Our Florida Challenge #5
I have a confession to make. We never intended to go to Orlando and the theme parks when we first started planning this trip to the U.S.A. We needed to go shopping.
Yes I know we live in the UAE and it is pretty much the Mecca of the shopping world. We by no means live in an isolated location deride of any shops but it’s not my type of shopping; you can certainly find the weird and the wonderful as well as the extremely extravagant here but do you reckon I can find a size 5 Huggies nappy when I need it?
We do have a pretty good selection of European branded supermarkets and hypermarkets but consistent availability of basic groceries can still be a real issue, especially if you have fussy eaters. But more importantly than the grocery shopping, it’s the clothing and other household items that kills me. Pretty much everything needs to be imported and this costs. Basic baby items from Mothercare for example we easily get charged three times the amount they are sold at full price in the UK.
So for range and price, every trip we make overseas either “home” to the UK or Australia or on holidays, seems to end with us packing an extra suitcase or two just of “essential supplies” (ok granted as this photo is testament to sometimes this means confectionery items – I wish I took a photo the time Mr Globetrotter flew home with an entire leg of ham in his suitcase for Christmas).
There are options when you live in expat locations to ship items in using “shop and ship” style services (this is where the shipping/courier company in your expat country gives you an address to send items to in the US or UK for example, then the shipping company does the importing and delivers the parcel to your door), but these services have a few downfalls as we’ve discovered, including;
- Some shops will only let you order from their online store if you have a credit card registered in that country.
- You get charged by weight for delivery which can end up costing more than the item is worth in shipment fees.
- Sometimes there are hidden importation taxes that you are not quoted for and must pay before you can receive the goods, particular on higher value items.
- Returns after going through the shipping process with a third party can be extremely difficult to deal with.
- When address systems don’t exist it can be pot luck whether your parcel ever shows up.
You may have a great service that works well in your country (if so please share!) but online shopping certainly has its limitations when you live overseas from our experience. You don’t realise how much you miss something until you can’t have it. In the UK we online shopped EVERYTHING from groceries to baby clothes and now we feel so deprived; first world problems I know.
Our shopping challenge in the US is simple enough in theory; Buy enough new clothing, shoes and toys for x5 people to last at least 12 months, cram it in a suitcase and hope to god we are under our luggage limit by the time we get back to Miami airport.
We are big fans of the outlet malls in the US and of course using coupons – man are the Yanks obsessed with this – but it’s great! Many of the offers tourists can jump on board too (check on line beforehand you may be able to buy a coupon book to use during your stay or join VIP clubs to get exclusive offers). We are visiting over a holiday period too which usually means additional sales and discounts are applied.
Outlet shopping tip: if you are looking to do a full wardrobe stock up, allow at least two visits. Get your bearings first on what’s available, who has super-specials on and spend limits to get extra coupons and discounts. Very frequently you are given coupons that you can save more next time you shop, so don’t buy everything at once; come back a few days later if you can spare the time to cash in your offers and save more – even better if you are staying over the end of a month as some offers apply if you ‘come back the following month’!
The double shopping trip also lets you measure up everyone for sizes on the first occasion (especially children’s feet), then when you want to get into some serious buying and bargain hunting you can leave the kids behind (obviously supervised) as they can get VERY bored watching you shop; we’ve had meltdown moments over this before so learning from experience, Mr Globetrotter and I now take turns to go shopping and hit it with military precision.
Other than outlet malls, we find the cost of almost every item of clothing, toys or household effects to be cheaper in the US, even in normal shopping malls. Whether you are an expat or just a tourist from another country, it is certainly worth it to come with your suitcases as empty as possible.
Another great option you can bear in mind if you have troubles getting things shipped to your expat country online, is to get items shipped to your hotel in the US. Both the hotels we are staying at in Miami and Orlando offer parcel holding services which we will be taking advantage of to pre-order some essential items we want for the whole trip (like our new CityMini double stroller, very excited!!).
It will be a costly exercise on this occasion but I will get a smug smile of satisfaction every time I visit a mall back in the UAE and compare the prices I have paid without freight and tax (the smile could of course be easily wiped off my face if we go over our weight limit and cop an excess baggage fee – we will be using Mr Globetrotters hand scales with an abundance and triple checking Qatar Airway’s luggage limits).
One thing to note when doing a big shopping run like this is to be wary of customs. They may be concerned that you have “marketable quantities” of goods and are trying to import them. We’ve never run into this problem but I have certainly heard stories. They may also look to tax you if they think the goods are new. It’s always a good idea to take tags of clothing and items out of their packaging to show they are used and you’re not planning to sell them, just in case.
So expats, tell us what ‘must-have’ items you always make room for in your suitcase? What obscenely expensive imports do you treat yourself to and how do you get hold of them?