Shopping & Bargaining

Goods are generally not returnable in many Southeast Asian countries and deposits will not be refunded. Beware of fakes of brand names, faked material and aged antiques. If you want to buy brand names you need to buy at official agents to be on the safe side.

Get a receipt for your insurance, guarantees and customs on repatriation. Receipts should include:

● Description of the item purchased
● The brand name
● Model number
● Serial number
● Price
● Name and address of the shop
● Official stamp of the shop
● Date of purchase


Bargaining is an important part of business life in Asia and part of your new shopping experience. It takes a while to get used to, and you may want to take along a local friend in the beginning. Watch for the following:

● No bargaining in designer shops or department stores.
● Before you buy, compare prices.
● Set yourself a price limit.
● Start bargaining with the question: What is your best price?
● As you are expected to bargain before you buy, prices are inflated.
● Do not mention the country you come from, Americans pay most.
● Mention that you are living in, not visiting, the country.
● Bargain for credit card payment first, then offer cash and reduce the price by deducting the commission.
● Bargaining is fun for the customer and the shop owner.
● Always joke and smile, be polite and never humiliate the shop owner.
● Show patience and set up a poker face initially.
● Being the first customer in the morning is an advantage. (Superstition)
● Do not carry or show excessive amounts of cash.


Men generally have no problems with clothes as the many excellent tailors in Southeast Asia can easily make them at a good price . However, you need to find a reliable, meticulous tailor who is used to working for expatriates. Make sure you get value for money.
Women with larger sizes (from size US 10/UK 12/Europe 40) will have difficulties buying in the shops. Large sizes (> US size 10) are in short supply or non-existent, and only a few shops cater to the many expatriates and you may meet your newly purchased dress several times in town.

Underwear is usually available but bra D cups or non-padded bras are hard to get. Fashionable and larger sized swimwear (> US size 10) is almost never available, especially when you are used to wearing the more daring cuts from France or Italy. Some adventurous expats may have started to import them and advertise in the local expats magazines.

Generally, fashion is very reasonable in Southeast Asia, but styles and quality differ from Western taste. You need more clothes than at home as you need to change frequently due to the tropical climate. Depending on your job you may need more formal wear than at home as social gatherings are more frequent. 

Remember: unfortunately, you are often judged by your outfit in Southeast Asia and expected to follow the latest trend. Expatriates often buy on home leave or have clothes made by tailors according to the latest fashion as the local importers often do not see the need to cater for them in larger sizes.

International Size Charts

Women's Sizes
US 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16
Australia 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18
UK 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
France 34 36 38 40 42 44 46 48
Germany 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 46
Italy 38 40 42 44 46

Men's Sizes

US 36 38 40 42 44 46 48
Australia 46 48 50 52 54
UK 36 38 38 40 42 44 46 48
France 46 48 50 52 54
Germany 46 48 50 52 54
Italy 46 48 50 52 54

Shoe Sizes

UK 3 ½ 4 4 ½ 5 5 ½ 6 6 ½ 7 7 ½
US 5 5 ½ 6 6 ½ 7 7 ½ 8 8 ½ 9
Europe 35 35 ½ 36 36 ½ 37 37 ½ 38 39 40
UK 6 ½ 7 7 ½ 8 8 ½ 9 9 ½ 10 10 ½
US 7 8 8 9 ½ 9 ½ 10 ½ 11
Europe 39 40 41 42 43 43 ½ 44 44 ½ 45

International Bra Back Sizes

UK 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 46 48 50 52 54 56
USA 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 46 48 50 52 54 56
Metric 65 70 75 80 85 90 95 100 105 110 115 120 125 130
French 80 85 90 95 100 105 110 115 120 125 130 135 140 145
Italian 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Online Conversion - Convert anything to anything else


To shop for your daily needs can turn out to be a real headache in some Southeast Asian countries. Say good-bye to the one-stop shopping center and get used to buying at many places. While you can seldom expect to find the same variety of food or quality you are used to at home, you will find a fairly well organized crowd of merchants catering for the expatriate customer. 

There is always some big supermarket specialized on Western food. Local markets do offer a fantastic choice of Southeast Asian fruits and vegetables you have never seen before. Ask your maid for advice or contact the many expatriates and local cooking freaks. And, by all means learn to cook your favorite local dishes! Back at home you will never regret it.

Southeast Asian wet markets are exciting but not always appealing to our hygiene standards. Many expatriates prefer the local supermarkets where the food is packed neatly and protected against flies and bugs and cooled down to a temperature safe for keeping fresh. You will soon find a German bakery, get to know where to order your turkey for Thanksgiving and which shop has the best seafood in town. Ask expatriates when it comes to foreign food and locals when you need Southeast Asian groceries. They are all very much willing to show you the right places.

