Duty Free London Heathrow airport, Tax Free at Gatwick and Tax Refund Shopping.

Published by The Duty Free Advisor: Editor on 2012-07-08

Your duty free and tax free shopping questions and answers, for when you arrive in Olympic London.

With millions of visitors, competitors, officials and dignitaries expected to arrive in London during the next 21 days for the Olympic Games, one thing on their mind outside the main event will be shopping.  London is one of the great shopping cities of the world and this guide should give you some assistance.

But, before you go looking for one of the most in demand airport shopping items, sunglasses, bear in mind that Great Britain has just experienced the wettest three months on record, so an umbrella might be a better option if the weather doesn’t improve.

The advice given here is a general view, provided by a UK shopping specialist. Please bear in mind that many of the price comparisons you find in Britain will depend on where you live, the prices you pay at home and the tax you would pay on top. Likewise, your local currency may not be so strong against the British Pound and this can also influence the price you pay.

Can I buy duty free products on arrival at London’s airports?  No, arrivals duty free is not permitted in the United Kingdom. There are some shops available in the arrival areas and baggage halls, but all these goods are tax-paid goods. Liquors sold in arrivals shops are often sold in 70cl bottles and not in Litres. Cigarettes and tobaccos are not sold on arrival at tax-free or duty free prices. If you smoke, bring your brand with you from your airport duty free departure store.  Other goods like perfumes and cosmetics can be found at good prices when you arrive.

I am flying into London via Paris, Amsterdam or Paris, can I buy duty free there and bring it to London?  No, all these countries are located in the European Union and duty free or tax-free sales are not permitted for passengers travelling from one EU member Country to another. There may be shops in the baggage halls at these airports, but the same rules apply as in London.

Can I bring duty free liquids on the plane from my home airport?  This is a complicated subject, it depends on where you arrive from and whether you have changed flights en-route. Most outbound duty free shops should be able to advise you as to whether you can buy liquids and carry them in transit. If you have a direct flight into the United Kingdom, it is more likely that you can bring these duty free liquids with you on the flight. If you are changing flights with a transit stop, you could well have a problem.

What are the best tax free shopping deals in Britain? Without a doubt the prices for electrical goods such as cameras, laptops, netbooks, tablets, gadgets and mobile phones are very competitive in The UK. Check out stores such as PC World, Comet, Dixons-online or Dixons Travel shops in the airport, when you leave. The best location for electrical goods in London can be found in Tottenham Court Road, just north of Piccadilly Circus. Your Hotel Concierge will know where to send you. You can also pre-order online from the above retailers for pickup at the store. It may also be possible to buy some electrical goods under the Tourist Tax Free Shopping Scheme and this would mean you recover the Value Added Tax on the goods. Current UK VAT (sales tax) is 20%. In Britain all prices include the sales tax (VAT) when you buy goods, it is not added on to the display price like in the USA.

Does the UK have Factory Outlet Malls like the USA? Yes, but not so many in close proximity to central London. “Bicester Village” is one of the best and is a 40 minute train ride from London’s Marylebone Station. This mall has a raft of famous luxury brand name shops and is widely regarded as the best outlet shopping mall in Britain. This mall also runs a coach service to the shopping centre, your hotel will know how to book. At Bicester you can also buy with the Tax Free Refund scheme,  so you get a double advantage of good prices for designer brands and then the tax refund on top. Search our main site for details. “Westfied Village” have two malls, one in West London (on the way to Heathrow Airport) and the other, a new outlet mall, is right next door to the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London.

How do I shop Tax Free in London?  This is now quite easy, especially in London. There is a scheme where shops affiliated to the Tax Refund programme record all your purchases and then issue a special receipt which you can use to re-claim the tax when you leave the country. If you take this receipt and the goods you have bought to the special Customs booths in the airport, you can obtain the refund. A Company called "Global Blue" will do all the work for you and make all the Customs paperwork required for the refund. This makes the refund process even easier. The secret is to check if your retailer displays the "Tax-Free Shopping" sign, if they do, just ask them to help you. This could save you up to 20% on everything you buy.

What are the duty free allowances and limits for the United Kingdom?   There are two different limits and allowances for the UK. For those arriving from outside the European Community and for those arriving from another EU Country such as Spain. All these details can be found on our sister site www.dutyfreeonarrival.com located by clicking "home" above.  Then search your airport of arrival and click the Customs link.

Where are the main shopping streets in London?  Where do we begin? London is a shoppers paradise! In central London find your way to "Oxford Circus" which is the main crossroads between Oxford Street and Regent Street. There is a tube (metro) station right there, so it is easy to find. Oxford Street is the best with big department stores such as Selfridges, John Lewis and Debenhams and many smaller branded shops selling everything from luxury designer brands to discount brands. They say that "Primark" is the busiest store in the world. Walk down Oxford Street to Marble Arch, the store is right at the end on the corner, but brace yourself for a scrum as this store has so many good prices they have to control how many people can enter. On the way to Primark, you'll find Bond Street on the left side, just off Oxford Street and next to the Bond Street tube station. Here you will find every luxury brand name you can find, Gucci, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Asprey and more. Every major Brand name from the globe is represented on or near this street. South Moulton Street is adjacent and more quality shops can be found there. Many of these shops operate the Tax Free shopping scheme, so you can load the credit card and then claim back the tax, if you area non-resident of the European Union.

What about duty free shopping when I leave London? If you haven't already over spent downtown, Heathrow and Gatwick airports have a broad range of shops in the departure terminals. For the smokers and drinkers the traditional cigarette and whisky deals are there for all, providing you are flying outside the EU. Other products such as perfumes and cosmetics feature heavily at the airport and every major brand is represented. If you are "airside" (through security) all the prices are tax-free or duty free.

I am travelling to London via the Eurostar train from Paris, can I buy duty free goods?  No, unfortunately not, this is regarded as a domestic journey between EU countries, (France and The UK), so duty free shopping is not allowed. The trains do not have an on board shopping cart like an airline.

Can you give me links to stores to check prices?  Yes, go here to find everything you need before you arrive. asos.com (fashion), dixons.co.uk (electrical), primark.co.uk (fashion/gifts), comet.co.uk (electrical), debenhams.com (perfumes/beauty), bondstreet.co.uk (fashion/luxury brands), marksandspencer.com (luxury food/fashions), bicestervillage.com (Outlet Mall/Luxury brands), pcworld.co.uk (computers/laptops/netbooks/tablets).

What about inflight sales, are these good deals?  If you want perfume or watches, your inbound flight is the place to look. Cigarettes, if sold on board, are normally cheaper than the airports. Alcohol is often limited, due to space. For anything electrical, go to Tottenham Court Road when you arrive in London. Many airlines will now sell you a train ticket into London on the Heathrow Express. This might be useful as the main road (the M4) from Heathrow Airport to Central London has just been closed as they found a crack in a bridge! Not ideal, three weeks before the Olympics.