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Duty Free shops can be found all over Europe.  The shops may offer good bargains, if you have time to claim the duty free rebate before you leave the country.  Read our article to explore the world of duty free shopping.  


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Travel Advice -   Duty Free Shopping

During your travels, you will see "Duty Free Shops".   Duty Free shops located outside of the U.S. either do not apply the Value Added Tax to the product that they sell  or charge the tax but provide a rebate form  allowing you to reclaim the tax when you leave the country (see our article on VAT, the Value Added Tax).

You will encounter two classes of “duty free” shops on your travels.

  • One variety can be found in the international departure lounges in airports.
  • Its "cousin"  can be found in shopping districts around the country you are visiting.
  • You should evaluate “duty free” shops based on whether the “buys” are better priced than similar goods at home.
  • Most often, you may find good value at duty free shops in cities and will not find good value in duty free shops in airports.

Airports are high rent locations and most of the duty free shops in airports have a limited selection focused on high priced goods and travel mementos.

  • It has been our experience that the airport shops provide convenience but not good value.
    • Most of us, however, view the airport duty free shops as an opportunity to pick-up a few last minute gifts with currency that either will loose value before we will use it again or is such a small amount that it does not make sense to convert it back to dollars.
    • If you like booze, you will usually find a broad range of regional liquors and wines in many of these shops.


If you are going to spend your remaining currency in an airport shop, try to select something that is unique and representative of the country that you are visiting.

  • When you have made your selection and are ready to pay, remember that you will need your boarding card and possibly your passport, during checkout, in order to prove that you qualify for duty free status.

The city based duty free shops, often, have a nice selection of relatively expensive and select gifts.

  • Most of these shops require that you fill out a “duty” form that can be redeemed only at the “official duty free” office or at the airport prior to your departure.
  • In other countries, you must provide your shopping receipts and goods at the duty free booth at your departure airport.
  • Often, travelers going home do not plan to spend the time required to wait in line at the duty free booth at the airport and, often, leave without qualifying for their tax rebate.
  • If you plan carefully and have the patience to wait in line at the duty free office at the airport, you can do well on the purchase of specialty items.
  • If you have a specific item targeted for purchase, it is usually cheaper to shop at the duty free stores for a particular item than, say at a department store that does not offer duty free
    • Buying from duty free shops is usually cheaper than buying from other shops, if you make sure to stop at the duty free office at the airport before departing the country.

Also, remember that the benefits of “duty free” vary by country. For instance, duty free is coming to have little meaning in Europe due to the influence of the  European Economic Union (EEU) on cross-border taxation. Remember that duty free means that the object is free of duty in the country where it was purchased. You must still declare the item on your customs declaration when you return to the US.

Be sure to check with your guidebook or the web site of the county you will be visiting to familiarize yourself with the appropriate duty free strategy for shopping.


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