The extortionate costs associated with receiving items in Spain from the United States or other Non-EU countries has been mystifying expats for ages…as has the seeming randomness of what gets charged and what doesn’t.
Affordable Mallorca will try to help clear up some of the confusion, so you and your loved ones know exactly what you’re up against.
How Spanish Customs Works #
Every package coming from a Non-EU country passes through Spanish customs. This is true whether it arrives from the state-run postal service or a private courier service like Fed-Ex.
Once at Customs, it is up to the discretion of the agent whether to let it pass and continue onto its destination, or to hold it back and get confirmation regarding contents and values from the person it is being delivered to. If this sounds arbitrary, in many ways it is. As you don’t know what “kind” of agent your parcel will pass through, it is always better to work under the assumption that your package will be tagged. As a result, you should attach a pro-forma invoice detailing the contents and an estimate value of each when sending the parcel.
The Spanish government can and will tax and possibly add duties to anything they consider to be of value as well as things purchased abroad that can be obtained in Spain, such as clothing, chocolate, herbal remedies, toys and a variety pack of other items.
At this point, as your parcel is held hostage, you will be sent a letter or email notifying you that your shipment has arrived and asking you to fill out a form citing every item in the box as well as giving a value. If the box is coming from your family and is a gift, you will need to contact them and get a listing of everything in it, as well as what they declared the values to be on their end.
If it comes from a company and they have not already taken care of customs formalities, you will have to provide a receipt from the company with the total you paid. Then you must fill out the form they sent, both by hand and then online, and upload them both (a photo of the paper version is acceptable) along with any other information they ask.
The website is https://www.adtpostales.com/ and is handy for keeping tabs on the progress of your package. This is the on-line brokerage company for Correos, the Spanish postal office. You do have the option to just post the form, but it will extend the amount of time you wait and will not allow you the same ability to track.
The website says you will receive word back on your initial contact in 24-48 hours. My experience is more like 10-14 days, so be patient. If you are missing anything, they deem necessary in the form, they will request you add it in and resend, meaning another 10-14 day wait so try to be thorough the first time. Once they have approved the paperwork, they will either release your parcel to be delivered or, if they say you must pay customs fees, they will email you a bill with the amount.
The amount must be paid IN CASH to the bank designated in the email, and as soon as this is done, they will release your items and send them off to you.
If sending by DHL or Fedex, try the option of paying for destination customs clearance, VAT, and duties from origin. It is always less expensive to do customs clearance directly with these companies rather than trying to hire a separate customs broker – although the costs are probably included in the higher courier transport cost and excellent tracking systems that they provide.
The few times I have had packages come from home, which is a Non-EU country, I have basically paid twice over the amount which was paid for the original items. This isn’t to be nasty about it, it is just to let you know the very real possibility that this could happen to you as well. It certainly has prompted me to stop the care packages sent by my parents that were so free-flowing when we lived in other places.
The point isn’t to bash the system. The point is that you really need to think about things a bit differently. If you simply can’t live without a specific brand of peanut butter, just know it’s going to take forever to get to you and that it will be the most expensive jar you’ll ever receive.
The Costs (A General Rules of Thumb) #
This is the official word on how the system works.
If the price of the shipment is less than €22, it is non-taxable, and no duties will need to be paid. This applies to both individuals and companies.
If the sender is a company and the value is between €22.01 and €150, duties should not be required, but 21% VAT will be charged. If the value is over €150, a 2.5% duty and 21% VAT will be due.
If the sender is an individual, and the value is less than €45, it is not taxed nor are customs fees charged. If it is over €45, both 2.5% duty and 21% VAT are applied.
The exception to the duty and taxes payment on import shipments are for personal effects such as used clothes, books, computers and furniture coming in when you move.
Change of residence items are non-taxable if you are able to prove that the age of each item is equal to or greater than 6 months.
This means holding onto receipts and invoices to submit to the inspections agents and avoid surprises. It is always best to contract a customs broker to help you with the importing process BEFORE sending anything.
Some Tricks that May Help #
The simplest way to avoid customs duties is to buy products online within non-taxable regions. It’s hard to break old habits, but almost anything you’d want from back home can also be found here, if not exactly then pretty darn close. This eliminates the delays as well as the costs.
If you simply MUST get things from outside the EU, just ask your loved ones to be clever about sending. When filling out forms on their end, value all items as low as possible in reasonable range. Ask the sender to take all tags off that indicate price, as well as plastic packaging. Also, mark the package as being a gift. If the value is less than €45, the items will be exempt.
Descriptions should be general. Instead of saying makeup, say toiletries, for example and make a point of calling anything you receive “pre-owned” or a “gift”. And don’t send vitamins, medicine or herbal remedies full stop. They get stopped every time.
Insured packages are always considered valuable, and therefore will most likely be held up at customs.
The UK #
Once 31st January 2021 comes, the United Kingdom will no longer be part of the EU, and therefore will have a new set of rules governing how parcels coming from there will be handled. These new rules are still to be determined, but the current status can be renewed for up to two more years.
The Spanish Tax Agency has stated that in the event that no other arrangements are made with the EU (a Hard Brexit), the United Kingdom will be subject to the same rules as those from all other Non-EU countries and include the need to pay VAT on imported items, the imposition of tariffs, the submission of declaration forms and in some cases the need for authorization certificates.
The list is more extensive of course, but as there is no way to know what will happen before the deadline next year, we will all just have to sit tight and hope for the best. We will keep you posted.
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By Stephanie Horsman
9 April, 2020