Choosing a duty-free ski resort can drastically reduce the cost of your holiday. Europe is home to three duty-free ski areas: Livigno in Italy, Samnaun in Switzerland, and the Principality of Andorra.
The shops in these ski resorts are exempt from excise duty tax and visitors can buy alcohol, perfumes, cigarettes, petrol, hi-tech products, and a lot more at very affordable prices.
What is duty-free shopping?
As in any duty-free area, purchases in Livigno, Samnaun, and Andorra are regulated by rules, which determine the quantity of tax-free goods for each person. On leaving Livigno, for example, you can carry a carton of cigarettes (equivalent to 200 units), two litres of alcoholic beverages of less than 22 percent alcohol, and three or four bottles of perfume. Other products are subject to a maximum value, which corresponds to €300 per person (€150 for kids under 15 years). It is necessary that the goods purchased are for personal use and not for trade. Duty-free allowance applying to Andorra is more generous.
Nothing prevents you from buying more items than specified in the regulations (excluding tobacco). In this case, however, you need to declare it at customs and pay taxes otherwise you risk a fine, confiscation of the goods, and a prosecution for smuggling.
Livigno is a ski resort of international importance in Upper Valtellina (Sondrio province). The village lies in a wild and secluded valley at 1,800 metres. Its duty-free status is directly related to its isolated position: until 1952, when the pass Foscagno (linking Bormio to Livigno) was opened to traffic in winter, the village remained inaccessible for many months a year.
Duty-free shopping: Livigno, Italy
The village was built along the Spöl stream and is dotted with numerous shops and mini markets - more than 250! These are open seven days a week and sell everything you can possibly want or need: from perfumes to kitchenware, clothes, toys, specialty food, and electronics. You can of course buy tobacco, alcohol, and petrol as well. Many old stone and wood houses have been skilfully restored and are home to luxury boutiques rivalling those of the fashion district in Milan.
To skiers and snowboarders Livigno - home of champion Giorgio Rocca - offers 185 kilometres of slopes for all levels served by more than 30 modern lifts, a long track for cross-country skiing which runs through the valley, and two top snowparks. The ski area hosts high-level sports competitions, which attract famous athletes from around the world. Hospitality is guaranteed by more than 100 hotels, 1,250 apartments, bed and breakfasts, and inns for every budget. For après-ski skiers are spoiled for choice: pubs, wine bars, nightclubs, cinema, bowling, billiards, and hotel spas. The Tourist Promotion Agency organises lots of events throughout the season.
To get to Livigno in winter you can drive through Bormio or go from Switzerland, through the toll tunnel Munt La Schera, connecting Lower Engadine and Zernez to Livigno. The single lane gallery with alternating traffic has been open for individuals since 1968 and has made the journey much easier. When leaving Livigno, consider the queues that form at the customs exit, especially on weekends and holidays: the customs officers control the goods purchased and slow down the traffic.
Samnaun, the only duty-free zone of the Swiss Confederation, is located in the easternmost part of Switzerland, wedged between Austria and Italy. As in the case of Livigno, Samnaun's fiscal privileges are due to its particular geographical position.
Duty-free shopping: Samnaun, Switzerland
It is made up of five villages distributed along a secluded and landlocked valley, with an altitude range of 1700 to 1840 meters. Until 1912 the only road leading to Samnaun was the one from Spiss, Austria. To reach the rest of Switzerland the inhabitants of Samnaun had to cross the Austrian territory. For this peculiarity, Samnaun was for many centuries a haven for smugglers, who used to carry goods on their shoulders along the steep mountain paths. Today this "job" is remembered in the name of several businesses, footpaths and initiatives with the word "Schmuggler" (smuggler).
There are more than 50 shops concentrated mainly in Samnaun Dorf and - to a much lesser extent - in the adjacent village of Ravaisch. The areas Laret, Compatsch, and Plan have a maximum of three shops each, but are only four kilometres at most away from Dorf. The shops offer primarily branded perfumes and cosmetics, spirits and wines, tobacco, clothing and accessories, jewellery, and luxury items. Their opening times are unusually extensive for the Swiss standard. The many petrol stations offer automated service 24 hours a day.
The après-ski life takes place mostly in bars and pubs, and is much quieter than in Ischgl. The Spa Alpenquell-Erlebnisbad in Compatsch village, with swimming pools, sauna, and wellness area, is also worth a visit.
The first ski slopes of Samnaun date back to the mid-1950. Today Samnaun forms the largest ski area in the eastern Alps, the Silvretta Arena, with the nearby resort of Ischgl (Austria), offering 235 kilometres of slopes of mainly intermediate-advanced level, served by 40 modern and efficient lifts. Among these is the first double-decker cable car in the world, capable of carrying 180 passengers. In this ski area snowboarders find a small obstacle park and the Boarder's Paradise, one of Europe's largest funparks.
The easiest road to get to Samnaun is still the old road from Spiss. The other goes up from Vinadi and is entirely in Swiss territory, but it is narrow and has many hairpin turns and unlit tunnels. To those who have the courage to face it, this road gives the chance to admire beautiful landscapes.
This small state in the eastern Pyrenees, sandwiched between France and Spain, offers more than 1500 duty-free shops for every taste and wallet. For the best choice of duty-free goods, head to the shopping malls. The biggest shopping area is found in the capital, Andorra La Vella which is situated at about 1,000 meters above sea level. According to an American journalist, to get an idea of the city "you take the biggest duty-free shopping area you've ever seen and multiply it a hundredfold."
Duty-free shopping: Grandvalira, Andorra
Shopping is concentrated mainly around two roads: Avinguda Meritxell in Andorra La Vella and Avinguda Carlemany in the adjacent Escaldes-Engordany. Ideally you should go around on foot because the area is very busy with French and Spanish shoppers, and vehicles are likely to get stuck in traffic jams.
Outside the capital there are shopping malls in Pas de la Casa (Grandvalira ski area) and in Sant Julià de Lòria. After shopping and skiing, relax in the largest spa in southern Europe: the futuristic Caldea.
Andorra holds the title for the largest ski area in Southern Europe. The slopes are located in Grandvalira and in Vallnord, no more than 20 kilometres from the capital. Overall, these two areas offer 178 slopes (about 285 kilometres in total) served by 111 lifts.
Tips on duty-free shopping
- Before leaving for Livigno, Samnaun or Andorra, find out the "standard" prices of the products you are interested in. Apart from alcohol, fragrances, tobacco and petrol, the offer of duty-free areas can be less advantageous than for example the discounts given by the major electronics franchise chains.
- Read the information which set out the allowances. You can find them on the websites of each resort. If in doubt, ask the customs officer.
- If travelling by car, try to reach your destination with the tank nearly empty - you can fill up on petrol and diesel, making the best use of the mini prices.
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