How to Make the Best of Duty Free Shopping at the Airport

How to Make the Best of Duty Free Shopping at the Airport

When you travel internationally you will have a chance to shop in stores that are not required to charge customs duties or a sales tax, commonly called a value added tax or VAT. Many countries will charge a duty on foreign-made products that come into their country but when you shop at the duty free store at the airport, you can buy a lot of goods without paying this extra fee.

Is Duty Free Shopping the Great Deal it once was?

Duty free shopping can allow you to buy items like cigarettes and cigars, alcohol, jewelry, perfumes and other items, often at bargain prices. In recent years, Internet shopping and bargain retailers have provided competition to the duty free shops and you can often get a better deal shopping at home on your computer.

Of course many airports are still home to duty free shops and it is still possible to get a great deal on a lot of different items. To make sure you truly are getting a good price, you need to educate yourself and become a savvy shopper.


Make sure that the Price at the Duty Free Store really is a Good Deal

Just getting a break on the value added tax and/or customs duties don’t necessarily mean you’re getting a great price. You have to make sure that the price at the duty free shop is in fact lower than the price you would pay for the same item at home. You either need to become very familiar with the prices for certain types of items or you can pull out your smart phone to quickly look things up online and compare prices.

If you happen to live near the border of another country and an airport with the duty free shop, you also have to make sure that you are not paying more for gas to drive to the duty free shop than you are saving on the items you purchase.

Be Aware of the Limits

The rules vary from one place to another but there are limits on how much merchandise you can purchase at the duty free shop. As an example, if you live in the United States you are only allowed to purchase one liter of alcohol to bring back to the country. In the Caribbean you are allowed to bring back 2 liters.

There are also consequences for exceeding the allowable limits. Do a little research before you take your trip to familiarize yourself with the rules in the locale you will be traveling to. At the very least, ask a lot of questions at the duty free shop before making purchases.

Be Aware of the Rate

Some items have a higher duty rate than others. A lot of times, alcohol and cigarettes will have a higher rate than other items. If you do not have to pay a duty or a VAT on these items, you are effectively getting a bigger discount when you purchase them at the duty free shop. Combine this fact with the tip above, being aware of the limits, and stock up on these types of items, without going over the limits of course.

Think About When to Buy

If you just landed at the airport at the beginning of your trip and see some items in the duty free shop that you would like to purchase, you may want to think twice about doing that. If you buy a bunch of things that you need to ship back home, the shipping fees can be very expensive. It’s usually best to make purchases toward the end of your trip when you are on your way back home, as long as you have enough room in your luggage to add the items you buy without having to pay additional baggage fees or paying to ship the items separately.

Avoid Buying Something You Don’t Need Just Because It’s a Good Deal

This tip should be obvious but a lot of people fall into the trap of purchasing something because the deal was too good to pass up. You can still get some great deals in the duty free shop, but if you purchase an item you don’t need, you really are wasting money rather than saving it.

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