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12 Things to Buy Duty-Free at the Airport

It's nearly impossible to board an international flight without passing by the duty-free shops at the airport. And you can find some good deals if you know what to keep an eye out for.

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What is duty-free?

If you’ve ever flown internationally or through an international terminal from home, you’ve likely seen or strolled through the brightly-lit consumer paradise of a duty-free shop. According to CheapFlighs.com, duty-free shops at airports, “sell products for which duty (local import tax or fees placed on goods by government entities) is not included.” Normally, this allows travelers to save money on liquor, tobacco, fragrances, cosmetics, luxury items, and candy as they prepare to leave the country where the goods are being purchased. Note: when you bring your duty-free haul to the register, the cashier is going to ask to see your boarding pass to verify travel out of the country. Travelers leaving the United States for at least 48 hours may shop duty-free. Find out 10 things to do on your airport layover.

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How much can I save when I buy duty-free at the airport?

How much you will save when buying duty-free at the airport all depends on the country, the currency exchange rate, and the products you buy. In Europe, for example, “The duty-free shops are not only duty-free but tax-free as well, meaning that V.A.T. (value-added tax) has not been added to the goods,” according to CheapFlights.com. This can save you up to 25 percent on your duty-free purchases, depending on the country. If you’re looking to save a buck, check out these 15 free things you can do to pass time at an airport.

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Cadbury Chocolates

Both Alexis Kelly, a travel editor at Fodors, and Paul Eisenberg of TravelingDad.com agree that Cadbury Chocolates are a prime duty-free shopping target when traveling internationally. Kelly says that she stocks up on Cadbury, her candy obsession, “when coming back from the British Isles because their chocolate just tastes better,” while Eisenberg fancies stocking the office candy bowl with elusive mini Cadbury sweets to make co-workers happy. Of course, Cadbury in the United States has been different from the United Kingdom version since 2015 so passing up the chance to bring some home would qualify as a travel mistake you should avoid.

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Longchamp Bags

Kelly doesn’t just line up at duty-free for her Cadbury sweets! When traveling home from Paris a couple of years ago, she spotted a sweet duty-free deal on Longchamp Bags at Charles de Gaulle airport. The savings were significant enough that the Fodors editor bought three bags from the French-owned company! But even a duty-free deal on Longchamp can’t compete with these secret travel deals.

 

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Liquor

Travel writer Jason Greene heads right for the shelves of duty-free liquor when flying internationally. Being a connoisseur of scotch, Greene always seeks out a sale but admits to usually coming away with a bottle whether there’s a deal on his favorite scotch or not. If you’re a nervous flier, don’t miss these 6 facts to help you stay calm while flying.

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Last-minute gifts

Greene also uses duty-free shopping at airports to scoop up some unique last-minute gifts for his kids. He says that his son, “Collects snow globes and if I wasn’t able to pick one up while venturing around a city, duty-free usually comes through for me.” While souvenirs and trinkets tend not to present the best value at airport duty-free shops, they may check the “unique gift” box on your shopping list.

tic tac boxvia amazon.com

Things not available at home

Yes, Cadbury cannot be sourced in its European form in the United States but there are other things sold in airport duty-free shops that are not available at home. Specifically, the foreign candy aisle of duty free, which is always fun to peruse anyway but when you have the chance to stock up on something delicious like a Crunchie bars, strange flavor varieties of familiar candy, and curious shapes and packaging sizes like the massive Tic Tac box filled with dozens of miniature Tic Tac boxes, you should gleefully fill up every corner of your carry-on bag with duty-free treasures!

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Coffee

Greene says that his vacation destination will often dictate the type of duty-free purchases he makes. “If I’m in South America or in the Caribbean, I always buy coffee,” Greene notes, adding that, “Coffee always makes a good gift and I’m a fan myself, so my carry on bag will be overstuffed with beans.”

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Swiss chocolate

CheapFlights.com recommends buying your fair share of Swiss chocolate at duty-free because, “If purchased anywhere outside Switzerland, it is typically taxed, so buying it through duty-free is also a great deal.” Chocolate will surely delight a young child on a plane but here are more secrets to flying with kids.

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Grey Goose

According to Duty-Free Addict, a free travel club helping duty-free shoppers find the best deals on all kinds of products from liquor to jewelry, Grey Goose is cheaper in Japan than Australia, and the Singapore Changi Airport duty-free is more expensive than Dubai Airport duty-free.

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Country-specific beauty products

Travel & Leisure writer Maya Kachroo-Levine explains how she curiously always seems to have the equivalent of $14 left in local currency by the time she reaches the airport to fly home. Kachroo-Levine says, “I like to spend the last of my foreign currency on a country-specific beauty product—whether that’s French micellar water, Fijian coconut oil, or a sample of a perfume you can’t get outside India.”

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Exclusive product sizes

One of the pleasures of buying duty-free at the airport is not only finding good deals but also finding unusual oversized presentations and packaging of familiar products you already love. In a CNN article, Nadine Heubel, the CEO of Heinemann Americas, a company with duty-free shops in 74 airports across 28 countries, went on record to suggest that travelers, “Look for larger, duty-free-exclusive sizes of products for savings.”

Seasonal products sold at Xmas market. A woman's hand is seen close-up, picking a jar of homemade honey from a shelf at a festive farmer's exposition, with copy-space to the left.Valmedia/Shutterstock

Local honey and sea salt

Chicago-based travel writer Vera Holyrod from Passports and Spice makes frequent international trips to Slovenia. On her return flight home, she never manages to get through duty-free at the airport without buying, “some local honey and sea salt.” She admits she prefers to spend her money in local shops in the countries she visits, but the prices are fair and the quality of the honey and salt is top-notch at the airport’s duty-free.

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Cosmetics and fragrances

According to The Points Guy, speaking to CNN Travel, the best value in European duty-free shopping at airports can be found in the cosmetics and fragrances aisles. So find your favorite scents, smells, and looks before flying home, and save a few Euro on your makeup and perfume. Traveling stateside? Find out the best souvenir from every state.

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.