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What Is a Departure Tax?

By K. Kinsella
Updated May 16, 2024
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A departure tax is a charge, imposed by a national or municipal government, that individuals must pay when they leave certain locations whether by land, air, or sea. Often the charge is added into the price of a departing airplane ticket, or it may be required to pay it separately at an airport or other transportation stations. The tax rate may vary between governments, and often the amount depends upon a person's age — typically, adults are the most costly, children are less, and in some cases, children under a certain age will not be required to pay the tax. The revenues are often used to cover public expenses such as transportation infrastructure or security costs.

Plan Ahead

Before traveling, passengers should inquire about any necessary departure fees charged by all countries through which they will be traveling. In some instances, travelers may have to pay more than one departure tax as a result of embarking on a single trip; for example, a person traveling by air from the US to Cambodia may have a layover in China. A charge may be imposed upon leaving China after a layover, and again upon leaving Cambodia. If another layover is required while traveling back to the US, it may be necessary to pay a third time.

Many government agencies choose to include the tax in the price of a transportation ticket, while others require passengers to pay separately, right before exiting the country. Planning ahead to have the correct amount and type of currency on hand is important as in many cases credit cards or checks are not acceptable payment forms for the departure charge. It may be best to know ahead of time how much money and what type of currency is required to leave the country, so if a traveler will be exchanging currency before leaving, he or she can be prepared to pay.

National Level

Many national governments impose a departure tax on air travelers, and in most cases both national residents and foreigners are required to pay whenever they leave the country. Some nations use proceeds from the airport tax to cover the cost of installing baggage scanners and other types of security devices in airports. Those with economies that are heavily reliant upon tourism often impose airport or departure taxes as a way for the general public to directly benefit from the tourism industry. Consequently, revenues from the national departure tax in many countries are used to cover costs related to education, healthcare, and other types of government programs that often have no direct connection to travel or transportation.

Departure taxes imposed on the national level are also often applied to ships and other ocean vessels. Taxes are frequently paid by not only consumers who travel on these boats, but also by freight companies who use ships and cargo vessels to export goods. Some national governments negotiate tax agreements with other nations in which boat operators and cargo companies are often exempted from having to pay the departure charge. Such agreements normally only apply to commercial cargo — consumers typically still have to pay the applicable taxes regardless of any agreements between governments.

City Level

Aside from national governments, many cities and municipalities charge a departure tax. Local governments in cities containing major airports have to ensure that adequate transportation systems, such as roads and rail links, are in place to safely transport travelers to and from the airports. These governments often require travelers to pay a departure tax and use proceeds to cover the cost of building and maintaining these transportation links. Additionally, revenue is often reinvested in the local community so that the citizens whose lives are sometimes negatively impacted by airport traffic and noise pollution are able to realize some benefit from the tourism industry as a whole.

Some municipal governments also impose departure taxes on firms that operate taxis and buses. These firms often operate services that enable travelers to get from ports or airports into the city center. In many instances, the operators of these vehicles have to pay a per trip or even a per traveler departure tax every time a vehicle leaves a port or airport terminal.

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