Duty Free Shopping complaints – returns – confiscations

Duty Free complaints
Perhaps we can help you?

We receive numerous Duty Free Shopping complaints about returns, refunds, faulty goods and especially the confiscation of liquids.

There is a myriad of rules associated with Duty Free and some of the problems experienced are due to travelers not knowing the rules beforehand.

The other difficulty is that you buy in one place and then fly off to another, this could mean that your goods are on the other side of the world from where you purchased them. Not an easy problem to solve.

It can also be quite difficult to track down the Retailer where you purchased and to find out how to make contact with them.

We do not sell any goods from our site, all we do is offer an information service for those wishing to research and buy on their travels.

Duty Free on Arrival is entirely independent from all Travel Retail Operators, we have no association or bias towards one or the other. So, you will get a completely impartial appraisal to your question.

Our mission is simply to offer useful information and tips, so that you can get the best out of the shopping on your travels.

If this helps people to get the bargains they were hoping for, then we are doing our job! Happy shopping, because a satisfied shopper comes back again!

Feel free to contact us, post or check before you fly on our global shopping guide.


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.

Useful Travel Sites for Duty Free Shoppers, check before you fly!

Everybody wishing to shop Duty Free needs to buy a ticket first! These are some useful travel sites for our visitors to help them with their travel plans.

We focus on Duty Free shopping, but to do this you need to be travelling. So we have added a page of useful travel sites or blogs. There are so many rules and regulations for shopping, let’s get the travel problems out of the way first.

Late Departure
Late Departure: news and information site for airlines and airports

Late Departure is a site dedicated to airports and airlines, it features news and reports from around the world.

This site is the one stop shop for everything airline or airport and also has links to the most famous flight bloggers.

Britain’s Money Saving Expert has a great in-depth report on how to save money on your various travel spends, including the cheap flight option.

Their 28 point Cheap Flights report gives masses of good advice on how to save when flying.

Money Saving Duty Free advice
Britain’s leading money saving site.

You can also check out other options like Travel Insurance or using you credit cards abroad.

Although the tips may not apply to people living outside The UK, much of the advice given works around the world.

The Tourist Refund Scheme with Tax Free Shopping – how, where and why?

The traveler can often get a Tourist Refund of the tax he pays on his shopping when travelling abroad. This system is very common in Europe, where many visitors from Asia take advantage of this refund scheme.

Tourist Refund Scheme
Tax Free Shopping Tourist Refund service in European airports

In which countries can you recover this local sales tax? Better known as VAT, IVA or GST.

To track down the various Tax Free shopping rules for your destination, just  search our global Tax Free directory for all the relevant locations.

The rules vary depending on where you live, where you travel to and what you buy. Another key thing is to understand the difference between Tax Free and Duty Free shopping. This is important, because 90% of the time and certainly in most of Europe, you cannot get the tax back on cigarettes, tobaccos or cigars. The same applies to wines and spirits in many Countries.

So, when it comes to the Tourist Refund Scheme, there is no such thing as “The Duty Free Refund”, as it is sometimes described. Duty applies to Liquors or tobaccos and it is very rare to get a refund of the Excise Duties levied on these products*.

Tax Refund for Tourist
VAT Tax refund in Bangkok airport…. but watch out for the queues to get your cash back!

What we are really talking about, is getting the tax refunded on big-ticket items like mobile phones, computers, cameras, fashion items or luxuries like watches, jewelry or handbags and leather goods.

But, these refunds can be big, because the price is often high. In Europe it could be 20%+ of the price you pay in the store, a big saving on that iPhone 7+ or a Gucci handbag.

USA Tax Free
Louisiana Tax Free

One of the big surprises for the Tourist is in the USA and indeed you can get your tax back in the United States, or at least in two States we know about. The States of Louisiana and Texas both operate a Tax Free Shopping refund service and many major Malls have refund booths ready for their visitors.

