That cheap Duty Free Whisky – where is it?

Duty Free Whisky, the best price? So now you know! That duty-free shopping comparison site or blog has just told you that you can save $10 on a bottle of famous brand Aged Whisky in Romania*.

Duty Free Whisky
Best price for Duty Free Whisky, but is it on the other side of the world to your travel plan?

Great news, let’s change our travel plans from Barcelona to Bucharest and swallow up that $10 saving by buying our favourite brand when we get there!

Or, should we get-real, ignore these web content generating stories and be serious about what we want to buy and how?

In fact, the best place in the world to buy duty free whisky is Brazil, but not because of the price. Brazil and many other South American countries have Duty Free Arrivals stores in the airport designed to encourage business. Many of these countries allow an extra allowance and limit when you get there.

Duty Free Whisky on Arrival
Cases of Duty Free Whisky ready for you at the arrivals Duty Free Store

In Brazil you can take up to 12 bottles of alcohol into the country duty free, if you buy in their stores.

The price is probably more expensive than Romania (sic), but they wouldn’t let you import this Limit anyway.

Economies of scale, spring to mind. But, how many Tourists are really going to buy 12 bottles and take them into Brazil? Only the locals who can save a fortune and gift to their friends.

The purpose of our cynicism is that comparing prices for duty free liquors is often a fruitless exercise, because if you ‘aint going there, the savings these comparison blogs tell you about are completely irrelevant.

Most potential buyers of Duty Free goods, know what they want for their journey and actually, the availability of their chosen brand is the most important issue. Not the saving of a few Dollars in an airport on the other side of the world.

We see searches daily, where people are looking for their favourite brand, not the best price.

Clearly, if you can save money, treat yourself and buy a nice tipple for your vacation or that balcony overlooking the Med, all well and good. But, this is only done by checking the stores and products available en-route.

Duty Free Cognac
Duty Free Cognac, high priced, but still cheaper than at home. Don’t get it confiscated!

The other important matter for “liquids in transit” is to ensure that you don’t get your prize Duty Free Cognac or Whisky confiscated. There is nothing more galling than getting your bargain, then to have some officious security guard take it off you at the airport scanner.

Nobody will be more delighted than Duty Free on Arrival if you find the bargain you want and get it home safely, but we suggest that you search by store and in conjunction with your travel itinerary and not by the best price, quoted by a comparison site trying to just generate web traffic.

There are many discounts to be found in Duty Free stores and many advantages, but if you are “not going that way”, those comparisons are useless***. Try to focus on your destination, your travel plan and the stores available to you, it will pay dividends in the end.

Whatever you buy and where and whoever you listen to, one key point….

Duty Free Security
Get that STEB Security bag.

– Make sure you get your goods packed in a special airline security STEB bag. This needs to be sealed, clear and show your receipt inside and on view.

If your airport store or airline doesn’t want do this or makes some excuse…. for sure, make sure that you are not connecting flights. Otherwise, you have got a probable issue.

The other logical step is to buy on arrival, then the potential problem is removed completely, because there is no security in the baggage claim area**.

Otherwise, that super deal you just found, could end up in a bin at at airport somewhere and you seriously irked at losing those savings. We see hundreds of posts on travel forums where people gave the benefit of the doubt when not getting the proper security bag from the store.

All this can be checked before you fly at our main Duty Free Directory.

Enjoy your Whisky, Cognac or Wine!

*We used this as a lyrical example, not because there is any reality to our quote. In fact, there are restrictions on Duty Free shopping in this country, in or out. See our directory for more details. **Australia is an exception, be careful when taking liquids into Australia from other airports. ***See this post explaining Tax Free shopping and the comment made below by an outsider! The poster discussed our poor web SEO, but never mentioned the subject or context of the discussion. Are such blogs in the Duty Free business or the SEO business? And, who controls the business, the search engines or the Travel Retailers?
Internacional: Para buscar tiendas libres de impuestos, catálogos y precios, ingresa tu ciudad o país de destino y haga clic "Go". Cuando encuentre la información de su destino haga clic en el icono rojo de Aduanas para la búsqueda restricciones aduaneros. 

Para encontrar lojas duty free e os preços, inserir destino, click e Go! A cota de isenção alfandegária refere-se ao seu país de chegada e não ao país de partida. Os regulamentos alfandegários podem ser encontrados clicando no botão aduaneiro para a esquerda ou procurando seu país de destino.

How to find the best Duty Free Prices – check before you fly

How you can find the best Duty Free prices online, before you fly.  Here are some handy tips.

When you know the stopovers for your journey, find all the Duty Free pre-order stores on your route plan. Today, this is easily done online. Then just go through the order process to find what you are looking for.

Stating the obvious? Yes, because proper price comparison can only be done by you. Many of those sites out there get it wrong, especially for liquors. Tobacco prices are even harder to find and we have seen sites comparing the wrong prices – like the cheaper duty-free with the higher priced duty-paid** goods.

Duty Free iPhone
Is it a good deal?

– Search “duty free pre-order” – “Duty Free click and collect” or “Duty Free reserve and collect” and add the name of your destination, airport or airline at the end.

– Or use the Duty Free on arrival online shopping guide * to find stores at your destination.

– If you think your own Country is expensive, check at your airport Duty Free arrivals store before you leave home. Airports usually base their prices on the local Downtown stores. If these are expensive, the airport will be too!

– Airline in-flight stores for on board shopping is often cheaper than buying in the airport.

– If you are travelling overland, Duty Free shops at the Border can have the most competitive prices, more so than airports or airlines.

– Special Duty Free Territories are the locations with extra Tax advantages: Places like Gibraltar, Ceuta and Melilla, Hainan Island, Samnaun, Panama, Andorra, Helgoland, The Aland Islands, San Andrés, Tioman Islands and Johor Bahru near Singapore.

