Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas | CruiseBe
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Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

St. Thomas is in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The U.S. Virgin Islands constitute an unincorporated organized territory of the United States of America between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico. It was formerly known as the Danish West Indies. Together with the British Virgin Islands, to the northeast, the territory forms the Virgin Islands archipelago. The islands' natural resources are sun, sand, sea, and surf.

Cities

Even though it's only 31 square miles, St. Thomas does have a couple of official cities.

  • Charlotte Amalie (pronounced SHAR-lut uh-MAHL-yuh or AH-muh-lee) - The capital city, referred to as "downtown", is the destination for many cruise ships due to its deep water harbor. Nearly... Read more

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

Destination:

St. Thomas is in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The U.S. Virgin Islands constitute an unincorporated organized territory of the United States of America between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico. It was formerly known as the Danish West Indies. Together with the British Virgin Islands, to the northeast, the territory forms the Virgin Islands archipelago. The islands' natural resources are sun, sand, sea, and surf.

Cities

Even though it's only 31 square miles, St. Thomas does have a couple of official cities.

  • Charlotte Amalie (pronounced SHAR-lut uh-MAHL-yuh or AH-muh-lee) - The capital city, referred to as "downtown", is the destination for many cruise ships due to its deep water harbor. Nearly every day, tourists visit some of the 300 or so jewelry and other stores in the city (see "Buy" below). But it's a great place to "people watch" as well. If you happen to be downtown at night, Frenchtown is where the classier places are, for food and drinks. Downtown there are a couple of bars that sport the younger crowd and have loud music etc.
  • Red Hook

    - Also referred to as the East End. There is a little more nightlife and activities, restaurants in Red Hook, you can catch the dollar taxi ($2/person each way to Red Hook from downtown), it takes about 30 minutes to get there. Don't get stuck there though, unless you have a lot of people in your group, a taxi will not likely take you downtown after about 9PM. Red Hook has ferry service to the island of Saint John.

Other destinations

  • Magen's Bay

    - The most famous feature, besides the shopping, on the island. Directly across on the northern side from Charlotte Amalie, a crescent shaped bay with a mile of white sand and several bars and small stores. Taxis from downtown cost about 15 dollars, and if there are any cruise ships on the day you go, you can bet it will have at least a few beached white tourist fish. The trip to Magen's Bay (and back) can pass Mountain Top, with a mass of souvenir offerings and a great view of Magen's Bay and beyond; enjoy a banana daiquiri (invented there), but don't let it ruin your day! Continuing return to Charlotte Amalie offers excellent mountainside views of the harbor.
  • Hull Bay - The next bay to the west of Magen's, on the Atlantic ocean, and in the winter there is the island's only surfing. There is a shop where you can rent boards, but in typical island style, you would be lucky to catch the owner there to rent you one. Better to call ahead a few days and leave a message.
  • Brewer's Bay - Beautiful small beach near the University, especially nice at sunset. The landing strip for the airport is right on the other side, and the sun sets somewhere out in the middle.
  • Sapphire Beach - Beach resort, open to the public but you can stay there too if that is where you want to be. Nice beach, rent a snorkel and check out the nice clear water and coral. There are a couple of bars and a swimming pool, sometimes a live band at night, if you haven't had a BBC (Bailey's, banana, coconut) they are pretty tasty.
  • Coki Beach

    - The best snorkeling beach on St. Thomas. Normal underwater visibility of 100+ feet! Great beach for kids to learn to snorkel. It's very calm and you can feed the fish in about 3-4 feet of water if you want to. They sell dog treats to feed to the fish and it's really cool to see them swarm you for one. Beware of the locals though, you will be asked if you want to buy something 20 times before you make it to the beach, once there you are pretty much left alone though. If you take a tourist taxi to Coki Beach (they have awnings) you must be sure to take the same driver on return trip. If you try to take a different driver, nasty arguments can happen. Get the name of the driver who took you and make a time for pickup and return. There are no food facilities at Coki Beach, so be sure to plan for this. There is food available on the beach. People walk around with small menus asking if you want anything to eat. There is also a smoothie stand that only makes all natural smoothies for $7.
  • Secret Harbour - This is a private resort, but they allow visitors to use the beach. Not so for the chairs, which must be rented from a very diligent attendant. There are a number of rather large iguanas that wander around the property. They are not pet material, and usually run off if approached. However, some people have received bad bites from them. There is a very nice restaurant on the beach called the Blue Moon; not only was the food reasonably-priced and delicious, it's one of the few places that will give you free soda refills, and you can't beat the view. Their Bloody Mary is a must try as it's rimmed with a spicy Caribbean seasoning. The snorkeling was decent close to the beach and is great for beginner snorkelers (you'll even catch a glimpse of a pair of small squid!). There's a dive shop on site where you can rent chairs and snorkel gear, buy underwater cameras and chum. Taxis know this resort well, and unlike many islands where you have to prearrange a pickup when dropped off, when you are ready to leave Secret Harbour several taxis are lined up and waiting in front of the resort.
  • Water Island. Across the bay from Charlotte Amalie, this small island has trails and an old sugar mill back from the slave days. Once a week (Mondays?) they put up a big sheet and show a movie on the beach at 9PM. The island has some cottages, but no real commercial establishments.

