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?

15 comments:

  1. Oh shit what i've done ? well i 've sent to my friend who lives in Madrid a box inside this box a new mobile phone but the phone still in the original package as it comes from the company (the value which declared on this package is about $22) but the worst i forgot to write the value on my box, so if my friend show them the invoice of this phone he gonna pay for customs?

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    1. Hey there! Huh, funny they didn't make you fill in the value on the customs form! I think that one might be all right, since it's not so expensive. Crossing my finger!

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  2. Hello--
    This is the first time I have sent a package to Spain.. I wish I would have done some research first!!! I was trying to be nice and send a very special boy a gift. The gift is valued over $430. Now my package is being held in Madrid customs!! I am not sure what to expect from here.. Or how much or if any taxes that would have to be paid??

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    1. Hey there! When the package is held at customs, most often the recipient needs to go there and pay taxes/duty in order to receive it.

      This site gives Spain's VAT rate as 21%, plus some products have an additional duty charge (between 0 and 17%).

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  3. Hi. Thanks for these tips. Do you know what the cheapest way has been to ship packages from the US to Spain? I'm moving there in June for at least a year and want to send at least four or five boxes of stuff. But it seems so expensive. Even the USPS says each box will cost like $200.

    Thanks for the help!

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    1. Hi Albert! I haven't shipped any packages from the US to Spain. Yeah, it is super expensive!

      I'm huge on minimalism, so my first suggestion would be to simply bring less over. :) I realize that doesn't work for everyone, so my next suggestion would be to take an extra piece of luggage. The charge for an extra bag from the U.S. to Spain is $70-100 for most airlines, which is definitely cheaper than sending the same weight via mail.

      Lastly, be sure to check options for surface mail—which would be sent by boat rather than plane. When I lived in Korea, I sent home several boxes from Korea to the USA via surface mail, and they were about $20 each! I don't think the U.S. has anything that cheap, but surface will be cheaper than airmail.

      Good luck!

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  4. I didn't know all this before. Now I'm sure the small painting I shipped as a gift is being held in customs. How long can customs hold it before it is returned? I will probably resend it, as I don't want my friend to have to pay customs. ???��

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    1. Hi there! I'm not sure how long they might hold it before returning to sender. Your friend should have been notified if it were being held in customs, though, so it could very well still be in route!

      Remember that depending on what you're sending, some items will require duty/tax payment at customs, by law. :)

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  5. We shipped a pkg that had several wrapped gifts in them for my grandaughter on December 6th and they still have not received it and they have not received any notice that it is being held at customs. What do we do now?

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    1. Hi there! The best I can suggest is to just keep waiting, and maybe next time pay for a tracking number so you can see where it's at.

      I do remember that one December my grandma sent me a package (from USA to Madrid), and I didn't receive it until sometime at the end of January. We thought it had gotten lost, but they must just get behind over the holidays. Hope it arrives soon!

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing useful tips. I like the idea of not reading the green slip tapped on the parcel posts. I do this all the time when I receive any parcel.

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    1. You're welcome! Yeah, I think it's much more fun to open a package when it's a total surprise! :)

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  7. Thanks for this - but a question - I read somewhere that the minimum value of a box is $100 to avoid being taxed. Appears that is not true. $20 is low.

    A question - I am moving from China to Madrid, but going back to the U.S. first. I have a ew boxes to ship from China. I can mail them to my employer. I'm assuming they will get sent to my employer whether I am there or not unless I need to pay taxes. True? If I do need to pay tax, do you know how long customs will hold the boxes? I'm mostly sending used clothes with some personal effects.
    Thanks

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    1. Hi there! Oh, sorry for the misunderstanding: $20 is not by any means written in a rule somewhere, it was just a rough guideline that worked well for my needs and in my experiences several years ago! :)

      If you're just sending personal items, I don't think you'll have to worry about any customs/taxes—but don't take my word for it. You can check out the Correos website for up-to-date information. (I've linked to the "Importation" page). Good luck with your move!

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