– Dubai Duty Free is one of the best places in the world to buy Duty Free cigarettes or liquors.

– Now the Pound is lower than before, Great Britain is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy electronics, like cameras, phones or laptops. Thailand is similar with a massive electronics Mall called MBK, specialising in phones or the laptop Mall Pantip Plaza. Shop downtown, rather than in the airport and recover the sales tax when you leave.

USA Tax Free
Louisiana Tax Free

– The United States is one of the most competitive places to buy Fragrances and Cosmetics. Prices are very cheap compared to other countries and the range is enormous. Shopping in Downtown stores is as good as in the airport.

– Be cautious of stores claiming to be “Duty Free” that are not attached to an airport or airline. 

Duty Free complaints

– Most Border shops sell goods at duty free prices, but some may not actually be be accredited stores. The same applies to some online stores who use the phrase “duty free” just to attract customers.

– For Fashion, clothing and leather goods check out the village style Outlet Malls downtown or near big cities, especially in Europe or the USA. Here, you will find major brand names at the best prices. Plus, you can often get the local tax back when you depart the airport.

Overall, there is no substitute for doing your own research and checking all the online stores for your route to find the best duty free prices.

Enjoy your shopping!

*We are updating our store links all the time, apologies if some don't work or are missing. The Duty Free retailers have only just started to move online with pre-order sites, so we are doing our best to update. **There are now many restrictions on the sale and publicity of duty free cigarettes, tobaccos or cigars. Some bona fide Duty Free stores still display and sell tobaccos for pre-order, but it is getting more difficult to find them. If you want up to date prices for a location, post a question on a travel forum.
Internacional: Para buscar tiendas libres de impuestos, catálogos y precios, ingresa tu ciudad o país de destino y haga clic "Go". Cuando encuentre la información de su destino haga clic en el icono rojo de Aduanas para la búsqueda restricciones aduaneros. Para encontrar lojas duty free e os preços, inserir destino, click e Go! A cota de isenção alfandegária refere-se ao seu país de chegada e não ao país de partida. Os regulamentos alfandegários podem ser encontrados clicando no botão aduaneiro para a esquerda ou procurando seu país de destino.

Boarding Passes Airport Shopping and Duty Free – the real answers

In 2015 and ongoing, there was a huge scandal in Britain about Boarding Passes Airport Shopping and Duty Free stores. The discussion surrounded how some airport stores were allegedly using your airline route data to recover the tax on your purchases, but to keep it for themselves and not pass it on.

Boarding Pass airport shopping
Showing your Boarding Pass at airport Duty Free Shops – necessary or not?

The story went viral, even reaching South America, because for all travelers, the airport shopping concept is supposed to save us money.

Being clear, this was a UK related story and one specifically referring to British airports, but what it did was open a Pandora’s Box as to whether airport Duty Free or Tax Free Shopping was good value or not.

And, whether we, the public, were just being seen as targets to be ripped-off. The massive press coverage and even bigger social media comment spoke for itself. There didn’t seem to be many travelers out there who had much love for airports and their retail policies.

Duty Free on Arrival is not here to defend airports, we are independent and do not work for them, nor for their retail Concessionaires.

But, much of this problem is because few really understand the rules properly, not least the difference between Duty Free and Tax-Free shopping in Britain.

The problem also came about because British airports and their Retail Partners had “muddied the waters” in relation to airport shopping, Duty Free and Tax Free. This happened when duty free shopping was abolished within the EU over 10 years ago as an initiative to keep their business going.

In effect, they introduced one price on many products so that intra-EU travelers continued buying, but by doing so completely confused everybody as to what was really Duty Free or not. But, they could only do this by absorbing some of the sales tax (VAT) on the goods they sold.

Since then many Airports, their Retailers, the Media and much of the Public still use the description “duty-free” as a euphemism for discount shopping. The problem occurs when these perceived discounts don’t happen or people are confused by the descriptions.

This is what happened when the scandal broke and much of the Media were more interested in making a good story than properly understanding and explaining the Rules. Few, properly described the situation at the first attempt.

The one Publication that did accurately describe the situation was the Travel Retail Industry Specialist, Martin Moodie.

Airport shopping
Show your Boarding Pass at airport stores – why?

So, the global Boarding Pass firestorm occurred and yet nobody is much the wiser.

Today, almost 12 months on, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported how many airport retailers will now adapt a fairer policy. Apparently, a more detailed explanation is soon to follow.

At the end of the day it is all about the price you pay and whether this is a bargain or not.

The best discounts are on tobaccos, followed by liquors and by the time you move down the scale through Perfumes, Cosmetics, electronics, chocolates and gifts you will be moving towards paying more than normal on The High Street. Certainly for a soft drink, water, snacks or a sandwich.

Let’s try and explain, so that you know the reality…..

– In British airports, certain stores are designated by Customs as a tax-exempt warehouse or “Export Shop”, such as those giant walk-through shops selling alcohol or tobacco, perfumes, cosmetics or gifts. This is what we all know and understand as a real “Duty Free Shop”.

Duty Free Allowances
Check your Duty Free  & Tax-Free Customs Rules, before you fly!

– These Export Shops are technically split into (Excise) Duty Free supplies for liquors and tobaccos and all the other goods, which only have VAT (Sales tax) levied on them. They usually (or used to) show the description “Tax Free Shops”.

– And these designated stores claim that they have to report and account their sales to Customs for everything they sell. This is why they say they need to log your Boarding Pass at airport stores, check the details and scan it. The ambiguity is that there is no additional “Excise Duty” on Perfume or Chocolates.

– The above stores have such a mass of different products with or without Excise Duty that there is some credence to why they need to log your travel details and account for all this to the Customs authorities. (For example they sell liquors to both EU and non-EU passengers from the same shop).