Understand

This is the islands, so naturally the locals are very laid back. You can count on speedy service especially in the areas where they are used to dealing with a lot of tourists though. Some decorum is still important; keep swimwear on the beach, and dress comfortably for other activities.
Say "good morning" "good afternoon" or "good night" when you enter a room, when you get in a taxi, or before you start talking to someone and they will be more friendly, this is the polite thing to do and shows that you aren't a complete tourist.


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Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas: Port Information


Cruise ships dock at Havensight port or Crown Bay. If there are more than six ships at the harbor, cruise ships anchor offshore, and passengers transport to shore via tender.

Havensight is 15-minutes walk from the town, also, you can take a taxi.
Crown Bay is 40-minutes walk, so it's better to take a taxi. 

Get around Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas


Once you've reached any area (e.g., "downtown", Havensight, Red Hook), walking becomes the preferred way to get around. However, the island in general is too expansive and hilly to explore totally on foot, especially if you are on a limited schedule, e.g., on a cruise ship.

By Bus Tour Several tour operators offer professional tours to popular locations by air-conditioned bus. You can make arrangements privately, or through your hotel concierge or cruise ship.

By Private Tour If you want to tour the island thoroughly, without the restrictions of a large bus tour by your hotel or cruise ship, consider hiring a cab/driver for a few hours. Many are amiable and well-qualified to show you places the buses can't or don't go, and where buses go, your driver can time your arrival to avoid the bus crowds. Cab drivers are happy to oblige, so you should have no trouble hiring one at any resort, the cruise ship docks, downtown or in shopping areas.

By car

There are plenty of rental car offices in the airport and around Charlotte Amalie. Traffic drives on the left side of the road, and all cars are US Specification left-hand drive cars. Outside of Charlotte Amalie, the roads are mostly narrow and quite dangerous if you go too fast. Obey the speed limits and take the curves with caution. Local drivers are rather aggressive, and they speed around the turns and honk liberally, although the horn is used more often to say "hello" or "thank you" than express displeasure.
Major routes are marked with two-digit route numbers (beginning with 3 and 4 on this island), and minor connectors get three-digit numbers. The sign of choice is black numbers on a white circle, the same as several states on the mainland. You generally should not stray off the numbered routes (except in Charlotte Amalie) unless you need to do so to go to your hotel or resort. Unlike St. John or St. Croix, all of St. Thomas' numbered routes are paved. However, the routes are not well signed on most of the southern half of the island, especially around Charlotte Amalie, and they are prone to suddenly turning off onto another road or changing numbers without notice.
If you are planning to go on a driving tour, bring a good map, then, if you want any hope of following the numbered routes. Most rental car offices hand out a map with a rental; if you didn't get one, the same map can be picked up at most stores. The one in the back of your guidebook is likely not detailed enough. However, even if you do have a map, you may still have to ask a local for directions. If you are in this situation, be aware that any question such as "How do I get to Route 30?" will be almost universally met with a blank stare. The route numbers are mostly for tourist convenience; locals do not know the numbers, or even the road names in most cases. Often you will get directions such as "Turn left at the fork in the road, then right at the gas station."

By ferries

Ferries leave from Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook to other islands pretty much all day every couple of hours. There are information booths along the waterfront where you can get a schedule for the local ferries and a ferry terminal near French Town for the longer distances (BVI etc). For on-line schedules to plan your outing, try 5 for getting around the USVI, and 6 for reaching the British Virgin Islands. If you are going to St. John it is much cheaper and faster to go from Red Hook.

