.
Example: Kathmandu Durbar Square which is a public square under the local Kathmandu city municipality who are paid through Nepali taxes charges an entry fee to all foreigners. Nepali are free. “Foreigners” must pay 1000 rupees. SAARC only pay 150. In 2016 Chinese tourists only had to pay 150 … however that was scrapped in 2017 when “foreign” tourists, rightfully, complained about discrimination.
Let’s move to national parks where it gets really murky. These are again public parks paid for by tax money. Sagarmartha National Park (Everest) fee for Nepali Free. SAARC 1,500 rupees. “Foreigner” 3,000 plus 13 % tax … Wait, what’s that? Tax on a park that’s looked after by tax anyway?
Then in 2017 some local municipalities started adding their own “tourist service charges”. This is now spreading with Nagarkot charing tourists in 2018 with an entrance fee to their “Ancient city”. The thing is, Nagarkot is far, far from an ancient city. It is a hill filled with overcharging hotels. Yes, there are nice views. But ancient city? Not a chance!
Discounts if you are a “Chinese” or SAARC tourist only
Consider it an improvement that triple tier pricing is no longer operating in Nepal. In 2015 and 2016 Chinese tourists were given free tourist visas into Nepal and were paying SAARC prices into all tourists sites … a discriminatory practice that is being stopped in Nepal since the utter failure post Earthquake to entice Chinese tourists back into Nepal in their pre-earthquake numbers.
In one swoop Nepal’s attempt to shamelessly entice Chinese tourists into Nepal at the expense of discriminating every other nationality in the world quite literally backfired.
Private tour companies two-tiered or double pricing in Nepal
It’s not just the national parks or heritage site either. Private companies do it too. Chandragiri Hills Cable Car charges a two way ticket to Nepali for 700 rupees. For SAARC it’s 1120 rupees. And for foreigners …. wait for it …. a whopping great 2200 rupees!! I guess us “foreigners” must weigh a lot more or something.
Could you imagine such double charging based on nationality being implemented in the USA or Europe? – There would be lawsuits, protests and strikes to outlaw what would be simply known as “bigotry pricing”.
The interesting thing in all the cable car pricing is that in the “parking lot” there’s nothing but big expensive Nepali cars and the like. Meanwhile out on the road trying to wave down a bus is the poor independent “foreign’ tourist. Boom, there goes the whole “Nepali is a developing country so can’t afford the high prices” argument. The reality is most average salary workers in Nepal can’t even afford the 700 rupees so they were never the target domestic tourist anyway.
It’s just a shameful, shameful discriminatory pricing structure with no justification at all.
Oh, and the other cable car? Manakamana, is just as bad with duel pricing. But I let them go a little because they are old and maybe stuck in the mud a little. Asides from that the fact they have a fee for goats on the cable car (240 rupees) which possibly worth the 2000 rupees as a foreigner fee to have conciliatory laugh at. Four legged animals with random bowel movements are charged less than a slightly more hygienic “foreigner”. Not so funny is to ride the old cable car and stare out the window at the giant NCELL banner that blocks off the nice forest view below.
What can you do about it as a tourist? Don’t go on a cable car in Nepal. Simple. Well actually the Manakamana temple is not bad to visit if you are into goat slaughtering (it’s a heritage right). But you can actually trek to the Manakanmana temple instead of taking a cable car.
Duel or double pricing of all domestic flights in Nepal
This is about as discriminatory as you can get in Nepal. You can fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara for about USD $47 … but only if you are Nepali. If you are from any other country then the price is USD $107 … so that’s just over double. Oh, and the price is going up again during peak tourist season.
By the way the price from Pokhara to Kathmandu adds on an extra $14 just for the heck of it. No idea why. Nobody does. Maybe they need to fly around and extra mountain on the way back.
Even new flights in Nepal charge “foreigners” nearly three times the real price like this one from Pokhara to Bharatpur: Nepali USD $36 “Foreigner” USD $92 or how about Pokhara to Bhairahawa: Nepali USD $42 “Foreigner” USD $97 (source: my republica).
How to avoid duel priced domestic flights as a tourist? Take a bus.
Don’t book a domestic flight in Nepal online
Speaking of flights in Nepal…. Don’t buy a domestic flight online in Nepal with your credit card. Starting in 2016 when electricity came flooding back into Nepal more IT guys had the resources to work on their websites. Sadly credit card processing and international banking is a little bit more complicated and so the scams kicked in.