– But, for other airport shops, like convenience stores, who might sell you cigarettes, newspapers or other outlets like fashion or electronic stores, they are really no different to shops you would find outside of the airport and Downtown. In an airport they can be defined as Tax-Free shops with permission. In reality, they are “discounted stores”, (or maybe not-so discounted stores), but for major Brands and their marketing, the use of the word discount is on a par with heresy. Hence why the marketing waters are muddied.

– Some of these “Tax Free” stores can re-claim the sales tax (VAT) on the goods you buy, because you will be leaving the European Union on your trip. But they are not allowed to re-claim the Excise Duty on any cigarettes or liquor they may sell, regardless where you are going to. They are not allowed to re-claim the VAT for intra-EU travellers however, which is another reason why they want your flight details.

The core issue is whether these “Tax Free” stores or convenience, pharmacies or gift shops are giving you back what you deserve. But most, if not all of them have one price, regardless of your destination.

And so, who is actually getting the best of this one-price policy, the EU or the non-EU traveler?

They would claim we are, because of the one price policy, whereas many travelers would see it that they are, because the shops are (or were) allegedly keeping the cream.

If the price of a hamburger in an airport is anything to go by, I know where our vote goes!

“Let the buyer beware” couldn’t be more appropriate than to those flying abroad and we hope that our extensive articles and explanations help you to be forewarned.

Finally, don’t get confused with the Downtown shopping system, also called Tax-Free with Claim Booths at the airport.

Tax-Refund Shopping
Tax-Free Refund Shopping made outside airports.

This is completely different to the airport stores and is simply a refund scheme where certain visitors can claim back the VAT before they leave the Country. But this applies to shops outside the airport on what you buy Downtown and is another complex issue, which we will deal with another day.

The airport "Tax-Free"* issue is really all about what is known as "price positioning" by the various Stores in the airports.

They can either sell everything to all, at the lower price, with the VAT refunds they get included in this lower price, or they can position prices at the higher tax-included price across the board.

It seems highly likely that prices were positioned somewhere near the higher (taxi-included) level, so to give the impression of a bargain and a discount all round to all passengers.

More than likely, prices were averaged, firstly to attract EU shoppers, where they still have to include the VAT and then the tax that retailers' recovered, is then used to offset any losses on this average price.

The simple answer would be dual-pricing, EU and non-EU, which is exactly what the genuine (Duty Free) "Export Stores" do on Liquors. The problem is they do not seem to be doing this for other products like Perfumes.

Some of the other "Tax-Free" airport stores seem to be pricing as they see fit for the market and basing their airport prices on what is known as "the recommended retail price". i.e Find the highest price in a normal store in the local High Street, then discount back so to claim and look cheaper in the airport. Then your tax-saving price in the airport is described as a discounted price benefit to passengers.

*"Duty Free" sales are slightly more complex, due to the additional (Excise) Tax levied on Liquors & Tobaccos. But, the actual (Excise) Duty reduction, or "drawback" as it was once known, on products like cigarettes or alcohol, could often be greater than the discount given to you in the stores.

*In effect this means that all the (Excise) Duty Tax may not been discounted to the full either.

**So, it is reasonable to assume that you are probably not getting back the full tax refund on your Marlboro or Absolut either. Just compare tobacco prices at London Heathrow, with Dubai or Istanbul Duty Free to see the difference.
The Official British Government Tax Notices can be found here. It is unlikely that many travelers would want to go though all the fine print, but if you do, here is it.

Excise (Duty Free) Goods Alcohol or tobaccos in Export Shops

Other goods sold in Tax-Free Airport Shops (selling or recovering Value Added Tax)

Can you really buy that Duty Free Apple iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy?

The whole world is an addict when it comes to smartphone use and the online search for that better iPhone deal goes on and on.

But can you really buy that Duty Free Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy at discount prices? And should you?

Duty Free iPhone
Is it a good deal?

The simple answer is no, or at least think twice and very carefully before you buy. And, certainly be cautious for the Apple iPhones, iPads or laptops, who are a maestro global marketing Firm and know exactly how to keep stability for their market and prices*.

True, Samsung seem to have slightly more price variances, but in reality these global companies are very good at levelling their prices around the world.

And, even if a Duty Free price comparison website tells you that you can save +/-$100 dollars or so in New York or Newfoundland, are you really going to change your travel plans and fly there just to save a few Dollars?

Duty Free Apple iPhone
Duty Free shopping for Apple in airports… what’s the advantage?

Let’s get real, travelers fly for business or tourism, they don’t fix their trip to buy a cellphone. Yes, they want to shop and if they find a bargain on the way, all well and good. But, iPhone round the world airtickets are not widely used, yet!

In fact, mobile phones can be cheaper in some airport stores, but this has nothing to do with Duty Free. The phrase “duty free” is widely mis-used by many comparison sites, so to infer that there are bargains to be had. Often the information supplied and the detail is irrelevant or inaccurate, especially when it comes to recovering Tax.

Let us explain some of the ins and outs. To help your thinking before you fly to Hong Kong or Honolulu in search of that elusive Apple bargain, just because a price comparison site has told you it will be much cheaper.

– Firstly, there isn’t any (Excise) Duty on smartphones, so it doesn’t matter where you buy one, they are already Duty Free. Duty-Free applies to liquor or tobaccos, not to electronics.

– Electronics have local Sales Tax on them and in some countries an extra “import duty”, which is why they can be more expensive in countries with high tariffs for luxury goods. (Brazil and India would be likely examples).

– The global smartphone trading currency is almost certainly US Dollars, so the bargain you are looking for depends very much on your home currency compared to the Dollar.

