Looking to avoid taxes? Here are the top shops to do so around the world
These shops offer everything from luxury goods to local artisan foods.
Duty-free shops are a trip indulgence enjoyed by many travelers throughout the world. These airport shops sell products that are exempt from certain local or national taxes and duties, which in turn gives consumers a deal on popular (and typically luxury) products. As most travelers know, some of the most popular duty-free items include tobacco, perfumes, and high-end fashion brand clothing, but they also typically include food and beverages.
Click Here To See the 10 Best Duty-Free Airports for Food and Drink Slideshow!
We compiled a list of some of the world’s best duty-free shops in airports around the world. These airports offer a wide variety of souvenir and luxury goods, and many take up a significant amount of retail space in the airport terminals. Many bring in a significant amount of revenue, like Dubai International Airport, the leading duty-free retailer, which made nearly $408 million in profits in 2012.
Some airports, like Schiphol in Amsterdam, have local goods available, like tulips and artisan foods like Dutch chocolate. Charles de Gaulle in Paris is known for its variety of artisan jams and fine wines. Other airports sell a wide variety of alcohol, like at the World of Whiskies in London's Heathrow. Considering each airport’s offerings, we ranked the following list of airports based on the amount and variety of food and drink retail for sale.
Even though they may offer a deal by dropping the tax, many of these airport finds will still cost you a pretty penny. Either way, click on the slideshow to not miss the best duty-free food and beverage shops the next time that you’re in one of these airports!
Esquire's Official Guide to Airport Drinking
Everybody thinks they know how to drink at airports, since everybody drinks at airports&mdashat least all the degenerates I know do. Because that's the thing: You need to drink at airports. Not necessarily because you're scared of impending air travel, perhaps not even because you're bored. But after the hassle of getting there, waiting in unyielding lines, and the indignity of removing your shoes and belt, and then standing like Jay Z while some TSA clown full-body scans your goodies . your next thought is never, I wonder if Hudson News has any good Nora Roberts paperbacks? It's: Where is the quickest place to find alcohol?
We all know where you drink is as crucial. The ambience. The fellow imbibers. Even bar shape matters. For me, though, my guide to airport drinking is best given by answering those classic six questions of journalism.
WHY . are you drinking?
Because why not? If you're about to fly, there's virtually no reason you shouldn't be well-lubricated. Headed on vacation? Vacation starts NOW. A boring business trip? Yeah, you'll need a few Heinekens to get through that. Purchased a bereavement fare for grandma's funeral? Maybe you'll get a free vodka soda out of pity. Even if those don't apply, what else is there to do? Read US Weekly? Watch the interminable CNN stream on the airport TVs? Try to get the damn $19.99/day Boingo WiFi to work so you can Instagram a pic of some grotesque fellow traveler?! OK, that does sound fun. But it will be even more fun if you're a few drinks deep.
WHEN . are you drinking?
Whenever. Airports are like casinos in that time doesn't matter and the carpeting is always godawful. (They aren't like casinos in that, instead of comped drinks, a watery rum and Coke will run you $15). People become so depraved at airports. 7 a.m.? Screw it, I'll take an Auntie Anne's breakfast pretzel and, oh, why not add a Corona? In a way, it's weird the people who aren't drinking at airports. Especially nowadays when terminals are lined with more pubs than a Wild West boomtown and bar stool seating is far easier to snag than a popped squat next to the one outlet at your gate.
WHERE . are you drinking?
It's no surprise it's called a "terminal," as layovers can feel like death sentences. So don't make your time even worse. Avoid restaurants that have co-opted the name and dignity of a celebrity chef. The Wolfgang Puck Express's Signature Limonata will always lead to a bad travel day. I likewise tend to avoid bars named after specific booze brands (I cite drinking at ATL's pathetic Samuel Adams Bar as the lowest point of my drinking career, and I've woken up from a blackout in Newark Penn Station before). My top recommendation is to skip bars altogether and locate those kiosks run by companies like Cibo Gourmet. Next to the prepackaged Cobb salads and turkey wraps is often beer. The prices are cheaper than any terminal bar and selection is often decent ("Hey, a Dale's Pale Ale!"). Better yet, you don't have to hang with the sad lowlifes populating the Fly-Away Grille. Now who's the smart guy getting drunk in a massage chair at the terminal's Brookstone? You are.
