Travel Advice - Duty Free Shopping
During your travels, you will see "Duty Free Shops". Duty Free
shops located outside of the U.S. either do not apply the Value Added
Tax to the product that they sell or charge the tax but provide a
rebate form allowing you to reclaim the tax when you leave the
country (see our article on
VAT, the Value Added Tax).
You will encounter two classes of “duty free” shops on your travels.
- One variety can be found in the international departure lounges in
- Its "cousin" can be found in shopping districts around the
country you are visiting.
- You should evaluate “duty free” shops based on whether the “buys”
are better priced than similar goods at home.
- Most often, you may find good value at duty free shops in cities and
will not find good value in duty free shops in airports.
Airports are high rent locations and most of the duty free shops in
airports have a limited selection focused on high priced goods and
- It has been our experience that the airport shops provide
convenience but not good value.
- Most of us, however, view the airport duty free shops as an
opportunity to pick-up a few last minute gifts with currency that
either will loose value before we will use it again or is such a
small amount that it does not make sense to convert it back to
- If you like booze, you will usually find a broad range of regional
liquors and wines in many of these shops.
If you are going to spend your remaining currency in an airport shop,
try to select something that is unique and representative of the country
that you are visiting.
- When you have made your selection and are ready to pay, remember
that you will need your boarding card and possibly your passport, during
checkout, in order to prove that you qualify for duty free status.
The city based duty free shops, often, have a nice selection of
relatively expensive and select gifts.
- Most of these shops require that you fill out a “duty” form that can
be redeemed only at the “official duty free” office or at the airport
prior to your departure.
- In other countries, you must provide your shopping receipts and
goods at the duty free booth at your departure airport.
- Often, travelers going home do not plan to spend the time required
to wait in line at the duty free booth at the airport and, often, leave
without qualifying for their tax rebate.
- If you plan carefully and have the patience to wait in line at the
duty free office at the airport, you can do well on the purchase of
- If you have a specific item targeted for purchase, it is usually
cheaper to shop at the duty free stores for a particular item than, say
at a department store that does not offer duty free
- Buying from duty free shops is usually cheaper than buying from
other shops, if you make sure to stop at the duty free office at the
airport before departing the country.
Also, remember that the benefits of “duty free” vary by country. For
instance, duty free is coming to have little meaning in Europe due to
the influence of the European Economic Union (EEU) on cross-border
taxation. Remember that duty free means that the object is free of duty
in the country where it was purchased. You must still declare the item
on your customs declaration when you return to the US.
Be sure to check with your guidebook or the web site of the county you
will be visiting to familiarize yourself with the appropriate duty free
strategy for shopping.
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