– If your country of residence has high import duties and a weak currency, your price at home will be expensive and will go up or down with the Dollar rate. But, just the same, you need to buy Dollars, Euros, Yen or Pounds to buy one abroad and if your currency is already weak against these currencies, what’s the gain?

– Either way you are stuck with your weak currency against their high Dollar price, so wherever you buy, all you are really doing is gambling on the exchange rates.

– If the comparison site shows all the different retail prices in US Dollars, this is not a fair comparison at all because London, Hong Kong, Sydney, Paris or Rome etc etc do not work in Dollars, they all have their own floating exchange rate. So this just distorts the real costs and value to your circumstances.

– Anything you buy in an airport when you travel abroad, is sold both Duty Free and Tax Free, these taxes are deducted for you in the stores and the discounts are included in the price already.

– Downtown on your travels, the price will probably include Tax, normally local retail sales tax, such as VAT, GST or in the US sales taxes. So somehow, you need to recover this with a Tax Refund to actually achieve the discount.

– The next thing to watch out for, is whether these retail sales taxes are actually included in the price, or added on later at the check-out?

Duty Free Samsung
Duty Free Samsung store, is the sales-tax deducted or added on at the check-out?

– A price comparison site might say that an iPhone in California is $700, but did they correctly tell you that around 9.5% will be added when you buy?

– This makes your cheap iPhone around $760 and not the $700 quoted on the price comparison site.

– Can you get this retail sales Tax back when you buy abroad and if so where? This is even more complicated to work out and only a Global Travelers Tax Refund Firm, like Global Blue can properly advise you on your specific case.

The Duty Free on Arrival global shopping database was launched in 2009. We are here to provide rational thinking and to alert you to the pitfalls, before you shop. Our job is to trigger caution before you travel.

We are not here to promote one store or another, because we are travelers too and all we want to do is be prepared, before we shop. Just like you do.

Other factors to consider when looking abroad to buy a cellphone.

-Is the phone unlocked for your network at home? Or is there a 12 month or usage time limit on unlocking?

-What is the guarantee on the product, is this global and can you insure it at home?

-Where would you need to return it to if you have a problem?

-What other languages are on the phone's built in software?

-If you try to encrypt your phone, what language does it default to?

-Does your home country have Customs restrictions on the import of phones bought abroad? In some countries you must prove a home network connection if stopped on arrival.
*There is no suggestion that any Global phone Company directly fixes or manipulates prices, all they do is try to level them where possible to ensure market stability for their products.

**We believe that the price comparison websites could be incorrectly reporting for their own benefit, not for the real benefit of their readers. But we have seen some that do not correctly report the actual Tax situation.

***Duty Free on Arrival does not hire "content writers" for our site, we write from personal experiences after 30+ years of working with Duty Free shops
Internacional: Para buscar tiendas libres de impuestos, catálogos y precios, ingresa tu ciudad o país de destino y haga clic "Go". Cuando encuentre la información de su destino haga clic en el icono rojo de Aduanas para la búsqueda restricciones aduaneros.

Para encontrar lojas duty free e os preços, inserir destino, click e Go! A cota de isenção alfandegária refere-se ao seu país de chegada e não ao país de partida. Os regulamentos alfandegários podem ser encontrados clicando no botão aduaneiro para a esquerda ou procurando seu país de destino.

búsqueda-pesquisa: celular, celulares fones, movil, smartfone, phones, smartphone, iphone, android, saumsung, apple

Can I buy Duty Free at the Border, possible and where?

Shopping for Duty Free at the Border is growing, at the frontier crossings between Brazil and Uruguay and also with Argentina, huge emporiums are now opening.

Border Duty Free store
Duty Free at the Border

On the US Border with Mexico there are also huge Outlet Malls, all containing a Duty Free Shop. Russians can drive to Finland or Norway to buy and in Asia, even some of the trains stations have Duty Free shops.

Shopping at the Border is big business, especially for those who live in a high tax country. But what you are allowed to buy and where, can get confusing, especially if you are a foreign visitor.

The Duty Free on Arrival global shopping guide also covers land travel information of where to find Duty Free at the border.  This section details the rules and some of the key stores at each destination. (There are too many for a complete list of stores).

So, if you are travelling soon by road and crossing a border, check our land based Duty Free section.

Mexico Duty Free
Duty Free shopping going north from Tijuana Mexico, shop whilst you wait.

The world is a big place to cover in one article, so let us concentrate on The Americas just now. Did you know that at almost every land border crossing from Canada in the North down to Argentina in the south, almost certainly has a Duty Free Border store at the frontier point?

Here are the key points to look out for, if you want specifics go to our directory of travel points. You can then find the relevant Allowances and Exemptions for your journey.

Paraguay Duty Free
Cross into Paraguay from Brazil for Duty Free at the Border

– Anyone crossing a border internationally can buy Duty Free goods on their way out of a country.

– Usually, you buy on departure in the country you are leaving, not at the one you are arriving into. But there are exceptions.

– If you are a Resident in one country, sometimes you cannot buy in the shops located where you live. Some shops serve foreigners only, not locals.

Sounds complicated, but this is done to stop the locals buying daily. Unfortunately, they want Tourist Dollars, not your local currency.

– In some countries, like the USA, the shop must deliver your goods right to your car, bus or van and you cannot take them direct from the store. This is due to Customs regulations.

– In many places your limits are restricted, depending on how much time your are out of one country, before you return. If you don’t plan to return, the allowances could be greater.

– Bear in mind that your Duty Free exemptions apply to your country of arrival, not to your country of departure. At least when you cross a border, Customs know exactly where you have arrived from!

– You can’t go backwards and forward in the same day and keep buying extra goods. Obviously this is to stop people “loading up” with discounted goods.

