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Written by Kieran Proctor

Can I Get Tattooed Abroad?

Tattoo

Updated

You can get tattooed while overseas. Getting tattooed while on holidays abroad is actually quite common.

The notion of getting tattooed while overseas has spawned its own term. And people who get tattooed while on holidays, are often said to have engaged in ‘tattoo tourism‘.

I’ve had large tattoo pieces designed and completed in a number of countries. Both of my tattoo sleeves and most of my upper body, was done in Latin America and Europe. Peru and Germany to be specific.

In fact, most of my tattoos have been completed while I’ve been overseas. Yet, I’d point out that while I’ve been heavily tattooed overseas and I would tell every youngster ‘sure, go get tattooed overseas’. There are a few caveats and warnings I’d issue.

You can get tattooed overseas. But the main and most correct question that you should be asking yourself, is ‘should’ you get tattooed overseas?

Too many people think about the price first. And way down in their thought process comes quality and safety. But quality and safety should be their top priorities when deciding to get tattooed abroad. Price should be their last consideration. 

Should you get tattooed overseas?

You should only get tattooed overseas if you have given the design and placement of the tattoo the same amount of thought and consideration that you would give it, when getting a tattoo in your home country.

And only if the selected artist is capable of producing the quality of work you expect. While the shop must employ all relevant hygiene standards.

The last thing you would want, is to get a terrible tattoo with a poorly drawn design. Or worse yet, a blood borne illness or infection.

You should be asking yourself if you are sure the artist is capable, the shop is clean and if the design is something you really want to live with. Tattoos are permanent. And a poor quality tattoo will last just as long as a good quality tattoo. Do you want to be continually covering a terrible tattoo design?

Reddit has entire threads dedicated to poor quality tattoos. Or tattoos that people got abroad, only to realize that their artists, whose second or third language is English, has misinterpreted, misunderstood or misspelled their tattoo. But you’d have ‘no ragrets’ because the price is cheap, right?

That’s not to say that all cheap tattoos are bad. There are distinct price differentials at play when you get tattooed abroad. And not all are to do with the quality of the artist.

A good tattoo price chart

Getting tattooed overseas is often cheaper

Most of the price differences are to do with the strength of the dollar and the weakness of the peso, ruble or whatever other currency is being used, in the country in which you want to get a tattooed.

You can get tattoos overseas that are cheap by American standards. And they aren’t necessarily poor quality. Provided the artist is capable and the shop conforms to all the necessary hygiene practices, you can get a cheap tattoo overseas that is excellent quality.

So, how do you ensure that the artist is quality and the store is clean? And what should you look for when deciding on whether or not to get a tattoo overseas?

Evaluating a studio and artist is easy. Let’s start with the store.

How do I determine if a tattoo shop is clean and reputable?

Start by checking the online reviews for the shop in which you are considering getting a tattoo. If the reviews are good then go to the store and talk to the artists.

When at the store look around and see that the store is visibly clean. And that the artists are using disposable needless and that the store has a functioning autoclave. They must take sterilization and safety seriously.

The stores I use abroad, are treated like places of work. They are meticulously clean and they frequently smell of disinfectant. All the artists use disposable needles and everything else is put through an autoclave machine (thing that looks like a microwave and uses high temperature steam, to kill germs).

All the surfaces and work areas while tattooing, are covered in disposable single use materials.

How do I determine if a tattoo artist is good? 

Examine the tattoo artists online portfolio and reviews. It’s hard to find an artist these days that doesn’t have a social media account showcasing their work. Have a look at the tattoos they’ve done and if they are a similar style to the design you want.

If you’re happy with the work you’ve seen from an artist. And all of their previous customers are happy and that artist works in a store that you’re sure is clean, then you might be onto a winner.

Talk to the artists and show them the tattoo design you want or explain the design that you want them to create for you. Just don’t pick something off the wall. Noobs do that and they usually regret it.

If the tattoo artist tells you they can do your piece and it’s a style they’re comfortable with, then book in and get the tattoo. At that point it doesn’t matter if you’re overseas and the exchange rate makes their work cheaper than a tattoo in your home country.

Always listen to the tattoo artists advice

You’re sure the store is clean and are confident in the artists ability. Book in and get the tattoo even if it’s cheaper. But always listen to the tattooist’s advice during the process.

If you have done the right thing and sough out a good tattooist who’s working for a clean and reputable shop, then you should follow their advice. If they suggest a different placement or they suggest altering the size, follow your artists advice.

A good tattooist working in a reputable shop looks at tattoos, draws tattoos and then tattoos clients, for hours on end, each and everyday. They absolutely know what they’re talking about when it comes to tattoos. Follow your tattooists advice, because they are experts on tattoos. 

There is one further caveat to put on getting tattooed abroad

You need be careful around areas that have a lot of tourists. Tattooists in some countries will be in a higher density in the locations that have the most tourists.

Lesser quality tattooists and ‘scratchers‘, will set up shops in places where there is a large transient tourist population. Because this is where they can tattoo someone and count on that person moving onward to a different country, before that person realizes that they have a terrible tattoo. Or before an infection sets in.

But, if you have followed the advice above, you should be fine. Provided that the store’s hygiene and reputation are good and the artist is capable, you are generally fine to get tattooed abroad.

Just let the artists know that they should make suggestions on the tattoo design and placement.

Some very good artists frequent these same areas with lots of tourists. But because the tourists pay more than locals in these areas, they are less inclined to tell a tourist if they’re making a mistake.

Make sure that you do make it clear to the artist, that they should speak up. Once the tattooist knows that they should provide advice, to ensure the tattoo looks as good on you as it does on paper or in your head, you’re golden.

Follow the tattooists advice, get tattooed and if you save money over US prices, it’s a win for you. 

Kieran, the author of this article, between tattoo sessions on his blackout sleeve in Germany.
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