Shopping and Duty Free Guide
What could be better than doing a spot of retail therapy while you’re on your hols? The answer: not much, in our book at least. Not only can you score some real bargains for yourself, but your friends and family back home are in for a treat or two as well.
With that said, it’s not a total free for all. You can’t just pop open that pricey bottle of hooch you bought in port once you’re back on the ship. There are rules to be followed when it comes to purchasing and consuming things onboard. The good news is that these rules don’t apply to everything you bring with you onto the ship. The even better news is that there are plenty of top tips you can use to make your money go that extra bit further too.
Before you part with your cash, we’ll run through what you can expect from shopping and duty free during a cruise holiday, as well as those all-important hacks to help you on the hunt for a bargain.
What does ‘duty free’ mean?
Duty-free items usually mean goods that are sold in a foreign country, which have entered the same country without those pesky local import taxes attached. For this reason, they’re a lot cheaper, but they’re only available in airports or ‘in-bond’ stores, after which they’re stashed in warehouses and not sold to the local population.
This can all happen on cruise ships for the same reason, along with the fact that many cruise ship shops close while the ship is in port, in accordance with local customs laws. So, if you’ve been pondering the question “can you buy duty free on cruise ships?”, the answer is a great big thumbs up.
What about tax-free items?
If you’re travelling to the Caribbean, then you’re in luck. In this neck of the woods, you don’t pay VAT like you would in Europe. You also don’t pay sales tax like they do in the US. All of this means that if you spot an item in the Caribbean that’s 30% of the asking price, you’re actually really getting 38% off because of the additional sales tax savings. We like the sound of that!
What’s more, British travellers can now claim back up to 20% VAT on purchases within the EU. Whether you’re shopping in Madrid, Paris, Lisbon, or anywhere else in the EU, as long as you take the purchase home with you, you’re able to claim back the VAT. Happy tax-free shopping!
Top cruise shopping tips in port and onboard
Duty free can be a good deal, but the tag doesn’t always mean value for money. If it’s more bang for your buck you’re looking for, then it pays to know a few tactics ahead of your holiday. To stop you from coming down with a bad case of buyer’s remorse while you’re shopping on a cruise ship or in port, use these handy hacks instead.
While you’re onboard
Ships are often cheaper
To make up for when they’re closed while in port, ship shops entice guests in by offering the same items at cut-rate prices. Don’t be surprised if you see the same items you’ve seen in port on your ship’s shelves for far less. Onboard shop management will be all too aware of what’s for sale in port and for how much, so they can tempt you into parting with your cash while you’re onboard.
Timing is everything
Keep an eye out for the ship’s newsletter delivered to your stateroom each day, as well as signs in shops themselves, for information on any upcoming sales. But be quick, as offers are usually on the briefer side.
That said, if you can resist the urge to splurge early in your holiday, it might be worth holding off towards the end of the cruise. More sales tend to pop up as your cruise comes to a close, along with extra giveaways and promotions, as shops look to shift their wares before everyone heads home.
While you’re in port
Don’t be tempted by your ship’s newsletter
As well as onboard sales, your ship’s newsletter will also offer information on where to find the best shops and deals. You might also hear announcements onboard mentioning these same shops. So far, so good, right? Well, not entirely.
These stores have often paid to be mentioned. Though it’s not as shady as it might sound (it’s basically advertising, after all), it’s not exactly objective. By all means, check out these shops, but it’s not always the seal of approval it might sound like at first.
Do some research before you dock
There’s no need to break out the spreadsheets and price comparison sites if you’re buying little trinkets and souvenirs. But if you’re planning on forking out for pricier purchases, then a bit of research comes in handy. Google how much the items you have in mind cost back home. If you aren’t getting that good of a deal, is it really worth bringing that watch, necklace or bottle of booze back in your suitcase?
Ask crew members where the best deals are
The staff onboard will usually have the scoop when it comes to where the best shops are. They’ll know ports like the back of their hand, so they’ll know where the hidden gems and tucked-away boutiques are.
Barter if you can
Depending on where you’ve docked, you might be able to talk down the price to something that’s better for your budget. In most Northern European countries, along with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, haggling is nigh on impossible. But by all means, go ahead if you find yourself in the Middle East, Mexico, the Caribbean, Southern Europe, Central America and Southeast Asia. It’s a common practice in these parts of the world, so if you’ve got the gift of the gab and you’re feeling lucky, you could well bag yourself a bargain.
Don’t be tempted by the first thing you see
It’s easy to be swayed by the first shop in port. We know, we know. You’re on your hols and you’re excited. Here’s where a bit of research ahead of time can make all the difference between a bargain and getting your fingers burned.
What items can I get a deal on?
There are certain items worth purchasing when you’re on holiday and others that are worth waiting ‘til you get home to buy.
Here’s what you should (and shouldn’t) buy on and offshore.