WHAT . are you drinking?
Besides bottomless brunches, airports are the only places civilized people actually order Bloody Marys. They're not even artisanal bullshit ones with fresh-pressed tomato juice and house-cured bacon swizzle sticks. Airports serve straight Mr. & Mrs. T's canned Bloody Mix and some Popov. If, like me, you hate drinking boozy gazpacho, you'll need something better. Not too much beer, as a full bladder is never your friend while flying. Instead, find a cheesy chain you'd never dare enter in the real world. Order something colorful and potent from their spiral-bound picture menu. Chili's is my personal choice as their margaritas are so big you'll feel like you're drinking from a salt-rimmed Stanley Cup. Sometimes you even get free chips and salsa (which, I suppose, you could spike with a vodka shot for an impromptu Bloody Mary).
WHO . are you drinking with?
Look around and you'll quickly loathe every other airport drinker. They're poorer-dressed than you and have far worse taste in spirits (Drambuie, really?). But strike up a conversation and you'll find these are decent folks. Decent for what is hard to say. Certainly not networking with. The last thing you need is some Tulsa landman's business card crowding your wallet. And attractive women rarely fly solo at airport bars. I have no idea where they drink, but I'm guessing they can get into The Admirals Club without membership. Likewise, that bartender with the lanyard ID around his neck isn't going to appreciate you peppering him with inane mixology questions ("Are you using Carpano or Dolin for my Boulevardier?") So knock that off and just talk sports or rip on the airlines with whomever will listen. Or better yet, don't. Asocially dick around on your phone like you usually do when getting wasted. This is 2015 for Pete's sake.
HOW . are you drinking?
Heroically. Don't listen to other people&mdashand by that I mean "your mom" or "the Department of Homeland Security." You can get drunk during a layover. Shit-faced even. You just can't appear "drunk" when it's time to board. So even if you've polished off a few belts of bourbon at Ruby Tuesday's, or become the first person ever to do a full bar crawl in O'Hare's Terminal 3, you're going to have to still look like you won't cause trouble while at 30,000 feet. Empty your bladder, pop a Certs, don't lasciviously flirt with the person scanning your boarding pass, and try to make it down the plane's aisle without nailing every passenger in the kneecaps with your Samsonite Spinner. Once tucked into your seat you can buckle in, pass out, and&mdashvoila!&mdashlike a time machine, wake up at your destination.
What to eat with an airport drink?
Nothing. Airport bars have some of the world's worst food. Don't tell me, "It's getting better." It's not.
What about on the flight?
For most domestic flights you'll be lucky to get in more than one order, especially if you're in the cheap seats. So make it count. Scotch&mdashusually Dewar's, sometimes Glenlivet&mdashon ice.
What if I have to use the vomit bag?
Do airplanes still give you those? All I see any more are copies of the "award-winning" in-flight magazine, typically with the crossword puzzle already worked by some jackass. That'll do in a pinch.
Should I pack my own booze?
YES! Believe it or not, that's legal so long as each bottle is under 3 ounces. I usually fill my dopp kit with a handful of 1.7 ounce miniatures. Those with better foresight can acquire refillable bottles and load them with their favorite intoxicant. Now you're drinking Ardbeg Uigeadail while reading Hemispheres magazine. Classy!
What is a duty free shop?
Duty free shops, most often found in international airport terminals, but also at border crossing and cruise ship terminals, are shops that sell products for which duty (a.k.a. local import tax or fees placed on goods by government entities) is not included. Duty free shopping allows travelers who are leaving the country where the goods are purchased the chance to save money on items like liquor, tobacco, fragrances, cosmetics and luxury goods. When travelers go to pay for the goods, the cashier will typically ask to see a boarding pass to verify travel.
