Retailers on less prosperous islands attribute Bermuda's continuing reputation as a shopping mecca not only to the superb climate, but also to many years of skillful marketing. Indeed, no one has ever accused Bermudians of not knowing how to sell their island -- or their rich inventories of goods.
Bermuda, once widely hailed as a "showcase of the British Empire," is still that, at least in its variety of goods. The retail scene draws upon its British antecedents: Shopkeepers are generally both polite and discreet, and merchandise is unusual and well made. In addition, most retailers take full advantage of location. Shops usually occupy charming cottages or historically important buildings, making shopping even more fun. Even visitors who intend to do no more than window-shop are likely to break down and make a purchase or two.
In most cases, shopping on Bermuda is about quality, not bargains. Shops face huge import tariffs, plus employee-related taxes, leading to what some view as outrageously high prices. And it rarely pays to comparison shop -- the price of a watch in a branch store in St. George is likely to be exactly the same as it is in the main shop in the City of Hamilton.
Bermuda's Best Buys
Most of Bermuda's best shops are along Front Street in the City of Hamilton, where shopping is relaxed and casual. Among the choicest items are imports from Great Britain and Ireland, such as fine china, crystal, and cashmere sweaters and tweed jackets. Many items cost appreciably less than in their country of origin.
Because of a special "colony-like" arrangement with Great Britain, certain British goods are cheaper in Bermuda than in the United States, thanks to lower import tariffs. Some frequent visitors stock up on porcelain, crystal, silverware, jewelry, timepieces, and perfume, perhaps anticipating a wedding gift several months in advance. The island abounds with merchandisers of fine tableware, including Royal Copenhagen, Wedgwood, and Royal Crown Derby. Crystal is also plentiful, with many of the finest manufacturers in Europe and North America providing wide selections of merchandise. For a fee, most items can be shipped.
Liquor is also a good buy in Bermuda. U.S. citizens are allowed to bring back only 1 liter duty-free, but even adding U.S. tax and duty, you can save 35% to 50% on liquor purchases, depending on the brand. Liqueurs offer the largest savings.
The island's wealth of antiques and collectibles is extraordinary. Antiques lovers appreciate Bermuda's fusion of British aesthetic and mid-Atlantic charm. The island has a wealth of antique engravings and 19th-century furniture. Its modern artwork and handmade pottery and crafts are elegant souvenirs. And anyone interested in carrying home a piece of Bermuda's nautical heritage can choose from oversize ship's propellers, captain's bells, brass nameplates, scale models of sailing ships, or maybe even an old-fashioned ship's steering wheel from a salvaged shipwreck.
Other good buys are "Bermudiana" -- products made on Bermuda or manufactured elsewhere exclusively for local stores. They include cedar-wood gifts, carriage bells, coins commemorating the 375th anniversary of the island's settlement, flower plates by Spode, pewter tankards, handcrafted gold jewelry, traditional-line handbags with cedar or mahogany handles, miniature cottages in ceramic or limestone, shark's teeth polished and mounted in 14-karat gold, decorative kitchen items, Bermuda shorts (of course), silk scarves, and watches with a map of Bermuda on their faces.
Although some items might be less expensive than they are stateside, be aware that many others are overpriced. You should be familiar with the prices of comparable goods back home before making any big purchases.
Liquor & Liqueurs -- You are allowed to take what U.S. Customs calls a "reasonable amount" of liquor from Bermuda to the United States. There is a duty-free allowance, but you merely pay overage to U.S. Customs at the airport. Even with the duty, prices are often lower than those in the States.
Tobacco -- Many Americans come to Bermuda to enjoy Cuban cigars (which can't be brought back into the United States).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.