Customarily, Duty Free Brings Savings

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Customarily, Duty Free Brings Savings

"I buy cosmetics and fashion goods at duty- free shops in Seoul, although I travel to Hong Kong almost once a month on business trips," said Yuk Sewng-yeon, 29. "I prefer shopping in Seoul because I normally want to have a second opinion when buying fashion items, and the prices are reasonable in duty-free shops here."

Summer has come, and many people are planning their vacations. If you are thinking of a foreign trip - and if you happen to love shopping - there is something extra that you can enjoy before you even leave the country.

As in many countries, travelers departing Korea can buy products in duty-free stores without having to pay import duties or taxes. In addition to the airport, there are duty-free shops around the city. Goods purchased here are picked up at the airport prior to departure.

Popular items include cosmetics, fragrances, liquor, tobacco and designer fashion goods as well as Korean handicrafts and ginseng.

Products sold at duty-free shops are sometimes as much as 50 percent less expensive than at retail stores. An example: Chanel lipsticks are sold at $22 each plus tax at major department stores in New York City. The price is 29,000 won ($22) at department stores and $16 at duty-free shops in Seoul.

If you make sure to stick to shopping for the basics in duty-free shops, you'll soon save enough money to buy another lipstick in your second favorite color.

Yes, you do not have to pay import duties and taxes when you buy goods at duty-free shops, but that is not the end of the story. There are other benefits to shopping duty free.

Duty-free shops in the city are favored by many travelers, Japanese tourists in particular, because they are one-stop shopping spots where you can browse through large selections of famous-name brands from around the globe.

When the government raised the limit for Korean citizens shopping at duty-free stores to $2,000 per person at the start of this year, more Koreans began to enjoy the privilege. However, Korean nationals can only bring back goods worth less than $400, if they were purchased without paying custom tax, when returning to the country.

The Hotel Lotte Duty Free Shop in Myeongdong, downtown Seoul, is one of the best-known shopping places for travelers. Not only does it offer a variety of luxury fashion goods, but it also provides another way for customers to save more and enjoy other benefits.

"Our VIP Card is the way to go," said Lee Jae-suk, manager of the Hotel Lotte Duty Free Shop. Korean citizens who have spent a minimum of $400 in Lotte duty-free stores - located in Myeongdong, Jamsil and Incheon airport - over the past two years are eligible for Lotte's VIP Silver Card, which offers 10 percent discount on goods sold at the three stores. Korean citizens who have spent more than $4,000 are eligible for the VIP Gold Card, which offers a 15 percent discount. Foreign travelers have to spend more than $4,000 to get the silver cards and $40,000 for the gold cards.

"About 80 percent of our customers are Japanese travelers and many of them shop at our store regularly using VIP cards," Ms. Lee said.

Lotte duty-free shops hold bargain sales every season; the next runs until July 29. Shoppers can purchase goods at discounts of 20 to 30 percent, and VIP cardholders will get an additional 5 percent discount during the bargain sales period.

"We keep customer records for VIP cardholders and award them other benefits. They can earn gift certificates, free coupons for amusement parks and air miles for the money they have spent at our shops," Ms. Lee explained.

Lotte's VIP cardholders can earn air miles with Asiana, Japan Airlines and Japan Air System. Foreign cardholders are also eligible to apply for rental car coupons to be used in Seoul.

The SKM Duty Free Shop in COEX mall offers similar services. VIP cardholders can benefit from a 10 percent discount on goods sold at the mall, which is located near the city's airport terminal at Gangnam.

The Shilla Duty Free shop, located in Shilla Hotel in Seoul, also has a membership program. Members can buy goods at discounts of 10 to 15 percent at the shop. The program also provides 10 to 50 percent discounts on room rates for Shilla hotels in Seoul and Cheju and at the Kensington Hotel in Mount Sorak. Members can also enjoy discounts when using the KTT international call roaming service and exchanging foreign currency at Shinhan, Citi and Hanvit banks.

Skypass, Korean Air's air mileage card, allows shoppers to get a 15 percent discount at the Hanjin Duty Free store in downtown Seoul and a 30 percent discount on Hertz and AVIS rental cars. Travelers who spend more than $100 at the shop get a free ride to Incheon airport on the KAL limousine bus.

There are four duty-free stores at the new Incheon International Airport. The stores stock different major sales items so that customers do not have to browse through the same products again and again.

Seoul's new airport is large, and by knowing where to go, shoppers do not have to hurry before catching their flights. Duty Free Korea, operated by the Korea National Tourism Organization, and AK Duty Free focus their sales on Korean handicrafts, ginseng, liquor, tobacco, packaged Korean foods such as kimchi and electronic goods. DFS and Lotte duty-free shops sell fragrances, cosmetics, watches and jewelry.

If you have already boarded your plane, you might want to check out the handout inside the seat pocket in front of you. Airlines traveling to international destinations offer in-flight duty- free shopping and the goods sold include cosmetics, fragrances, liquor and tobacco. Most airlines award mileage for the money you spend at in-flight duty-free shops.

Be aware that the country of destination may stipulate how much duty free you can bring in without paying customs tariffs. Travelers to Korea can enter with up to $400 worth of duty- free goods, 1 liter of alcoholic liquor and 200 cigarettes.

Customs regulations are normally available from flight attendants and are indicated at airports. The Web site of the Korean Customs Service at has all the information you need in English, plus a bulletin board where you can post questions and get quick answers about Korea's customs regulations.

If you're too busy to shop when you travel, you might consider making use of duty-free stores' services on the Web. Most stores now accept orders online, and it's also a good way to compare prices. You can browse goods and order with your credit card from your chair, and your purchases will be waiting for you at the airport of your choice.

Now that's untaxing!

by Ser Myo-ja

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