5 top travel tips
1. Dine with locals
Emiratis are famously private people, but as part of an initiative for outsiders to understand more about the local way of life, Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, set up a cultural understanding programme which offers travellers the opportunity to dine with an Emirati family.
2. Alcohol restrictions
As a general rule, only restaurants inside hotels can legally serve alcohol in Dubai. Alcohol is on sale at the city’s hidden-away liquor stores, but only expat residents with a liquor license (stating that they are not Muslim) can shop there. Up to four litres of beer, wine or spirits can be bought by tourists landing at Dubai International Airport, at the duty-free shop in the luggage collection hall.
3. Check religious dates
Check the Islamic calendar to see if your trip overlaps with any religious dates. Some religious holidays mean that the city will be dry, meaning no alcohol is served. During the holy month of Ramadan, many of the city’s cafés and restaurants shut down completely during daylight hours when Muslims are fasting.
4. Get walking
To get a real feel for the city’s food scene, go on a walking tour. Frying Pan Adventures offer a Middle Eastern food tour, covering Palestinian, Lebanese and Emirati hole-in-the-wall outlets, as well as routes covering the city’s Indian food heritage.
5. Explore the Asian food scene
There is a rich and diverse Asian food scene in Dubai, largely thanks to the sizeable Indian and Pakistani communities. Ravi Restaurant – serving up delicious Pakistani chicken kadai and mutton peshawar – is an institution, and a bargain at around £10 per person.
Check out more food and travel tips at our travel hub.
3-5. US Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa
Some call the US Virgin Islands — St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas — the best duty-free shopping in the Caribbean. That’s because the duty-free shopping allowance here is $1,600, which is double that of many other places, and you can take home up to six bottles of liquor, as long as one of them is a product of the islands. Fortunately, both Cruzan and Captain Morgan have rum distilleries in the US Virgin Islands.
The same goes for Guam, in the western Pacific Ocean, (a very popular destination with Asian shoppers) and American Samoa, in the South Pacific Ocean. These three countries are considered insular possessions of the United States, which means they’re subject to different tax rules than other countries: As long as you’re there 48 hours or more, your tax-free exemption is $1,600.
Best Airports for Duty-Free Shopping
The sun had not yet come up, and Paris&rsquos Charles de Gaulle airport was practically empty at 6:30 a.m. on a chilly day last January, but the Hermès boutique in Terminal 2E was open and the saleslady was more than happy to show me the putty-colored Jypsière bag advertised in the window for 4,600 euros. Did I mention it was 6:30 in the morning? I hadn&rsquot even had a café crème yet and the bank where I hoped to change a pocketful of euros back into pathetic dollars was still not staffed. But there I was, already clocking 12 percent discounts at Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent, and Prada. Once limited to tax-free cigarettes, vodka, and the occasional box of chocolate, the $37 billion global duty-free shopping business has taken on a whole new look since the concept made its debut in Ireland&rsquos Shannon Airport in 1947.
&ldquoIf you walk through any airport you would think the world was run by ten brands,&rdquo says Paris-based Italian designer Giambattista Valli, referring to the plethora of Dior, Chanel, Prada, and Gucci boutiques popping up alongside every runway. One of Valli&rsquos discoveries on a recent trip to Asia was a trove of Pañpuri beauty products at the Bangkok airport. Of course, fragrances and beauty products have long been a staple of most duty-free shops. I remember stocking up on such hard-to-find French pharmacy products as Embryolisse and Avène at Orly airport in the mid 1990&rsquos. But these days, those quaint pharmacies and organic beauty shops are often overshadowed by the more glamorous luxury brands. Much of the growth in duty-free shopping in the past 10 years can be attributed to security measures that force travelers to arrive earlier and therefore spend more time at airports. Once they&rsquove cleared security&mdashpotentially enduring the dreaded pat-down&mdashfliers now find themselves in a virtual luxury mall where the doors open at dawn and often don&rsquot close until almost midnight.
