These international garage sale (and secondhand shopping) tips, organized by country, may help.
Though yard sales are far more common in America than in other countries, you might be amazed at some foreign spots where you can still yard sale (or come close). However, there remain some countries—Russia, Finland and Thailand, for example—where yard sales are still (sadly) unheard of. When traveling in those countries, it may make more sense for you to try to check out flea markets, souks, and charity shops for your memento needs, or follow the lead of locals. One global charity well-known for its shops (located all around the world) is Oxfam, a non-religiously-affiliated charity that focuses on fighting poverty and social injustice. The shops raise money for their efforts and include both fair-trade goods and donated items.
Many third-world countries are not going to have much in the way of what we think of as ‘yard sales,’ but you may find individual or groups of artisans or crafters whose wares will find a similar place in your heart and help them earn some extra income for their handmade efforts. Keep a keen eye out for flea and traditional markets and co-operative shops in those countries.
Naturally, there are cultural differences that will turn up during any trip to another country. Differing views of gender roles and local etiquette norms can make for interesting, if not always smooth, marketplace learning experiences. Even so, going to where the locals shop is a great way to truly experience another culture.
See some of the tips I’ve learned over the years below, organized by continent and country. If you’ve got more (or better!) tips, please let me know! (I’ll add more countries to this as I go.)
What I have to say about American garage saling could fill a book – which is why I am currently writing one. 🙂 Still, read on for other countries.
Our Northern neighbor shares our love of a good yard sale. Not too surprisingly, Canada’s yard sales are very similar to U.S. sales, with the bonus of having a better exchange rate. Throw in the possibility of finding some cool French gear in Quebec, and what’s not to love about yard saling the Canuck way? Secondhand stores run by charities are also quite common and referred to as ‘thrift shops.’ Keep an eye out for: bentwood boxes, French-language items and signage, hockey jerseys and cold-weather clothing of all sorts (esp. knit sweaters).
Depending on the lingo of the region, Mexico’s “tiraderos,” “mercados,” and “tianguis” see the whole community coming together to set up spaces on the same date. I’m told Mexico City’s Tianguis La Lagunilla is a flea market that should not be missed. Keep an eye out for: deals. Mexican dealers want to sell, not sit on, their items and it shows in the average pricing (at least as compared to the States).
Europe and the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales) and Ireland
Across the pond, “car boot sales” feature items not lying around a carport, but rather inside an actual vehicle. These sales, which typically take place in public spaces like parking lots or fields, involve sellers putting things they no longer want in the trunk (“boot”) of their car, and propping them open to tempt any interested passers-by. Like American yard sales, these happen throughout the year and feature both professional and occasional sellers.
Fans of rummage sales will be happy to know that the format is popular also in the UK, though they are called jumble sales, most often benefitting a charity or church. In fact, there are many secondhand charity shops located throughout the United Kingdom, including 700 Oxfam stores, making them a relatively easy thing to find.
Finally, there are also “Antiques and Collectors Fairs” which are a great place to shop for secondhand goods that have been carefully curated. The prices, naturally, will reflect that but will still be cheaper than at a boutique vintage or antique store. If you are into architectural salvage, England’s largest salvage fair – Salvo – takes place every June just outside Henley-on-Thames.
Irish bonus source: Visitors to the Emerald Isle might find the best second-hand items at their ubiquitous (usually Catholic) charity shops, especially when hunting down beautiful Irish linens or crystal items.
Keep an eye out for: vintage ephemera; tea-service related items; first-edition books.
The French also have their way of dealing with items in need of new homes, the charming “vide grenier” (empty the attic), which they hold in the center of town on the appointed day. The paperwork involved is also typically French – involved and heavily regulated – and as a result, vide greniers tend to happen only once or twice a year. As the vide grenier is the only permissible way for non-professionals to sell second-hand items (residential yard sales not being allowed), they are diverse and well-attended. Each permitted seller has a stand, and comparison shopping is relatively easy, as everyone is in the same general area, keeping prices reasonable. Though they are often posted online, I find keeping an eye on notice boards and utility poles for paper fliers is one of the easiest ways to find them.
Another alternative for second-hand shopping in the same stalls format is through “brocantes” which take place throughout the year. Whereas a vide grenier is more likely to be akin to a neighborhood yard sales made up of non-professional sellers, the brocantes tends to be mostly professional sellers, with a mix of antiques and flea market type finds, and they are typically held for longer periods of time and may feature higher prices (and, to be fair, higher value items). There are also many “depot-ventes” (secondhand stores) that are heavily-regulated and sell all sorts of goods – often designer clothing or furniture and antiques – on consignment for sellers.
Finally, don’t forget the marche aux puces, the original “flea markets” of France (and where the term flea market originated from). Often open year-round in permanent stalls, these markets are truly fascinating and fun to poke around, if not always filled with true bargains. Tip: If you are in the area, dealers in the know swear by the L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Brocante flea market in Provence – both for the assortment and lovely setting. Other well-regarded brocantes include the annual La Grande Braderie de Lille (Lille), the spring/fall Rederie d’Amiens (Amiens), the annual Grande Braderie (Tours) each September, and the weekly Les Puces du Canal (Lyon). See listings of other brocantes or find vide-greniers.
