It will surprise no one that I like to shop. Or that I like to travel. Or that I like to shop while I’m traveling. Since I’m heading off to France (I know, again) in a week and a half, I thought I would write up a guide with everything I’ve learned about shopping overseas.
Do your research
If you’re not a regular reader of blogs (then you’re a liar, cause you’re reading this one!!), then start. Or don’t start. But if you’re like me and you like to sample local beauty delicacies, then start googling or asking people. One of the most fun parts of traveling for me is getting to try things that I don’t have access to at home.
Make a list
Lists are not just for people with long white beards and an affinity for red. A list for your international shopping will be your best friend. It will be a handy reference for the products you want and keep you from those duty free impulse buys that you know you should avoid. (Okay, it’ll HELP.)
If you are a regular reader of beauty blogs, a list is extra handy for keeping track of all the things you’ve been seeing on other blogs. You can start early—I personally have a draft email in my gmail that I add things to as I see them. You can use whatever you like to keep yours. I just jot down a name as soon as I see something I’d like to check out.
Do the math
This is technically part of doing your research, but once you have a list of must-have items, start looking up prices. And I mean both in your local currency and whatever currency you’re going to be buying them in. For example, I’m going to France, so I used the French Sephora site to look up the prices in Euros. If something wasn’t available there, I tried the local site of the actual brand. If you can’t understand the language and they don’t have an English option, there’s always Google Chrome, which will translate it for you.
Next step is to convert the foreign currency and compare the prices to your own. And you’d be surprised. These days, most brands are priced equivalently. (Well, at least prices in the United States and France—even many French brands!) I thought By Terry was less expensive there, but it turns out it’s really about the same. (There are certain deals to be had with brands. You just have to do the research and find out. [Hint: One of them is Sisley. 😉 Also, pharmacy brands like Bioderma, Nuxe, and La Roche-Posay.])
The last step is to calculate what price you should be looking for in the foreign currency to constitute a good deal or discount. Do this as close to your departure date as possible, to ensure you have the most recent exchange rate. If you’ll have internet connection in the airport, you can skip this, and just use a converter and compare it with your list.
I may or may not have a color-coded spreadsheet…
Know where the discounts are
Once you’re armed with your list and your price information, you can hunt out deals. One obvious one is duty-free shopping. But the prices aren’t always better, so that’s why the research is important! It’s also good to find out where locals shop for deals.
In terms of Paris, one of the places I know best, City Pharma in Paris is known as THE place for local French pharmacy buys, being one of the best priced locations in the city. But you will wait in line for a while, so you should decide whether money or time is more important to you. Another option is to find a large Monoprix or a Monop’ Beauty. Sign up for their card with your hotel or apartment address, and you may get more money off!
Another deal to take advantage of is that the big department stores (les grands magasins), namely Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, offer tourists a 10% discount card. All you need to do is bring your passport (or a photocopy) to the customer service desk, and they’ll give you your card. (And, actually, you can print your card for Printemps before you go right here. Update: When I went to Printemps on my recent trip, they told me the card is only available online, so definitely print one out! They figured out a way for me to get the discount, but it took a lot longer than it should have, and I was rushing to get to the airport.) There are some items (like Chanel and Guerlain) that are exempt—there will be a red dot by those brands.
Also, don’t forget to ask the store that you’re in, whether it’s a department store or not, if they do a tax refund for a specific purchase amount. This is the kind of refund where you have to go to the tax-free counter at the airport, have a paper stamped, and then put it back in the envelope the store provided you, seal it, and drop it in the mailbox. Each country has their own minimum, and sometimes stores have a higher minimum.
Again, the large department stores in Paris DEFINITELY do the refund, in France it’s called détaxe. And the purchase minimum doesn’t have to be at a single counter or department; the purchases accumulate, though they do have to be on the same day.
If you’re really ambitious, stop in the duty-free store on the way OUT of the airport to see what the prices are there. That way you can always calculate if you’re finding better deals while you shop in the city you’re visiting, especially with the tourist discount and tax-free refund.
Don’t turn your nose up at cheap
We all want to shop designer, but sometimes cheap is just as good. Shopping at places like Monoprix (or Monop’) in France and Primark in the UK offer cheap, but currently fashionable options. And though it’s cheap, I’m still wearing my Primark clothing years later, and I get so many compliments on it.
Only shop local (unless)
If you are going to shop for cosmetic brands, remember to only shop for brands that are local to where you are and NOT any that are native to your own country UNLESS you’re in a country where the exchange rate is favorable. Why? Because you’ll be spending MORE money on the things you can just get at home.
For example, years and years ago I had a lot of time at Heathrow in London and wound up buying makeup at a MAC counter (yes, I know it’s actually Canadian, but still). Then I got home and realized that with the pound to dollar exchange rate, I paid way more for that makeup than I would have at home. Whoops! Lesson learned.
Obviously, if the exchange rate is in your favor, you can ignore all of these tips and shop away! (Or at least to your budget’s extent. 😉 )
If you find a good deal on something and you know you love what you’re getting and you’ll finish it, buy more than one. You never know when you’ll be back.
One time in Paris I bought a Sisley lipstick and I LOVED it. I actually finished it. So the next time I was back, I bought a couple (and tried some new colors!), because it’s DEFINITELY more expensive in the US. (And I got the discount and the détaxe!)
If you fall in love, just go for it
Ultimately, all these tips mean nothing if you’re faced with something that you absolutely want to have. If you love it and you won’t be able to find it elsewhere, or even if you just make exceptions while on vacation that you don’t when you’re home, just go for it. You don’t want to be kicking yourself after!
And most importantly…
Don’t forget to have fun! That’s what it’s all about, after all. 😉
Do you have any tips for me? What are your favorite brands to source overseas?
Incoming search terms:
- stamped passport pages