My friend Michela Ratti, a fragrance executive based in Geneva, clued me in to the bargains and services now available when she regaled me with stories about tracking down a pair of &ldquosold-out&rdquo Gucci boots at Milan&rsquos Malpensa airport, shopping at the Valentino boutique in Rome&rsquos Fiumicino Terminal 3, or calling ahead to her Chanel salesperson at Heathrow&rsquos Terminal 3 to make sure they had a certain dress in her size.
&ldquoIt&rsquos my obsession. If I could be anywhere in the world, I&rsquod like to be in Terminal 5 at Heathrow,&rdquo she says, laughing. That&rsquos where she finds Smythson diary refills, Boots chemist vitamins, and a great Elemis spa. Ratti regularly flies in and out of Geneva, Zurich, Venice, Milan&rsquos Malpensa, JFK, and Heathrow, and often does her Christmas shopping at Venice&rsquos Marco Polo airport. &ldquoIn Zurich there&rsquos a whole side of duty-free that&rsquos open until ten p.m. seven days a week, which is a real convenience,&rdquo she says. &ldquoIf you arrive late from a trip you can still buy food to take home.&rdquo
The best duty-free shopping really does depend on the destination. Madrid&rsquos Barajas Airport has a great selection of wines, Zurich has a branch of the Swiss chocolatier Sprüngli, and Charles de Gaulle has Hédiard, where Ratti has been known to buy a cheese plate, &ldquoif I&rsquom feeling brave and can sit with it on my lap on the plane!&rdquo The ne plus ultra of duty-free shopping can be found in Hong Kong&mdash&ldquolike New York&rsquos Fifth Avenue in an airport&rdquo&mdashthat Ratti says is worth the detour. Even in Nairobi, on the way home from a safari, Ratti discovered a store selling beautiful locally produced children&rsquos pajamas and caftans.
In my latest early-morning spree at Charles de Gaulle I caressed piles of brightly colored cashmere sweaters at Ralph Lauren, ogled Cartier&rsquos white-gold Ballon Bleu watch, and even tried on Van Cleef & Arpels&rsquos long Alhambra necklace. The Prada shop had a black-and-white-checked floor just like the one in its Galleria Vittorio Emanuele shop in Milan, a detail that seemed to make a black nylon trolley for $1,631 all the more alluring. I considered buying a few chic Prada pouches in rich shades of fuchsia and tangerine as last-minute gifts. And I even wandered into a kids&rsquo store selling Burberry and Bonpoint. Seven in the morning still seemed awfully early. Instead I settled on a Hello Kitty T-shirt for my daughter.
Kate Betts is the author of Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style (Clarkson Potter $35).
Which is the cheapest duty free airport?
This is probably the most frequent question that I am asked. Having flown extensively through many of the world’s airports and, unfortunately, there is no clear winner on price.
Most international airports (other than Muslim countries) sell spirits and other duty-free goods. There is a slight variation in price from country to country but you have to stores change their prices from year to year.
Evaluating Duty Free Stores
In theory, duty-free goods should be about the same price in any part of the world. Japan, China, the US or Europe have an almost identical purchase cost. So why the difference?
In essence, if a store can make a bigger profit it will. Stores can charge the customer whatever price they want regardless of the cost to them.
Nearly every airport sees more domestic travelers than any other nationality. The bulk of their duty-free stores, therefore, target domestic travelers.
I have found that for the most part, duty-free prices are around 10% lower than the retail price you can obtain in that country.
For this reason, the cheapest liquor stores are most often found in countries with lower tax rates.
As an example, Norway is, in general, is more expensive for liquor than Singapore. A bottle of Dewars 12 costs over US$38 in Oslo compared to US$31 in Changi airport duty-free.
The best countries for duty-free that I have found are Singapore, London, and Dubai simply because of the choice rather than price. Dubai duty-free shopping mall is huge and Items such as watches are around 20% cheaper in Dubai than in other countries. The price of alcohol, however, varies very little from country to country.
You would expect that locally brewed drinks would be the exception to this rule but it seems to be the opposite. I find that often local brews are more expensive than retail prices in that country.
For example, I found that in Mexico, Kahlua was relatively cheap outside the airport. Duty-free prices were on a parallel with other international duty-free stores which was around 20% more than I could buy in Mexico itself.
