Does Shopping Duty-Free Really Save Money?


Before I left for the Dominican Republic, my mom mentioned that she wanted a bottle of Chanel No. 5 for her birthday. “Maybe it will be cheaper in the duty-free shop,” she said. My friends bought alcohol duty-free before boarding flights to the Caribbean, but I hadn’t given much thought to how much money I could save with the help of duty-free shopping.

What does duty-free mean? The United States Customs and Border Protection breaks it down like this: “Duty-free shop articles sold in a customs duty-free shop are free only for the country in which that shop is located. Therefore, if your acquired articles exceed your personal exemption/allowance, the articles you purchased in Customs duty-free shop, whether in the United States or abroad, will be subject to Customs duty upon entering your destination country.” With these practices set in place, you could still be made to pay the “duty,” which is the is the tax you pay for bringing a product across international borders if your purchases exceed $800 — this is called” accompanied baggage.”

Now that we’ve gotten through the technical stuff, it’s time to answer the question of whether shopping duty-free worth it. The answer is yes and no. If you’re looking to purchase designer pieces and perfume, I recommend you do your research before making any purchases. Yes, you will get a break on taxes, but depending on what you’re looking for, you might find a better deal shopping through local and online retailers. But if you’re looking to purchase alcohol or tobacco products, you can likely walk away with a deal and even buy specialty spirits that are only available in the country you’re visiting — so that is a win even if there aren’t large savings. If you’d like to make a price comparison before buying the alcohol, go to to compare prices.

Duty-free can yield beneficial results for your travel budget, but make sure you do a little research beforehand.