Meanwhile in another state, the Philadelphia Tax Free shopping scheme, appears to be slightly different and only applies to shoes and clothing. This state used to have a Tax Free website, but it seems to have disappeared now.

The upside to refund shopping is that you can find a much wider variety of stores to shop in downtown and a big range of brands and products. The downside is understanding the different rules for each location and actual refund process.

With normal airport Duty Free shops, the tax is already deducted for you, this makes life much simpler. But the range and time you have to spare is limited.

Tourist Refund BKK
Bangkok Thailand Tax Refund facilities

The big downside for Tourist Refund shopping can be the long lines at the airport to recover your cash. London is a huge shopping destination,  but at Heathrow airport the refund lines can snake around the Terminal at peak times.

Clearly, every tourist must decide what they wish to buy, where and how, our top tip is always to research in advance and check before you fly!

Is the shopping on Cruises Duty Free prices or more costly than normal?

The age old shopping question asking “are cruises duty free prices?”, or bringing Duty Free liquor on board with you, goes round and round on many travel forums. It is a complicated debate, because much depends on the cruise line, where you are travelling to and where you came from.

Cruises Duty Free
Is shopping on Cruises at the best Duty Free prices? Check before you sail!

But, if you are a drinker, the only real tax free whisky, gin or vodka you will consume will be from the bottle you take home with you, because most major operators restrict your use on cruises of duty free alcohol whilst you are on board. At best, you might be allowed a tipple in your cabin.

Smoking and the purchase of duty free cigarettes is another issue too. There was a recent media report of a person being discharged from the ship because they threw their unfinished smoke overboard.

Cruising is a healthy business these days, no smoking, expensive drinking, so plan your shopping in advance with our global store and information guide. This will tell you many of the rules associated to your specific cruise line and the relevant exemptions and limits when you return home.

The best advice we can give is to buy your liquor in the airport if you are flying home internationally. If you are on a domestic flight, you are going to need to pack it in your checked baggage, because you cannot carry it on the aircraft unless it is in an official sealed STEB security bag. The store on board ship may give you one of these bags, but you won’t get one if you buy in the port store.

In Europe, most cruises are around the Med, but ships often stop in a non-EU country, like Turkey or Norway, because this then qualifies them to sell goods at real Duty Free prices. (They cannot sell duty free goods if they only visit EU Countries). Booze in Southern Europe is usually much cheaper than in Northern Europe, so buying downtown is just as economic.

Other products on board? Well, almost all other goods, such as watches, jewellery, cosmetics, perfumes, gifts or electronics only attract local sales taxes, so the likely discount is quite limited.

Cruise Duty Free
Cruises Duty Free. These giants have numerous Luxury and Duty Free Stores on board for your pleasure

Anyway, many people like to go ashore and browse the shops and most major cruise stops have Duty Free Port Stores too and our destination directory will give you more information about the stores, allowances and any other restrictions.

If you are boarding or return to a Port in Texas, beware! Ports in this area now have Customs controls, especially for liquors and tobaccos and even if you bought them Duty Free, the local tax still has to be paid on your goods.

It’s an odd coincidence that Texas is an anagram for Taxes!

This is not exactly a glowing report about the bargains to be found on board ship, but our mission is to highlight the reality for travelers and alert them to some of the pitfalls. Not to gloss over the reality to promote one store or another.

Perhaps the best tip we can give you is look out for the stopovers at those “Special Territories” or Duty Free Zones, these are places like Gibraltar, Macau, Colon, Jersey, The Canary Islands, Aruba or Hong Kong.

Then, it is almost certain that the best bargains are to be found on dry land*.

To check all other destinations before you sail, Duty Free on arrival has a global shopping guide for you.

* There is no suggestions that the Cruise or Ferry Operators featured with our graphics on this page are in any way offering inferior prices or product mixes to their passengers, compared to other Duty Free stores around the world. Nor that they impose any specific restrictions on Liquors or Tobaccos.