In conclusion, my advice would be to make your purchase in the country with the lowest tax and largest selection. Always look for special offers and promotions that might suit you as these are most often the best price.
Top 10 "Vaxication" Destinations, According to Kayak
Those with a creative eye know firsthand that inspiration is all around us. Whether you're energized by the earth tones of nature, a color-filled walk through a local farmer's market, or even by a quick scroll through Instagram, you never know what might spark a new creative project.
In the spirit of inspiring your next masterpiece, we're excited to partner with Bounty to fuel the next generation of artists and designers forward by launching a national design competition. We're calling on graphic designers to apply for a chance to see their work featured on a new Brit + Co and Bounty paper towel collection, set to launch in 2022.
Aside from the incredible exposure of having your illustrations on paper towels that'll be in stores across America next year, you'll also receive $5,000 for your art a scholarship for Selfmade, our 10-week entrepreneurship accelerator to take your design career to the next level (valued at $2,000) and a stand alone feature on Brit + Co spotlighting your artistry as a creator.
The Creatively You Design Competition launches Friday, May 21, 2021 and will be accepting submissions through Monday, June 7, 2021.
Who Should Apply: Women-identifying graphic designers and illustrators. (Due to medium limitations, we're not currently accepting design submissions from photographers or painters.)
What We're Looking For: Digital print and pattern designs that reflect your design aesthetic. Think optimistic, hopeful, bright — something you'd want to see inside your home.
How To Enter: Apply here, where you'll be asked to submit 2x original design files you own the rights to for consideration. Acceptable file formats include: .PNG, .JPG, .GIF, .SVG, .PSD, and .TIFF. Max file size 5GB. We'll also ask about your design inspiration and your personal info so we can keep in touch.
Artist Selection Process: Panelists from Brit + Co and P&G Bounty's creative teams will judge the submissions and select 50 finalists on June 11, 2021 who will receive a Selfmade scholarship for our summer 2021 session. Then, up to 8 artists will be selected from the finalists and notified on June 18, 2021. The chosen designers will be announced publicly in 2022 ahead of the product launch.
For any outstanding contest Qs, please see our main competition page. Good luck & happy creating!
How to Find the Best Deals at Duty-Free Shops
Just as you're heading to your departure gate, something catches your attention: the heady waft of a floral perfume, pyramidal stacks of chocolate, a gleaming display of designer apparel. It's hard to turn your head away from the alluring world of duty-free shopping. And many don't—the industry made a robust $39 billion in 2010, according to the Sweden-based Generation Research—and the numbers have only grown since then.
But among all the designer accessories, cosmetics, and top-shelf liquor at duty-free stores in airports and cruise and ferry terminals, are there actually any bargains out there?
Some say it outright: "Duty-free shopping is great for topping off purchases or last-minute gifts," says shopping guide author Suzy Gershman. "But at the end of the day, you're not saving much money."
Though there's a general consensus of buyer beware, Americans can still find some savings if they know how to shop right. We surveyed major categories of duty-free goods around the world to compare prices, selection, and value. Here's what to expect.
Luxury goods account for the bulk of duty-free purchases. Sure, sales exist, but are there true values? A quick search often uncovers the same goods selling online for less.
Keep in mind that above the $800 duty-free exemption for U.S. travelers, a flat rate of 3% is imposed on the next $1,000 of purchas—overall still lower than most state taxes, which can save you a buck (or $60) at the end of the day. Above the first $1,000 over the allowance, however, calculating duty becomes a complicated affair as variable rates apply.
In the case of a tempting Bottega Belly Veneta bag we saw at the Singapore airport (pictured), this complex formula means that the bag (originally advertised for the equivalent of US$2,153) would have actually come to $2,214.77—not exactly duty-free and definitely not a bargain when compared to online prices.
Some duty-free shops have websites where you can pre-order goods. Even if prices aren't online, phone numbers for duty-free outlets are usually listed on airport websites, so you can dial the store directly.
