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Everybody knows you can buy things duty free at airports if you are leaving for or coming from another country.

(You can also buy on airplanes and I think I've seen on some international ferries and some land border crossings.)

But rent for retail space in airports is so high that you can often end up paying higher prices without duty at the airport than you could pay including the duty in a regular shop in the city away from the airport. I guess this is why airport duty free shops are full of luxury items...

But I seem to recall being told the best way to shop when travelling overseas is to do something like buying from duty free shops in cities or somehow buying from regular shops but without duty ... but I don't know the details.

Where can you buy things duty-free outside airports? Can any shop sell without duty to people with plane tickets? Are there duty-free shops in most cities? If it varies by country and city, what are the common variations and how can I know which is possible in a given place?

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2 Answers 2

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Shops normally cannot sell to tourists VAT/Duty free just because you have a plane ticket. The maximum a shop can do is sell you VAT-Free since that is a separate charge. Duties on Liquor and Cigarettes are not known to the personnel since they are applied at the manufacturer/wholeseller level so the shop cannot sell you those without charging the duty. It's basically already paid.

VAT Refunds:

Most countries allow you to get VAT back when you exit the country as a non-resident.

Examples:

In Singapore for example, you can buy things anywhere and get the VAT back on the airport provided you bring the receipt (and ideally the item) with you after the check-in.

If you buy goods in Germany, you can take anything to the customs border to Switzerland and get the VAT back as long as you are not a German resident and have the item together with the receipt. Prepare to be asked for the VAT on the other side however when you come into Switzerland however. The difference can be worthwhile however for goods of higher value. Here is some info on Tax-Free shopping in Germany for example.

Duty Free:

As mentioned above, Duty on Alcohol and cigarettes, coffee and other items are normally more difficult to get back - if at all possible - since they are not listed on the bill as a separate item and included in the base price.

There are some duty/tax free shops in several European and Asian cities that cater for tourists specifically, outside of the airport. I would google specifically for the country that you are interested in. This wikipedia article might help also. It lists some places where you can shop duty/tax-free outside of airports as well.

There are also whole regions where Duties and/or Taxes are exempted despite the fact that they are part of a country where normally higher taxes apply, as for example Livigno and Campione d'Italia are EU VAT free zones.

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The nearest thing I know of to what you're asking about is the ability for visitors to some countries to another country to either buy an item and avoid tax provided the item is shipped directly abroad; or to pay full price, but apply for a refund of the taxed amount after returning home. Details vary country to country (if offered at all), and usually required collecting receipts and filling out forms, and possibly getting something stamped at the point of departure. There's often a minimum per-item amount, and not all stores may participate in one or either scheme. Often stores where tourists are likely to make big-item purchases (eg. department stores hoping to sell an expensive cashmere sweater) will have "Tax Free Shopping For Visitors/Tourists" signs in their windows. Also notable that within the EU, this generally only applies to visitors from outside of the EU.

A couple of examples of this that I know of:

  • Tax Free Worldwide is an agent for tax refunds in Ireland and several other European countries. They do take a cut of the refund amount, however.

  • It seems it's possible to deal directly with the Irish Revenue folks yourself if you with to avoid the agent fees.

  • Visitors to Canada can also claim a rebate

  • Global Blue appears to be another type of agent, so may take a cut, but either way the site has more info on the topic.

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Yes I was actually wondering whether tax-free and duty-free are related or totally different ... –  hippietrail Feb 27 '13 at 5:56
    
The Canadian rebate situation is a very specific one and not applicable for general visitors. The one that was, the GST Visitor Rebate Program (VRP), was replaced by the Foreign Convention and Tour Incentive Program (FCTIP) in 2007. –  Gwyn Evans Apr 21 at 22:34
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