Sunday, February 16, 2014

How to receive packages in Spain without fees

Receiving packages in Spain - How to

Picture this: Your birthday is tomorrow and you've been expecting a package from the USA to arrive any day now. You return home from some afternoon tapas with friends, only to discover a slip of paper on your mailbox. You make out that a package for you has arrived, but you must go to Barajas airport to pick it up. What?! Yeah, all the way to Barajas.  Oh, and by the way, you have to pay 70 euros to get it.  Happy birthday!

To increase your chances of never experiencing this scene, keep reading.

So why the fee?  It's an import duty and/or tax (VAT).  When the sender mailed the package, he/she had to fill out a customs form listing the contents of the box and their value.  That description is used to determine the duty/tax.

Now, I am not advising that anyone lie on this form, but I'll share what has worked well in my experience (I never had a package held for me at Customs):
  • If family is sending over some of your personal items, make sure they write "used ~" and/or "personal items" on the form.
  • If it's a gift for you, make sure the "gift" box is checked.
  • Generally, if the contents of the package are worth less than $20, you won't have to pay tax/duty on it.
  • If you must have something new sent over from the states, have your sender remove the packaging before mailing it to you.
  • An insured package will most likely be held at customs, but then again, if it's insured it must be valuable and therefore should be charged duty/tax.
So pass along this information to your family and friends before they mail something to you!

Successful Kindle delivery

I ordered a Kindle Touch while living in Madrid, but had it shipped to my home address in the USA.  My mom then put it a different envelope and sent it to me. She wrote that it was a book with a value of $19, and the envelope was delivered to my door, no problem.

If you like surprises...

One final tip about receiving packages from the USA in Spain: If you like surprises, don't read the green slip taped to your package when you receive it!

I remember the first time I got a package for my birthday when I was studying abroad in Spain, and I immediately saw what was inside via the green slip.  I had no idea that's what the green slip would contain, but it was too late by the time my eyes found it. No element of surprise at all!  For future boxes I made sure to look somewhere else and cover up that slip of paper with my hand while opening the box. I recommend doing the same: tear it off, cover it up - whatever works for you.

Any other tips for your friends/family when they send mail to you in Spain?