I live in Sydney. I was wondering if it would be possible to take a trip to the airport and buy a whole bunch of Johnnie Walker duty free. Do you actually have to be boarding a flight, or can you just rock up, splash some money around and go home?

If you absolutely must be flying somewhere in order to buy some booze, would a domestic flight be sufficient? I've been thinking of visiting Melbourne for a while, and if it were possible to pick up some blue label on the way home I wouldn't complain!

  • 3
    Usually (I do not remember the Australian airports though) you need a boarding pass for an international flight before you are allowed to buy duty free. It is even quite common to have separate areas of waiting and shopping for domestic and international flights. It might work if you book a flight to New Zealand, check in and get a boarding pass, but then change your mind before you enter the flight. Likely to cost you way more than the full charge of the booze, let alone the tax.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 9:31
  • 5
    @Willeke You would need to go through immigration exit controls to get into the international departure area. Australia strictly segregates international and domestic flights, applies different levels of security to each, and usually (rather inconveniently at SYD) places them in physically separate terminals.
    – Calchas
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 10:35
  • 2
    You could possibly sidestep some of the issues using a fully-refundable ticket, but I'm not sure if they would let you go back from the gates with alcohol bought in the duty-free zone. Maybe you would have to consume it there. In any case, the lower price is probably not worth the hassle. And Johnnie Walker definitely isn't, if you end up doing this, buy a nicer whisky.
    – JohnEye
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 11:01

3 Answers 3


Don’t remember the exact layout in Sydney, but in most airports (if not all), you can’t get to the duty-free shops without going through immigration (where applicable) and security, which you generally won’t be able to do without a boarding pass for a flight.

The shop will also often require to see the boarding pass, and in some places will make a distinction between people travelling domestic or international. In some countries like the US, as there is not necessarily a separation between domestic and international travellers, and you can exit the departures area at will, they will not give you the goods right away, but deliver them during the actual aircraft boarding.

In some airports (especially in the EU), duty-free shops will actually sell duty-free when they can (you are actually leaving the country, or in the case of the EU, leave the EU customs union), and make a discount equivalent to duty-free for other cases.

Note also that in the event you decide to go to another country and buy alcohol duty free on your way back, you have to pay import taxes when you arrive, unless you have less than the allowances, which are usually on the order of a couple litres of hard alcohol, so you couldn’t buy « a bunch » of whisky and benefit from the regime.

  • Australian airports segregate international and domestic passengers. You need to go through immigration exit controls to get to the international zone and back through immigration arrivals to get back out.
    – Calchas
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 10:39
  • Whilst often officials turn a blind eye to a couple of bottles, the official limits pretty much anywhere I went were 1 litre of hard drinks (whiskey,...) OR 2 litres of wine per person. Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 21:30
  • To my knowledge, the typical practice in EU airports is that, at least for hard liquor, the price depends on whether or not you are leaving the EU customs union. The prices of other items are usually fixed (but I don't really buy so much DF, so I may have missed some things).
    – tomasz
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 1:10
  • Duty free shops in Sydney airport are only on the air-side of the terminal, post-passport/boarding pass/etc checks. They also require (not just "often") sighting of the boarding pass - even in the arrivals lounge where conceivably it can be assumed you would have just returned from overseas.
    – dlanod
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 2:56

Duty-free shops (or stores) are retail outlets that are exempt from the payment of certain local or national taxes and duties, on the requirement that the goods sold will be sold to travelers who will take them out of the country.


Essentially, you can only buy goods duty-free if you're about to export them. Exactly which goods you can buy this way, and which duties and taxes they are exempt from varies from country to country.

You may be required to pay import duties and taxes at your destination on some or all of your purchases, and this, too, varies by country.

So, yes, you need to be going somewhere, and that somewhere must be a different country. Sydney to Melbourne won't qualify, but Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand, would.

  • 2
    Under most circumstances. The Åland Islands (Finland) are frequently used to exploit a loophole by Swedes and Finns since they're part of Finland but outside the EU customs zone. Maybe some Australian territories technically have a similar loophole? For purposes of the OP though you're right. Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 10:23
  • There are a couple of islands in Malaysia (Langkawi, Labuan) that have been designated duty-free. Nothing imported in these islands get taxed, from cars to alcohol. But they are a very rare case.
    – user67108
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 12:17
  • That's why they need to scan boarding passes upon purchase, isn't it?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 16:11
  • @gerrit Yes, that's why.
    – gparyani
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 22:38
  • There's a ton of inter- and intra-country exceptions. U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, CNMI and Guam are outside the US Customs territory and entitle you to duty free. Hong Kong & Macau SARs are outside China's customs. Conversely, travel inside the EU Customs Union does not all you to make duty free purchases.
    – user71659
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 23:18

My experience is limited to CDG, BKK, SGN and MNL but I think it's same scheme in other airports. You'll need to have an international boarding pass, going through immigration and security check to go in duty frees and departure gates as already said.

BUT I'm not sure you can easily go back to exit, be preparated to have to justify why you want to go back, get a deep security check and customs check where they'll probably tax your 'duty free' as you didn't cross border.

When you go out of a plane you're able to go to exit (through immigration and customs) or to another departure gate (if you're in transit to catch another international plane), but I never saw a departure zone interconnected to an exit (it's kind of 'diode' in electronics), maybe it's possible but you'll find an human being requesting lot of explanations...

Also if you don't have checked luggage you'll already probably win a deep security check with lot of questions on your 'departure' way. If you had checked luggage but finally not fly they'll get probably angry having to unload it from the plane (security need) with lot of questions, if they consider you not wanted to fly possible you get fined or ban by flight company and/or authorities.

So I guess it's definitively not a good operation in terms of economical and time and future plane travel.

  • Not all airports make it hard to turn around after getting duty free, for instance AMS (Amsterdam airport Schiphol) mixes departing and arriving/transfer passengers and after you do your shopping you can just turn around and join the arriving passengers. You will have to go through immigration, where they will check your passport or ID card but if a local they are not asking questions about how long your journey has been, and customs, which is just a green and red channel where you have to select whether you have something to declare. You need a boarding pass to buy, and will not get refunds.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 18:55

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