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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?