Many travelers get excited by the duty-free outlets at international airports, often spending much more than they intended to on confectionery, cosmetics, and other goods that are much cheaper at the airport than they normally are. But few people know how duty-free shopping really works, and how you should use it to your advantage.

Simply put, “duty” is a tax on internationally purchased items. But unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as paying no tax on all duty-free goods. Duty-free shopping can be a bit confusing, and it’s easy to get caught with some hefty bills to pay!

Keep reading to find out 10 things you didn’t know about duty-free stores.

12 You Might Have To Pay Duty On Duty-Free Items

Just because something is duty-free doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay duty on it. You might not have to pay in the country where you’re buying the item, but you could end up having to pay duties when you get home.

Upon returning back to your home country, you’ll have to declare what you’ve bought and possibly pay tax if the item falls outside your exemption. Every country has different rules regarding exemptions, but there’s normally a limit to how much of something you can buy before you have to pay tax.

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11 It’s Never A Good Idea To Throw Away Your Receipts

Because you have to declare what you’ve bought when you get home, it’s always a good idea to keep the receipts. The customs process goes much more smoothly if you can produce all the paperwork that’s asked of you by the immigration officer.

It can be a hassle to keep all your receipts, especially if you’re on a big trip and are trying to declutter your purse and luggage. It might be an idea to purchase a travel wallet where you can put all your documents, including your receipts.

10 Every Country Has Varied Import Limits

Every country has different import limits and exemptions, so you should never assume that you won’t have to pay duty on a duty-free item. It’s entirely possible that you will have to pay when you get home. But knowing how much you’ll have to pay and what your limits are can be confusing because different countries have different laws.

It’s best to familiarize yourself with what the rules are in your home country and keep in mind any tax that you’ll have to pay before you do your duty-free shopping.

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9 You Can Use Your Family Member’s Exemptions To Spend More Money Without Paying Tax

Some countries will allow you to be able to spend more overseas and still not have to pay tax when you return, by combining exemptions. This means that if you’re allowed to bring $800 worth of goods in but you’re bringing $1000 worth, you can still get out of paying tax on the excess if you’re traveling with family members.

In a family of three, for example, you’ll be allowed to combine your exemptions to total $2300. In that case, you would have to spend over $2300 to have to pay tax upon arrival.

8 Some Items Are Actually More Expensive In Duty-Free Stores 


Duty-free shopping is renowned for being exceptionally cheap, and a fine way of nabbing expensive items for a quarter of the usual price. In reality, though, not all items work out to be cheaper at duty-free stores. For example, wine is often severely overcharged, even if some brands are cheaper. The same applies to confectionery, which can be marked up as much as 150 percent.

It never hurts to plan before you shop and do a little price comparing. That way you’ll know if you’re really getting a good deal or being completely ripped off.

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6 Others Actually Are Ridiculously Cheap


While some items are actually more expensive when you buy them duty-free, it’s true that there are a lot of bargains within duty-free shops. Cosmetics is one area that usually boasts incredible discounts, to the point where it’s worth saving all your shopping for the airport. Some designer makeup brands can have up to $25 off their normal retail prices.

Cigarettes also tend to be worth buying duty-free. Keep in mind, though, that many countries have limitations on importing tobacco. In Australia, for example, tobacco purchases are limited to 25g at duty-free outlets.

4 You Can Start Shopping 30 Days Before Your Departure Date

There’s no reason to leave your duty-free shopping until your departure date, even though that is often a good way of passing time during a long layover. You can start your duty-free shopping online from the comfort of your home 30 days before your departure date.

The benefit of shopping online is that you have time to think your purchases through clearly, so you’ll be less likely to overspend on items you don’t actually need or want. We all know that can sometimes happen in the airport rush!

3 And You Can Compare Duty-Free Prices Of Other Airports

Another great advantage of doing your shopping in advance is that you have the chance to compare prices from duty-free outlets at different airports around the world. This is especially useful if you’re going on a trip that features lots of destinations.

Duty Free Addictallows you to see a ranking of duty-free products by price in countries that are frequently traveled to and frequently connecting stops. By knowing where the goods you want will be the cheapest, you can shop more strategically as you travel and avoid wasting money unnecessarily.

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2 You Can Earn Transit Vouchers To Use On Duty-Free Shopping

On many items, duty-free shopping offers customers enough discount to leave them feeling satisfied. But it is also possible to save even more by earning transit vouchers from different airports. Several international airports offer their frequent travelers these vouchers to spend on duty-free shopping.

Changi Airport, a major airport in Singapore, is one that gives frequently travelers vouchers that are worth between $20 and $40 to spend on the various duty-free outlets. Similarly, Dubai Airport has schemes to reward travelers who often visit, including vouchers for restaurants within the airport.

1 It’s Better To Buy Before You Fly

Many people save their duty-free shopping for the airport on the way home—this is particularly handy if you’ve forgotten to buy souvenirs for loved ones! But a lot of seasoned travelers actually recommend doing duty-free shopping at the beginning of a trip. Often you’ll max out your savings overseas and have nothing left for nabbing some great duty-free discounts.

Several airports now have a shop and collect service. This means you can do your duty-free shopping before you leave and then pick it up from the airport when you return, so you don’t have to cart it around with you.

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