However, it's important to keep expectations in check: Often luxury brands are tightly controlled, which means that labels like Chanel and Christian Dior have similar price points regardless of where they're sold and are rarely, if ever, marked down, according to Kevin Rozario of Duty Free News International.
But at the very least, travelers purchasing duty-free at airports are spared the value-added tax (or VAT, a local sales tax that's most common in Europe), which ranges from as little as 5% up to a hefty 25%.
Buy It or Skip It: Except for fashionistas looking for one-of-a-kind finds, skip it unless the airport price would save you at least 20% off the retail rate or a competitive online price.
According to Lois Pasternak of Travel Markets Insider, watches are popular duty-free items with potentially big savings, especially aboard cruise ships and in the Caribbean, where the selection is more extensive and shoppers have more leisure time to browse.
"The way cruise ships control onboard inventory," says Susan Bonner, an associate revenue manager at Celebrity Cruises, "they can offer savings on designer watches—up to 40%."
Indeed, we found a Tag Heuer watch on Celebrity that sold for 15% more on the local U.S. market, plus a Tissot watch for 10% more. To reassure a wary public, some lines have even instated price guarantees that will match an offshore bargain or refund a price difference (provided presentation of a published advertisement or a receipt from an authorized dealer).
What You Should Know Before Buying Duty-Free Watches: As with designer bags, always do the pre-purchase price check before buying a watch from a duty-free shop.
Think buying goods made in their country of origin is cheaper? Think again: a Victorinox Chrono Classic watch that we once spotted for US$593 in the Geneva Airport retailed at the same time for $450 at Macy's and even less at an online bargain warehouse.
A word of caution: Those rock-bottom Internet prices often come from third-party sellers who won't necessarily provide the original manufacturer's warranty. Shop at an authorized dealer, and not only will your warranty be legit, but your risk of running into counterfeits will be little to none.
Buy It or Skip It: Buy it only if the price comparison checks out -- and if you know you'll be getting the real thing.
Photo: Changi Airport, Singapore
After luxury goods, fragrances and cosmetics make up the second largest category of duty-free purchases—accounting for about 30% of total sales. Here, as in luxury goods, is the opportunity for companies to inspire brand loyalty from a desirable clientele, says Lois Pasternak of Travel Markets Insider.
What You Should Know Before Buying Duty-Free Perfume and Cosmetics: U.S. prices can be much cheaper.
Despite the huge discounts that duty-free retailers claim to offer—up to 40% off high street prices—we found savings for Americans underwhelming. A bottle of Chanel Allure eau de toilette spray sells for the equivalent of US$102 in Lisbon versus US$147 in Melbourne. That same item goes for US$93 in London's Heathrow—impressive compared to what you would pay in Australia, but not so much when you consider that Sephora sold it for only $90 in U.S. stores and online.
How to Uncover the Duty-Free Cosmetics Bargains: Check out U.S. airports before flying abroad and consider multipacks designed exclusively for duty-free outlets, suggests Joel Epstein, vice president at Duty-Free Americas.
For example, a 50ml jar of Clarins Vital Light might cost US$102 in Sydney but US$79 at London's Gatwick. Meanwhile, the same jar could be picked up at Miami International for $76.50.
Buy It or Skip It: Buy it if you spot a multipack that yields big savings. Otherwise, skip it.
Photo: Narita Airport, Tokyo
Chocolate isn't a big-ticket item—if you're not spending big bucks, you're not going to be saving them. The difference between the price of a bar of Toblerone at duty-free shops in Amman, Brussels, and Edinburgh for example, can be less than one U.S. dollar.
What You Should Know Before Buying Duty-Free Chocolate: Duty-free stores offer exclusive items that you won't find elsewhere.
For example, you might find chocolate-covered coffee beans in a Burj Al Arab tin, Guylin's Golden Perles d'Ocean Sea Shells, or milk chocolate strawberry tablets from Godiva. A sure way to get more chocolate for your dollar are the mini versions and multipacks some are customized for the duty-free market.