By taxi

  • Tourist taxis will take you anywhere at a premium, from one end of the island to the other. Taxi prices are PER PERSON so a trip for 4 to Magens bay for your group could easily run you $50 each way! The big truck taxis will charge by the person, the legitimate taxis will have a meter, and the gypsy taxis will bid for your service and all of them will be waiting in crowds outside restaurants and bars after dark. There are approximately 3,000 taxis on the island, half gypsy (unlicensed).
  • Dollar taxis run from sunrise to sunset, whenever they feel like it. They have one route with set stops. If you want to ride one, ask someone where to wait for one. They look just like the tourist taxis, but they will be filled with locals instead of tourists. They go from the end of airport road to Sapphire Bay and back, one way. Yes, one way, it goes in a figure 8 from the Airport, through Charlotte Amalie to the mall in the middle, out to the east end, back to the mall and downtown again. If you go farther than the mall then it will cost you $2, for shorter trips only $1. The taxis run at random but frequently enough. The dollar taxis do not run all the way to the airport, so don't try it. Their last stop is near Brewers Bay, a good mile from the terminal.
  • Safari Cabs - Endless "safari cabs" (pickup trucks converted to offer 3-5 covered bench seats) go back and forth from downtown and ships' docks...per "Get In" above. If you look like a tourist dockside or on the street downtown, you will be asked quite often but amiably if you need a ride. 

General note: Everyone in the city uses their horns liberally...short toots for "hello". They drive on the left side of the street and don't really follow the rules. They don't follow the rules about a lot of things, in fact they are very disorganized, but it can be charming.

What to see in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas


Charlotte Amalie

  • Paradise Point offers an excellent view of the harbor and Charlotte Amalie. The Skyride takes about 5 minutes each way. Up top is a short walking trail where many local flowers and birds can be found.
  • St. Thomas Synagogue the oldest synagogue under the flag of the United States of America.
  • Charlotte Amalie Harbor is one of the most beautiful harbors to be found anywhere. There are almost always lots of sailboats and yachts moored in the harbor, many with windmills spinning away. It's ringed by hills, and when there are several cruise ships docked, it can be quite a sight.
  • 99 steps Built by the Danes in the mid 18th century, to climb up and down the steep hills of Charlotte Amalie. The bricks used to build the steps were brought from Denmark as ballast in the hulls of sailing ships.

Outside the city

  • Coral World. Coki Point northeast shore Spend the day at Coral World Ocean Park, one of St. Thomas’s Greatest Attractions. Get up close and personal with the beauty and magic of Caribbean marine life in a stunning setting. View life on a coral reef from the unique Undersea Observatory. Pet a shark, hand feed a stingray or a rainbow lorikeet! There are several gift shops, cafes and shower facilities. Additional activities include brand new dive operations Snuba and Power Snorkel as well as the Sea Lion Splash, Sea Trek Helmet Dive, Shark and Turtle Encounters, Nautilus Semi-Sub, and Parasailing. Located next to Coki Beach. Open 9-5 daily, November - May. Summer schedule may vary.
  • Fort Christian A bright red Danish-build fort from the mid 1600s. Its museum has exhibits of historical photos and artifacts, furniture, a cane press, local flora and fauna and more. The fort's roof affords nice panoramic views of the harbor. 

What to do in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas


  • St. Thomas Skyride to Paradise Point, ☎ +1 340-774-9809. 9617 Estate Thomas HarborSide. Open 9AM-5PM when cruise ships are in port. A short walk from the West Indian Company cruise ship dock to the tram which takes you up to the top for fabulous views, a drink and maybe lunch. If you have a car, you can drive to the shops/bar/cafe at the top.
  • Coral World (see Do above) for watersports or parasailing.
  • Mahogany Run Golf Course, ☎ +1 340-777-6250. Mahogany Run Road. Beautiful 18 hole, 6,022-yard, par-70 course. Home of the "Devil's Triangle".
  • Captain Nautica Powerboat Charters, ☎ +1 340-715-3379. Red Hook Plaza. Daily News "Best of the VI's" award for Best Charter Boat.
  • Scuba diving, a number of operators offer guided scuba diving tours. St Thomas has a number of particularly enjoyable wreck dives including the Miss Opportunity, the WIT Shoal and the WIT Concrete. Most operators will pick up visitors from either nearby hotels or the cruise ship dock.
  • Reichhold Center for the Arts, ☎ +1 340-693-1559. 2 John Brewers Bay.

