Vancouver is a wonderful city, but shopping in Vancouver can be expensive. While there are Vancouver Discount Stores, one option for budget shopping is to head south of the border, to Seattle or Bellingham, in Washington State.
Use this guide to budget shopping in Seattle & Bellingham to learn everything you need to know about discount shopping in Washington: how to get there, what you can declare duty-free, and which stores offer the best deals on back-to-school shopping, fashion, electronics, housewares, and groceries.
How to Get to Seattle & Bellingham from Vancouver, BC
Bellingham, WA, is the closest "big city" for shopping in Washington: Bellingham is 82km (51 miles) from Vancouver and takes about an hour to reach by car. Although it's closer to Vancouver than Seattle, it's more difficult to access without a car. Buses will take you to the Bellingham Airport, but not to any shopping destinations.
Seattle, WA, is farther than Bellingham but it's easier to access via transit. Quick Shuttle Buses can take you to either the Seattle Premium Outlets in Tulalip (see below) or to downtown Seattle, where you can easily take Seattle city buses to the main downtown shopping district. The Amtrak Cascades Train is also an option for getting to Seattle.
Seattle, WA, is 192km (119 miles) from Vancouver and takes about three hours to reach by car; it's one of the Best Vancouver Day Trips & Weekend Getaways.
You will have to have the proper documents to cross the Canada/U.S. border; see my Guide to Crossing the Border from Vancouver to Seattle for details.
Best Discount Stores in Seattle & Bellingham
Many of the best stores for cheap shopping in Seattle and Bellingham are the same: both cities have a Target, a Ross, and grocery store chains like Albertson's.
- Store: Target
What to expect: Target is a large discount store similar to Canadian Superstore; it carries cheap and inexpensive clothes, housewares, electronics, toys, sports equipment, and groceries, and is a favorite destination for Vancouverites shopping south of the border.
- Store: Ross Dress for Less
What to expect: Ross is a discount store similar to Winners; it carries discounted fashion, home decor items, and a small selection of toys.
- Grocery Stores & Drug Stores: Albertson's, Walgreens, Rite Aid
What to expect: None of these stores are destinations to aim for, but if you pass one, drop in for cheaper-than-Vancouver groceries, personal products, discount skincare, and make-up, and candy. (Candy is so much cheaper in the U.S.!)
Seattle Premium Outlets
When it comes to cheap shopping in Seattle, the Seattle Premium Outlets in Tulalip (basically between Bellingham and Seattle on I-5) is another favorite destination for Vancouverites. The Quick Shuttle bus provides service to and from the Outlets, or you can stop there on your drive down to Seattle.
Seattle Premium Outlets has a wide variety of name-brand stores in an open-air mall setting. Stores include Coach, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Burberry, and a variety of kids' clothing and sports clothing shops.
Do keep in mind that not all outlet stores carry the same quality of merchandise as their name implies; some items are manufactured for the outlet (i.e., they are not the same quality as the original brand). But there are good deals to be had here, especially for kids' clothes. I regularly shop at the OshKosh outlet for my son and get him good quality jeans for about $10 - $15.
Nordstrom Rack: Best Cheap Shopping in Seattle for Fashionistas
If you love fashion, the best discount shopping in Seattle is at Nordstrom Rack: it has the best prices on designer jeans (often 50% off J Brand, 7s, etc.) and shoes for men and women, plus a large selection of designer fashion, jewelry and accessories that comes directly from the Nordstrom stores. (Nordstrom is an upscale department store based in Seattle.)
There are Nordstrom Racks in Alderwood (north of Seattle on I-5), Bellevue, and in downtown Seattle. The downtown Seattle Nordstrom Rack also has a high-end designer section.
Nordstrom Rack functions like an upscale Winners: You do have to have the patience to pick through the racks, but (unlike Winners 90% of the time), the Rack practically guarantees that you'll find some amazing deals on serious fashion!
Bringing Goods Back to Canada Duty-Free
As of June 2012, the Canadian Border Services Agency increased the amount you can bring back from the U.S. duty-free, making it even easier to cross-border shop. For a 24-hour trip, you can bring back $200 worth of duty-free goods (increased from $50), a 48-hour-or-more trip allows you $800 worth of duty-free goods (increased from $400), and a seven-days-or-more trip allows you to bring back $800 worth of duty-free goods! (Note: Values may not include alcohol and tobacco; check the CBSA site for details.) All of which means staying in WA for just 24 hours could save you a ton of money on back-to-school shopping or any other kind of shopping!
Check out the Sales Tax for Washington State.