It's Your Duty To Shop, But It Won't Be Free, and it's rime to take a look at the rules since recent developments in Texas have made it a little less duty-"free" than in the past.
You know you're going to shop while on a cruise vacation, so before leaving home it's a good idea to pre-plan your shopping forays to insure the best retail therapy experience. Whether souvenirs, bargains, or high end goods are the object of your quest, set a budget (then stick with it) and check prices before you set sail. The Caribbean was once a shopper's paradise due to its duty-free status and visitors found bargains galore. Much of that luster has diminished, but it's still possible to find deals. Even if you pay the same amount for a bottle of imported perfume in St. Thomas as you would have paid at your hometown Macy's, you'll save the sales tax and that can be considerable in some states.
Two items that are still bargains for most cruisers are alcohol and tobacco. St. Thomas is particularly smoker-friendly and cigarettes there can be purchased at bargain prices—often less than half of what they cost in some states. Shops on board and ashore are also noted for alcohol and tobacco prices that can't be beat in many of our home states, so it isn't uncommon to see departing passengers toting boxes containing bottles of duty-free liquor ashore at the end of their cruises.
However, that may not be such a frequent sight in Texas in the future. Be prepared to get out your wallet after Jan. 4, 2014 if you are bringing alcohol or tobacco into The Lone Star State when your cruise ends in Galveston. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) passed a resolution to begin collecting personal importation taxes on such purchases whether they were made in duty-free shops or not. While the state has been collecting such taxes along the Texas-Mexico border for forty years, apparently it just dawned on them to extend the practice to seaports as well. TABC tax collection points will be located in both terminals 1 and 2 at the Galveston cruise facility where passengers pass through the U.S. Customs secondary checkpoint. Shoppers will be able to pay the taxes with either cash or credit cards. How conveniently thoughtful of them! The tax man will accept your "donation" in the Port of Houston starting in the fall of 2014. Depending on what you purchase, the state's tax rates could wipe out any duty-free savings.
The good news (so far) is that other states, such as Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and California, haven't followed suit (yet). In case you wonder what the duty-free limitations are, they are explained in Cruise Diva's Traveler's Standard Duty-Free Exemption.