The only way for consumers to find out is to compare in advance or check the prices on board before they disembark.

Facebook Arrivals Duty Free photo albums and global store guide

Please feel free to view our Facebook Arrivals Duty Free photo albums, where we keep an up to date record of the many stores visited around the world. This gives you an exact photo representation of the stores in many locations and by different travel modes.

The albums are separated by the Duty Free shopping categories, such as in airports, on airlines, by ferry or cruise ship or crossing the border by land. We also have a section for Tax free shopping, Tax Refund Shopping and the various rules.

Arrivals Duty Free Facebook photos
Check before you fly our Facebook photo albums of Duty Free stores around the globe

We are adding photos to our Facebook Arrivals Duty Free albums all the time, but we are always short of accurate pictures from new destinations. So feel free to contact us with your images for display.

Many people want to shop duty free, but travelers have many questions about what they can buy and where. If you have a question or a story about shopping on your travels, please contact us, this will help us and all our readers.

You can tag us @arrivalsdutyfree or just search for Duty Free on Arrival we can also be found on Twitter and Instagram by the same name.

Our mission is to help you when you wish to go Duty Free Shopping, so any information you provide will help us all.

To search for stores or rules by destination, just go to our global directory for detailed information. Browse Duty Free stores by Country in our shopping guide for more detail.

If you want to search in another language, just click the flags at the top of the page to check before you fly in your own language.

Duty Free on Arrival ® Duty Free na Chegada ® Duty Free a la Llegada ® Registered Trademarks 2009 All rights reserved/icons © www.dutyfreeonarrival.com 2016


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.

Shopping for GoPro Duty Free in airport shops, are Cameras good value?

To compare GoPro Duty Free prices, or for any other digital camera is about as complex and often as meaningless as it gets, because there are so many different factors to consider.

Comparing prices for cameras across global airport shops, is a somewhat irrelevant exercise because most people will not change their flights just to get a digital bargain. Not even to get that shot of a spectacular travel location, like Iguazu Falls in Brazil.

So, even if a GoPro Duty Free price or that Canon, Nikon or Sony digital camera is cheaper in the Hong Kong airport stores, how many people are going to actually change their itinerary and fly to Hong Kong to buy one? Very few!

GoPro in Duty Free Border Stores
Iguazu the ideal location for that GoPro Duty Free spectacular. Border Free Shops between Argentina and Brazil sell cameras

The most important issue is to be able to check before you fly for the duty free stores en route to your destination and the rules applicable to your journey. The only proper way to do this is to find and study the pre-order duty free websites for your trip and this is exactly what we do to help you.

Here’s an example of the information we provide for your destination, where our various search pages for Singapore shopping help you to find all the relevant stores and if available their store links. On this page you can track down “iShop Duty Free”, Singapore Changi airport’s very own shopping portal.

You will also find the Duty Free Allowances applied for Customs on arrival. Remember, you might buy a camera at a bargain price in Miami airport duty free, but then find you are over the Customs limit when you arrive in Singapore. All these factors need to be considered and they all make the comparing of prices difficult.

Tax Free Singapore
Duty Free Electronics store Singapore. The local GST sales tax is already deducted in airport stores.

Most important of all GoPro or other digital cameras are not “Duty Free” at all, they are actually “Tax Free” which means that they only have the local sales tax deducted in airports. There is quite a difference between the terms Tax Free or Duty Free shopping and often the saving is not much great than your local downtown store at home.

Tax Refund Service
Buy a GoPro in Thailand? Tourist Shopper tax refund service pays the taxes in cash at the airport.

There is another method to buy Tax Free and that is to reclaim the local sales tax on your purchase when you return home. This is known as the tax-refund scheme and is available to many global long-haul travelers.

This is often a better method to get the best prices on a camera, because it means you can shop at your leisure downtown, rather than when rushing through the airport.