What to eat and drink in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas


Eat

In addition to offerings in resort complexes, a few independent restaurants include:

  • Craig & Sally's, 3525 Honduras (Frenchtown), ☎ +1 340 777-9949. Lunch: W-F 11:30AM-3PM; dinner W-Su 5:30PM-10PM. This 20-year-old restaurant is one of the island's nicest, and a pretty classic Frenchtown choice. It's fine dining, with the islands reputed "best steak," and a tapas menu that changes nightly. You'll find of the best wine lists in the islands. If you are hoping for an island-themed, kitschy-vacation place (or even simply a place with a view over the Caribbean), this is not that - it is quite simply an top-notch restaurant that happens to be located on Saint Thomas. 
  • Frenchtown Deli, ☎ +1 340. This hole-in-the-wall has an extensive lunch menu with delicious salads and sandwiches. They also serve breakfast, and are located in Frenchtown, right next to Hook Line & Sinker.
  • Gladys' Cafe (Garden St (a narrow/quaint alleyway) between Main St and Veterans Dr, Royal Dane Mall), ☎ +1 340. 7AM-5PM daily. Offers tasty Caribbean and American dishes and a small bar, in a friendly atmosphere. She may sing along with the classical jazz recordings playing for background.
  • Hook, Line, & Sinker (Frenchtown), ☎ +1 340 776-9708. Lunch: M-Sa 11:30AM-4PM; brunch: Su 10AM-2:30PM; dinner: M-Sa 6PM-10PM. Excellent food and friendly service right on the waterfront. The swordfish is quite good. 
  • Mafolie Restaurant, 7091 Estate Mafolie, ☎ +1 340 774-2790. 5PM-10PM daily (bar: 5PM-11PM). The food, classic American surf and turf, emphasis on the surf, is very good but not up to par with and more expensive than what you can find at a select few high end Saint Thomas restaurants. But the view really is magnificent. You will sit on a hill with a perfectly centered/framed view overlooking Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas Harbor, and Hassel Island. As such, this is a much better option for an early dinner, as the value of the view sets along with the sun. 
  • Oceana, 8 Honduras (Frenchtown, right on the water), ☎ +1 340 774-4262. Tu-Su 5:30PM-10PM. Particularly nice at sunset. Excellent seafood, can be expensive. 
  • Rancho Latino (Vitraco Mall at Havensight), ☎ +1 340. Tasty Dominican (think Spanish-Caribbean) cuisine in a casual spot surrounded by tourist traps near the cruise ships.
  • Room with a View (In Bluebeard's Castle), ☎ +1 340 774-2377. M-Sa 5PM-10PM. Just outside of town, great steaks and seafood, and often considered the finest dining on the island. Nice view, too. 
  • Shawny's Shack, 5331 Yacht Haven Grand (Yacht Haven), ☎ +1 340 344-9814. A kiosk serving tasty West Indian food to the people taking a break from serving the tourists food. So yes, this is very much a locals' place. But don't get in the way during their lunch break—they need to get back to work quickly!
  • Thirteen, 13A Estate Dorothea (On Crown Mountain Rd), ☎ +1 340 774-6800. Generally considered one of the island's top foodie destinations, Thirteen is hard as hell to find if you aren't simply taking a cab. It's on the north side of the island, and pretty far up, making for a distinctly cool, if not chilly breeze while you eat your meal. The decor is laid back, cool, and stylish, while not competing with the flashy, upscale Contemporary American cuisine for your attention. Service is uncommonly on-point for the island! Reservations are a must. 
  • Victor's New Hideout (On a hillside overlooking Crown Bay from the west.), ☎ +1 340. Offers tasty Caribbean cooking with a beautiful view and fresh breezes. Tricky to get to, not really walkable, but locals (e.g., taxi drivers) know how to reach it, and worth the effort.

If you'd like to eat a fresh coconut, there is an old man who comes to the tent market in Charlotte Amalie most every day with a pickup truck full of coconuts and a machete and sells them for 2 or 3 dollars. You drink the milk and give it back and he gives it another crack or more so you can eat the "meat".