Keep an eye out for: signage, wine crates, clothing (find out your French sizes before going!) and fakes, especially if you are looking for antiques. Fakes can (and do) happen anywhere in the world but given the insane demand for French antiques and vintage goods, it can be a real problem here as they typically look quite believable! Be smart and never shell out more money than you’d be truly upset to “lose” if you later found out the item wasn’t genuine.
German fleamarkets are called flohmarkt. Keep your eyes out for: traditional clothing, cuckoo clocks, Steiff stuffed animals.
‘Soffitte in piazza’ translates to ‘attics in the street,’ so keep your eye on announcements of these community events where locals get together to sell their excess en masse. If you are in the area, dealers say the Flea Market of Arezzo, held where the movie ‘Life is Beautiful’ was filmed, is not to be missed for its beautiful scenery. Keep your eyes out for: leather goods, fashion items, glassware and painted ceramics.
Dealers say that if you are in the area, the Waterloo Flea Market, for those who rise early, has great deals. Each May, Belgium’s largest antique show, Eurantica, also takes place in Brussels. Keep an eye out for: lace, French-language items and interior decor items of all sorts.
The Dutch have their own version of Craigslist called Marktplaats. There are also lots of flea markets, which you can find by searching online by pairing the area you are visiting with the term “vlooienmarkt.” Keep an eye out for: bicycles and bike-related gear; pottery; oil paintings.
I’m told there are amazing flea markets here and lots of deals to be had for educated buyers. Keep an eye out for: hand-blown glassware and painted porcelain; pocketknives; oil paintings.
I’ll be the first to admit this is quite random, but the Hietalahti Flea Market in Helsinki is supposed to be really great. (I haven’t been…yet!)
I haven’t had the pleasure let, but I have learned that the Swedes do have garage sales and they are called loppis.
Argentina and Brazil
I’m told that in many South American and Latin American countries, where there has been a larger polarization of incomes, garage sales aren’t really a thing; people in wealthy families typically are expected to donate excess goods to their domestic help instead of resell those items. However, though perhaps not yard sales in the strictest sense, many cities in South America do have “Feria Americanas,” large expanses of second-hand goods more akin to a flea market (much of it clothing shipped from the U.S., and an unusually large selection of equestrian items), typically held on the outskirts of towns. Locations and quality vary; you’ll want to check in with locals to get the proper scoop. Keep an eye out for: equestrian and polo gear and leather goods.
As most Chinese people live in apartments, garage sales aren’t really a ‘thing’ there. However, there are still secondhand markets in China, mostly online, through sites like Xianyu (the secondhand site developed by Alibaba); the sheer volume of Chinese users means sellers can sell items almost immediately and then use courier services to deliver the goods for them. Alternatively, many Chinese people will just put items out on the curb for either scavengers, or the trash service, to pick up, so if you are feeling adventurous, it can’t hurt to look as you wander. If you are ready for some in-person shopping, don’t miss the Panjiayuan Flea Market in Beijing, where you can buy almost anything (genuine or not). Keep an eye out for: calligraphy brushes, carved wooden items and vintage propaganda posters and books.
Much like the French, instead of having individual garage sales, the Japanese typically band together one or two weekends a year into big flea market-like sales where dozens of families will sell items on blankets laid out on the ground. These definitely happen in Kyoto, Tokyo and Kanagawa, though other areas have them, as well. TokyoCheapo has a fantastic guide to Tokyo flea markets that I found incredibly useful, including commonly used phrases you may want to learn and more. More common than flea markets in Japan is consigning one’s secondhand goods through recycle or pawn shops, which can be tricky to locate if you don’t read Japanese. However, google “secondhand shopping in Japan” and you’ll see lots and lots of English-language sites that can point you in the right direction for these stores. There are some particularly good vintage clothing stores, though be aware that the pricing will be higher than in the U.S. Keep an eye out for: anything handmade and clothing/textiles.
Australia and New Zealand
Though relatively new to the garage saling game, many Australians have taken to it like a koala to eucalyptus. With a focus on sustainability and community-building, Aussies have created the amazingly well-organized Garage Sale Trail, an October event that features thousands of yard sales all over the country on the same day. The Aussie alternative to Craigslist is Gumtree, gumtree.com.au, where many people will list their garage sales, along with specific secondhand items. Secondhand shops are also plentiful in Oz, though they typically call them op shops (short for opportunity shops). Keep an eye out for: items featuring Australian wildlife; unique floral fabrics (their plants are quite different!); vintage maps.
I would especially love more information about garage sales, community sales and secondhand markets in Africa, which I have not yet been to. Send me your tips!
If you love a good flea market, I’ve heard that Milnerton Flea Market in Capetown occupies a tract of land equal to four football fields, set against the beautiful backdrop of Table Mountain.