– Border stores are usually less expensive than airport stores, because the local competition is fierce. If you are flying off on a trip that takes in land borders, bear this in mind.

– The product range at the border is much more extensive, they have more space to work with and baggage weight is not an issue, especially if you are in your own car.

Duty Free at the border
Brazilian Duty Free Customs warning 30km from the border with Uruguay

– Don’t be greedy! In many countries Customs have Limit Control Units, anything up to 100km inland of the border.  So, just when you think that you have sneaked through that diamond-encrusted watch, you might be in for a shock.

– Many shops in Central and South America have US Dollar based prices, in some places you can only pay in Dollars. If you home currency is weak, the bargains will be less.

– Unlike airport stores, “big-ticket” electronic items, such as TVs, refrigerators and even aircon units can be purchased. So can speciality foods and sometimes not so speciality, like Ketchup being sold in giant packs!

– Keep all receipts for any inspection by Customs, don’t get your purchases gift-wrapped in case they are opened and Inspectors are very wise to receipts that reflect a ridiculously cheap buying price!

– Often you need to be prepared for a long line of cars and a long wait to cross, make it easy to show your purchases to Officials. The easier it is, the quicker you cross.

All the specifics can be found in our directory, just enter your Country or City and the details are there for you to check before you travel.

So what is duty free on arrival?

If you live in the USA, Canada or Europe, you’ve probably never heard of duty free on arrival, nor being able to pick up your goods inbound at the duty free arrivals store when collecting your luggage.

Baggage claim areas in airports around the world are sprouting arrivals duty free stores next to the carousel.

Arrivals Duty Free yes
DFOA – Yes!

The world market for duty free shopping is still dominated by airports in Europe, the USA and Canada, these were the countries that first expanded this business more than 30 years ago.

Today, airports look like shopping Malls with few planes in sight but a multitude of stores all there in the departure lounge, waiting for you to spend, spend spend.

You can see people amassing shopping bags in the Terminal and then bundling them in the aircraft overhead lockers. Of course, some airline carry-on baggage rules don’t like this idea because they want to restrict what you carry on board.

But, the whole process of shopping in the airport departure lounge has become a massive industry and very important for airport revenues.

Then came along strict security regulation, the restrictions on liquids and those low-cost airlines who want every penny off you, especially for all your bags. All this puts the passengers, the Terminals and the Retailers in potential conflict, especially when your airline wants your shopping to be checked into the hold*, or airport Security takes your expensive Cognac off you en-route to your destination.

Duty Free Arrivals
Arrivals Duty Free Store -Geneva Switzerland

But, if you are Argentinian, Brazilian, Thai, Australian, a Gulf Arab, Egyptian or one of over 70 Nationalities, often from The Southern Hemisphere – it would be second nature for you to plan your shopping at the duty free on arrival, not departure!

Why carry your goods all around the world when all you need to do is add them to your cart inbound at the airport?

And now, European airports are jumping on the bandwagon too.. but there’s a catch, or at least a potential catch… are these goods really Duty Free?

If you are arriving into any European Union Member State, like France or Italy, the answer is no. Arrivals Duty Free is not currently permitted in the EU, so the goods you buy inbound at these airports are all Tax-Paid goods. And it doesn’t matter where you are arriving from, everything will be tax paid.

Non-EU States like Iceland, Norway, Switzerland or Turkey bordering Europe, all have real Duty Free arrivals stores in their luggage areas. With proper tax-deducted prices.

Duty Free Arrivals
Bangkok airport baggage claim arrivals store

And they are booming, Oslo has just opened the world’s largest store on landing in airport around the world.

But go to Bangkok, Rio, Panama, Sydney, Dubai and many other airports and you will find these stores for you convenience.

Meanwhile Lufthansa and Frankfurt airport have just announced the e-commerce portal so incoming travelers can pre-order for delivery of their purchases on arrival too. But, these goods will not be Duty or Tax free for the reasons explained above.

The United Nations Climate Change people (UNEP) got the message some time ago with their Kick the CO2 habit presentation, which states:

* Pack lighter suitcases. World CO2 savings would be 2 million tonnes a year if every airline passenger cut the weight of baggage to below 20 kg and bought duty free goods on arrival.

Arrivals Duty Free shopping is expanding, one way or another, with or without tax, so it is best to search for the various rules that apply to your travel plan – and that is the service we provide.

Just go to our home page, choose your language flag and enter the airline, airport or destination city or country and check before you fly!

*Indian airlines have become very strict on what is known as "the one-bag rule" - what they allow you to carry on board - so be careful. ** You can now pre-order online and in advance for many airports and collect your goods inbound when you land.

Para buscar tiendas libres de impuestos, catálogos y precios, ingresa tu ciudad, aeropuerto o país de destino y haga clic "Go". Cuando encuentre la información de su destino haga clic en el icono rojo de Aduanas para la búsqueda restricciones aduaneros. 

Para encontrar lojas duty free e os preços, inserir aeroporto ou destino, click e Go! A cota de isenção alfandegária refere-se ao seu país de chegada e não ao país de partida. Os regulamentos alfandegários podem ser encontrados clicando no botão aduaneiro para a esquerda ou procurando seu país de destino.

Duty Free Allowances on arrival – avoid the confusion – check before you fly!

Let’s be clear from the start! When travelling abroad…. your Duty Free Allowances apply to your country of arrival, not to your country of departure.

Duty Free Allowances
Check your Duty Free Customs Allowances and limits before you fly!

Duty Free on Arrival sees a multitude of searches to our online database asking “what are the duty from allowances from …..?”.

Travelers should be asking is “what are the duty free allowances into …..?”. Then see how your departure point relates to your arrival point, because the Allowances differ by route.

It is important to note that where you buy the goods, be they on departure, downtown or even on arrival… how you buy or how much, bears absolutely no relevance to to your inbound limits and restrictions into a different country.

