Diplomatic Duty Free Shops of New York – pretend to be an insider

In my four days of trips to the Saudi Arabia Consulate in New York I got to know 866 Second Avenue very well. The building primarily houses permanent missions to the UN plus the full consulates for Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. One time the elevator stopped at the second floor and opened to the showroom of the Diplomatic Duty Free Shops of New York. I later had time to explore during one of my waits at the consulate when the staff asked me to step away during prayer time.

New York Diplomatic Duty Free

DDFS has locations in New York and Washington, D.C. that are open to the public. The NY showroom focuses on all the typical luxury goods except alcohol and cigarattes which are available from their hefty catalog. I did not do a detailed price comparison; prices seemed similar to other duty free in the US meaning not any particularly good deal. It could be useful as a stop when taking Christmas tree sweater wearing visitors around NYC, a way to look like a NY insider.

The advantage is for diplomats that can be exempted from NY sales tax, with the staff on hand to help out in the preparation of DTF-950 Certificate of Sales Tax Exemption for Diplomatic Missions and Personal.

The form lists exemption cards of Buffalo image, Owl image, Deer image, Eagle image, all issued by the US Department of State, and the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) card. Some apply to official purchases, some personal. I should dig a big deeper some time, I imagine there is fierce competition among diplomats over who is a Owl versus a Deer, etc.

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  • I had no idea they do this. I guess I just don’t understand diplomatic immunity. Sometimes governments seem to take it too far. Now they’re exempt from sales tax even when they consume items within the US?

  • Chris

    American diplomats are also typically exempt from taxes in foreign countries where they serve. This includes not only income, sales, property, and those kinds of things, but also sometimes gas taxes, airport departure fees, liquor taxes etc. So it’s a reciprocity thing.

  • Jane S.

    So I can go to the DDFS in Washington DC? I suppose that I couldn’t make a purchase or could I?

  • @Jane S – the public is free to purchase you just don’t get the tax exemptions, so best to know the market price of items you are considering, you can consult the DDFS catalog online, too. Displomats clearly play hard because they list things by the case.

  • LarzMN

    I consulted my sister the State Dept. foreign service agent about the various card images described. It is exactly a reciprocity thing and the various images denote the various levels of benefits the foreign diplomat is entitled to. (and something about the various levels being spelled out in the Geneva convention?) For example, when U.S. personnel go abroad, they typically are sorted into various categories and each category gets more or less benefits in that particular country. Diplomats typically enjoy the highest levels, whereas supplementary staff like Department of Defense get lower levels. And each foreign country is treated exactly as they treat our people, I’m told. It’s a fairly amusing and petty tit-for-tat that countries play with each other.

  • Aptraveler

    Nice one Stefan, and you even found the DDF Shop for the UN accredited personnel. Reading about your trips is always an adventure, so keep it up since is always entertainingly informative.

    @Scottrick if you want to understand DI, I’d suggest checking out the ‘1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations’, is the treaty that created this sort of ‘protocol’ between countries, and is now considered part of Int’l law.

  • sshz

    As a long term past employee of DDFS in Wash, DC, I am thoroughly versed on this type of business. These type of stores have agreements with their vendors not to sell to the general public. Only foreigners with passports and other state dept. ID’S are allowed in.