When to buy Duty Free?!

Duty Free Azerbaijan

When to buy Duty Free?!  Rules for saving money: buying Duty Free, and when you should not.

You just landed in a foreign airport.  Experienced travelers aren’t worried about simple things like getting money- use an ATM (who seriously still uses currency exchanges?!) Transport is generally a no brainer. Go through immigration; grab your bags, perhaps a brief stop at the lounge.

But what about Duty Free?  When landing in a new country’s airport one first questions my wife and I ask is: “hey, look, Duty Free! I wonder if I should buy something?”  We all know the feeling of not knowing a country’s alcohol costs. So why buy Duty Free, go through the trouble of hauling it to your hotel in the city, only to discover you spent more than if you had just went to a local shop.

There is often great value in buying Duty Free.  My friend Jason recently flew from the US to Scandinavia. One of our recommendations?  Buy duty free wine during your Paris connection!  He forgot.  On arriving in Stockholm, Jason realized his mistake.  Scandinavia has heavy alcohol taxes and he ended up paying almost 2x what he would have paid at Duty Free in Paris.

Below is a quick guide on when to buy Duty Free, and when not to!

You are flying into a country known for some type of Alcohol, which you plan to drink?  –Don’t buy Duty Free

If you love wine, and are flying into a country known for its amazing wines, then you will probably save money just buying at a local supermarket or shop. Think: Italy, France, Argentina, Chile, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Spain.


You want a specific type of alcohol the country isn’t known for? –Buy Duty Free

Are you are craving a nice bottle of Scotch and worried you won’t be able to find it on the Pacific island nation you just landed in?  Your worries could be justified. Save some money and hassle; check for it in Duty Free. This holds true for wine. If you love a nice bottle of wine it might be hard to find if you are flying into a country known for its love of rum.

Wine at Duty Free Baku Airport
Wine at Duty Free -Baku Airport

Beach Vacation!  Caribbean / Pacific / Mediterranean Islands –It Depends

If you love rum, or whatever local liquor that tiny nation is cooking up, no need to Duty Free. However, if you want to celebrate on your balcony with a nice bottle of Champagne on New Year’s then Duty Free is your friend. Do you like nice wine?  Duty free is your friend.  You aren’t picky? If you will happily drink whatever type of beer and wine you come across, then you probably won’t need to buy Duty Free.  This rule holds true for most independent nations in the Caribbean. For islands closely associated with Spain, Portugal, or France…don’t buy Duty Free. You will be able to find your favorite wines in most local stores.


You are flying into a country that heavily taxes alcohol or makes it difficult  -Buy Duty Free

Scandinavia!  Last summer we visited an amazing country in the Kingdom of Denmark: the Faroe Islands. There were no wine shops or liquor stores. It was impossible to buy wine or beer at grocery stores, supermarkets, everywhere!  Eventually we discovered alcohol was only sold in a few specific government  shops, and these were not super easy to find.


The airport you landed in is a typically “dry” country -Buy Duty Free

In the Middle East, and many predominately-Islamic countries, it can be difficult or even illegal to buy alcohol in most places.  Stock up!  You might not find it outside of your hotel later on.


Sales!  -Buy Duty Free

Duty free stores often have promotions, which will offer substantial savings you might not find elsewhere!  Last year we were flying to Madeira to celebrate New Years.  Paris duty free has Pommery Champagne, 2 for €50 EUR. This was a great deal, so we bought two bottles to enjoy at our hotel during our vacation. It was a great find!


Returning Home?  -Depends

This one is easy. You know the prices of alcohol in your home country. If you see Duty Free selling your favorite drink at a huge discount, stock up. If the price difference is only a few dollars then consider whether the transport hassle of getting it home is worth it.  Don’t forget there are usually limits on how much duty free you can import. Please find the helpful links below for reference:

US Customs -Duty Free Info

US Customs -Declarations

Duty Free Price Comparisons

Do you have any Duty Free tip or secrets you would like to share?  Please leave your comments below!


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