It’s all about what you can take in to a country.

Just because you can buy 600 cigarettes or 10 litres of booze in the departure area of an airport, on a flight, or even whilst cruising or on ferry boat, doesn’t mean that you can take this quantity into your next country.

Simply, you should check ahead, before you travel and before you buy, to see what you are allowed to take in to your next destination. And, if you are doing a stopover for a few days, each different country has their own rules too. All this applies to your itinerary.

Here’s a good Duty Free Tobacco example:-

– Where you live, the Customs Allowance is 400 cigarettes when returning to your home country, so you buy this quantity on departure, but are travelling to one of the many countries that restrict tobaccos, like Singapore or Sydney.

– Even if you are allowed (quite legally), to take this quantity home with you, Singapore, nor Australia will not let you import them when you arrive there. In which case, you are going to have a problem taking them home with you because they are likely to be confiscated in these countries.

Here’s another, for Duty Free Alcohol:-

– Alcohol is restricted at you destination, or during a brief stopover, but not when returning home. (Saudi Arabia is the obvious example).

– Bad news, it doesn’t matter how many litres you are allowed to bring in to your final home airport, you are not going to be able to get that duty free whisky into your destination. So, you won’t even get the chance to bring it back with you.

This all sounds very logical, stating the obvious and something that everybody knows already. But they don’t, travel forums are loaded with comments, questions and complaints, that are full of misconceptions.

One of the biggest misconceptions is how people confuse airline and airport security rules with Customs Rules. Duty Free Allowances can be described in different forms- Customs Allowances, Customs Limits, Exemptions or even Travelers’ Baggage Allowances, but actually, nothing to do with baggage at all, really. Except that you are carrying it with you.

Let’s also clear up another Urban Myth:-

– Just because you buy goods downtown in a normal store at your destination. Let’s assume some perfume, a leather bag or an iPad. This doesn’t mean that your inbound return Customs Limit is greater, just because your bought abroad and paid the local the tax on your goods.

– So, you paid the local sales tax on an iPhone, Prada Bag and some clothes when you purchased them in Miami at great prices, but then returned home to London. You are probably way over your Customs limit on return, with or without paying the tax. (example… £390 Customs limit back into the UK).

– Or you bought your iPhone in JFK airport “tax-free for export”, probably still over your limit of £390.

– In either of these examples above… it is about what monetary Limit is allowed on your return home and not what you paid abroad. With or without the tax is irrelevant.

Duty Free Security
Airline Security Rules are different to Customs Rules

Airline & Airport Security – more confusion when buying. The carrying and arriving with goods bought in-transit or abroad, especially liquids, can be very confusing.

Let us be really clear here. Your inbound Duty Free Allowance and the security rules related to flying and carrying Duty Free goods – are two completely separate issues. They should not be confused, as we often see from commentators on forums.

Here’s the checklist:-

– Customs Rules; the Duty Free Allowances might allow 2 bottles of wine and 1 of vodka into their Country. Whether your liquor is packed in an official “STEB” airport/airline security bag is completely irrelevant to the Officials who want to check your baggage on arrival.

– All that interests your arriving Customs Officials is your Limit, not how it is packed.

– Australia restricts the import of carry-on inbound liquids, like Duty Free whisky, to the last stop on your journey (i.e Singapore direct to Brisbane is ok, but not from London via Singapore) and it needs to be properly packed in a STEB security bag with a receipt from the duty free shop.

– You might buy 3 litres in Singapore airport, have it properly packed in the right STEB bag with receipts too, clears Security Rules fine – but you are still over your inbound Customs Limit, a different issue completely.

– The 100ml limit for carrying liquids on to a flight and through airport security, such as shampoo or mouthwash, is about your personal possessions, not about duty free shopping.

– This limit of 100ml for liquids in-transit has no relevance to what you buy in airport or airline duty free shops and the “clear plastic bag” required of you for your toothpaste, is completely different to the internationally approved “STEB” clear sealed plastic bag needed for your Duty Free purchases.

And finally, here’s another tip for those arriving into the USA… US CBP Pre-clearance, what is it? Dublin Ireland operates pre-clearance, so does Abu Dhabi and also some airports from Canada to the US.

Pre-clearance and duty free
Duty Free & US CBP Pre-Clearance facilities, what does it mean for duty-free shoppers?

Customs and Border Control Pre-clearance into the United States, means that you actually pass though Customs & Immigration formalities in your country of departure, not when you arrive at the US Airport.

– This means that you are now on a Domestic flight, not an international flight, because you cleared Customs, before you departed.

– So you CANNOT buy any Duty Free goods on this flight, or even in the airport before you depart.

To accurately check all the other Rules related to your trip and your destinations, go to our online duty free database by hitting our logo above.

Can you buy Duty Free on a train or at the station?

A Much asked question from travelers wanting to shop. Can you buy Duty Free on a train or at the station?

This really would be duty free on arrival, if it was possible, but generally it is not, certainly not within The European Union.

Duty Free Eurostar
Buying Duty Free on the train or at the station – possible?

The Eurostar high-speed train which runs between London and Paris or to Brussels, is one of the most famous, due to its 30 minute journey under the English Channel and through the Chunnel.

We see numerous searches coming to our online duty free database, researching whether there are duty free shops at the Eurostar stations in England or France.

Many people from outside Europe assume that because this train crosses Borders, duty free shopping must be available. Sorry, but there are no duty free shops at either end, nor on the train, because within The EU this is not allowed. The same applies to the stations, just as the other fast EU trains, Thalys, TGV, AVE or others have no duty free shopping facilities.

There are stores discounting goods, some call themselves “Tax Free”, but this really means that any goods sold may have the local sales tax discounted so to attract customers. But they are not real Duty Free Shops.

