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What Is a Duty Free Store at an Airport?

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    Jonathan Chum

If you have a long layover, or if your flight has been delayed, you may find yourself sitting at the airport for a while. In this situation, you may be looking for something to do. If that is the case, you probably get up, grab your suitcase, and take a walk around the airport. After all, if you are in an unfamiliar place, why not take the opportunity to look around? You may see a bunch of stores that are marked with the phrase “duty free.” What does this mean? We are going to cover:

  • What it means to be duty free
  • Why these stores are often located in airports
  • The types of products you may be able to find in a duty-free store

Because we have spent a significant amount of time in airports all over the world, we are familiar with what a duty-free store may look like. Learn more about what this means below!

Duty Free: What Does it Mean?

No matter where you are located, you have to pay tax on whatever you buy. If you walk into the grocery store in your hometown and purchase something, you are going to see a certain percentage added for tax. If you purchase a car somewhere, you are going to have to pay tax on that as well. In some situations, a tax is referred to as a “duty.” It has this name because it is your duty to pay taxes on whatever it is you buy in order to support the local government. Therefore, by deduction, you should be able to figure out that a duty-free store essentially does not charge tax on anything.

That is the biggest attraction of purchasing something at one of these stores. If you do not have to pay tax on your products or services, you can save a significant amount of money. As you walk around the airport, take note of which stores are marked as “duty-free.” This either means that they are simply absorbing the price of tax on your behalf or that the store does not have to pay tax on whatever it is they sell. Depending on where they are located, these stores can come in many shapes and forms.

Why Are These Stores Always in Airports?

In actuality, duty-free stores are not only at airports. This just happens to be where the vast majority of people run into them. If you are ever in a location where there are trains, boats, or other transportation vehicles that take you over international lines, you may find a duty-free store located somewhere. In a lot of areas, airports are considered to be under international jurisdiction. Therefore, some of the stores may not actually be beholden to the country they are physically located in. As a result, they may not have to pay taxes on the product and services they sell. Even though this is not always the case, this is one of the biggest reasons why they are commonly found in airports.

With this in mind, you may see duty-free stores located in other areas as well. If you are waiting to get on a cruise ship at a cruise terminal, you may see duty-free stores located there if the cruise terminal is located in international waters. You may also see duty free stores located at train stations if the train is taking you to another country. If you keep your eyes peeled, you may notice duty-free stores in more locations than you realize.

What Can I Buy at a Duty Free Store?

If you enter a duty-free store, you can purchase anything from that store without having to pay taxes on it (unless the product is marked otherwise). You will probably see a wide variety of products at duty-free stores; however, the most common example is alcohol. If you are interested in trying adult beverages from another country, you may be able to save money if you purchase them from a duty-free store. A lot of countries mark up alcohol significantly, trying to tax tourists. If you are able to purchase local alcohol from a duty-free store, this may be an opportunity for you to try this drink at a reduced cost.

A lot of duty free stores also sell food. For example, you may be able to purchase local delicacies from a duty-free store at the airport. This includes specialty chocolate, truffles, desserts, and other fancy products. Even though you might not be able to find these products at every duty free store, this is another common example.

Even though these are the most common examples, you can purchase just about anything at a duty-free store. Some stores sell beauty and cosmetic products that you might not be able to find elsewhere. Other stores might sell souvenirs that you might not be able to find in another location. If you want to take advantage of everything that a duty-free store has to offer, you simply need to be willing to take a look around. You never know what you will uncover.

Take a Look Around at a Duty Free Store the Next Time 

You have to get to the airport pretty far in advance in order to allow for extra time to go through security, particularly if you are flying internationally. Usually, you don't end up cutting if that close. As a result, you may have extra time to look around. Take advantage of this time to explore everything that a duty-free store has to offer. Even though airports do tend to mark up their goods, you may be able to save money if you don't have to pay tax. Particularly in countries that have high sales taxes, this can add up quickly. You never know what you are going to find if you step foot in a duty-free store. Why not take advantage of this opportunity the next time you are in an airport? You may like what you see.