To shop or not to shop

That is ever the question in the departures hall…

Research shows that only one in 20 travelers consider shopping at an airport store a good idea. Most people are certain they will be able to beat any duty free offer online.

And they are not incorrect.

A flight comparison website found items costing less in a supermarket and a price comparison site found only 10% of products available in the airport cheaper than what they could find online.

How do duty and duty-free work?

Duty refers to the tax you pay for bringing a product across international borders. An exemption is an allowance that prevents you from having to pay tax twice (once when you buy it and another time when you bring it across the border).

Duty-free allows you not to pay tax in the country where you purchase the item (this does not mean you are exempt from taxes when you cross the border back home as you usually enjoy a tax exemption of $800 and anything over that will incur taxes.).

We tend to think that the saving is the tax-free element. This is why liquor and tobacco seem like the best deals – they are subject to the highest taxes.

The duty-free items in the airport are exempt from local import tax. So, the normally included duty tax on imported goods is not required. Added to this saving, duty-free shops in airports are also partly tax-free.

However, the savings do not have to be passed on to the customer and so the duty-free retailers usually pitch their prices just a touch below what someone would readily find online or in their local stores. The duty-free shops seem to be the real winners. In Dubai, the duty-free sales approach $2 billion a year.

Usually, the host government wants to ensure that the goods leave the country and this is why the shops are in the airport – but there are exceptions to this around the world with duty-free shops in the Philippines a mile away from the airport for instance.

Do remember that you may have an exemption allowance that runs according to the time you have been out of your country of residence. If you do not meet all the requirements you will end up paying taxes on the remaining amount.

The largest duty-free networks include World Duty-Free, Dufry, Gebr. Heinemann, DFS and Flemingo.

Happy duty-free shopping this way 👉🏻

First, do your research.

This is the absolute key to happy duty-free shopping.


A 1L bottle of Martini Bianco may be almost 51% cheaper in Berlin than Amsterdam. Visit to check and compare prices of alcohol. It is fair to expect good prices from Duty-Free for alcohol (with an exception for national liquor brands)

Cigars and Tobacco

Cigarettes can cost less than half in Moscow compared to Tel Aviv. These are normally heavily taxed, so duty-free makes good sense.

Jewelry/ Sunglasses

It is possible to get good deals on branded sunglasses and jewelry but generic purchases will probably not be cheaper at the airport.

Designer Clothes

You may find a happy deal at duty-free.

Skincare, Beauty, and Fragrances

Perfume can vary by 20% between Berlin and Dubai. A specific bottle of perfume might be 25% less in Berlin than in Dubai. Fragrances and makeup are often discounted at duty-free.


Chances are great that any electronics will be cheaper at a big box store. You also cannot try anything before you buy and if you regret your purchase it may be impossible to return.

Candy and Confectionary

A captive audience is often also a peckish one… All the food for purchase will most likely be expensive.

Across the spectrum, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, and Tel Aviv consistently sell goods for the highest prices and Berlin may be the cheapest airport.

This is the best website for all your general Duty-free shopping research.

If you want to concentrate on your specific destinations you can use one of the following websites:

Amsterdam –

Athens –

Budapest, Bratislava, Sydney and three dozen airports in Austria, Germany, Italy, and Norway –

Copenhagen –

Delhi –

Dubai –

Dublin –

London, Edinburgh, and two dozen UK airports –

Montevideo –

Moscow – or

New York, Washington, Miami and 11 other US airports –

Seoul –

Singapore –

Tel Aviv –

Tokyo –

Consider Pre-Ordering!

Once you have completed your research you may prefer to pre-order and pick up your purchases on the way through.

Images via ©–; © kychan –