It will take another 4-5 years or until … wait for it … international banking approves Nepali financial transactions before it will be safe … well relatively safe anyway.
Another thing for the smart-assed forum dwellers telling people to book with PayPal. It makes little difference! PayPal is restricted in Nepal! Just type this into Google or Bing or whatever, “PayPal is banned in Nepal”. Not rocket science folks. There’s a little guy in another country busy collecting all your PayPal cash, redirecting it back to Nepal and … yep, just try getting your cash back with that convoluted mess is something goes wrong. There’s a whole lot of commissions being paid along the way. While PayPal is not banned in Nepal, you can only payout with a Nepali account, you cannot receive money. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. If you are using your own PayPal account in Nepal do let PayPal know you are traveling and make sure the phone number registered with them works in Nepal as they’ll send you a verification message.
How to book a domestic flight and not be scammed? Now the good news. Travel agents are actually cheaper and better to book domestic flights with. Why? Well, they get bulk discounts which they pass on! Yes, it’s old school, but that’s how it used to work in the rest of the world at one time too, remember? Moreover, if your flight is canceled (they often are) then the travel agent will be cable to reschedule easily or get you your money back quickly. Try doing that through a Nepali website where you just entered in your credit card details … (cue evil laugh).
Bus scams in Nepal
Oh dear. A personal pet peeve. Just read about the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus seat scam here. That, I will admit is just an annoyance rather than a financial scam. Though it is your seat, so it is a financial scam because you don’t get your seat.
So bad is the bus seat scam that Nepali “authorities” tried to ban Nepali from taking tourist buses (source)… Yep, discriminatory towards themselves … mind warping considering all this could be solved so easily.
For direct financial scams look no further than the discriminatory pricing of the Jagadamba bus company from Kathmandu to Pokhara and vice versa. For Nepali it’s 2,000 rupees. For “Foreigners” it’s 2,500 rupees… All this for an ordinary bus with 4 seats ripped out so they can cover the rest in tacky upholstery and put a toilet in.
As proof of genuine Nepali honesty. I’ve never been cheated financially or in the way of a seat on any long-distance local bus. It’s just a shame they are so tiny and well … uncomfortable.
How to take a bus in Nepal without being scammed? Going to Pokhara? Check out what bus is best here.
Do not take a tour to see the Kumari Living Goddess
Now this one outright annoys me. There is a tour company in Nepal who charges USD$50 to tourists for a visit to the Living Goddess. Now there are several “guides” doing the same for less. Not only is that a rip off because anyone can visit the Kumari for free but the tour company gives the family nothing more than 20 rupees!
I cannot overstate this enough. DO NOT TAKE ANY KUMARI TOUR or ALLOW a GUIDE TO TAKE YOU. It is a rip off on so many levels. You can take a bus, private car or taxi to visit her and donate the 20 rupees yourself for under $10 or less if you just take a bus. The Patan Kumari is the easiest to visit and just 1 minute walk from Patan Durbar Square. The fact that this tour companies and guides push themselves as being pro environment, pro community and pro Nepali is even more of a disgrace as they disrespect the living goddess herself!
The Kumari changes. Some of the new Kumari families are not used to the publicity or attentions. They are completely taken advantage of.
Did I mention I became friends with the Living Goddess and her family when I sought them out independently many years ago? Did I mention that you really should not take advantage of children, my friends or a living goddesses? That tour company really did a bad thing. A very, very, bad, bad unsociable thing. Have some respect for people, beliefs and heritage. Stop the tours, now.
How to see the Kumari Living Goddess in Nepal? You can read more about Kumari Living Goddess in Nepal here.
Bargaining and Bartering issues are not scams!
I get a lot of emails from people saying they were ripped-off by a local vendor who over charged them for a souvenir etc. Sorry dear tourist, but Nepal is a barter country and this falls under the “do your research before you arrive” category.
Even if they say “fixed price” – you bargain. Failure to do so is on you.
Avoid the rip-off taxi fares in Nepal
What taxi isn’t a rip off in the world? In 2016 new Suzuki taxis arrived with meters in Kathmandu. Now, if you know the way to a place the meter is cheaper than a fixed price. The problem is an old one. If you don’t know the way then the taxi man could well take you on the long route to work the meter up.
