How to Get a Haircut When You Don’t Speak the Language

When you are travelling for more than a few months, at some point along the way your hair will start to get a little scraggly. You will need to go for a haircut, but this can be an intimidating task when you are not fluent in the language of the country you are travelling in. There is no guarantee that your hairdresser will understand English, so how do you explain what you want your hair to look like and avoid getting a disastrous cut you don’t want?

Getting a haircut overseas
Cutting hair: Photo Andres Nieto Porras / CC 2.0

Getting a Haircut Overseas

The good news is that getting your hair cut in another country isn’t as intimidating as you are probably thinking. I have tried getting a haircut overseas — in many different countries all over South America, Europe and Asia and I haven’t had a hair disaster yet. Visiting a local hairdresser is actually a pretty neat way to get a glimpse into the local culture. So here are some tips that you can keep in mind when you are getting a haircut overseas, in a country where you don’t speak the language:

  • Use Google translate to learn a few basic hairdressing terms, such as “trim”, “bangs”, and “layers” so that you can explain in the simplest way what you are looking for.
  • You can also try writing down a description of what you would like, then entering it into Google translate and copying down the result to show the hairdresser. However, keep in mind that translated results might not always have perfect grammar and can be confusing.
  • Another strategy is to ask a friend who speaks the language to translate your haircut request for you and write it down to give to the hairdresser. For example, I asked my Spanish friend to help me figure out how to explain the haircut I wanted while I was in La Paz, Bolivia.
  • If you have a local friend who can come with you to the hairstylist, this is even better. They will be able to translate back and forth between you and the hairstylist, which helps if either of you have any questions.
Getting a haircut overseas: Cold, lonely, lovely
Cold, lonely, lovely: Photo George Kelly / CC 2.0
  • It also really helps to cut out a picture from a magazine. If you can see a haircut that is similar to what you would like, showing the stylist a photo will speak a thousand words.
  • Go for something simple. If you are considering a complex cut with multiple layers, highlights and lowlights you might want to wait until you find an English speaking hairdresser. Making the task too complicated will make it more likely that you have communication errors, so stick to a simple trim while you are travelling.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. If the hairdresser hasn’t trimmed your bangs short enough or if they have parted your hair to the wrong side, say something! Even if you have to use hand gestures to communicate, it’s better to let them know than to walk away with a bad haircut.

If you plan on getting a haircut overseas, keep these tips in mind and you will look well-groomed after a visit to a foreign hairdresser while travelling.

About Kelly Dunning


A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word. She and her English boyfriend Lee run, packed full with travel guides, stories and inspiration for those who dream of travel. They have been location independent and travelling the world digital-nomad style for the last three years, with no address, no car and no fixed schedule.

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