7 Tips to Get You Duty-Free Shopping Like a Pro

Before you grab that bottle of Johnnie Walker, take a look at our top tips to get you great deals and duty-free shopping like a pro in no time.Read More

Shopping is part of the fun of travel. (Source: Shutterstock / testing)

For many of us, part of the fun of travel is the shopping. And while you’re feeling great about bringing back that truly authentic item that you can’t get stateside, what about a quick spin through duty-free before heading to the gate? That can be fun shopping, too. But is it worth it? Are prices really better? What items have the best deals? Before you grab that bottle of Johnnie Walker, take a look at our tips below. We’ll have you duty-free shopping like a pro in no time – while getting the best deals as you shop.

1: Know the rules about duty free limits.

Only one bottle can be brought in duty free. (Source: Shutterstock / Willy Barton)
Only one bottle can be brought in duty free. (Source: Shutterstock / Willy Barton)

Items purchased from a duty-free shop are tax-free only in the country in which they were purchased. In most cases, however, you are able to bring $800 worth of (legal) purchases into the U.S. tax-free. This is called the Personal Exemption / Allowance. Importantly, there are lots of exceptions. For example, you can bring only a single, one-liter bottle of alcohol into the U.S. duty-free. Additional bottles will be subject to a flat duty and other taxes.

Further, different duty rates apply to goods from different countries. Also, anything you ship will be subject to all relevant duties and taxes. Duty free applies only to what you can carry on your person. Be sure to check the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website for details.

2: Keep your receipts.

All merchandise purchased overseas must be declared at the U.S. border, regardless of whether or not you expect to pay duty on it. To keep your U.S. customs experience hassle free, keep all receipts for purchased items close at hand; this will help when completing that U.S. customs declaration form during the last few minutes of your flight – or in case questions arise once you land. Trust us: You don’t want to be rifling through your luggage for a tiny slip of paper after a nine-hour flight.

3: Know what you would pay for that item at home.

Check online before buying. (Shutterstock / Song _about_summer)
Check online before buying. (Shutterstock / Song _about_summer)

You know that Tag Heuer Link Lady Quartz watch you’ve been pining for? It might be less expensive at a duty-free shop. Then again, it might not be. Before you buy, make sure you know the retail price back home. Also, make sure you know whether the item is eligible for duty-free status in the U.S. and, if so, whether the duty free price exceeds your Personal Exemption / Allowance.

If you didn’t get a chance to check the domestic price before you left, jump on the airport WiFi and check online — that should give you a good indication of what you might expect to pay at home for the item.

4: Know where to buy.

The best deals are generally in the shops where international foot traffic is high. Think international airports, ports, border towns, cruise ships, and areas near foreign embassies. Steer clear of shops in more remote locations. Prices and the quality of goods are likely to be less favorable.

5: Save more on higher-priced items.

Consider duty free for higher-priced items. (Source: Shutterstock / Yurchyks)
Consider duty free for higher-priced items. (Source: Shutterstock / Yurchyks)

This makes sense, right? There’s only so much savings you can squeeze out of a Reese’s Miniatures Assortment Box. Higher priced items are subject to more tax, so use duty free for those special purchases. Also, it’s important to note that some items aren’t expensive in themselves but are subject to higher duty fees – like alcohol, tobacco, cosmetics, or fragrances. Significant savings are to be had purchasing these from a duty-free shop as well.

6: Use duty-free shops to get rid of your remaining foreign coins.

Sure, keep one or two Turkish lira for your coin collection, but what about the rest? Many  currency exchange counters won’t accept foreign coins, but duty free will. If you can’t be bothered to find a bank at home that will take the coins, head to duty free and get that Mentos Gum Gift Pack. Problem solved.

7: Look for duty-free deals on certain items.

 Looking for that new MAC Powder Kiss Lipstick? Your best duty-free bet may be in Europe. Tobacco? The Far East. Spirits? Spain or the Caribbean. While these are not hard and fast rules, conventional wisdom suggests that there is some truth to them. Again, before you buy, compare each item’s price with your other options and make sure it makes good financial sense. Finally, Duty Fee Addict allows you to compare duty-free pricing at airports across the globe. Start there for updated pricing and special offers.

If you have additional tips on how to ace duty-free shopping, drop us a line at editor@wideworldoftravel.com. We’d love to hear from you.