Antiques and Reproductions

Southeast Asia offers a huge range of antiques and reproductions and it is difficult to resist the urge to buy. Before you start, you need to decide if you want to decorate your home, take back some memories or seriously collect specific items as an investment into the future. The term antique is used for a variety of items offered and you need to inform yourself first about the host and home countries' regulations and custom requirements. There are import and export restrictions on religious artifacts (e.g. bhuddas) age, material and fakes.

● Educate yourself before you buy. ● Keep detailed receipts of each item, and take photos. ● Buy quality, not quantity. ● Envisage each item in your home country environment and be realistic about size, durability and looks. ● Add expensive new purchases on your insurance


There are a lot of choices to buy furniture in Southeast Asia. Apart from the usual modern furniture, you can buy ready-made or custom-made rattan and oriental furniture. Local sizes will vary from what is suitable for Western customers, and there are a few other things to consider. In some countries, the choice of styles for modern furniture exported from Europe or the US is quite limited and may be expensive. If you decide to buy Oriental furniture, be aware that their size and design may not be suitable once you are repatriated. A nice antique Chinese bed is not only difficult to transport but may look awkward in your living room at home, as nothing else will fit in! Besides, this furniture is made for use in a different climate and may shrink, expand and crack. Also, before shipping back your furniture you should have it fumigated!

Custom-Made Furniture

To avoid confusion and disappointment, provide a sample or a photograph and specify your requirements in writing: ● Correct dimensions/measurements.
● Type of material to be used.
● Type of frame/material used.
● Type of finish and color.
● Type of foam to be used for padding and cushions.
● Springs to be used (box springs are recommended).
● Fabric of the cushion cover.
● Cording.
● Time of delivery.
● Price, incl. taxes and other costs involved.
● Deposits you made.
● Extra requirements like kiln-dried wood, fumigated etc.

Rattan Furniture

Rattan furniture are made out of woven cane and wicker. As rattan comes in many different qualities, prices of the finished products will vary greatly. The grading of the raw material is based on its solidity, elasticity, color, length, brown spots and diameter. Look at the material used before the skin is stripped off. The more porous the cane, the poorer the quality. The color should be light with few dark marks and a thick core indicates the density and the finished product will last longer. Painted furniture chips easily unless finished with a durable paint or stained lacquer (malamine and polyurethane). If you come across a rattan which is hollow it is called bamboo and not suitable to bear heavy weight. Important quality factors:
● The support structure should be made of hardwood frames.
● Screws should be used instead of nails or staples.
● Cuts must be concealed.
● Wicker used should be evenly woven and have close fitting joints.
● Cushions should be made out of high-density foam.

Oriental Furniture

There are many different types depending on the country of origin, style or material used. Furniture made in India or Indonesia are often produced in small villages and come with a native touch rather than being in an immaculate condition, which is very exotic. Chinese furniture come in rosewood, camphor, lacquer, coromandel, teak, elmwood and many other woods and may be antique, a reproduction or modern. Custom-made furniture should be seasoned or kiln-dried to avoid shrinking in a dry environment. To allow the wood to expand furniture should be produced with tongue-and groove- floating panels.

Teak Furniture

The Latin name for Teak is Tectona grandis, which is offered all over Southeast Asia.Teak is an extremely dense, coarse-grained hardwood, which is well known for its durability and resistance to water, the woodworm and many chemical agents. Today, there are teakwood plantations catering to the furniture industry.
When purchasing Teak furniture:
● Buy 100% solid teak. (Not Shorea wood or a combination of both woods.)
● Teak should be made from kiln dried and not green lumber.
● Teak should be plantation grown. Ask for certification.
● Thick pieces of wood used make the product solid and durable.
● Oil finishes will darken the products.
● Plain furniture lighten into a silver gray when left outdoors.

Oriental Carpets

● Before you buy any Turkish, Persian, Chinese, Pakistani, Indian or any other carpets check your own countries custom's regulations as there may be restrictions on importing them back home.
● Join a class teaching you how to buy a genuine oriental carpet (sometimes offered by dealers.)
● Buy at a reputable dealer and insist on a certification with origin, description, price, date and place of purchase even when you pay cash and keep the receipts at a safe place.
● Try out your carpet at home before purchase and make yourself familiar with the return policy of the dealer.
● Before you bid at a carpet auction; learn the trade!
● Buy pads or rubberized mats (Ikea) together with your carpets to prevent slipping on marble, tile and wooden floors.
● Ask your dealer how to care for your carpet.
● Inquire about after-sales services like cleaning and repair.