That said, the prices can often be competitive, especially for tobaccos or liquors and if you travelling into the UK, you’ll probably find the prices for these products are more expensive when you get there.

The Channel Tunnel Terminals for motorists also have large discount shopping areas on departure, but again, these stores are not allowed to sell duty free. Prices might still work for you and it might be convenient, but the large savings have now gone since duty free shopping was abolished by The European Commission.

So where can you buy Duty Free on a train or at the station?

China Duty Free
Duty Free on Chinese trains? Inland at malls, but not on the train.

Hong Kong, for one, has a multitude of stores in its Terminal serving passenger trains to the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen and some of these stores are indeed Duty Free.

You could then travel on to Shanghai or Beijing from there, it’s a long journey, but the Chinese State has embraced the sale of Tax Free luxury goods.

They now have a number of Domestic Malls where you can buy goods inland and Tax Free.

Another interesting case is the train that runs from Singapore, via Malaysia and on to Bangkok and at the Border Crossing between Malaysia and Thailand, you will indeed find a Duty free shop at the Passport Control.

Duty Free on a train
Duty Free on a train stop between Malaysia and Thailand

Passengers must change trains at this point and in-between you will find a Duty Free store selling liquors, tobaccos and a range of other goods.

Then there is Russia, a vast country with the famous Siberian railway which passes through various countries on its way to China.

At the different Border Crossings there are stores and vendors, what exactly is duty free or not is debatable, but for sure you can buy at good prices.

Just the same as Russian trains run into Finland, where you will find Duty Free Border Stores. If you can get off and back on is another matter, but the stores are there. Just the same applies to the Ukraine, but in view of some recent turmoil, what duty free is actually available at these Borders is unclear.

Duty Free shopping in North, Central or South America?

Trains are not really such a major form of transport in these continents compared to Europe or Asia, so duty free on a train or at the stations is not searched so often. Bus, car, van or coach travel is more common, so cross-border shopping is the major question for these places.

And we will deal with this issue in another post, or if you need information now, search our border shopping directory here.

Duty Free perfume – find your brand at the right price

Duty Free perfume, can you find your brand at the right price and where?

The web is loaded with sites claiming to sell Perfume at Duty Free prices and trying to find a real bargain is a minefield of research. That’s before you get to the airport or on your flight!

The reality is that pricing for Perfumes or Cosmetics in most airports around the world is relatively standardised. The only real variance is your exchange rate and this depends on where you live.

Duty Free Perfume
Duty Free Perfume Store Jakarta airport Indonesia – prices in airports are much the same

In fact, there is really no such thing as duty free perfume at all, because fragrances only attract local sales taxes, such as VAT in most of Europe (otherwise known as BTW, TVA, IVA or MwSt). In other parts of the world they call it simple Sales Tax (sometimes RST or GST).

99% of the time, there is no “Excise Duty” at all on perfume products, so Tax Free Perfume is really a more accurate description.

Perfume Duty Free
Dedicated Airport Tax Free Perfume store – Changi Singapore

How much is the Tax on perfume and how much can you save in the airport or on your airline? The highest sales tax we can find is in Scandinavian Countries, Hungary or Croatia, reaching up to 27% added to the base price. But many countries like Gibraltar, Andorra or Panama have little or no tax on luxury goods. This is where you will find the real bargains.

One thing to watch out for in domestic stores when comparing, is whether the Sales Tax is automatically included in the price or added on at the cash point. In most of Europe, the tax is already included in the price, in The USA it is added on afterwards. But, this could distort any price comparison you may try to make before your journey.

Generally speaking, The USA often has the most competitive prices in the world for Perfumes and there are numerous discount stores selling older and sometimes current brands at very low prices.

The most expensive? Countries with low currency value and/or high import taxes on luxury products. Brazil is a good example of this, where relative to the local wages, luxuries like fragrance or cosmetics are very expensive.

Buying Perfume online? This is another minefield, especially if you buy and need to have your goods shipped across borders to your home country. Are you going to get stung by Customs for import tax?

It would seem that the best online prices can be found at British or American online stores, so if you are travelling to these countries you could perhaps order and have the goods delivered to your hotel.

Airline in-flight stores and airport duty free shops do have bargains, but you should research in advance and pick over the brand selection first. One important bonus when shopping in the real duty free* perfume market, is that the bottle sizes are usually larger.

Duty Free Perfume bottle
Duty Free Perfume bottles often larger at the airport

The price for your perfume in the air might look much the same as in that downtown store, but often the Travel Retail size is slightly bigger.

This gives you an advantage and a price saving against the High Street or online retailers. They also do specials and exclusives, not available downtown.

And, you get the goods in-hand, no need to wait for delivery.

Once again, we offer similar advice to many other Duty Free product categories –

Check your perfume prices in advance, direct with the Duty Free store and make your own comparison.

– Be wary of online comparison sites that might not compare like-with-like.

– Double check the bottle sizes available, when you compare and browse.

– Make sure that you get your purchases packed in an Official STEB Airline Security Bag. Otherwise you might risk confiscation whilst in-transit.

Internacional: Para buscar tiendas libres de impuestos, catálogos y precios, ingresa tu ciudad o país de destino y haga clic "Go". Cuando encuentre la información de su destino haga clic en el icono rojo de Aduanas para la búsqueda restricciones aduaneros.

Para encontrar lojas duty free e os preços, inserir destino, click e Go! A cota de isenção alfandegária refere-se ao seu país de chegada e não ao país de partida. Os regulamentos alfandegários podem ser encontrados clicando no botão aduaneiro para a esquerda ou procurando seu país de destino. 
Fake Perfume
Highly unlikely!
*Genuine Product- Fake Perfume: Duty Free on Arrival sees many blogs, comments and also receives numerous emails suggesting that people have allegedly been sold fake perfumes in an airport.