How to avoid getting ripped off by a taxi in Nepal. It’s still easier and cheaper for tourists to settle on a price before getting in. Is this a good time to mention that all taxi prices are mentioned in my guidebook to Nepal? And no, you don’t have to tip a taxi – again, bizarre information that someone wrote somewhere that’s just not true.
Avoid rip-off rickshaws in Nepal
Look, I used to think rickshaws were rip offs in Nepal too. Well, it’s not hard when they keep coming up to you in Thamel either offering drugs (post 8pm) or saying it’s 100 bucks to Kathmandu Durbar Square. But, since 2016 and the crap that is rich Nepal coming to fruition and the high pollution these old boys are actually becoming popular again among the masses.
Take a rickshaw and laugh in the face of the rich and toxic! From Thamel it’s 200 rupees to Durbar Square, period. Tip em’ if you want. I do if they make me laugh. They are eco friendly and rich Nepali along with NGO drivers hate them as they slow down their big SUVs so what better excuse is there to take them!
Credit Card Scams in Nepal
This all begins long before you hit Nepal. See the domestic flight scams for an idea of how credit card processing online is not the safest in Nepal. In country, around 2015, chip in pin credit card machines became available which eliminated the old carbon copy machines (hard to find these days by the way – outdated guidebooks still harp on about them though). But, a business still needs a landline to use the chip in pin machines. Landlines in Nepal are not very good so cue lots of errors and recharges. Sigh.
Remember the whole, international commercial banking transactions are not allowed in Nepal from the flights scam… Give it another few years before it’s up to scratch. Maybe.
How to avoid a credit card scam: bring cash, pay in cash. Use your card at an ATM machine in Nepal. If you must pay by card make sure it’s for a big purchase and not little day to day things.
Trekking Scams in Nepal
Oh dear, where do we begin? Okay, the biggest scam are these too good to be true trekking prices you see on very popular big international corporate websites. You know the ones, Everest Base Camp for $500!! Wow, so cool. Only it’s not. You get all the extras added later and are dumped into a group. As I’ve stated successfully for years, go to a local trekking agency for the best prices.
How to avoid rip off trekking companies? Don’t buy a big international trekking package. Simple really.
Trekking scam two: “the helicopter scam”
Do you feel sick? Want to fly back? Ah yes, the – reached the top of your trek so cash in your travel insurance and take a helicopter back scam. This is such a bad scam on so many levels. And I have to be honest, many tourists also participate.
Basically it means trekking up to a base camp then “playing sick” to take an emergency helicopter ride back down. It’s been used by dodgy Russians so frequently they are now blacklisted from many insurance companies. Many do it because they don’t have enough time for a full trek. Nepali guides do it to cash in. The two get together and … oh it’s so bad. Sadly all it does is boost premiums up for other trekkers and gets nationalities banned from getting insurance. – hello Italy, you are so close.
There’s more to than just this. Imagine being a little sick on a trek and a guide going hyperbole over every possible illness that could kill you in an instant … all the while offering to help get you back safely. They’ll do all the hard work like arrange the heli-vac, the hospital stay (prolonged of course) and the list goes on.
Be prepared: read this in-depth article about Nepal’s helicopter rescue scam.
Then read more about getting the right travel insurance for trekking in Nepal.
The volunteering scams in Nepal
This one is deserving of its own … book. There are so many volunteering scams in Nepal it’s insane. It’s the worst scam of them all … well, the orphanage one is the worst I guess. But look, from overseas volunteer organizations to local NGOs they are all at it.
Some charge administration fees of USD$200. Others simply make you dig ditches while they reap the profits. Just don’t do it. Simple. Or if you must, then volunteer with a large international volunteer organization – you know, the type that require you to have a qualification and some years of experience.
Otherwise, avoid searching online for a volunteer positions, just hop on a plane, get into Kathmandu and walk the streets looking at the many, many, many places looking for volunteers.
Read about Volunteering in Nepal and learn!
The orphanage scams in Nepal
Long before orphanage scams became well know around the world Nepal was the best at it! Blatant rip off orphanage scams. The children were either not orphans, were the children of monks (yes really), or were a group of village kids brought down from the mountain every tourist season.
Just avoid volunteering, supporting financially or help to set up an orphanage in Nepal. It’s not a nice thing but that’s the level humanity has stooped too.
