In addition to beautiful beaches, exciting attractions, and fabulous food, St. Thomas is known for shopping – especially for jewelry and liquor.
From the waterfront in downtown Charlotte Amalie north a few blocks to Main Street are lots of jewelry stores and a number of hidden gems of the non-jewelry type. Here are a few of Island Girl’s tips for saving money and finding great stuff.
The Duty-Free Shopping Bonus
The U.S. government allows stores in certain airports and shipping ports to import and export goods without high taxes and customs fees. The stores pass those savings onto the customers, and the lower prices are especially apparent with liquor, jewelry and perfume, which usually are highly taxes in the States. Another tax bonus in the U.S. Virgin Islands is that there’s no sales tax.
To get through customs easily, here’s what you need to know:
Each person can bring back five fifths of liquor, and a sixth fifth if it is a product of the U.S. Virgin Islands (like Cruzan rum). You must be 21 to do this.
Each person has a total duty-free allowance of $1200 – even children. When leaving the Virgin Islands, you must fill out a customs form listing the items and prices of each item you’ve bought, and it’s probably a good idea to keep receipts. The duty-free allowance in the U.S. Virgin Islands is the highest in the Caribbean, so be sure to buy your expensive stuff here!
"You better shop around"
There is usually more than one location selling the item you’re looking for. There are several stores selling liquor, watches, jewelry, perfume, shirts, and more. Sometimes one store has multiple locations. So don’t purchase the first thing you see – look around and see if it’s less expensive somewhere else.
Also, the store owners and managers downtown form a tight-knit community. Often, one person owns or manages more than one store, and you can find good deals simply by asking a manager for a discount or a recommendation of where to look for something specific. Greetings are very important in the Virgin Islands – say "good morning", "good afternoon" or "good evening" to store clerks as you enter, and you will receive better service.
Off the beaten path
The most important tip about shopping downtown is to actually go into the stores: One of my more recent discoveries, for example, is that there is a Coach store downtown on Main Street – but you have to go through Tiffany’s to get there, and you can’t really see it from the sidewalk. (Men, please don’t stop reading. This won’t all be about the jewelry and purses — Island Girl promise.) There are lots of hidden gems of all sorts in the back of stores that face Main Street. Look for beachwear, liquor, local spices and more toward the back of stores and you won’t be disappointed!
Also, be sure to venture off of Main Street. Not that Main Street isn’t great – but there are so many local stores with unique items (as well as a few national chains) that are located down photogenic alleys. Check out Royal Dane Mall and Palm Passage. Most of the alley’s have outdoor restaurants as well to keep you fueled up for your shopping excursion.
Just west of Fort Chrisian is Vendor’s Plaza, an area of close-together tents with "Someone went to St. Thomas and I all I got was this lousy t-shirts" shirts, jewelry, purses, local crafts and more. Vendors completely pack up their wares and tents every night by 6 p.m., and set up again around 8 the next morning. It’s okay to bargain with the vendors, as several tents have similar items – especially with the purses and jewelry. It’s a great place to look for gifts for the people who stayed home.
Services and more
It’s not all shopping downtown, though. There’s a post office, several banks, ferries to St. John, St. Croix and some of the British Virgin Islands. The main police station is just east of downtown, too.
- Visitors Center
- Classified Ads