Airport Shopping: Is Duty Free Really Worth It?

Whoever thinks everything is cheaper in free markets is wrong. Even after purchase, there are still some pitfalls that can drive up the price.

Shop at bargain prices without paying taxes. This is the promise that duty-free shops make to airport travelers. The rumor of supposedly unbeatable low prices persists to this day. Is it really worth shopping at Duty Free?

What does “duty free” mean?

Duty-free refers to the sale of goods that are exempt from VAT and customs duties. Duty-free shops are mostly found in international areas such as airports or on cruise ships or airplanes. In addition to classic products such as tobacco products, spirits, and perfumes, the supposed range of deals extends to clothing, jewelry, and food. To take advantage of duty-free offers, a valid boarding pass must be presented prior to purchase.

Duty-free shopping outside the European Union

Whether you actually get a bargain or even pay more than normal retail when you shop duty free depends on the products and whether you are in or outside the EU.

Outside the European Union, the opportunity to save is greater, because a value-added tax of 19 or seven percent is still not applicable here. However, the possibility of saving here also depends on the price level in the respective country. “Only when entering or returning to Germany from a non-EU country are you allowed to import goods you purchased tax-free in a duty-free shop into Germany within the scope of the travel allowances mentioned above,” the customs explains on its website.

Exceeding travel allowances can turn a supposed bargain into an expensive souvenir, especially with highly regulated products like tobacco and alcohol. Therefore, travelers should know the applicable travel allowances and value limits before importing.

Very popular: Tobacco and alcohol products are especially popular when shopping for duty-free. (Quelle photos: Manfred Segerer / imago)

Customs offers one on its website for this purpose Travel tax calculator in. For example, up to 200 cigarettes per person plus one liter of high-resistance spirits and other goods with a value not exceeding €430 can currently be imported duty-free. If the specified quantities are exceeded, import duties must be paid. With a little research, you can at least save on taxes when entering from a non-EU country.

Duty-free shopping within the European Union

The situation is different when traveling within the European Union. Since July 1, 1999, there have been no travel allowances or import duties. Therefore, all purchased goods must be declared at customs. At the same time, shops may not offer any products without taxes.

Although retailers cannot waive their customers the fee, they are relatively free in their pricing. In order to keep up with non-European competition, many operators of so-called “travel value stores” bear the tax burden on customers.

Beware of the security check: If you haven't passed the security check yet, you risk handing over your purchased liquids at the security check.
Beware of the security check: If you haven’t passed the security check yet, you risk handing over your purchased liquids at the security check. (Quelle: Chalabala / Getty Images)

Whether inside or outside the European Union, particularly where liquids are concerned, vacationers on a spending spree must not forget the regulations for security checks at airports. If there is a follow-up flight, there is a risk that the new fragrance will wear off before it can be unpacked.

The price comparison is worthwhile

Before travelers hit the duty-free market, it’s important to compare prices, just as in a regular shopping spree. A quick look online reveals if it is really a bargain or if the same product is cheaper in the online or retail store. Not only is shopping online often cheaper, but you can also avoid the risks of running into customs and import regulations. The greatest potential for savings is generally found in tobacco products that are imported into the EU as part of the travel allowance.

Last Chance: If there isn't enough time to shop at the airport, many airlines allow you to do it on the plane.
Last chance: If there isn’t enough time to shop at the airport, many airlines can make up for it on the plane. (Quelle: Kiwis / Getty Images)

In the air, passengers still have the opportunity to choose from a limited selection of duty-free goods on board. The precondition for this is that the duty-free zone is moved. Advantage when shopping on the plane: you have already passed the security checks and you don’t have to worry about the possibility of carrying goods in your hand luggage.

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