As for scoring deals that surpass your local supermarket, it can be a hit or miss: A box of Ferraro Rocher once turned up for US$11 at Taipei Taoyun International Airport even as it sold for $5 more at a local grocery back in the U.S. Meanwhile, a $5 Lindt chocolate bar at the same airport sold for a $1.50 less than at a supermarket in the U.S.
Buy It or Skip It: Skip the big brands unless you have a sudden craving or can't pass up the souvenir packaging.
Because cigarettes are heavily taxed, you can count on keeping some change. A general rule to keep in mind: the higher your state tax, the greater the savings.
What You Should Know Before Buying Duty-Free Cigarettes: U.S. Customs officials limit American travelers to bringing back 200 cigarettes, or one carton anything above the allowance will be confiscated.
If you live in New York, the state with a high cigarette tax in the nation almost anywhere you go will have a better deal because your tax isn't levied.
But in a more moderately taxed state, like Florida, you'll have to dig deeper for a deal. Know what a carton would cost you at home.
Buy It or Skip It: Buy it—but double-check the price of a carton in your state and familiarize yourself with tobacco taxes.
Photo: Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam
In the land of duty-free goods, wine and spirits top the charts as best sellers, raking in around several billion dollars annually. Like tobacco, alcohol is heavily taxed on both a federal and state level, though the savings run up and down across the board.
What You Should Know Before Buying Duty-Free Liquor: Duty-free spirits often come specially bottled to suit customs allowances (notably in the one-liter size), so when you're shopping around beforehand, it's important to make sure that you're comparing apples to apples, since your local liquor store is allowed to sell a larger size.
Destination defines the quality of the selection. Big wine-producing countries like France, Italy, and New Zealand showcase a greater variety of their own wines the Caribbean—Barbados and Jamaica, for instance—is known for its rums, notes food and wine writer Anthony Giglio. The Caribbean is a winner in this department, and it's where you can find a three-liter bottle of Absolut Citron for $18 or a bottle of rum for less than $8—delightfully low prices by any measure.
"It also helps to ask what's on sale (in case the sale signs aren't displayed clearly)," Giglio adds.
Do your research so you don't end up buying a bottle of wine that's readily distributed in the U.S.
Wine—in contrast to spirits—is distributed on a smaller scale. This means that you won't necessarily find the same labels from shop to shop—along with benchmark prices to compare value. Giglio prefers to use wine-searcher.com, a subscription site that pinpoints merchants where wine is distributed (including prices). He'll take a gamble on a lesser-known label not exported to the U.S. but won't buy the widely available Veuve Cliquot that's rarely discounted.
Travelers should be aware that if they're returning to the U.S. from an international destination with one or more connecting domestic flights, any bottles of alcohol stowed in carry-on luggage (either purchased onboard or dropped off at the gate) could be confiscated because of cabin restrictions on liquids. Instead, plan to pack bottles in checked baggage after reclaiming them—and before Customs inspection.
Buy It or Skip It: Buy hard-to-find wine and spirits from the countries of their origin buy everything else on a case-by-case basis.
Photo: JFK International Airport, New York City
Relatively speaking, electronics aren't huge buys at duty-free stores in fact, their share of the pie can be as low as 3.5%, according to Generation Research.
What You Should Know Before Buying Duty-Free Electronics: "It's hard to get a price lower than at big-box stores like Best Buy that operate on economies of scale," says Ed Perkins, a columnist for SmarterTravel.com. In addition, no matter where in the world you buy, prices on electronics—cameras, GPS devices, mobile phones—will be subject to fewer cost variations because they're priced globally as opposed to market to market, says Shawn DuBravac, the Consumer Electronics Association's chief economist and director of research.
Choice-wise, companies are launching products so quickly that the duty-free shops can't keep up, says Pasternak of Travel Markets Insider, though some brands may have a stronger presence in certain markets. So for example, if you're a fan of Samsung, a wider range of its products will be at your fingertips when you travel to South Korea, where they're more popular.
On all purchases, make sure you have an international warranty so you won't be stuck without tech support should your device malfunction and need a repair.
What are you in the mood for?
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