Drink

With bottled liquor so inexpensive, most "watering holes" are for visitors, yet offer attractive prices.
Most resorts and many restaurants have bars if not nightclubs. You'll also find a few nightclubs in or near shopping areas, as well as Frenchtown and Redhook.

Shopping in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas


The island is arguably the biggest shopping mecca in the Caribbean. Goods are imported to the island duty and excise free, and visitors do not directly pay any duty or tax on purchases (merchants do pay a Gross Receipts Tax of 5%.) Buyers may face Customs duty as they return home if they exceed their Customs exemption (see discussion below).
U.S. currency is used/accepted universally. ATMs can be found in numerous locations. As anywhere, major purchases should be made by credit card. (Credit cards issued by U.S. banks do not induce foreign-exchange fees, others may.) Most store-front establishments, resorts and restaurants accept credit cards and traveler checks. Few places accept personal checks. Sellers in open-air bazaars may not accept credit or debit cards.
You can shop many dozens of stores downtown (in Charlotte Amalie), and others in a few malls dotting the island, and near cruise ship docks, e.g.,:

  • Havensight. Has many of the same shops as downtown, but in smaller versions.
  • Yacht Haven Grande next to Havensight offers restaurants and premium branded stores.
  • Crown Bay has a modest number of stores similar to Havensight (most closed when no ship is docked there).
  • You'll see Pueblo Supermarkets (modest by mainland standards) near Havensight and Crown Bay.

You'll find numerous tent kiosks at Vendor's Plaza at the near southeast side of downtown...across the highway from the waterfront. There you'll see many colorful offerings in shirts, caftans, rainwear, etc., often marked with USVI scenes or logos, most manufactured elsewhere. Other stores in resorts, strip malls, etc., tend to serve locals and land vacationers; many of them open on Sundays whether cruise ships are visiting or not, e.g., K-Mart (one walkable from Havensight) & a larger store in Tutu Park.
In many stores, gems, jewelry, watches, liquor, cosmetics, perfumes, linens and (sometimes) cameras, optics, electronics and fine crystal and china can be good buys, but know the costs for the same/similar items back home. (Some cameras, optics and electronics may be obtained at home from aggressive discounters (e.g., on Internet) for equivalent or lower prices. But those savings can disappear if those sellers charge sales tax, shipping costs, or extra for US-importer warranties.) Price advantages for U.S. citizens may be helped by generous duty exemptions. These advantages can make the economics of buying in the USVI slightly better for U.S. citizens than elsewhere (e.g., St Martin) where prices may be similar, sometimes better. However, unique, appealing or well-priced items seen elsewhere should not be avoided because of feared duty costs...often modest even if you exceed your exemption. (see "Customs and Duty", this section below)
Bargaining is appropriate in open-air bazaars, and should be tried in stores but may be rebuffed in a few for some kinds of items. Here, ensure that items of interest that need any kind of (service) warranty have one in writing that is usable at home, e.g., for electronics, watches, cameras. You need to ask if any warranty is "grey-market", international or backed by the US-importer, and understand the consequences of what's offered. For valuable gems or jewelry, ensure the seller provides a written description and certified appraisal of each item's worth.