Beds and Mattresses

Sizes of beds and mattresses are different form those in Europe, Australia and the US, that may imply difficulties buying suitable bed sheets when in Asia or back home. Some shops offer imported brand name beds in standard lengths but oversized beds are difficult to find. Southeast Asian beds are usually shorter and sometimes narrower. Sometimes mattresses in US sizes can be ordered for an additional charge. Never buy bed sheets or linen unless you have measured your bed before.

Electrical Appliances/Computers/Accessories

● Consider renting, rather than buying, new electrical appliances.
● Go price shopping and bargain.
● Items with local warranties are less expensive and will do if you do not want to take the item back home.
● International warranties are granted for brand names.
● See if repair center lists provided with the product include your home country.
● Have your warranties stamped by the dealer.
● Prices vary according to their origin (where they are manufactured).
● Check about the latest models before buying, as shops like to sell older models first.
● Desktop and notebooks need to have dual voltage power supply (110-220 V).
● All items ideally should have a voltage switch for use in other countries.
● Make sure prices stated include delivery and installation, if necessary.
● Insist on delivery time stated on the receipt.
● Include purchased item into your insurance file and increase seems insured from time to time.


Asia is a dream when it comes to precious and semiprecious stones, gold, silver, pearls, jade, and watches. Dealers often offer custom-made services and you can choose between many ethnic designs. For handmade jewelry, you have to pay a handicraft charge. Follow recommendations from local friends or colleagues and ask for receipts and certificates of authenticity. Beware of touts stopping you on the road promising good quality and prices. This custom is widespread and the local authorities warn tourists explicitly. Gold is offered in different grades, in Asia mainly in 22 and 24 kt. Check the marks denoting the fineness.

Karat Gold Parts Gold Percentage Gold Normal European Stamping
9 kt 9 in 24 37.50% 375
10 kt 10 in 24 41.67% 416
12 kt 12 in 24 50% 500
14 kt 14 in 24 58.33% 583 or 585
18 kt 18 in 24 75% 750
22 kt 22 in 24 91.67% 917
24 kt 24 in 24 99.99% 999 or .99999

Second Hand Shopping

You do not need to buy brand new items when you arrive, as there is always a chance to get second hand furniture and electrical appliances from expatriates leaving the country. Those items, usually not too old and in fairly good condition, can save you a lot. Contact the local women's associations or see the information boards at shops frequented by expats. You may also advertise your needs online in local expatriate web sites.

Shopping on the Internet

As many familiar items from your home country cannot be found in Southeast Asian countries the Internet is a great solution to find specialty clothes, food, gifts, winter clothing etc. Delivery times vary from a two-day express delivery to two months at varying costs. Catalogues can be ordered through the Internet. There are however a few things to keep in mind:

●  Inquire about return policies.
●  Use a credit card from your country so you don't lose money on the exchange rate.
● Inquire about shipping costs, which can be very high.
● See privacy and security disclosures on their web sites.
● Inquire about custom procedures and costs when importing.
● Do not import restricted items.

Services in Asia

The service industry is generally highly custom oriented in Southeast Asia and problems result mainly from misunderstandings due to language difficulties and/or strange customs and rules. However it is also up to us - the guests - to make an effort to bridge those differences and humor with patience is the only way to address them. Competition is high and promises are made frequently. You can win a lot of " face" by being firm, knowledgeable and polite when exercising the following rules:
● Speak slowly - repeat explanations - do not assume anything.
● Show pictures - make drawings - let the provider show drafts.
● Ask for sample work - go for recommendations by friends and colleagues.
● Try services (like dry cleaning etc.) first with less valuable items.
● Keep track what you give away, count and list and have them signed.
● Never take a nod or yes for a yes - Asians never say no as not to hurt your feelings or not to lose their/your face.
● Shop around for best prices, ask for written quotations, and bargain.
● Give details (measurements, color, design etc.) in writing.
● Set deadlines in writing.
● Keep down payments within a reasonable range (less than 20% unless a lot of material/up front costs are involved.)
● Ask for receipts, guarantees, certificates etc. you need for problems to come.
● Ask for business license and permits when dealing with constructors, plumbers, electricians etc. as to guarantee safety and security procedures.
● Do not tolerate shoddy work, inspect deliveries and services first and pay only in full when faults are addressed and you are completely satisfied.

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