Perhaps helping the street children of Nepal would be a better route to take, especially if you are a lawyer – just read that article and you’ll get it.
The no hot water scam in your hotel
One of the oldest scams in Nepal that’s getting a little too old. You wake up in the morning to no hot water. You complain at the front desk. There’s some babble. Depending on your tolerance (persistence) they promise you “tomorrow”. Only tomorrow never comes in Nepal.
What’s going on? Well, prior to 2016 Nepal had 19 years of load shedding (not enough electricity). Then some bright spark discovered the electricity company was selling it all off to Nepali companies…. So literally, overnight, the electricity came back on 24 hours in Nepal.
Unfortunately not all hotels like to pay for electricity so they still rely on solar powered water heaters. Not, electricity or battery solar power. But actually letting the sun heat up the water for your room. Using this method the hot water is not enough and those up a 6am (or whatever time the little boy chosen to turn the tap on) get all the hot water.
The solution to no hot water scam in your hotel: One solution is to get up at 6am and have a shower. The other is to have a shower around 4pm (the suns heated the water by then). Lastly, you could just confront the manager and tell them not to be such a tight ass and turn the electric geyser on at night or you’ll write a bad TripAdvisor review – yep some actually fear that.
The extra 10% service charge in your hotel scam
This one was around 12 years ago, disappeared for a decade and is now coming back. Basically some hotels charge you an extra 10% for service charge. Some even charge an additional 13% for VAT.
The 10% service charge is popular in Lumbini but sneaks its way in around Nepal too. Usually hotels incorporate all the extra fees in their price. But some … well, don’t stay there again.
How to avoid paying 10% extra? To be honest, it’s not that popular aside from Lumbini. The best way is to simply say “is that the full price.” When checking in. But, I wouldn’t be too paranoid about it yet … asides from the Lumbini Lodge Hotel in Lumbini … opps! Sorry guys, but you do suck.
Booking a hotel online in Nepal scam
This one is more of an insider heads up than an actual scam. If you book with Booking.com then you might arrive in Nepal only to find that the room you booked is not available and you are staying in other room or you’ll need to pay in cash as there was a “booking error” and the room was canceled. Don’t worry. Its the way booking.com do their business. For a hotel to pay their booking money back to booking.com they need their own international credit card … something that doesn’t exist in Nepal due to banking regulations.
The result … panicking Nepali hoteliers who’ve gone over their limit and who can’t get their money from a booking so they cancel the booking and ask you to pay in cash or card in person. This usually applies to budget or mid-range hotels only as the higher ones usually have someone in another country who can use their card to pay the booking.com fees. Yes, it’s bizarre
Don’t worry, you still get your room. It’s the poor old Nepali hotelier who’s the one panicking!
A note to booking.com … fix it.
Don’t stay in a Chinese hotel …
It’s not really a scam on you, because you can’t really book into most Chinese hotels in Thamel. They won’t let you as a foreigner (yes, we’re back to that again). They aren’t really hotels anyway. Well they are/were, but today they are being used more for … emm … export usage. Stay clear!
The community homestay scam
Welcome to the latest and greatest scam to hit Nepal. “Community homestay” is the latest buzz word to hit Nepal. Come to Nepal and stay in a local house and experience Nepal like a Nepali … utter propagandistic crap for the sole purpose of ripping the money right out of your pocket.
The word “tea house” refers to a local family run guesthouse used by trekkers in Nepal. Get it, “family run guesthouse”. Most of Nepal’s budget guesthoues are family run. You don’t need to stay in a “community homestay” to experience life in Nepal as a local! Just stay in local guesthouse! Simple.
This “community guesthouse” craze has become so bad I’ve seen profit making hotels rip down their names and put up and add “community homestay” instead.
In 2017 there was even a paid promotion to push “community homestays” as bloggers were paid and given free accommodation to blog about these places … toxic to say the least.
Worse yet. While a local guesthouse – where you stay with a local family can cost USD$10. A community guesthouse can cost $35 or more! Just tattoo “I’m a rip off sucker” if you fall for this one in Nepal.
How to avoid the homestay scam? Stay in a family run guesthouse – it’s the same thing and cheaper!
Street kids and milk lady street scams
I’ve been shouting about the street children of Nepal for about 10 years now. Shameful nobody has done much about it. Anyway, don’t give them money or treats. They’ll buy drugs with it. If you must help, buy them Dal Bhat. Read more about the street children of Kathmandu.
