Beautiful white sand beaches are not the only reason for cruising to the Caribbean…. for many, duty-free shopping can be a pretty compelling reason! “Duty” refers to a tax levied on goods by a government. However, Caribbean shop owners can import goods and sell them to tourists who are leaving their country without import or export duty added to the price. Duty-free shopping allows travelers to score extraordinary deals on cosmetics, fragrances, dinnerware, jewelry, watches, chocolates, candy, cigarettes, liquor and more…or does it?
The shopping talks offered onboard the cruise ship are often a good source of information on where to shop, including coupons and maps to the shopping districts. Quite frankly, the cruise line probably gets a kickback from the shops they recommend, but at least you can shop a bit more confidently in these establishments. Recommended merchants are vetted by the cruise lines and offer a guarantee should the purchase fail to live up to expectations.
It's important to know how much an item normally costs, because how else will you know if you’re getting a good deal? Don’t take the store’s word that something is a bargain; do your homework before leaving home! That will allow you to quickly calculate just how much money you’re really saving. In addition, travelers should know that there are dollar limits on how much merchandise you can take into or out of a country. Most cruise line-shopping consultants will be able to give you those numbers.
When shopping for designer handbags or jewelry, it's important to keep expectations in check. Often the price offered on luxury brands are tightly controlled by the designer, which means that labels like Chanel, David Yurman or Christian Dior have similar price points regardless of where they're sold. You will however, save U.S. sales tax if the item is purchased in the Caribbean.
Shopping for high-end watches and fine jewelry can be a bit trickier. Quite often the warranties on those purchases aren't the same as similar items purchased in the U.S. For the best protection, shop only at an authorized dealer. It may also be difficult to access the value of diamonds and gem stones, since the appraisals received may overstate the quality and value of the stone.
As far as electronics go, it's hard to get a price lower than at big-box stores like Best Buy. In addition, no matter where in the world you buy, prices on electronics such as cameras, GPS devices, and mobile phones, will be subject to fewer cost variations because they tend to be priced globally. On the plus side, you may be able to pick up a gadget in the Caribbean that may not be readily available in the U.S.
So when it comes to duty-free shopping on your Caribbean cruise, the best advice I can give is “buyers beware!” There are deals to be had on the many islands you will visit but unless you’re a well-informed savvy shopper, you’re not going to recognize them!"