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Tips and advice for tax free shopping in Dubai

When it comes to retail therapy, Dubai certainly knows a thing or two. The UAE city is renowned for its glamourous atmosphere, lavish spending habits, enormous malls and world-class shopping experience .

Whatever you're looking for, you’ll find it on a shopping holiday to Dubai. From traditional markets and souks to exclusive designer boutiques, world-renowned names and high end fashion houses.

This really is the ultimate destination for shopaholics. Coupled with some of the world's most amazing entertainment venues, family attractions, theme parks, a lively downtown and a million things to do, Dubai's retail centres make for an incredible holiday.

Home to the world's largest mall - Dubai Mall, famous for Fashion Avenue - the city is the perfect place to explore, whether you come with the intention of retail therapy or not. Take a trip to a souk to experience traditional Emirati culture, pick up some unique souvenirs and try the local food. Or, browse a modern shopping complex, designer village or one of the many glittering malls to get a taste of UAE luxury.

Dubai is known around the world as a true shopping paradise, and the place to visit for opulent purchases. Think gold jewellery, precious stones, international designer wares and more.

But what are the rules when it comes to paying tax on your shopping purchases? Is there cheap shopping in Dubai? And where are the best places in Dubai for shopping anyway?

We’ve penned this helpful guide to shopping in Dubai to help you work out if a bargain really is a bargain…

clothes rack in store

Image: Charles Deluvio, Unsplash

Is shopping in Dubai expensive?

While Dubai has a reputation for glamour and decadence, there are so many shops and malls to choose from that you'll be able to make the perfect purchase for any budget. As well as the designer, high end shops the UAE is famous for, you'll find plenty of more affordable prices and shops located all around the city.

Many of Dubai's souks and markets offer reasonable prices across a range of goods, from food to souvenirs and fashion. Some of our favourite places in Dubai for more affordable shopping include:

  • Waterfront Market - Deira
  • Karama Centre
  • The Outlet Village
  • Dubai Outlet Mall

Dubai duty free rules

Duty free shopping is a huge draw for UK visitors to Dubai, and it's no surprise. Dubai Airport is home to a spectacular duty free store where you’ll find alcohol, tobacco, confectionery, perfume, cosmetics and plenty more.

Purchases you make in Dubai’s duty-free store are exempt from tax. However, there are limits to what you can and can’t bring into the UK before paying tax. Make sure you familiarise yourself with these rules, regulations and restrictions to avoid paying heavy fines or losing your purchases.

Duty free allowances for British holidaymakers

The duty-free limits for bringing duty free alcohol into the UK are as follows:

  • 42 litres of beer
  • 18 litres of wine (not sparkling)
  • 4 litres of sprits (over 22% abv)* OR
  • 2 litres of fortified wine, sparking wine or alcohol (up to 22% abv)*

*However, this last allowance can also be split, allowing you to take part fortified wine and part spirits.

As for tobacco, you won’t have to pay tax (duty) on one of the following: 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco. Anything over this amount must be declared.

Shopping in Dubai, what can I take back?

Holidays to Dubai are perfect for those who like to shop till they drop.

You only need to head to the extravagant Dubai Mall (over 1200 stores) or the Mall of the Emirates (over 700 stores) to see the city’s lavish shopping habits. However, there is a limit to what you can and can’t bring back to the UK before paying tax.

If you’re thinking of shelling out for that designer pair of shoes, remember that you’re allowed goods up to the value of £390 (per item).

If an item you’ve bought abroad exceeds that amount, you’ll have to pay duty or tax on the full value of that item and it must be declared at customs. This is measured at 2.5% on anything up to the value of £630. Anything over this is calculated by customs.

Dubai Mall

Do you have to pay VAT on purchases in Dubai?

A value added tax of 5% was introduced in the United Arab Emirates in 2018, however it is possible to do tax free shopping in Dubai.

