Shopping abroad

It has long been suggested that we pay over the odds for many goods in the UK, and many of you will have heard tales of much cheaper prices abroad. So how do you get the best bargains?

Day trips to France
The “Booze Cruise” is nothing new. Even though duty-free is no longer available in the EU, the prices for alcohol are as low as ever. If you are having a large party or just want to do some major stocking-up, a trip to Calais can be good value even when taking into account ferry and fuel expenses (but fill up your car over there for a 35% saving on UK prices)†. While you are there it is also worth taking a trip to a hypermarket to stock up as cheese and other groceries can be up to 75% cheaper (but curiously, not cereals which are more expensive!)†. Calais has a large shopping centre where the savvy shopper can also take advantage of lower prices for perfumes and beauty goods

Across the pond and beyond
It’s been a long time since the pound was so strong against the US dollar. This means great news for shoppers! Head for the outlet malls rather than city-centre department stores, who inflate their prices for the tourists. These are packed with bargains and some shoppers even recover the cost of the airfare with the savings they made. As a rough rule of thumb, for each £1,500 you spend, the savings should pay for a flight to New York or Miami*. This has the added bonus that while the pound is strong, the cost of staying and eating in the US is cheap too. Don’t forget the clothes sizing is different so use a convertor, and US price tags don’t include sales tax (similar to our VAT) which is added when you get to the till.

Interestingly, the Hong Kong dollar is pegged on the US dollar, which means there may be bargains to be had on electrical goods if you are heading east. Hong Kong also uses the same plugs as the UK, but bear in mind that DVD players may be regionally coded and might not play your British DVDs.

Markets and local specialities
Some countries are famous for their markets. Morocco and Istanbul are a shoppers paradise, and haggling is all part of the fun. As a general rule of thumb, start with an offer of half the price first given to you and expect to get about a third off in the end. They are especially good for rugs, leather and jewellery, but check that what you are buying is genuine, particularly if you are seeking designer labels. Don’t rely on the word of the seller, look for poor stitching, mis-spellings and cheap fabric. If you are planning on making a big jewellery purchase, do some research into metals and hallmarks and be particularly wary with gemstones. The majority of sellers are genuine, but doing your homework decreases your chances of being ripped-off.

Anything to declare?
Be prepared to go through the red channel at customs; The European Union (EU) has set a goods allowance of £145 (excluding tobacco and alcohol) rising to £290 next year, on bringing items back to the UK from countries outside the EU. Above this and you’ll need to declare the goods at the airport and pay customs duty and VAT at 17.5%; customs duty will be calculated based on the what the item is, how much it costs and what it’s made from. Of course, some people just walk though the ‘nothing to declare’ exit and get away with it; yet doing this is illegal and can land you a hefty fine and confiscation of your goods if you’re caught. So don’t try it!

Even if you are going abroad just for a day, don’t forget your travel insurance and European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). If you are planning to shop ‘til you drop then check that you have sufficient baggage cover on your travel insurance for your purchases and keep your receipts as you may need these in the event of a claim. offers personal possessions cover of up to £1,500 on its ‘standard’ Single Trip policy (£150 valuables & single item limit) and premiums for a short hop over the channel start from under a fiver** – a small price to pay to protect your purchases!

**Premium £4.86 includes Insurance Premium Tax; based on an individual traveller aged under 55 taking out a ‘standard’ Single Trip policy for 3 days in Europe and purchased within 14 days of departure date. Cover details and prices are correct at time of going to press and are subject to change.