**Airport retailers and certainly airline shops work together with Official Concessionaires, the Brand Owners and also The Airport Authorities. It is just not conceivable that these professional and compliant Organisations would indulge in such a practice.

***On the very rare occasion that a Consumer might believe that the product is not genuine.. there is a simple adage. "If it looks too cheap then it is too good to be true"! Likewise, Fakes almost always make a spelling mistake on the packaging... so check before you buy!

Best Duty-Free Shopping tip – do not compare prices!

What is the best Duty-Free shopping tip we can offer to you? Be careful when comparing prices and get to know the rules in advance.

Duty-Free shopping tip
Compare prices with caution!

If you are travelling soon, planning to shop duty-free and want the best deals, don’t compare prices or at least beware of those online price comparisons.

Why? Because, you’ll find yourself running around in circles trying to compare so many products, pack or bottle sizes and prices which probably do not apply to your journey plan, your destination, the currency exchange rate, or where you live.

Not to mention the Duty Free Allowances and limits permitted on arrival!

Duty Free on Arrival is here to assist you as best we can by pointing out and advising on the pitfalls in advance. We are not here to put a gloss on matters, just to promote one store or another.

Indeed we mention duty-free price comparison too on our site, but we suggest you go about it in a more accurate fashion. (see our summary below). The Tax Free shopping blog Tax Free Travel agrees with our advice too with a scathing report on some alleged duty-free comparison sites.

Price comparison for Duty-Free shopping is an almost impossible task, because there are so many different variables for each shopper. Not least your currency exchange rates and its daily fluctuation.

Duty Free Rio de Janeiro
Duty Free shop in Rio de Janeiro Galeão airport with prices shown in US Dollars

Here’s a good example: All prices in Brazilian Duty Free Shops are based on US Dollars, you will often get your change in US Dollars too, even if you pay in Yen, Pounds or Euros. Or, you might get your change in Brazilian Reais. But probably not your home currency.

This makes it confusing and often virtually impossible to compare prices if your home currency is not Dollars. How do you work out what currency you want to pay with and whether by cash or card?

Credit Card payment has other issues to be cautious of, because when you buy in some stores, the base currency is US Dollars and not local currency, this payment is then converted back to your home currency. In effect, this means you have two exchange rates to worry about, not one.

Another thing to watch out for is DCC or “dynamic currency conversion” where you pay by credit card, but in your home currency, even when you are abroad. This can be convenient, but it may give you an inferior exchange rate? The upside though, is it may save you that +/-3% overseas billing charge when you get home. Either way it is something to consider, before you shop.

All these factors can really confuse matters and make many of the duty free prices offered by price comparison sites, invalid or substantially different to the reality.

Duty-free spirits
Did you check the bottle sizes for your duty-free offer?

And, when you are buying liquids……..  (liquids can mean liquors, wines, beers, perfumes or even cosmetics), watch the bottle sizes being compared very carefully.

Whisky or Gin prices might be offered in one airport store in Litres, but the comparison site might compare it with 70cl or 75cl bottle sizes?

That’s a size difference of 33% …. more than enough to confuse the prices being compared.  So, don’t just look at the prices shown on the comparison site or that special promotion, make sure you check the bottle sizes too.

Duty Free Gibraltar
Duty Free shopping in Gibraltar near to Spain, but what is your allowance back home?

This store in Duty-Free Gibraltar clearly tells you the bottle sizes, but what size do you normally buy in nearby Spain?

What is your Duty Free Allowance back home when arriving from Gibraltar compared to the rules from from Spain?

In fact, EU residents can only take home one litre from Gibraltar, but from Spain there is no limit, because it is seen as a domestic journey.

Each traveler has their own plan, route and objectives, does the online price comparison really give a true reflection? Ask yourself the question before you press that go to my basket button.

Confused? For those who want to shop on their travels, we offer our best duty-free shopping tip in a summary….

Compare your prices, but do it yourself, by going to the store’s pre-order website for your destination. (Most airports or airlines now have one).

If you see a duty-free online price comparison*, check the bottle or pack sizes quoted?

Check the airport stores they compare and make your own comparison, before you buy.

In The European Union, many airport duty-free shops have two different prices …. do you know why and is like-with-like actually being compared? Are the prices being compared correctly?

You might be told that goods are cheaper at your destination, but can you take them in? Check you allowances on arrival first**

There are no hidden secrets to shopping duty-free, the open secret is to research in advance for yourself and make sure that you check before you fly!

*Travel Retailers don't like price comparison, unless of course, they know they are the cheapest. So retailer prices are rarely shared with comparison websites. Details are often "scraped" from retailer sites and in Duty Free, where there are many Tax Rules, this means that incorrect, inaccurate or differing products, sizes or prices could be compared. **In India, Australia, New Zealand, Barbados, Hong Kong, Singapore and other locations, duty-free tobaccos cannot be imported into the country. Or, at least, some territories only allow a one pack maximum. 

**Many countries now restrict the online display and sale of duty-free cigarettes or tobaccos, so the comparing of prices is impossible. The only way to get information is to go to travel forums and ask a question.
Internacional: Para buscar tiendas libres de impuestos, catálogos y precios, ingresa tu ciudad, aeropuerto o país de destino y haga clic "Go". Cuando encuentre la información de su destino haga clic en el icono rojo de Aduanas para la búsqueda restricciones aduaneros.

Para encontrar lojas duty free e os preços, inserir aeroporto ou destino, click e Go! A cota de isenção alfandegária refere-se ao seu país de chegada e não ao país de partida. Os regulamentos alfandegários podem ser encontrados clicando no botão aduaneiro para a esquerda ou procurando seu país de destino.

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