Buying Persian and Oriental Rugs Abroad – A Guide

Every year thousands of tourists and soldiers bring back Persian or Oriental carpets from their holidays and tours, every year many of them end up red in the face – and not from the sun.

It can be an adventure bringing back souvenirs from far flung countries, an authentic experience and if you know what you are doing an opportunity to pick up a bargain while on your travels. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing however and local shop-keepers can spot tourists a mile-off. There are many risks involved in buying Persian and Oriental carpets abroad, in order to get the deal you really want there are several things to consider.

There are inherent risks involved in buying abroad, foremost amongst these risks is that the seller knows you have no recourse, you will not be able to return the goods you purchase if there is something wrong with them, if they are fake or even if you simply decide against it. Because of this they are more likely to take advantage, sound advice would be to make it known that you will be around for a while and wont be leaving town the next day, even if you are.

Another important thing to remember is that when you go to buy the shop-keeper of seller knows that you are not an expert and not a dealer. You are unlikely to receive the trade prices that someone in the business would get and they will attempt to charge retail prices. If these people are used to dealing with businesses from abroad then there is likely to be considerable room for negotiation. They might not sell you their wares at the same price someone would gain with a bulk order but if they start high there is likely to be a large reduction available if pushed, they will still make more than they would selling to a professional.

The next consideration is custom charges. Sneaking a rug in with your luggage may work but if caught you will be forced to pay import duty and VAT at your home airport – these charges amount to a further 8% duty in the UK then an additional 17.5% VAT on top of this plus any handling fees and penalties so factor these in when purchasing abroad. Larger rugs may need you to send the rug abroad which again can be pricey.

Each country is different and each have their own risks. Popular destinations for buying abroad include Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and the U.A.E (including Dubai).

Turkey is a popular tourist destination, whether you are in the bustling streets of Istanbul or at a beach resort in the south you are likely to run into hand-knotted rugs at some point. Many tours and excursions have a rug section on them where you are shown the traditional weaving process before being hard-sold to with professional sales people. Turkish sellers can be very charming but remember these places are tourist traps and you are likely to be paying top-dollar, or pound, for what can sometimes be fairly low quality carpets. The streets of Istanbul has many shops and boutiques on offer selling a wonderment of woven colours. Again these places are used to tourists and are likely to start with tourist prices. One thing to watch out for, particularly in Turkey, is art-silk rugs. Many of the silk rugs sold in Turkey turn out to be in fact Viscose Rayon greatly reducing their value, robustness and longevity. Good advice would be to avoid buying silk rugs abroad unless you are confident of being able to tell the difference between real silk and art-silk.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are other places where many rugs are purchased by tourists, quite simply this is ill-advised. The U.A.E does not have a rug weaving industry, the rugs sold here are imported from from Iran, Turkey, India and Afghanistan and sold in retail stores. There is nothing inherently wrong with this but you are likely to get the same deal in these places as you would in a Persian or Oriental rug store back home. Depending on where you are and where you shop back home it may actually be quite a bit more expensive. Peoples’ guard is down when they are on holiday, many look to purchase objects in the hope that it will prolong their feeling of being on holiday, but a rug is a purchase you should make with both your heart and your head.

In Iran and India deals can be had, particularly on used (but good condition) pieces but it helps to speak the language or have someone there with you. The biggest threat here is that you may be sold something when in fact it is a lower grade item. A Westerner is easy prey when it comes to selling an Ardekan as a Kashan or a Tabbas as a Nain. Knowing a little about rugs will help as will going for something that you like rather than something that is sold to you. India makes a lot of copies of Persian designs, there is nothing wrong with this but keep in mind it is an Oriental rug, not a Persian and the investment value is not the same.

One key point for American buyers – if you buy an Iranian (Persian) carpet you are running the risk of it being confiscated at customs, there is an embargo on Iranian goods to the US including Persian rugs so be warned.

The next two stops are possibly more relevant to soldiers than tourists but the warnings are the same. Iraq does not produce any rugs of note, the pieces sold here are brought in specifically for the purpose of selling to the armed forces, these could be from any of the surrounding countries and all of the above advice applies. It should be possible to get a good deal if you know what you are doing but it is not uncommon for soldiers to be sold fake-silk rugs or even machine-made pieces thinking they were the genuine article. Afghanistan is perhaps one of the better countries to get a good deal on a hand-knotted carpet. Although they also sell Iranian rugs here the Afghan rugs themselves are normally of a very high standard and also fairly well suited to the Western home. This does not mean you should not be careful but buying a commercial grade carpet here can be good business but it is always useful to compare prices with those at home.

Buying abroad is a balance of risk and reward, the more you know the better deal you are likely to strike. If something seems to good to be true it probably is and you will likely have no way of getting your money back. If you do purchase abroad here are some key points to consider:

  • Do some research before buying – read up on knot counts and telling the difference between machine-made and hand-made rugs
  • Avoid silk rugs – if you must buy silk make sure you know what you are doing
  • Stay clear of Persian rugs if you do not want to run the risk of confiscation at US customs.
  • Haggle, haggle, haggle – unless you know you are getting a brilliant deal then force down the price considerably. Do not be afraid to walk away, remember, sellers would much prefer to sell to a tourist with a big discount that a dealer with a wholesale price
  • Consider local rugs – rugs made in and around the area of purchase are likely to be best value
  • Factor in the cost of transportation, duty and tax. This could add anywhere between 20-40% to the initial cost, more depending on the transport fee.
  • Check out your local rug specialist before going – you will find they may be able to offer you a great deal and a safer shopping environment.