Have you ever just chilled out for a bit and hung around a duty-free mall, well because you’re organised and you’ve arrived nice and early for your flight and so you have some time to kill? People-watching is a favourite activity amongst true travellers whose wanderings are more about exploration than anything else, so people-watching in this particular setting feeds that spirit.

So taking things back to the duty-free mall setting, it’s interesting to note how generally the most indicatively money-savvy class of travellers in backpacking budget travellers almost never hang around too long in these duty-free malls, simply because they don’t see anything much of value to buy. I mean sure, if some of these financially savvy travellers are smokers, for instance, then they’ll take every opportunity to stock up on some ciggies so that they save a bit of money in the long run, but otherwise a duty-free mall doesn’t seem to be the place you go if you want to save money.

Is it really duty-free?

The thing with economic and political terms and “statuses” such as that of something being duty-free is that ultimately it’s really just a technical term. So yes, if something says it’s duty-free, it means it really is duty-free, which means you don’t have to pay any “duty” on the customs processes surrounding that item’s importation or exportation. Duties that are slapped onto goods coming into a country are basically government service fees to ensure that those items are safe for their citizens to use or consume, so duty-free products are usually just pre-screened items which subsequently don’t have to undergo the regular scrutiny.

Does the duty-free status translate to savings?

With this explored understanding of what duty-free really means as a technical term, it should be becoming clear that if something has duty-free status, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s available cheaper than what you’d pay for it via your regular shopping channels. It doesn’t necessarily translate into savings, although that’s the impression often given by the mere mentioning of that status.

The clever way to do duty-free shopping

The smart way to do duty-free shopping is to buy only those items which you really need, taking full advantage of their customs-exempt status. The problem with this however emerges as one which suggests that the items available for sale, duty-free, are generally not very useful items.

Sure, if you’re addicted to tobacco, for instance, then feeding your addiction in a cheaper way (buying duty-free) definitely helps, but to the backpacker for whom there is nothing of value they can buy, there’s not much they can benefit out of seeking to shop duty-free…

Are we perhaps over-thinking it all?

I might be over-thinking all of this, I’ll be the first to admit it, but be that as it may, the bottom line is that duty-free shopping definitely has its place, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into something that carries the value associated with it. I say this as I think about the most delicious chocolate on earth, which I’ve only ever seen sold in one of these duty-free malls!

Mollie Webb

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About the Author

Hello there! My name is Mollie and I dream of seeing every major city in the world. Travelling is always incredible but there’s something special about the hustle and bustle of a big city that always entices me. Whether it be Tokyo or Mumbai, there’s always so much to discover from the locals and the side streets. Come along with me on my journey!

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