Global Blue is the world’s largest tax refund service for tourists travelling around the globe, there are many other alternative schemes, also featured on our information pages. Many Countries, like Thailand (featured photo), run their own service and in Bangkok instant cash is returned to you at the airport, even if you bought your goods by credit card.

So overall camera shoppers?

Check before you fly and find the local stores on your planned itinerary, Duty Free, Tax Free or Downtown

Make sure of your Duty Free allowances, back into your home country and also into your various destinations

Check to see if you qualify to receive the Tax Free shopping refund and  get paid in cash at the airport on your way home

Ask your store about the worldwide guarantee and returns policy on Duty Free goods, bef0re you buy

Global shopping for electronics is not easy, hopefully we have added some good tips and pointers, before you leave home.

Overall conclusion, if you are not sure that you can save more than 20% on your travels, buy at home and be re-assured that you are happy and familiar with your camera before you travel. At least then you will get those spectacular shots and can easily return your camera if you experience any unexpected issues with it.

*In Britain and certain other countries there is an airport store chain called Dixons Travel this gives you a very good guideline to products and prices, because currently the UK has some of the cheapest electronic prices around the world. Plus, due to “Brexit” the Pound has dropped, so prices in Britain are cheaper than ever, especially for those with Dollars, Yen or Euros to spend.

Tax Free Shopping in Duty Free shops explained, what is the difference?

People expect bargains on their travels, Tax Free shopping in airports or on airlines has always conjured up images of super cheap prices in the mind of passengers. Today, airports are lined with Duty Free stores, airlines with the seat-back catalogue and now that touch screen video. All designed to make you spend when travelling.

But, for the travelling shopper there is a confusing array of rules, regulations, terms and prices to negotiate on the way to those bargains. Not to mention the Security or Customs hurdles that have to be overcome.

One of the most frequented search terms online is “what is duty free?“, the other is “what is the difference between Tax Free and Duty Free?“.

Please let us explain in a simple fashion.

Cigarettes, tobaccos or cigars and alcohol like duty free whisky or wine, are all sold in Duty Free Shops without the inclusion of the normal Duties (Taxes) which are levied on these products in the local market. Originally these special taxes were known as “Excise Duties”. In high Taxation areas, such as Scandinavian countries, these products cost a fortune in their respective domestic markets due to these local (Excise) taxes and generally speaking, tobacco prices are just going up and up all around the world.

So, when you fly, these products can often be bought much cheaper, because these special local taxes (Excise Duties) are discounted from the price for international travellers. Hence the name (Excise) Duty Free shop.

Cigars duty free
Duty Free Cigars in the Dominican Republic

Add to that the relevant local sales taxes such as the Value Added Tax (IVA, VAT, Gst), then the savings are substantial in the airports because both taxes are deducted for you.

In some countries the different taxes added to the price of your Marlboro cigarettes, Absolut vodka or Johnnie Walker whisky can account for up to 70% of the local domestic price. Now you know why you can find a carton of Dunhill cigarettes for +/- US$20 in Dubai Duty Free, compared to a much higher domestic price elsewhere.

And then there is what many airport stores describe as “Tax Free” prices and it is often a clear distinction, such as in the United Kingdom where stores used to be split in two between the Tax Free and Duty Free product sections.

Of course, this depends on where you are and in which airport arrivals or departure lounge you are in, because every country has their own local rules. But, the simple rule of thumb is that Tax Free free really means only less the local sales tax, value added tax or gst as it is often known in Asia.

These sales taxes are usually nowhere near as high as those Excise Duties levied on liquors or tobacco and more often than not, just a percentage of the local sales price. Perhaps between 5% and 20% of the net price.

So, products like clothing, fashion goods, perfumes, watches, cosmetics, food, chocolates and really anything else you see in an airport store, (apart from tobacco or alcohol), only has the local sales tax deducted. Hence the different description of “Tax Free”.

