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Travel | Traveling
What Should You Buy Duty-Free At An Airport?


If you’re like many jet-setters, you’re ready to travel at the drop of a hat. Traveling all over the world means bringing souvenirs and other items you frequently use across the country. Bringing items from another country to the United States may require you to pay a “duty” fee, which is essentially a tax. As you embark on new international adventures, you may notice the duty-free shops at the airport. These shops don’t require you to pay tax at the time of purchase. Here’s what travelers should consider purchasing at duty-free shops to save money, and what purchases should be avoided.
Duty free

First, it’s important to understand what a “duty” is. When you bring products from another country to the U.S., you may have to pay a tax, known as a “duty.” So, if you bring a $200 bottle of whiskey home from the Macallan Distillery in Ireland, you may end up paying double the amount of taxes on it. In other words, you will pay tax on it when you purchase it in Ireland, then pay another tax after you bring it stateside.

However, if you’re a U.S. resident, you could have either a $200, $800, or $1,600 exemption, depending on the country you visited and the items you’re bringing back. Additionally, there are limits on particular items such as alcohol, cigarettes, cigars, or tobacco items.

So, duty-free stores let you buy products without having to pay tax in the country you buy them in, hence the name duty-free. But, even if your $200 bottle of Scotch isn’t taxed in Ireland, you may still be subject to taxation once you land in America.
The amount you save when shopping in a duty-free store depends on the country you’re in and the exchange rate. For example, European duty-free stores are duty-free and tax-free. Therefore, you could save up to about 25% off your purchases by stopping by a duty-free shop.

So, if you’re looking for some good buys, and have some left over currency, here are some items worth purchasing while on your international adventure.

  • Liquor. While you aren’t allowed to drink your duty-free libations while flying, travelers who enjoy fine liquor may find a deal at a duty-free shop. Typically, you’ll have a wide assortment of liquors to choose from and many are often on sale.
  • International beauty products. Foreign beauty products like French micellar water or Fijian coconut oil or perfume—not available in America—can be a fun and affordable way to spend your extra currency. Additionally, you might be able to get good deals on brand name products like Chanel perfume or MAC cosmetics.
  • Cigarettes and cigars. Some duty-free stores may offer special deals or discounts on cigarettes or cigars, like a buy-one-carton-get one-free deal. But there are limits on the number of cigarettes and cigars you can buy from another country, usually 1,000 cigarettes and 100 cigars.
  • Exclusive products. Some duty-free shops may offer familiar products in unusual packaging, making your purchase a unique buy. Look for larger-sized items that are duty-free exclusive, rare packaging that you haven’t seen stateside, and travel exclusives from popular brands.
  • Watches. But no matter if you’re walking by an airport duty-free shop or on a cruise, the allure of designer watches may draw you in. Some duty-free shops may offer deals on watches—just be sure to check a few things before you buy. Always check online for stores back home that may carry the same watch. Their prices could be even more affordable. Also, check online discount retailers for their prices. You also want to make sure to recheck the duty-free “deal” with a currency converter.
  • Jewelry. You might see some elegant jewelry at the airport while waiting for your flight. Normally, there is a decent selection to tempt travelers, including Swarovski. Just remember, the necklace or bracelet may look exquisite during a fancy event, but better deals could be available. Check online for other retailers.
  • Sunglasses. There are many famous luxury brands you’ll come across while shopping duty-free, Michael Kors and Versace included. If you’re wanting to splurge for vacation, your sunglasses broke, or you forgot them altogether, you can find a pair at a duty-free shop. Just like with other products, make sure to verify the prices with a currency converter. Also, search Google quickly to look for similar items at your destination for a lower price.

It’s important to point out that before you buy anything at a duty-free shop, make sure to compare the item with prices back home. This way, you can ensure you’re getting a good price for the product.
While there are many products that are worth your while, there are others that you may want to skip until you get home. Some items to pass on when shopping at a duty-free store include:

  • Souvenirs. Usually, souvenirs are the most marked up items in the store since the merchants are banking on the fact that you need a last minute gift on your way out of the country. So, instead, find local goods and souvenirs when you have time to look, before heading to the airport.
  • Luggage. If you’re buying luggage at the airport, chances are you’re in a bind. For this reason, duty-free merchants may mark up the luggage prices since they know you’re out of options. So, wait until you’re back home to purchase new luggage unless it truly is an emergency.
  • Magazines and books. In-flight entertainment like books and magazines can help keep you occupied while flying, but purchasing these items at a duty-free store may cost you more than buying them before you leave for your trip.