Saving While Shopping at Duty Free Philippines: A Buyer’s Review

We look into whether the tax-free deals at duty-free shops let buyers save.

By: Peter Parcon | July 21, 2017
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These days, people are looking for ways to get the most out of their hard-earned cash. This is especially true among balikbayans (Filipinos returning home after living in another country) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) when they come home after years of being away from the family.

Duty Free Philippines shopping review

A clown gives shoppers a warm welcome at a duty-free store.

When they return home, the whole family normally drops by the nearest duty-free shop to get the best deal for their hard-earned dollars. Children typically head over to the toys section, while dads check out the latest appliances. Moms would look for the best deals at the supermarket or the home department. Teens would usually want to go gadget-shopping. But do they really save when they shop in duty-free stores?

Duty Free Philippines shopping review

Families shopping together are a common sight at a duty-free shop.

Historical background

Duty free shops were originally established when Tourist Duty Free Shops, Inc. (TDFS) was given an exclusive franchise to operate duty-free shops in September 1977. The franchise was revoked in 1986. But on that same year, the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) authorized the Department of Tourism (DOT) to operate duty-free shops for foreign tourists and returning Filipinos.

The first duty-free shop opened on May 2, 1987 at the arrival area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). It initially offered perfumes, liquor, tobacco, and sweets. Today, Duty Free Philippines is operating 15 duty-free shops in different locations throughout the country. Its mission is to provide for the needs of international travelers as well as to demonstrate the warmth and hospitality of Filipinos.

The flagship store of Duty Free Philippines is located in Parañaque City. Fiestamall was established mainly for selling duty-free products. Its state-of-the-art facilities make shopping easier for foreign tourists and returning Filipinos.

Recent reports indicate that some duty-free outlets are in the red. The Commission on Audit (COA) has identified six regional Duty Free outlets to have incurred losses in 2015. Despite this, they continue to operate in support of the DOT.

Duty Free Philippines shopping review

There are Duty Free shops in different locations around the Philippines.

Purchase limitations

Aside from OFWs and balikbayans, foreign tourists and international travelers have the privilege of shopping in duty-free shops around the country. International travelers and foreign tourists should buy at these shops within 24 hours of arrival while OFWs and balikbayans are given 15 days after arrival to buy items. This period for OFWs and balikbayans is extended to 30 days during the holiday season from November 15 to January 15. Shoppers should show a valid passport, boarding pass, and plane ticket. Balikbayans who are 18 years old and above have a maximum purchase limit of $2,000, while minors are limited to $250. All other adult passengers have a $1,000 purchase limit per visit.

Duty Free Philippines shopping review

There are some limitations on the number of items shoppers can purchase at duty-free shops.

There also limitations on the quantity you can buy at duty-free shops. For instance, cigarettes are limited to two reams while liquor or wine is limited to two bottles. Non-consumable products worth over US$200 are also limited to one item. Travelers can take advantage of the duty-free privilege multiple times a year, but are limited to spending US$10,000 for one calendar year. Purchases can be made using the US dollar and other acceptable currencies, such as the Japanese yen, Canadian dollar, British pound and Swiss franc, among others.


Wines and liquor

Duty Free Philippines shopping review

A wide selection of imported wines and liquors are available in duty-free shops around the country.

I can still remember when my dad would come home from an international trip. He would normally visit the wine and liquor section. The prices of wine and liquor in duty-free shops are higher compared to those sold in regular brick-and-mortar stores. Even online stores sell some items at a lower price. The price difference ranges from PhP500 up to PhP1,200.


Duty Free Philippines shopping review

Duty-free shops also offer locally made products.

Imported grocery items are also sold in duty-free shops. Brands like Cowhead, Libby’s, and Hereford are among the items available. The prices of some items at duty-free shops are cheaper compared to regular groceries while others are more expensive. Aside from imported items, duty-free shops also offer locally made products. The difference in prices can go as low as less than PhP1. It can also go up as high as PhP470.

Perfumes and fragrances

Duty Free Philippines shopping review

The well-stocked perfume section of a Duty Free shop

When it comes to perfumes and fragrances, shopping online are generally cheaper compared to the ones sold in duty-free stores. You can also save if you check out some of the perfumes at the local duty-free shop rather than an online store. For instance, a 100 mL bottle of Light Blue perfume by Dolce & Gabbana is cheaper by around PhP 2,000 at a duty-free store compared to buying it from some online stores.


Duty Free Philippines shopping review

Children usually look forward to the toys at a duty-free shop.

Children are normally delighted at the chance of checking out the toys department of duty-free shops. But buyers should check the prices of these items in department stores and online shops since some toys sold in duty-free shops are a bit more expensive. But when these toys go on sale, shoppers can save money compared to buying these at regular prices at the mall. The price difference can range from around PhP800 up to around PhP4,000.

Duty Free Philippines shopping review

Duty-free shops hold sale events offering huge discounts.

People generally view products sold in duty-free shops as cheaper since these items are not taxed. But even with the tax exemption, some items sold in duty-free shops are more expensive than those sold in regular or online stores. However, duty-free shops also have promotions and events where prices go down when bought in bulk. You can also take advantage of promo packs offered at duty-free shops. Similar to established malls in the country, Duty Free Fiestamall also holds sale events where discounts can go as high as 70% on selected items.

Duty Free Philippines shopping review

Duty Free Fiestamall in Parañaque City, the flagship store of Duty Free Philippines

With online shops sprouting like mushrooms, people have started to turn to the net for their shopping needs. Competition is further heightened as regular brick-and-mortar stores have started to offer bigger discounts for some imported items. While a number of items available at duty-free shops are more expensive compared to these regular or online stores, some of them are still sold at lower prices. All you need to do is to check the price of an item you want to buy before heading over to the nearest duty-free shop. So yes, you can still save on select items at Duty Free if you keep your eyes peeled for discounts. As the saying goes “a penny saved is a penny earned.”

Click the store links to see the exact addresses and contact numbers of featured establishments.

Photos/Images are from the official Facebook page of Duty Free Philippines.

Promo dates/Prices may change without prior notice.

Note: Computations are based on an exchange rate of Php48 = US$1. Prices may change without prior notice.
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About Peter Parcon
After leaving spending 16 years of his professional life in the academe, Peter decided to try his luck in the world of online freelancing. For the past eight years, he has been creating content for clients all around the world. He can work on just about any topic - from tattoos to technology and food to finance. He dreams of visiting every island in the archipelago some day.
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Disclaimer: All articles in the Consumers Magazine of Yoorekka are for general information and entertainment purposes only. Although careful research has been made in writing them, Yoorekka does not make any warranty about the completeness and accuracy of all information presented in our articles. Our content is not intended to be used in place of legal, medical, or any professional advice.
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