Tax Free airport store
Next Tax Free, UK airport fashion store… there is no “Excise Duty” on fashion items, so the goods sold here are Tax Free not Duty Free.

What does this mean?

It means that the savings on goods described as “Tax Free” in airports or on airlines, may not be as great as you think. Often, such products can be bought locally at your destination at the same prices or cheaper. Why, because many destinations have lower local sales taxes and lower prices and/or their currency is weaker too. All these factors bring the prices down compared to your home airport.

Of course, much depends on where you live, your local tax rate, your currency value and where you travel to.

What is Duty Free
Tax Free or Duty Free?

Which is why we advise travelling shoppers to use our global airport shopping guide and to compare the prices, products, rules and regulations at all their travel points, before they fly.

And this is the service we provide. So, if you wish to pre-plan your holiday shopping, you can check and compare best duty free prices with our search portal.

Just choose your language by clicking your flag, enter your destination in your own language and “go”!

Buying Duty Free cigarettes for price savings gets more complicated

Buying Duty Free cigarettes or tobaccos is still about the best price saving product line when you travel, but buyers need to beware of the growing number of restrictions being imposed at Customs on arrival.

cigarettes duty free
Duty Free cigarettes not permitted

The original duty free shop was the one that sold cigarettes and alcohol at hugely discounted prices, it was this concept that the phrase “duty frees” was built on and has since spurned a global retail hub in airports and on airlines for those seeking a bargain.

But, times have changed and there are more changes to come for the smokers and drinkers amongst us.

Let the buyer beware, especially the smoker and they are best to check before they fly to find out what they can buy in an airport and more importantly, what they can take in to their destination.

duty free cigarettes
Airport Duty Free cigarette display

In 2016 there are numerous countries that will not permit the import of duty free cigarettes. The list is getting longer with Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Sr Lanka and Barbados stopping or reducing the duty free cigarette allowance. These rules apply in some countries, even if you offer to pay the tax on your tobacco.

Next year, the duty free cigarette allowance into Australia for travellers will be reduced to 25 sticks* or one pack, down from 50 sticks*, 2 packs at present. Other countries are planning similar reductions in the future. In the UK airport shopping for cigarettes is now conducted in a special area behind a screen, another rule to deter the sale of duty free tobaccos.

Oddly, there is one known exception where the Customs limits and exemptions have increased, Switzerland. This European, but non-EU Member State is one of the few to increase the allowance to 240 cigarettes on arrival. But, you can only take advantage of these new limits if you buy at the Swiss airport duty free arrivals shops. Why, because most, if not all other airports do not sell cartons of 240 cigarettes (12 packs of 20 sticks).

Duty Free Allowance
Airport Arrivals Store Switzerland cigarette allowance increased to 240 cigarettes

You can check all the world-wide duty free allowances, limits and restrictions, just go to our search pages, enter your destination and click the red Customs icon for details as to what you can buy, or not! Some pre-travel research might just save you time, money or even having those cheap cigarettes confiscated on arrival.

*The conventional cigarette pack contains 20 sticks, the carton 10 packs totalling 200 cigarettes. Many airports now sell multi-packs of 400, 600 or even 1000 cigarettes. It is very rare to find airport duty free stores selling packs of 25 cigarettes or cartons of 240 (12 pack of 20).

This means that if you want to take in 25 or 50 cigarettes into places like Australia or New Zealand, you need to buy them in the airport arrivals stores located in these countries.

** Duty Free on arrival does not promote or sell duty free cigarettes, tobaccos or cigars. We just provide useful information to assist consumers who may wish to buy on their travels.

Pay £5 extra on arrival at the airport to skip the Passport Control lines?

We have all been there after a long haul flight and arriving at the airport, the long lines at immigration to clear the Border Controls, or even after a short distance, when the wait in line is potentially longer than the flight you have just taken.

