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Duty Free is an exciting part of the travel journey, allowing passengers to grab a memento from their trip often involving chocolate, booze or perfume to celebrate. Or really, just to take a quick spray of a tester to mask the travel musk. If you do plan on buying something in these bustling airport shops, there’s one travel fail which catches out unsuspecting travelers more than you’d ever imagine.

Unless you want to watch someone pour out your booze, you may want to read up.

When travel returns, it’s likely to involve more connections than it did before, and when it comes to duty free, that matters. Airlines are dropping many of their less successful routes, and that means you’ll be going through another airport to reach your final destination far more often. If you are, the duty free game is totally different.

a group of people walking in a mallTravelers are caught out every day, buying something at their point of origin, not realizing that in they’ll be re-screened before any onward connections, if they exist. That means liquids over 100ml must go, or be consumed, with just a few exceptions.

Tamper proof bags, sealed with an original purchase receipt by a duty free employee are typically that exception. If they ask “do you have any onward connections” that’s usually why they’re asking. You need one.

If you don’t have one, and you don’t want to get arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct in a foreign country, for consuming a bottle of booze so it doesn’t get poured out, be sure to check the rules for each journey. Your Toblerone would be fine, but in many transit countries larger perfumes and liquids, like champagne or whiskey not so much.

Yep, that beautiful bottle of champagne you bought to toast the trip could be going to someone else, or worse, in the bin at a security checkpoint. With very few exceptions, there are no exceptions and that’s why paying attention to your itinerary is vital to any duty free purchase.

a glass of wine next to a windowNo connection? No worries! Unless your final destination is a country which prohibits bringing in alcohol of any kind, you should be absolutely fine buying duty free goods. Qatar, for example doesn’t allow you to bring any alcohol into the country, but transit is fine.

The issue is around buying duty free liquids before your last flight. Unless you’re able to reconnect with your bag in between, or have a tamper proof bag, sealed with the receipt inside, and are transiting a country which allows this, the goods won’t be joining you.

Yes, some countries will allow you with sealed, tamper proof bags from duty free, even if the liquids are over 100ml, but you’ll need to read up on airport information from the country you plan to connect in.

Let’s say you’re flying from London to Bangkok, with a connection in China. Anything you buy at duty free in London will need to go through security again in China, before you board the onward flight to Bangkok.

This  means any liquids over 100ml are getting tossed, unless China offers an exception for tamper proof duty free bags, which it currently does not. The good news? Other countries do, but it’s based on where you’re going, or where the duty free was purchased.

If you resisted the temptation in London, and instead bought duty free in China, you’d be fine, since it’s your last flight, either way.

Travel memories should always be toasted, or sprayed via a lovely perfume, but just make sure not to swipe your card until just before the last flight on your international itinerary, or when you know your connecting country allows duty free exceptions. Otherwise you may end up buying twice, which kinda defeats the point of duty free pricing.

Duty Free

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. So i was worried about that once traveling to Bali from BRU via BKK. The salesperson in BRU assured me it would be safe as long as it was in the sealed duty free bag. BKK security didn’t raise a fuss about it (and well over 100 mls).

  2. Very true! I recall several years ago there was a Chinese woman who drank an entire bottle of expensive cognac at security once she learned she couldn’t bring it through.

  3. A clear chart on the wall of duty free shops that show which countries allow tamper proof bags would help. I recall buying a bottle of liquor at a foreign airport. The liquor was bagged in a tamper-proof bag. When I hit the US – Chicago I think – I just kept it in my carry on rather than switching it to my checked bag after customs. When reentering security the TSA people cut open the bag, ran the bottle through some type of analysis, saw that it was not dangerous, then taped it shut back in the original bag. A lot of rigamarole but it worked out fine.

  4. Bad example with Doha. They do allow transfers with more than 100ml: ”All the LAGs (Liquids, Aerosols and Gels) bought at Duty free shops in the airports other than HIA, in packages of more than 100 ml, must be sealed in a STEB (Security tamper-evident bag) with a receipt, as a proof of purchase. If not packed properly, all those LAGs will be confiscated by the authorities.” This is quite common so I think your article makes the issue seem larger than it really is. Good to research though.

    1. In response to the Doha post: No, actually, Doha is quite strict. I had sealed bags w receipts and they made me purchase a suitcase for them to go into, since I was not traveling with a carryon or companion.

      The suitcase was $300 (cheapest one they had) and cost me more than the port I purchased but I was not going to leave it behind.

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