In exchange for very large fees paid buy some merchants, "port shopping advisers" on cruise ships tout those merchants as more reliable than others, with passenger satisfaction "guaranteed, except for negligence or buyer's regret". Ultimately, you pay those fees. But most stores are quite reputable, ready to rectify any problem that's truly their responsibility. Touted or not, smaller retailers such as Artistic Jewelry and Mr. Tablecloth offer quality fully-equivalent to such large and famous stores as Cardow or A.H. Riise. And they may offer items seen nowhere else. The best approach...always thoroughly inspect any high-cost item and obtain a written/signed description or appraisal before accepting it.
Per "Get in" discussion above, when many cruise ships are in port, the open-air bazaar and stores can be crowded...sometimes very crowded. That can compromise bargaining success and how well you are helped even in the best stores with fine staffs. Shopping early or late can help avoid some of the crowds. Stores downtown (Charlotte Amalie) usually open at 0930-1000 and close around 5:00 PM. Half-day, morning ship's tours (the most popular) end about noon back at the ship, and ship itineraries often call for departures at 4-6 PM (with all-aboard as much as an hour earlier). You might time your shopping accordingly.
On Sunday, early can be essential. A few stores (mostly in downtown Charlotte Amalie) don't open, more open only if at least one cruise ship is in port, and many of those stores close by early-mid afternoon. Occasionally, local holidays/festivals make shopping downtown problematic due to street and store closures, e.g., for parades. Most carnivals/celebrations are in late April & early May.
Especially if you must fly to get home, you may wish to have stores ship out-sized or heavy items home for you (liquor, perfumes and tobacco excluded). Costs for surface shipping can be modest, air a bit more but faster. (Your local Post Office, UPS or FEDEX store should be able to give you example costs. "Know Before You Go" noted below indicates the US Postal Service is more convenient for sending dutiable items.) Any method helps avoid the dangers of damage (or theft) by baggage handlers, greatly simplifies your return home, and allows you to refuse to accept (at/hear home) any shipment that appears damaged. There are requirements for documentation and customs labeling when shipping dutiable items. Retailers should help, and may even arrange everything. If significant customs duty will be involved, you may have to pay it at/near home as you receive the item(s). But ask the merchant if you can simply declare the item on your Customs form as you return home.
Several stores offer large and varied selections of quality and premium liquors (and other merchandise) at low prices rarely if ever seen in the U.S. For liquor, they include: A.H. Riise/Penha, Dynasty, Caribana and others downtown; many of the same names in Havensight, plus K-Mart, Pueblo Supermarket and Al Cohen's Warehouse near Havensight; A.H. Riise/Penha and Supreme Liquors at Crown Bay, with another Pueblo Supermarket nearby. As of Summer 2014, prices in most stores for popular brands were quite close except for scattered "specials". Prices for highly-premium brands may vary more. The airport has a store that may be used buy those arriving or departing. (See discussion under "Returning home" below). Most liquor comes in one liter bottles (some larger), some US-produced and many European liquors come in .75 liter ("fifths"), and liqueurs may be in still other sizes. So take care when calculating or comparing cost per ounce or liter.
Some of those stores will box your purchases and deliver them to your ship, hotel or airport the same day at no charge if you ask and purchase early enough. That way, you don't have to carry them with you the rest of the day. Others (e.g., K-Mart, Cohen's) usually have boxes available, and may box bottles for you to carry. (Boxes/boxing and delivery may be the major difference among sellers.) If you have a choice, smaller boxes (e.g., 2-4 bottles each) are easier to pack and pad in luggage. As discussed in "Returning Home" below, large purchases of liquor induce considerable logistics challenges, so plan ahead on what to buy and how to carry it back, especially if you must fly home. If you are on a cruise,:

