Are Watches Cheaper in Airports?

Duty free shop

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People often think that watches are cheaper in the duty-free section of an airport, but in fact, there is no short answer to this question. There are a lot of things to consider if you are looking at buying a watch in an airport duty-free area.
To oversimplify, the answer is sometimes, but more often than not, it is actually no, they are not cheaper in airports. In this short blog, we will be covering the costs, myths, and factors that affect the price you pay for your new timepiece.

Duty-Free Myths 

Duty free at the airport Sheremetyevo
To get started, we are going to look at the duty-free areas in the airports and some of the biggest myths around them. These might be factors that will help you make your purchase, or persuade you not to.

There is no Tax 

This is not strictly true, duty-free means that the item you are buying is not subject to local taxes when being sold. This does not mean however that it is exempt from customs duty when returning to your home country.
You can often spend a lot more than you had intended when returning to your home country. The ‘hidden costs of watch buying overseas can often be overlooked by most, so it is important to think about this.

You Can Sneak the Watch Back

A lot of people think they are smarter than the customs officers and try to sneak back their purchases. This often ends badly and can get you slapped with big fees, fines, and even jail time. You may not even know, but this is essentially smuggling at the lowest form.
The opportunity cost of trying to sneak a watch or high-value item back is much higher than just declaring it, so do not try and outsmart or trick the system.

Customs Won’t Know

Swatch watches in a store at Dubai International Airport
Customs are incredibly good at spotting a new purchase or knowing what to look for. It can be as simple as seeing you fumble when trying to put back on a new undeclared watch or coming back from a high-profile location such as Switzerland.
Officers are trained to spot certain things and suspicious behavior, so it is always the best course of action to be helpful, cooperative, and honest. 

Everything is Cheaper 

There are a lot of items people will tell you are best to buy at duty-free shops in the airport, with the most common being perfume and alcohol. 
In fact, if you are looking at local merchandise or confectionery, they are often massively overpriced as opposed to the prices in town. This is often to get the flight transfers, layovers, or people who missed things on their trips.
In terms of watches, it is not as easy to determine what is and what is not a good price on the surface. Deals may be harder to work out and costs are harder to factor in.

Things to do When Looking at Airport Watches

Here are a few factors to keep in mind when you are looking at airport watches that might help you make your mind up.

Price Check 

Luckily, as we are living in the 21st century, pretty much everyone has access to the internet or a smartphone whilst in the terminal. This can be your greatest asset when shopping in the airport for a watch or other ‘duty-free’ goods. 
You can use your phone to check the prices of your watch online, and know if you really are getting a good deal or not. 
You will be surprised how often prices are the same or even more expensive in the airport.

Shop at Trusted Stores

John F. Kennedy International Airport
Just because a store is in an airport does not mean it is the best and most trustworthy location you can buy your watch from. It is no secret that a lot of watch sellers and salespeople are on commission or have some kind of incentive scheme.
Try not to be pressured into a purchase by a flashy salesperson, and only shop at trusted stores that you recognize. 
Another thing to look out for is the foot traffic, if a store is busy, it is often a more viable choice, if no one is around, you should take note.

Be Aware of the Quality 

Airport watches have likely been handled by thousands of people looking to get a good deal. You want to ensure you have thoroughly checked the quality of your watch and are not being sold a floor model or window piece.
If you are intending on buying the watch at the airport make sure it is in mint condition and a new timepiece (unless you are buying from a second-hand seller, then that is up to your discretion).

Be Logical 

It is very common to get swept up in the excitement of a trip and make decisions that in normal circumstances seem a bit irrational. This is exactly why duty-free shops make so much money and are so successful. 
It may not be the main factor in their sales, but it is certainly one of them. Add in the fact you are sometimes wandering around the airport bored, you may find yourself browsing and even buying things you had not intended on.

Don’t Make Any Quick Decisions 

Due to the nature of airports people often do a lot less research about their products, often because of the limited window of time they have.
This can lead to making less savvy decisions and purchases than normal. You want to ensure you have taken the proper amount of time to decide on something and do your research prior to buying.
The advantage of an airport is that you do have finite time, so can always get away from a potential sales pitch by saying you have a plane to catch. 
Do not feel pressured by anyone or by yourself, making a big purchase should not be a hasty decision.

Factors That Affect Airport Watch Prices


Hong Kong International Airport Rolex Store
The brand of watch you are shopping for can have a big impact on the cost you will pay for it. Each company and store will have their own price points and fluctuations between different locations and airports, so you could find the same watch for a range of prices.
However, some high-end brands will be universally priced, meaning there is no real difference in the prices you will pay for them; Whereas some others might fluctuate, but then you will have more factors to deal with.
Another example of a factor that could affect your watch price could be the differences between two currencies, which brings us to our next point…

Exchange Rates

Scoreboard exchange rate at the Airport
A factor that you will need to account for when buying a watch overseas is the exchange rate between your local currency and your home currency. 
It’s all well and good if you get a great deal, but when you convert the cost back to your home currency, you might not have such an attractive price tag.
Again, the use of a smartphone can give you a fairly accurate estimate of how much your watch converts to, which will help you determine a good price.


As with everything we buy, the economy will play a part in the cost of your watch. This can be the local, national, or global economy that will affect your price.
Just because airports are off-set from the rest of the world, does not mean they are excluded from it. Everything that happens in the economy affects the prices and costs associated with the watches.
With this being said, there are better and worse times to get a watch. People will often wait for an event to trigger before making a big purchase, this can be luck, timing, or having insider knowledge.


Airport customs, exit, car rental and taxi sign.
Just because something is duty-free at the source does not always mean it will be when you return home from your trip. In fact, customs can be very picky about what does and does not define duty-free.
Each country has its own limits, exclusions, and rules. This can be a hidden cost that you do not factor in when shopping for a watch in an airport. 
You may have saved a few bucks on your watch in the duty-free but you could get stung with a large duty charge upon arriving back home. 

Are Watches Cheaper in Airports Summary

As you can see, the answer is not black and white, there are a lot of different costs and factors you will need to consider when looking at buying a watch at an airport.
When buying expensive items, it is good to consider this mantra ‘if something is too good to be true, it often is’. 
So, although on the surface an airport watch might seem like a good deal, it does not include the additional costs that you will incur in most instances.
Regardless, you can find a cheaper deal on watches even when you factor in the costs, and it is dependent on a range of different things. Each watch is unique so the answer is completely situational.

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