Just announced in the British Media, Scotland’s Edinburgh airport have come up with a novel solution… “pay a £5 premium to jump the queues and line up in the fast-track Passport lane“, thus beating the wait for a price.

airport arrivals
Pay for fast airport arrival?

Airports around the world are big into what they call “non-aeronautical revenues”, this means any money they can raise from outside the normal landing fees. Business operations such as airport duty free shops, catering, car parking, transport all fall under this category and now, so do new streams such as fast-track for security or for the airline check-in facilities. Other schemes include paid for wifi or the use of airport lounges if not a frequent flyer.

arrivals duty free
arriving at the airport* on time then finding long lines at Passport Control?

But, this is the most creative airport ancillary revenue concept to date and one that has already created uproar on social media. Oddly, there are thoughts that this new option will fly, especially with business travellers, but the idea leads to all kinds of complications.

What happens, for example, if you are a non British or EU Citizen arriving passenger? Will you be able to remove that long wait to be cleared into Great Britain? Will your fast-track entry be a person or an e-gate? What happens if you pay but the wait time is no different to the non-payers, will you get a refund and how?

There is enough to do at the airport on arrival already, that long walk to the gate, immigration procedures, collect baggage, collect duty free perhaps, clear Customs, change money, meet friends and family, transport to your destination.

What next, a fast track line for a car park exit ticket? Like a sort of “reverse drop off charge”?

One thing is for sure, this debate will run and run and if introduced, every airport will copy it, because they will not be able to resist the new revenue stream.

To find out more about global airport shopping facilities at arrivals around the world, check with us at duty free on arrival ….

*Ryanair are one of the world’s greatest initiators of ancillary revenue streams and we are not suggesting that this new Passport fast-track initiative is their idea. It’s just that Ryanair are one of the world’s best on-time airlines and there is a great photo of them arriving at Barcelona airport early….. already saving their passengers time and money! So the airline gets you there early or on time and the airport then charges you not to lose what you have gained?

Oslo airport reveals the world’s largest duty free arrivals store

Buying duty free on arrival is a little known concept to European or North American travellers who have always expected to buy their tax free goods on departure and carry them around the globe for export. But there are two countries in Europe where you can also buy on arrival, Switzerland and Norway.

At Osyeslo’s Gardermoen airport, inbound arrival duty free shopping has been available for over 10 years, breaking the traditional convention of outbound selling in the departure lounge. Yesterday the Norwegian airport authorities and their partners Travel Retail Norway, previewed their new store in the baggage claim area. With 4000sq metres it will eventually be the largest store in the world to shop for duty free on arrival, rather than on departure.

Around the globe, flyers can shop on arrival in most Asian airports, some in China, Australasia and across the Pacific in all of Central and Latin America.

Duty Free on arrival Thailand
Bangkok arrivals duty free store baggage claim

In Brazil and Argentina more than 30% of the trade is carried out in stores on arrival in the baggage claim area. In fact, the Brazilian duty free allowances allows for the purchase of up to 12 litres of whisky when purchased in the arrivals hall and you can see the cases stacked high, ready for the arriving passengers.

Overall, the world is starting to grasp the practicality of the concept of buying on arrival. Not only does this facilitate e-commerce for the stores, who have now introduced online duty free shopping, but this leads to easy collection of the goods too. Airlines are also waking up to the idea by introducing home delivery for some of the products they sell on board. Technically these delivered goods are neither tax or duty free, the airlines just pay the tax for you, so they can deliver to your home.

Next year, it is slated that Russia and their Eastern European neighbours will also introduce shopping on arrival in airports and Japan has also decided (again) to explore the idea.

Clearly the traveller is moving online and is pre-planning the journey in advance, whilst seeking quick and easy solutions to smooth this journey, including shopping. Consumers looking for duty free bargains are seeking the best prices by comparing in advance. These arrivals facilities add to that convenience and Oslo airport has seen the opportunity and grasped it with their giant new store.

To check where also you can buy on arrival and the duty free allowances for that country, check before you fly!