If your family is anything like mine and you do the majority of your clothes shopping for the family abroad, then you can benefit from a few tips for making the most out of a trip. I was never big on shopping, but I’ve had to do more of it in the last few years since my body started changing with age. Since I also have a kid and have to shop for said kid, I learned very quickly that shopping in Jamaica en-masse for my constantly growing child is a giant no-no. Simply put, I cannot afford it.
Of course, there are a few times when you can’t do much better than to purchase a few items, but when I tell you that walking into one of those children’s clothes stores is no joke, you better believe it. So my family developed a system. Clothes shopping was done when we vacationed abroad, aka the US.
It worked for us because we would be with family and took a trip about once a year on average (pre-covid of course). You know I preach the budget, so it is a great two or three for one kind of stone. We visit loved ones, relax away from home and go on a few adventures and we are also able to shop more affordably.
I’m not into fast fashion. I prefer a few good core pieces that are timeless or will give a good few years in spite of what’s ‘in’ at any given time.
The Elephant in the Room: Customs
Almost every Jamaican who has travelled or purchased anything online knows what it is like to be spurned by Jamaica Customs. A bill for the new act (The Customs Act 2020) has been tabled, but the pace has been unsurprisingly sluggish. For one, the duty-free allowance is a measly US$500 when you travel and US$50 if you’re purchasing online. It’s 2021, these prices are absolutely ridiculous. You cannot purchase anything meaning full for $50 and should you find yourself needing to make a purchase over that amount you risk paying 100% duties or even higher.
To add insult to injury, many have been victims of demands by a customs officer to pay more than you paid for the item; either because a sale price will not be acknowledged or based on how expensive the item ‘looks’. In 2015, I abandoned my wedding dress, because the officer was adamant that regardless of what I paid for my wedding dress, the item ‘didn’t look that cheap’. I refused to pay 200% duties on a dress when I, a law-abiding citizen of Jamaica did my due diligence a provided a receipt.
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Abuse by Jamaica Customs
In 2018, I came face to face with the foolery again when an author copy shipment of five books I ordered was seized, even though the value of the five books was less than US$30. After four weeks, a demand was made for me to visit the customs office and log into Amazon to ‘prove’ the receipt I supplied was genuine. Even though I did what was asked and explained, I was the author of the book, which I also proved, my shipment was held for a further two weeks. The reason? To determine if they were for commercial use or sale. The back and forth was unnecessary and stressful, and I vowed never to ship any more of my books locally. I simply wait to do my shopping abroad for books as well.
If this is not abuse, I don’t know what is. As a result, my novel and books are not in Jamaican bookstores. You see, this issue isn’t so much about paying duties as it is a lack of uniformity in costs and the subjection to payment being dependent on a customs officers ‘feelings’, which are often based on their view of how much you, the customer, look like you should pay, or how much they determine you can afford to pay, or worse yet, how their day is going.
Now that we’ve concluded my mini-rant, let’s talk about how we’ve been able to stay sane.
Tips for Shopping Abroad with the Family
1. Coardinate Climates
If you are from a tropical region, travel during the heights of winter to a country or city that experiences intense winter conditions to shop for clothes hardly makes sense. However, it might make sense to do so in the summer and spring, maybe even fall. Fall is a great time because, at the end of summer, store stocks are being cleared for winter gear.
2. Travel Together
The best thing you do is travel together. This means that each adult you travel with has that US$500 duty-free allowance. So, if there are two allowances, the family’s allowance becomes $1000 and so on, which is most valuable because you are able to get more in one go. That’s for Jamaica. Whatever country you live in will have its own duty-free allowance limits.
3. Travel-to Empty, Travel-back Full
When you are travelling for a few days, I recommend travelling lighter to your destination. For example, my family of three travel with each person having about three suits of clothes. One to two pairs of shoes will do along with other necessaries. Generally, I pack a medium-sized suitcase with everyone’s items and place the medium suitcase inside a larger one for checking. That way, we pay for one checking bag when we are travelling to, and two or three checking bags to travel home with depending on how much shopping was done.
4. Wear As Many of the Items You Buy As You Can
If you’re freaked out by my suggestion that you pack super light for your family trip, don’t worry. There is a fix. You will need to begin your shopping early in your trip. You will be wearing the items you purchase while you’re on your trip. For me, I buy, wash (launder) the items and wear as many of them as I can during your trip. Especially shoes. By the time your trip ends, you will have laundered a few of these items a few times.
The reason for this is that items that have clearly been worn and laundered previously hardly meet the ‘eye exam’ as ‘new’. Who is going to tell you how many times your clothes have been worn? Also, it is harder for them to make assumptions that something has been bought on the trip when the majority of the contents in the luggage look laundered and worn. They won’t assume you travelled empty-handed. At least, we hope they don’t. Given how awful they are, they just might.
5. Clearance First
Make that dollar stretch. As a frugal Caribbean national, I like a good bargain. Remember when I said you should climate coordinate? That’s because those clearance items go for a lot less at the end of the season than they do at the start. The goal is to get them off the racks, so the deals are awesome. Don’t buy junk now, if it’s a mess put it back. You visit the regular racks only after items of clearance don’t interest you.
6. Buy a Size up for kids
Kids are like weeds. They grow fast in short periods of time. So while you want to shop well-fitting items, don’t forget to buy some items one size up so they can have a bit of growing time in them. This is especially true for shoes. You never know when something can happen that will delay your next shipping trip. Something like say, a pandemic?
Do you do your family shopping abroad? Share some tips in the comments!
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