Duty-Free Shopping at Bangkok Airport: Yay or Nay?
I spend a lot of time travelling and when I do, I try to take advantage of some shopping perks I could get as a tourist. But as a visitor, manoeuvring the complicated steps to getting the best bang for your buck can be a headache. On a recent trip to Bangkok, I gave some thought as to how I can stretch my dollar, what to buy there, and how to claim VAT refunds as a visitor. And as someone who has been and shopped there a million times, I guess I could call myself a pro at this. I thought I'd share some handy tips if you were heading over that way.
Shop in Bangkok Like a Pro
- Plan it out. Figure out if you really need to buy that certain something in Bangkok. If you can readily purchase it where you are, try not to hassle yourself.
- Find out where to get stuff. Figure out if you can get it at your exit airport's duty-free. If you can get it there, save your purchase until when you get to the exit airport (the airport you're leaving the country from). I recommend this because the airport duty-free could be up to 20% off the retail prices anywhere else. If you can't get it at the airport, just get them at the central shopping malls. Bigger malls like Siam Paragon have a 5% discount for tourists, not just at the department stores but also at Sephora and other stores.
- Keep the receipts to get your VAT refunds. There are step-by-step guides for VAT refunds here.
Shopping Mall vs. Airport Duty-Free
The prices at the airport duty-free could be up to 20% off the retail prices at shopping malls. Even after the 5% tourist discount and VAT refund, it can still be cheaper to shop at the airport duty-free. On my trip, I bought a YSL Touche Éclat concealer pen at Siam Paragon and later bought the same thing (in a different shade) at the airport. See the price difference for yourself:
On this trip, I did get a 5% tourist discount and claimed a VAT refund for the higher-priced item. So let's do a quick math here (ugh, I avoid math like a plague but just for you guys):
THB 1,700 x 0.95 (5% tourist discount) x 0.93 (7% VAT refund) = THB 1,501.95 total cost of item
So you see, it makes more sense to shop at the duty-free but bear in mind, not all beauty brands are available at the airports so check the airport directory beforehand for your favourite beauty brands available.
All in all, I adore shopping for beauty products in Bangkok. You just can't beat the variety there - there are just more brands and products everywhere you turn. Personally, I regularly go back to haul some YSL and Tom Ford, but I do pick up a few drugstore products that I love as well, especially from Sleek Makeup or Collection.
Do you travel for beauty? If yes, where?