  • Any liquor you carry on-board will be collected, and returned to you on the last day of your cruise, in whatever container(s) you used to carry it. Use something for adequate padding, e.g., newspaper.
  • Other bottles may be delivered to your ship, boxed for you by the merchant (sometimes with many other boxes wrapped on a pallet) and similarly and automatically collected by the ship's staff. They'll be brought to your cabin the last day of the cruise.

Customs and duties

The following discussion focuses on U.S. customs laws/procedures. Many of these basic processes are similar for travelers returning to other home countries.
You should always consult authoritative sources to obtain and understand consequences of customs limits and duty costs before making major purchases, e.g., for U.S. Customs, understand "Know Before You Visit", as introduced at 8. Otherwise,:

  • You may face unexpected costs (duty levies) if you make purchases that exceed your duty allowances.
  • Unscrupulous sellers may try to convince you that you enjoy far higher exemptions (and freedom from duty, inspection and seizure of illegal items) that are untrue...just to make a sale.

Don't pay duty on valuables you already own and take on your trip. See brief article at 9.
Best-effort recap of U.S. duty exemptions: The following summarizes your duty exemptions/allowances as you return home having visited the U.S. Virgin Islands (actually any part of any U.S. protectorate) on any part of your trip:

  • Total purchases: Each U.S. citizen is allowed to return to the U.S. (mainland or Puerto Rico) with $1600 in total purchases (up from $800 for the Caribbean generally). At least half the value of purchases must have been made in the USVI. Members of immediate families can "pool" exemptions. Even if you exceed your total/aggregate exemption, you may have to pay only 1.5-3% of the next $1000 per person. Example: two parents and two children have a total/aggregate $6400 duty-free exemption, and the next $4,000 would cost $120 at most.
  • Liquor: Under a separate duty exemption, but within the above $1600, each adult U.S. citizen is allowed to return to the U.S. with four liters or five fifths of liquor duty-free (up from one liter), provided at least half of the value was purchased in the USVI. If you purchase at least one liter of product made or bottled in the USVI (e.g., Cruzan rum), you can return with five liters/six fifths duty-free. (Otherwise, if you buy only outside the USVI, your exemption is one liter.) With different bottle sizes noted above, take care about numbers of bottles versus total liters purchased for your Customs declaration. Exemptions for wine and beer are different; again, consult "Know Before You Go". Adult members of immediate families can "pool" liquor exemptions. If you moderately exceed your exemption, duty will be moderate.
    • Take care with large quantities, e.g., Florida treats more than 20 fifths or liters as a commercial importation, requiring in-advance an importer's license (not easily or quickly obtained, and involving an annual fee) and payment of state sales tax in addition to Federal duty and taxes. Without it, U.S. Customs is required to report such amounts, and to collect all duties/taxes from "licensed importers"...or to confiscate the items.
  • Gems/Jewelry: U.S. Customs treats loose gemstones (even fully faceted) as "rocks" having no dutiable value. However, if mounted in jewelry, the full cost as finished jewelry must be declared. No reputable jeweler will separately sell you an unmounted stone and its mount to avoid duty; it would place them and you in violation of the law; if discovered by Customs, items may well be confiscated, with other actions possible.
  • Tobacco: A separate quantity restriction applies to tobacco products. Overages may be confiscated.
  • Blacklisted sources/items: Any goods made in Cuba (or other "blacklisted" countries), and items deemed contraband (e.g., certain animal or plant products) will be confiscated by Customs if found. Major amounts may generate a fine or result in arrest.
  • Unique items: Original art works created here/abroad and certain other custom-made items may also be treated as non-dutiable; you'll need a certificate of origin from the seller.

USGR/AGR You may find goods that were made in the U.S., e.g., some T-shirts, a few brands of jewelry. So ask the sellers. Such items are called "U.S./American Goods Returning" (USGR or AGR) and do not count against your duty exemptions. If so, ensure the seller provides proper/formal indication on or with a receipt so that the cost(s) will not count against your duty allowance. Similar policy may apply for products made in and returning to other countries.
All purchases (including USGR/AGR) and gifts you've received (except what you've consumed or given away before returning) must be itemized on your customs declaration; USGR/AGR and other exempted item costs should not be included in the dutiable sum of your purchases. Have receipts, certificates and merchandise for all listed purchases readily at hand as you pass through Customs. Be sure to list any food products by type.
As you return home (U.S. mainland or Puerto Rico)...

  • While on your ship, airplane, or as you reach the airline counter at the Saint Thomas airport, you'll be instructed to fill out a Customs form. Use the above notes (or better, what's in "Know Before You Go") to accurately indicate how much you've purchased, in what categories, so Customs can quickly look at it as you are processed.
  • And go through Customs, have purchases, receipts, Forms 4457 and the Customs declaration form handy to show officials. They may opt not to charge duty for purchases in slight excess of any limit. They will often charge for each limit exceeded if you are paying duty for other purchases anyway.

Other customs enforcement (e.g., for Canada or EC countries) depends on country limits and customs diligence.

Returning home

(Emphasis U.S.; please expand):

If cruising, you'll probably go through customs processing at the port where your cruise ends. (See 10 to better understand the disembarkation process) If you then return home by land (e.g., drive), you'll be weight/size limited only by your vehicle and your ability to carry everything off the ship...at least just before you claim luggage in the terminal that has been carried ashore for you.

Flying. With airlines now charging for checked bags (plus heavy fees for overweight and too many bags), the economics and practicalities of flying with heavy or large purchases gets complicated. Bulky items may have to be checked, and bottles of liquids in luggage can greatly affect weight, e.g., six boxed, well-padded one liter glass bottles can weigh 30 pounds.