The lady with the baby who says “I don’t want you money!”. She wants you to buy milk for the baby she’s carrying around. Only when you do, she’s not feeding the baby she’s selling the milk on. Any form of “red face” is also a coloring and not a sickness.
Want to help the street kids more? Visit the UNHCR and ask why this has been going on for decades and who’s paying for the fancy white cars in their yard?
I love you and want to marry you scam
I need to get a little serious here. There are a certain group of Nepali who are looking to leave the country and live elsewhere. Many have and will try to get married to a foreigner in order to do this.
Some take the long haul approach, other fall for you straight away. Most of the relationships are between Nepali men and foreign women. So …
How to avoid? Your old enough to know better.
Don’t buy hashish, smoke or weed … in Thamel or Lakeside
Recreational drugs are illegal throughout Nepal … well aside from during the Shivaratri festival, but that’s beside the point. Don’t buy drugs in Nepal. But, if you were tempted … those ghastly people in Thamel coming up to you saying “Smoke, hashish, weed” are probably the last people you’d want to by from. Ditto in Lakeside Pokhara.
Think about it … dodgey chap selling you drugs in the middle of the most bustling part of touristic Nepal. Not far behind him is another chap with a badge just itching to make some extra cash or if the numbers are down an arrest.
What to do? Again, think about it and reread if you are still inclined. Blame the USA, hashish was legal in Nepal and a huge tourist draw until the USA said … stop it in the 1970s.
The regional tourist tax charge
Following regional elections in 2017 local municipalities were suddenly empowered to impose regional taxes.
The first to do it? Solukhumbu reigon in Everest. I’ve already written about the new tax for trekker in going to Everest Base Camp. It’s a whopping great 2,000 rupee extra regional charge given to “foreign” trekkers the moment they arrive in Lukla. This, despite talks between all sorts of parties to “stop it”.
It is feared, by the sensible people out there, that more “tourist taxes” will be appearing over the coming year. Indeed, one week later Changu Narayan added a 13% extra tourist tax to visitors … that 13% is meant to be for VAT.
In February 2018 Nagarkot added a tax for people visiting its “ancient” city … Sorry Nagarkot, there’s nothing “ancient” about you. Aside from the incredibly long period of time you’ve been over charging tourists for hotel rooms.
It’s going to get messy unless someone in Nepal can actually take charge of all this. Hopefully the tourists of this year will start to let the world know about all these “extra” charges …
Is Nepal really this full of scams and rip offs?
There are scams and rip offs in every country in the world. Nepal is no exception. As I wrote in the beginning, Nepali people are genuinely some of the most honest you’ll meet. Especially at a grass roots level. This is a comprehensive list of all the scams tourists face in Nepal – nothing is overtly serious and hopefully you will not encounter many rip-offs.
This “list of scams and rip offs in Nepal” takes nearly everything I’ve encountered over a decade and puts it all into one page. Call it, an insiders look at how to avoid scams & something to keep in the back of your mind courtesy of yours truly. Most tourists should hopefully visit Nepal and not come across a single one.
However, with this list I hope you will be aware of what’s out there and can avoid these scams and rip offs. That way you’ll enjoy your holiday a bit more and won’t be taken completely by surprise.
So, finally. There’s one more rip off worth mentioning … just for the heck of it!
The “my guidebook is wrong” rip off …
Well come on, what do you honestly think I’m going to say here! Alright, here it comes. One of the reasons I wrote the best guidebooks to Nepal, on this planet, is because all the other ones, to put it roughly, were not good enough. Simple as that.
Here’s the low down on why. Most guidebooks prior to 2014 (when I started publishing them) were updated every 3 years. This incorporated one or two guys running half-baked around the country for a month or six weeks trying to update everything for their corporate publishing overlords to brutally edit overseas into a generic guidebook. Something that’s not really that useful to you when it comes to accuracy and practical travel once you arrive in Nepal.
Then again that approach was better than a “certain” publication that just looked up TripAdvisor for the latest reviews … ouch! Or what about the “publication” that copied something on this site that I had updated in my book but forgot to update here and the information appeared in theirs … oh my, you naughty things!
Me? Over a decade writing, living and traveling in Nepal and telling it like it is. You don’t get better or more real than that folks. So … buy my books and don’t get ripped off!
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