Duty free shopping gives international travelers the opportunity to save money on a variety of products, from high-end jewelry to premium liquor and tobacco. However, many travelers are not sure how duty free shopping works, or how to make the most out of the experience.
Let's start with a simple definition: a "duty" refers to a tax or fee placed on goods by government entities. Merchants who import goods and sell them to consumers who are leaving their country are not charged a duty on these products. This allows sellers to pass the savings along to their customers, giving shoppers the opportunity to grab fantastic products at bargain prices.
Where can I shop/buy duty free?
Travelers can find duty free stores and products at international airports, border towns, ports, cruise ships and even on-board international flights—basically in all locations that cater to international travelers.
If you are traveling internationally, you may shop "tax and duty free," buying items without having to pay either the sales tax (called Value Added Tax or VAT in many countries) or the customs duties assessed by the United States – primarily on liquor and tobacco but also with many other products. The savings from Duty Free Shopping can be significant.
What would be the savings on duty free shopping for US shoppers traveling internationally?
Duty Free Savings Compared to U.S. Domestic Prices (savings may be more when compared to most other country's domestic prices)
Liquor 25% to 50% Tobacco 25% to 50%
Fragrances and Cosmetics 15% to 20%
Luxury gifts, Accessories, Watches 10% to 25%
Confection and Other Edibles 10% to 25%
Where can I learn about a country's duty free policies?
A good place to start is by contacting the country's customs or border patrol agency. You can also try calling duty free shops, airlines or travel agents located within the country.
How do I know if I am able to shop duty free in the United States?
To be eligible for duty free shopping, you must:
Be leaving the United States (usually for more than 48 hours).
Take the items with you into another country (As required by U.S. law, you will receive your items as you exit the country, either as you get on the plane or as you drive across the border).
Take into consideration that most countries impose restrictions on the quantity of duty free merchandise you can bring in.
How much merchandise can I bring into the United States?
In most cases, there's a monthly $800 limit. Typically, family members living in the same house and traveling together can bring a total of $1,600 worth of duty free merchandise into the country each month.
Keep in mind that there are restrictions on the amount of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products you may import into the United States. Generally, these restrictions limit you to one liter of alcohol and one carton of cigarettes per person.
How long do I need to leave the country in order to duty free shop?
This restriction also varies by country. In the United States, you must usually be leaving the country for a period of at least 48 hours.
Why do duty free products exist?
Most governments give merchants a tax or "duty" break on items that won't be consumed or used within the country. Merchants then pass along these savings to customers in the form of duty free purchases.
What can you buy at duty free shops?
Duty free shops around the world feature an array of spectacular merchandise, including jewelry, luggage, handbags, watches, tobacco products, liquor, chocolates, candy, electronics and children's items. You can even find great deals on designer brands such as Givenchy, Seagrams, YSL, Nestle and Hugo Boss, among dozens of others.
How much can I save when shopping duty free?
The savings you'll enjoy when shopping duty free depend on the product and country, but savings can range up to 50% off the retail price. Tobacco and alcohol products usually offer the best percentage discounts. High-ticket items, such as luxury jewelry yield the largest total dollar savings.
Are duty free products defective or in imperfect condition?
No. Duty free merchandise is of the same quality as products found in regular retail stores. The only difference is the tremendous price savings!