Visitors to Dubai can also claim a refund on VAT for purchases over AED250, as long as the items are not partially or fully consumed in the city, and are accompanied by a tourist on departure. To complete a tax free purchase in Dubai:

  1. While at the store, ask a member of staff for help with a tax free transaction
  2. The shop assistant will scan your passport and generate a tax free tag for your receipt
  3. You'll be provided with a digital tax form, which you must validate on departure, within 90 days of the date of purchase

Declaring items brought on a Dubai holiday

If you feel you’ve exceeded your tax free limit, you’ll have to declare these on returning back to the UK.

You can do this simply by walking through the ‘goods to declare’ exit and speaking to customs officers.

Failure to declare any items can result in prosecution or a fine, so it’s worth checking if you have exceeded your duty free allowance.

Dubai coastline shot with Burj Al Arab

Image: Christoph Schulz, Unsplash

Where to shop in Dubai

Clearly, Dubai is a shopper's paradise, with outlets and markets to suit every taste, budget and need. So, make sure to leave room in your suitcase even if you're just going on a sightseeing Dubai holiday!

Downtown Dubai

Home to attractions like the iconic Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountain and the family favourite Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, downtown Dubai is also where you'll find the highest concentration of designer storefronts anywhere in the United Arab Emirates.

There are millions of square feet to cover at the Dubai Mall here, which can take up several days' worth of exploration time. There are over 1,300 shops - including world-famous department stores like Bloomingdale's - so make sure to bring a (long) list.

Jebel Ali

For designer discounts and beautiful bargains, you can't go wrong with The Outlet Village here on the outskirts of Dubai. The mall is designed like a village, and is home to dozens of discounted stores including famous names like Michael Kors, Superdry, Diesel, Coach, Montblanc, Ted Baker and more. This is also a top pick for shopping stops on family holidays, thank to the food court, spacious department stores and the Stay & Play creche service.

Al Barsha

A truly showstopping experience, the Mall of the Emirates is a local favourite thanks to the United Arab Emirates' only ski slope! In addition to snowy adventures, the mall is incredibly stylish thanks to its spectacular Fashion District - where luxury-minded shoppers can brows the wares at the likes of Gucci and Bulgari.

There are also some more affordable prices to be had around the rest of the mall, with familiar high street stalwarts like Topshop and Harvey Nichols ready for browsing. If you're in need of serious retail therapy - or just fancy a taste of the luxury life for a day - try the hands free shopping service and collect your bags at the end of your spree.

Bur Dubai and Deira

You can't have a proper Dubai shopping experience without a trip to the Old Dubai Souks. This is old Dubai, built around the ancient creek and bursting with history and culture. For rich textures and jewel toned colours, make a beeline for the Textile Souk at Bur Dubai. Hop aboard a traditional abra boat to visit the Gold Souk at Deira, as well as souks famous for fragrant perfumes and rich spices.

It's easy to while away an entire day exploring the souks, which are a jumble of colour, fragrance and wonder. A real treasure trove, here you can pick up everything from traditional incense and luxurious pashmina to souvenir knick knacks and faux designer goods.

Luxury shopping meets traditional marketplaces

Remember, Dubai holidays are perfect for picking up a bargain or a rare find, be that in one of the city’s malls or souks. Here are our top three tips for a successful spending spree:

Haggle in the markets

Haggling is commonplace across the Middle East. If you want to pay what the locals pay, you’ll have to master the art of haggling. Have a price in your mind, negotiate and be prepared to walk away.

It's also worth noting that if you don't want to haggle, or wish to wander the souks undisturbed, wearing a pair of visible headphones is a good trick.

Calculate the exchange rate on your phone

There are numerous apps available for smart phones that can calculate the exchange rate between AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham and GBP (British Pound). Download a good one before your trip to work out if you’re getting the best deal.

In local markets or souks, you may be able to shop around for the best deals too, so it might not always be the best deal to impulse buy.

Only take back what you can fit in your luggage

It might sound like common sense, but Dubai's many wonders and temptations can often be the cause of an outsize baggage charge on the return flight!

While it may be tempting to spend your money on large traditional ornaments or a Persian rug, you may have to pay high shipping costs to get it back to the UK. Be realistic, if you’re going to splash out, pay for a bigger baggage allowance outright to get the best deal. That way, you save more spare change for the actual shopping!

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