Free-Standing Airport Boutiques
The Specialist, Designer, and Luxury Boutiques
They Aren’t All Tax Free
The specialist, designer, and luxury products sold by the main airport Duty Free retailer or through the airport itself (like Heathrow, Frankfurt, or Copenhagen) are usually priced Tax Free to international passengers. Moreover, in some cases they’re even Tax Discounted to intra-EU travellers. And they tend to be included on the retailer’s or airport’s website, so you can easily check out prices beforehand. Have a look at the airports and retailers in my previous post.
However, it’s a lot less straightforward with the free-standing specialist, designer and luxury boutiques. The extent to which their prices are Tax Free (or not) depends on several factors. Things like the local tax regime, the airport configuration, the retailers’ pricing strategies, etc. Plus, with the exception of Heathrow’s website, these retailers never show up online. That’s surprising since, at the high end, where Domestic discounting is rare, they’re often the best deal at airports. So you’ll have to dig to find out what they’ve got and how much it costs.
Asian airport retailers generally deduct the entire VAT on sales to departing international passengers. But in Europe and the US, the situation varies.
What You Need to Know, Preferably in Advance
- First of all, you’ll need to know the tax rate and what percentage of retail price that represents. You’ll find that here.
- Are the store’s prices free of the entire local VAT or sales tax to international passengers?
- Or do they deduct only part of the tax? If so, how much?
- In Europe, if you’re flying intra-EU, would they offer you the same price Tax Discounted?
- Or do you have to pay the full Tax Paid price and apply for a refund like in Germany?
- Or are the prices simply Tax Paid domestic prices and available to all passengers? This includes stores like Dixon’s in the UK and the Fashion Gallery in Madrid.
I’ve put in links to the store directories of airports with significant numbers of free-standing boutiques below and in the Find Duty Free Online section where you can find their contact details. I can warn you from personal experience that it’s not always easy to get through to them nor to get clear answers, but it’s worth trying.
Some Specific Examples
I came up with those questions based on direct contacts with airport designer/luxury retailers. This was a reasonably large, random, but unscientific, sample in Europe, Asia, and the US. Here are some of the results:
- At Copenhagen, Rome (the Tax Free mall), Heathrow, and Gatwick, you generally get your full VAT deducted when you buy. Most shops at Heathrow and Gatwick also deduct VAT to intra-EU and domestic passengers – but they don’t necessarily communicate that in-store.
- In the UK, Dixons (electronics and technology) is a little different to the other stores. They don’t base their airport prices on domestic list prices less VAT. They simply claim to offer very competitive prices to all travellers. You can easily check that for yourself.
- In Paris, non-EU passengers don’t get their full VAT (16.7% of retail) deducted for reasons that didn’t sound very credible. You’ll get between 9-13% off. Intra-EU passengers pay the full price.
- Madrid is a very mixed bag. All the boutiques run by the World Duty Free Group deduct the full 21% VAT (17.4% of retail.) Most of the others charge the VAT, which you can then recover through Global Blue. But you’ll only get 13 to 15.7% off, depending on the price. At the huge Fashion Gallery, prices include VAT, which you can’t recover (like Dixon’s.) However, they told me that their prices are very attractive – typically 5 to 10% less than downtown. Intra-EU passengers pay the full Domestic price.
- In Frankfurt and Munich, you pay Tax Paid prices, and you have to reclaim the VAT through Global Blue. Compared to the German VAT of 19% (16% of retail), Global Blue will refund you between 11.2% and 14.5%. There is no Tax Discounting for intra-EU passengers
- At US airports, I have found that, generally speaking, only those free-standing stores run by the main Duty Free retailers sell to international passengers without local sales tax. The rest apply the tax. (See the Destination Prices & Sales Taxes section for tax rates at major US airports.) However, it’s not always obvious who these are so you need to check.
- There is no VAT in Hong Kong so there is no tax benefit to buying at the airport.
I’ll keep updating this list as I get more information.
Where to Find the Free-Standing Designer & Luxury Boutiques
Of the 40 largest airports by international traffic, the following ones stand out in terms of designer & luxury boutiques:
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi – Store List
Barcelona – Store Directory
Beijing Terminal 3 – Store Directory
Beirut – Store List
Doha Qatar – Store Directory
Dubai – no online information
Frankfurt – Store Directory
Hong Kong – Store Directory (No VAT in Hong Kong)
Istanbul – Store & Product Directory
Kuala Lumpur – Store Directory
London Heathrow – Heathrow Boutique
Los Angeles, Tom Bradley Terminal – Store Directory
Madrid – Store Directory
Munich – Store Directory (better range than Frankfurt)
Paris Charles de Gaulle – Store Directory
Rome Leonardo DaVinci – Luxury Shopping Guide, Store Directory
Seoul Incheon – Store Directory
Singapore Changi – Store Directory
Sydney – Store Directory
Tokyo Narita – Store Directory
Local Price Comparisons
In case you’d like to make some price comparisons vs. your home, here are some international designer/luxury websites which show local prices:
Piaget Hong Kong
Piaget Italy – go through Piaget International page