Whether you’re in St. Thomas on an extended vacation or just stopping off as part of a cruise, you’ll find plenty of things to buy at a great bargain in St Thomas. We are often asked what to buy while there – and are there better deals to be found in St Thomas than back on the U.S. mainland? Whether it’s souvenirs, gifts, cameras, or jewelry you’re after, we’ve got the information to help you practice your bargaining skills in many of the most popular shopping areas on the island.
The top things to buy in St Thomas are indigenous handicrafts, local rums, cameras, and jewelry. St Thomas is an excellent place to buy alcohol, perfumes, art, watches, cameras, and diamonds with hundreds of duty-free outlets. Savvy shoppers should check prices beforehand to ensure the best deals.
Overview Of Duty-Free Shopping In St. Thomas
St. Thomas is an absolute treasure trove for bargain hunters looking to buy duty-free. Hundreds of shops offer all kinds of goods at great prices, especially if you’re looking for cameras and electronics, alcohol, perfume, and jewelry. Goods can be up to 60% less than what you would pay on the U.S. mainland, so if you know what you’re looking for and the retail prices back home, you can pick up quite a few excellent bargains.
When an item is designated as “duty free” at the time of purchase, that means it is free from any duties assessed by the country where the purchase is made. But, even if the items do not have taxes assessed on them at the time of purchase, you may still be required to pay taxes when you enter the U.S. (or your home country) if your purchases exceed your allowable exemptions.
Every U.S. resident – including the kids – can take home goods to the value of $1,600 without paying customs duty from St. Thomas. Members of the same family may combine their total exemptions. Thus, for example, a family of four would be able to return with $6,400 in goods without being assessed additional customs duties. Note that some categories of items such as certain types of artworks will not be assessed any duty regardless of the value.
In addition, you are also allowed to take back five cartons of cigarettes and five liters (169 fluid ounces) of liquor (if over 21 years old) – provided at least one of the alcohol products was made in St. Thomas or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Brands to look for include Bones, Cruzan, and Botany Bay rums.
Many other Caribbean Islands have a limit of $800, so if your purpose is mainly to pick up duty-free deals, St. Thomas is your best option.
Remember to keep your receipts for duty-free goods, as you may be checked on leaving the island — both as to the amount purchased and as to where you purchased the items. Avoid wasting time by asking for a declaration form when you check in for your return flight.
Best Items To Buy In St Thomas
Thanks to the many shops tucked away throughout the streets, you will find many different things to buy in St Thomas. So whether you’re looking to get bargains on electronics, or are more inclined towards local arts and crafts, you’ll find what you need.
The best things to buy in St. Thomas are alcohol – particularly Caribbean rum –, jewelry and diamonds, watches, cameras, and other electronics, shipwreck coins, collectibles, and indigenous arts and crafts. Liquor and cigarettes almost always have substantial savings compared to the costs of the same items in the U.S.
One of the most popular rums in St. Thomas is the Cruzan Rum. Cruzan offers a range of aged and light rums, as flavored rums. While on the island, you’ll want to look for the premium rums such as Black Strap and Cruzan Estate rums. Depending on the rum, you could save easily half the cost of a bottle back in the U.S.
Jewelry And Diamonds
St. Thomas has excellent jewelry and diamond deals, with many small shops offering incredible prices. You can find large, reputable jewelry shops on the main streets, such as Imperial Jewellers, Diamond International, Cardow, and Beverly’s. Our personal favorite is the family-owned Ballerina Jewelers. (Editors: And, no, we are not receiving any commission for mentioning them!)
Regardless of where you shop, don’t be afraid to haggle on prices, ask for items like gold jewelry to be weighed, and check the codes to ensure what quality diamonds you are buying. This bears repeating: Do not be shy about negotiating for a better price.
Watches, Cameras, And Electronics
Electronic goods such as cameras or watches are some of St. Thomas’s most popular duty-free goods. If you’re looking for savings here, the best thing is to know precisely what you are looking for and the average prices you would pay for them on the mainland. This way, you will be sure to get the goods you want at a duty-free bargain price and won’t get home to find you could have bought the same item for 25% less.
Shipwreck Coins, Collectibles, Art
If you’re looking for gifts or souvenirs, places such as S.O.S Antiques in St. Thomas have unique maritime antiques available. Goods reclaimed from shipwrecks include instruments, coins, and jewelry. Divers collect authentic goods and historical items like swords, pistols, and antique maps.
Where To Shop In St Thomas
It can be overwhelming to see the sheer number of shops, but you will find bargains along Main Street in downtown Charlotte Amalie. It’s the number one destination for shoppers on the island. Also, take the time to explore the alleyways and the goods on offer in the smaller side streets.
Enjoy shopping with a view at Mountain Top, on St. peter Mountain, where you can buy many duty-free goods like local art, souvenir clothing, leather sandals, alcohol, and jewelry. Try their world-famous banana daiquiri while gazing down from their observation deck above Magens Bay.
When on the lookout for authentic arts and crafts from local artists, head to Tillet Gardens on the East End, where you can watch artists at work and enjoy performances before buying handmade crafts and jewelry.
Should You Buy Diamonds In St Thomas?
If you know what you’re looking for and know the clarity grades, you can find bargains on diamonds in St. Thomas. Be aware that off-color diamonds will look brighter and whiter in the bright sun from the tropics.
Bargains on high-end diamond pieces such as Cartier can be found, but know your price limit and stick to it. There is a lot of variety, and some diamonds may be mediocre. However, all diamonds should be correctly labeled, so if you know the 11 clarity grades, you will be better able to bargain from a position of knowledge.
Items like natural blue diamonds are rare, so it’s more likely that the blue diamonds you’ll find for sale in St. Thomas are irradiated. The blue color comes from the visible inclusions, which are made less visible with laser drilling.
If you are not knowledgeable about diamonds, shop at a store with a name you trust. This will give you excellent service, and expected sound quality. You may have to pay more, but you will feel assured that you can get your jewelry and diamonds properly appraised and insured back home. Some of the top listed shops in St. Thomas are Imperial Dynasty, Imperial Jewelers, Grand Jewelers. Ajenta Jewelers, Ballerina Jewellers, and Okidanokh.
Always Try To Bargain In St Thomas When Shopping
Yes, you can haggle for things in St. Thomas, including diamonds. One trick when buying jewelry and diamonds is prices often fall after 4 pm when the cruise ships leave, so if you’re staying overnight, it’s a good idea to bargain then. Bargaining is expected on big-ticket items such as jewelry, though allegedly not in the high-end brick-and-mortar shops. (It doesn’t hurt to ask. Even if the answer is no, you can be assured that the same question was asked by many others before you.)
One way to bargain is not to immediately start bartering but take a card or make a note of the price to compare elsewhere. This may initiate a lower-price offer. Also, if bargaining is something that’s not generally in your comfort zone, you can get the ball rolling by saying something along the lines of “I really need a better price than that, what can you do?”
Always remain polite while bargaining, and accept ‘no’ with a simple thank you.
Lower prices do not necessarily mean you are getting a bargain; instead, the cost you’re paying is tax-free.
There are bargains to be had, and a large selection of things to buy, in St Thomas if you know what you’re looking for. Do some research before you go to make sure you are actually getting the best deal, and don’t be afraid to haggle with willing vendors.