Are Watches Cheaper in the Dubai Airport?

Are Watches Cheaper in Dubai Airport

As any international traveler can attest, today’s airports are architectural marvels offering a full array of world-class services and amenities, including shopping.  At the forefront of the airport shopping scene is Dubai International Airport, which boasts over 280,000 square feet of retail shopping space dedicated primarily to internationally renowned luxury brands of clothing, perfumes, leather goods, and watches.

Are watches cheaper in Dubai Airport?  This is a much debated topic. Stories abound of travelers who successfully negotiated a once-in-a-lifetime price with a watch merchant and those who were flatly refused any discount at all.  What is beyond dispute is that Duty Free shopping at Dubai International Airport has no peer when it comes to diverse watch brand offerings, quality of timepieces and sheer, jaw-dropping selections.

In this article, we examine how Dubai International Airport burst onto the international Duty Free shopping scene, setting the bar when it comes to the types and quality of goods offered, including among other items, watches.  While strategies may vary as far as negotiating a favorable price for a coveted timepiece, there is one fail-proof method of getting a great discount, but it requires careful advance planning.

About Dubai International Airport

Dubai International Airport (DXB) has quickly become one of the busiest airports in the world, with nearly 90 million passengers passing through its concourses in 2018.  Located in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, DXB, in recent years, has consistently ranked among the world’s top five airports in terms of total passenger traffic and international traffic.

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The city of Dubai is a major international hub of commerce, trade, and finance. It offers world-class shopping rivaling renowned retail centers like Beverly Hills, London, Paris, and Tokyo, with over 70 major shopping centers highlighted by the Dubai Mall, which is the world’s largest shopping center.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that Dubai Airport is considered one of the world’s premier airport shopping operations.  In particular, the Duty Free shops (located in all three terminals) at DXB have surpassed those at London’s Heathrow Airport and Seoul’s Incheon Airport as the world’s largest Duty Free retailer with sales of $2 billion in 2018.

What is Duty Free Shopping?

In a nutshell, Duty Free goods are those that can be purchased only by international travelers in specially designated areas of venues such as airports.  Goods purchased in Duty Free shops are exempt from local taxes, duties, and VATs (value added taxes) because they are presumed to be taken out of the country from where they were purchased.

There is a general perception that items purchased at Duty Free shops are cheaper than those purchased at conventional retail shops and that Duty Free shopping is one of the perks of international travel, particularly when flying out of venues such as Dubai International Airport.

The fact is that Duty Free shops cater to a captive audience: international travelers globetrotting while on holiday or business, who are more inclined to make an impulse buy while on foreign soil than if they were strolling through their local shopping mall with family in tow.  Perhaps the greatest appeal is the sheer variety and selection of name-brand goods, particularly at a venue like Dubai Duty Free.

Dubai Duty Free at DXB

Since its founding nearly 37 years ago, Dubai Duty Free has become the preeminent Duty Free operation worldwide.  Aside from its staggering annual sales figures, Dubai Duty Free which now operates large shops in all three terminals at Dubai International Airport 24/7, offers an unsurpassed selection of brand-name and luxury goods encompassing virtually all major shopping categories.

Concerning watches, Dubai Duty Free has the distinction of offering virtually every popular make and nearly every model.  Their vast selection alone draws significant traffic comprised of serious watch enthusiasts seeking a rare timepiece to curious travelers who are content to peruse through more displays of watches than they would ever see in an entire lifetime.

Unlike the Souks (traditional Arabian street markets) of Dubai, the watch vendors at Dubai Duty Free are either authorized dealers or reputable merchants of authenticable timepieces that carry warranties that will be honored at any authorized service center.  Luxury watches have serial numbers that can be verified, and watch vendors will, more often than not, allow inspection of timepieces for such piece of mind.

Are Watch Prices Negotiable at Dubai Duty Free?

Although there are those who claim to have successfully negotiated a bargain on a watch at Dubai Duty Free, most accounts report that discounts are simply not to be had.  What does favor the shopper is the fact that with such an extensive inventory of watches that turns over fairly quickly, certain vendors may be more motivated to maintain sales numbers or clear space for incoming inventory or new models.

Many watch vendors at Dubai Duty Free, mindful of the fact that there are no local taxes or duties, actually raise their prices commensurate with the amount of the so-called Duty Free savings so that their goods are actually more expensive than elsewhere.

This notwithstanding, those who have attempted and failed to secure favorable pricing still recommend asking for a discount, although with a certain level of respect and deference for local custom and culture. 

Dubai Duty Free Anniversary Sale

There is one day every year when the tables are turned in the shopper’s favor.  Dubai Duty Free was founded on January 20, 1983, and on each anniversary of this date, there are significant discounts (up to 25%) offered on a wide variety of goods.  Whether this justifies planning your next Middle East excursion accordingly is up to you.

One category of goods for which Dubai Duty Free is world-renowned is cosmetics and perfumes, which comprise nearly 15% of all sales.  By some accounts, there are better prices to be had on perfumes (along with an incredibly vast selection) from Dubai Duty Free than practically anywhere else.

Things to Consider About Dubai Duty Free Shopping

As when shopping abroad anywhere, it is necessary to be mindful of currency exchange rates when traveling and shopping.  The local currency is the AED (Arab Emirate Dirham), and unlike other foreign currencies where rates fluctuate daily, the AED is fixed to the U.S. dollar at the rate of 3.6725 (or 1 AED equals 0.272 USD).

Another important thing to keep in mind is that while you will not be assessed any local tax when making your Duty Free purchase in Dubai International Airport, upon return to the U.S., you will be required to complete U.S. Customs and Border Protection Form 6059B. This form is a declaration of items you purchased abroad and are bringing back with you into the United States.

There is an exemption amount, typically $800.00 worth of goods for which you will not be assessed any duties or taxes at customs.  However, any declared value exceeding the exemption amount will be assessed duties that must be paid at customs.  It would be wise to keep all proofs of purchase (e.g., receipts, invoices) handy in case you are asked to validate entries on your form.

Opinions and accounts vary as to whether watches are, in fact, cheaper at Dubai International Airport.  The general consensus seems to be that shoppers at Dubai Duty Free should ask (respectfully) for a discount on their watch but be prepared to walk away if the price is not right.  But at the very least, partake and enjoy the spectacle of variety and selection that can only be found at Dubai Duty Free.

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