What Is Duty Free?

Duty-free shopping offers international travelers a way to save money on a diverse array of merchandise, from dazzling high-end jewellery to premium liquor. However, many travelers aren’t clear how duty-free shopping works, or how to make the most out of the experience.

To begin, a "duty" refers to a tax or fee placed on goods by government entities. Merchants who import goods and sell them to consumers who are leaving their country aren't charged a duty on these products. This allows sellers to pass the savings along to their customers, giving savvy shoppers the opportunity to grab fantastic merchandise at bargain prices.

Travelers can find duty-free products at international airports, border towns, ports, cruise ships and even on-board international flights—locations that cater to international travelers. Generally speaking, to take advantage of duty-free deals, you need to be leaving a country for at least 48 hours.

Discover a Variety of Exciting Products

Duty-free shopping allows you to score fabulous deals on cosmetics, fragrances, dinnerware, jewellery, watches, children's items, chocolates, candy, cigarettes, liquor and more. Consumers can choose luxury goods from a mesmerizing collection of designers, such as Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole, Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang.

What’s more, some manufacturers actually test-market their products at duty-free stores, just to get a sense of how well an item might do with an international consumer base. With duty-free shopping, it's possible to sample a product that's not yet sold on the open market.

Expect Substantial Savings

The amount of duty-free savings you can enjoy varies with the product and the country. However, items that typically carry high duty rates, such as tobacco products and liquor, usually offer the best deals. With these products, it's common to save up to 50% off the retail price. However, you can still receive discounts of 25% or more on luxury items, which can represent a substantial savings of hundreds of dollars.

When shopping duty-free, it's wise to have an idea of how much an item normally costs. That will allow you to quickly calculate the savings and determine just how much of a bargain you'll be receiving. In addition, travelers interested in purchasing an extensive amount of duty-free items should plan ahead. Most governments have dollar limits on how much merchandise you can take into or out of their country. If you exceed these limits, you may have to pay a surcharge. Despite this fee, however, most duty-free shoppers still come out far ahead.