Purchases may be too numerous or heavy to be hand-carried on flights even if permitted. Compare luggage fees you'll encounter with the cost-savings you may see at purchase. Fees may considerably outstrip savings. (Yes, these realities have greatly affected merchants' business worldwide.) If you have weight or size challenges, consider shipping what you are allowed to. If you need to pack a fragile item in luggage, avoid placing it in the same bag with a heavy item.
Whether in checked or carry-on luggage, high-alcohol-content liquids (e.g., liquor over 140 proof, major quantities of perfume/cologne) are deemed a fire hazard and will be confiscated if found.

If you fly home from Saint Thomas:

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now provides special services for U.S. citizens. They perform Customs and Immigration (C&I) processing after you check-in at your airline ticket counter, but before you surrender luggage to be checked and then go to your gate. You can then fly to your final U.S. destination without further C&I processing.
  • Carry-on: TSA and airlines both have limits...numbers, size and weight. For current U.S. carry-on restrictions when flying, see 11, e.g., to understand the "3-1-1 rule"...adopted in metric equivalents by nearly all other countries and airlines.

Some returning travelers try to avoid TSA restrictions by purchasing items (e.g., perfumes, liquor) in shops inside airport secure areas immediately before boarding flights. That option is available at the Saint Thomas airport, but may only be usable if you are flying non-stop to your destination airport. Some shops may put the items in specially-sealed bags, and may deliver items to your flight gate for you to claim and carry on. Those bags have no "standing" if you leave the secure area of an enroute terminal, e.g., to change planes.

Wine/Liquor Packing Insights:

Boxes: Those offered by stores are usually strong enough to be used as "checked bags" if well-strapped with strong tape, e.g., nylon reinforced. (Note: Some airlines may not accept them as checkable, so know in-advance from the carrier before you count on it.) Two boxes of up to three bottles each can be strapped together, but be careful...dual box handles are clumsy and can only support so much weight and casual handling, your airline may have limits on numbers and weights of such boxes, internal padding alone may not be enough to avoid damage from mishandling (accidental or otherwise), and excess "checked luggage" costs can escalate rapidly

Securing box contents: Regardless of how to be transported, before you tape any box of bottles shut, check the arrangement of bottles (all-upright preferable). Then add internal padding all around each bottle to avoid breakage, e.g., crumpled newspaper on bottom and around necks, sides wrapped in newspaper...to eliminate any movement in box and complement internal box dividers. Then strap each box outside with strong tape, place a name tag on a handle and write similar information on the box. (Bring the materials with you or purchase them at a store such as K-Mart.)

Boxes/bottles in luggage: If your boxes must or should go in your checked luggage, pack them thoroughly while in your room/cabin.

  • Put each internally-padded/strapped box in a strong, leak-resistant plastic bag (e.g., kitchen or lawn trash bag), and tape or tie it closed so that a leak is less likely to harm other contents. Then pad each box well all-around (e.g., with clothing) so it can't move.
  • If you lack a box for your bottles, tape two bottles together with liberal padding in-between and around them, put them in a plastic bag, tape/tie it shut, and use other baggage contents to thoroughly pad them to eliminate any movement of the bottles in the suitcase.
  • Your hotel or cruise ship may have scales to weigh to-be-checked bags.

Safety in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas


As a pedestrian, take care with the often heavy traffic by looking both ways before crossing. Remember that they drive on the left side.
At night, officials recommend taxis to/from any location, and to avoid walking alone. Virtually all stores downtown (and after 8-9 PM, most other stores) will be closed and shuttered, with no display windows or other sights to enjoy.
Generally, tap water is potable everywhere, although most is reclaimed by desalination plants, so the water temperature may be warmer than expected.

Language spoken in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas


English is spoken throughout the island.

LOCAL TIME

7:59 am
November 19, 2017
America/St_Thomas

CURRENT WEATHER

27.07 °C / 80.726 °F
moderate rain
Mon

28.18 °C/83 °F
heavy intensity rain
Tue

27.71 °C/82 °F
few clouds
Wed

27.04 °C/81 °F
sky is clear
Thu

27.45 °C/81 °F
sky is clear

LOCAL CURRENCY

USD

1 EUR = 1.1792 USD
1 GBP = 1.3216 USD
1 AUD = 0.7565 USD
1 CAD = 0.7830 USD

Travelers recommend visiting the following places of interests



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Average: 9.5 (10 votes)

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Latest travel blogs about Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas



Photo by: Coolcaesar/Wiki/CC BY-SA 3.0

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Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas shore excursions



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