It's your duty: top tips on shopping overseas

Even if you don't like shopping at home, shopping while travelling has a strong lure.

Is it because we can get goods we might not get at home? The shops are so beautiful? The salespeople sound so convincing with their exotic accents?

Whether it's a particular shop in Florence or a district in Lisbon, here are some places you'll want to know about for shopping overseas, plus some top tips on shopping in foreign countries, no matter where you are:

RIO DE JANEIRO

Maria Filo is a cute girly boutique you'll find in any shopping area of Rio. Designed to make you feel as if you are shopping in a girlfriend's apartment - with comfy chairs and complimentary espresso - this shop has an eclectic mix and is a great place to score an inexpensive dress if you left one out of your carry-on.

Details: www.mariafilo.com.br

Don't even think about making an appearance on Ipanema beach until you visit Lenny, the place to shop for an infamous Brazilian bikini. The rule of thumb here: the smaller the better. Lenny is known as the queen of beachwear in Rio and her trendy stores are stocked with sensual, stylish and very, very sexy swimwear that will raise the temperature on any beach. The upscale shop also carries glamorous kaftans, trendy sandals, sophisticated accessories and other beach essentials.

Details: www.lenny.com.br

SEVILLE, SPAIN

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Strolling seems to be one of Spain's national pastimes, and it's easy to see why. Within a few blocks there are high fashion shops, countless shoe shops, body beautifying stores, jewellery and accessory stores. Some are local boutiques; but the big stores are also well represented.

The Spanish fashion industry has taken off in recent years, with chains like Zara and Mango catering to younger (male and female) tastes.

Another successful and very fashionable Spanish chain is Stradivarius, www.e-stradivarius.com, which can be found in most city centres and is now in more than 30 countries.

MADRID

In the Salamanca district in Madrid, it's free to stroll through and see the gorgeous displays in this area known as the Golden Mile. It's here you'll find the shops of Valentino, Chanel, Gucci and Versace, as well as accessory stores where items are displayed in museum-style splendour.

Up-and-coming Spanish designers can be found along here as well, with the majority of shops concentrated on Serrano Street. Shoe lovers will want to poke a toe in the gorgeous Manolo Blahnik store, one of Spain's most famous designers.

MISAWA, JAPAN

Check out the 100 Yen Store, a huge Japanese chain, where you can get anything from a Buddhist altar for your deceased pet to business men's toe socks.

PARIS

Tati is an amazing Parisian bargain-hunting secret. Tati is not a luxury store, but there's something for everyone - from clothes to makeup and perfume to household items. And, it's cheap, a rarity in Paris. There are quite a few locations in Paris to choose from, but the largest is in Barbes.

Details: www.tati.fr

Paris is rich in its variety of local markets offering clothing, shoes, bags, jewellery, scarves, leather goods, food, books, stamps, birds, flowers and antiques sold at a very low price. Many of the Paris markets, like the large, busy flea market at the Porte de Clingnancourt have become well-known to tourists, but it is possible to still find typical local markets with lots of deals.

MONTREAL

The perfect store for the sophisticated girl who loves style but avoids labels, M0851 is the code for those who like to scope out the perfect leather jacket and bag. This fashionable, Montreal-based brand is all about the finest leather, linen and cashmere products in timeless yet modern design.

Details: www.M0851.com

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

Discover the elegant and intense colours of Cambodian silk, like hand-woven Khmer scarves, found at the fashionable little shop Kokoon, near the Old Market on Pi Thnou Street in Siem Reap. The store offers a wide range of local crafts and jewellery.

Siem Reap has fantastic markets and entertaining street vendors offering lots of deals. Where else in the world can you get a 50 cent beer, free WiFi and knock-off designer sunglasses for under $US4 ($A4.60)?

FLORENCE, ITALY

The Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella was founded by the Dominican friars of the Church of Santa Maria Novella in 1612, the pharmacy was originally a dispensary for their medicines, ointments and salves. Entering the store, located in a 13th-century chapel with its frescoed ceilings intact, you are surrounded by antique wooden shelves, pharmacy equipment and majolica urns.

Details: www.smnovella.it.

And if you must take home a piece of artwork, stop at Pitti Mosaici, one of several pietra dura or hard stone workshops. Artists using inlaid marble and semi-precious stones create intricate landscapes, flora and fauna.

Details: www.pittimosaici.com

TIPS FOR BUYING ABROAD

1. If you plan to shop while abroad, do your research before you go. What bargains is that country known for? Is negotiating expected? If so, what is the best way to do that? How can you make sure you're getting the genuine item at the best price? Where are the best shopping districts?

2. Find out about the tax and customs situation before you go. For example, in Europe you'll want to keep your receipts for a possible refund on the VAT - value-added tax. Also check customs regulations for bringing goods back.

3. Check your items over carefully before you purchase. Markets can be a fun place to pick up bargains. But do you really want a handbag from France that was made in China? Also check for damage to the item.

4. Make sure you have cash for places that don't accept anything else. You can also often get a better price by paying with the real thing. Take small bills so you can pay the exact price.

5. Always check shopping hours. Many stores in foreign countries close for several hours in the afternoon. Don't find yourself staring wistfully into the windows of a closed shop.

6. Make sure you can carry it or pack it and that the extra weight or inconvenience is worth it.

7. If you opt to ship items, pay with a credit card and buy insurance. Also ask for an itemised receipt so you have proof of purchase and information on the agreed shipping method.

(For more savvy travel info, visit www.travelgirlinc.com.)

AP

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