Why post to and from the UK from Spain is more expensive after Brexit

As of December 31st, when the Brexit transition period officially ended, the cost of sending packages to and from UK has gone up. Here's what you need to know.

Why post to and from the UK from Spain is more expensive after Brexit
Image: Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum / Unsplash

Most of us were aware that Brexit was going to affect importation and exportation businesses, but what about the consequences for individual people?

One of the main issues that many UK residents in Spain have already noticed are the high taxes, which must be paid on sending and receiving packages to and from the UK and Spain.

The taxes imposed occur whether you are ordering goods from the UK, if you send a package to the UK, or if friends and family in the UK send you a package in Spain. Typically, you have to pay the fees before you’re allowed to pick the item up at the post, delivery office or online.  

Graham Hunt, an estate agent in Valencia tweeted “Daughter’s friend just received a package from the UK. Not allowed to pick it up without paying customs and taxes, in this case €79. That’s a price increase of 20% in effect. Watch UK exports dry up over next 6 months as EU buyers realise”.

While Juan Pablo Venditti tweeted: “We had problems with a package coming from UK last week, it arrived on January 6th and customs stopped it here in Spain. We had to pay €160 extra in taxes and management fees. We won’t be ordering anything from UK in the near future, it’s a shame”.

Another disgruntled Spanish resident, journalist Eugene Costello experienced similar issues when sending an item to his daughter back in the UK. He tweeted: “I live in Valencia and recently sent an old laptop to my daughter. ParcelForce are withholding it until the bill of £146 is paid. Can this be right? An old laptop sent by a Dad to his daughter, so she can work online since her school is shut?”

According to the UK government website “Most goods arriving in the UK are liable to any or all of the following taxes: Customs Duty, Excise Duty and Import VAT”.

The website also states that these taxes must still be paid whether the person in the UK has:

  • Paid for the goods or is receiving them as a gift
  • If the goods are new or used (including antiques)
  • If the goods are for your private use or for re-sale.

If you are sending a gift from Spain to the UK, import VAT typically only applies to goods whose value is over £39, or the equivalent in Euros. Customs Duty is due only if the value of the goods cost over £135.

The UK government website states that in order to qualify as a gift, a customs declaration must be completed correctly and the gift must be sent from a private person outside the UK to a private person(s) in the UK. This also applies to items where there is no commercial or trade element and the gift has not been paid for either directly or indirectly by anyone in the UK.

It also states that a gift is of an occasional nature only, for example, for a birthday or anniversary.

The customs declaration form includes sections which state what is inside the package, what material the item is made from, the size of the item and the monetary value of the item.

Similarly, when receiving items sent from the UK to Spain, senders will need to complete and attach a customs declaration form (CN22 or CN23), Letters, postcards and documents are usually exempt.

Residents in Spain will need to pay customs or VAT charges and a handling fee before they can claim the parcel. These charges will depend on the value of the item and whether it is a gift or not.

READ ALSO: Life in Spain: What’s cheaper and more expensive in 2021?

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More than 200,000 Brits in Spain haven’t exchanged residency documents

A new study by Spain's Immigration Observatory has revealed that more than half of UK nationals living in Spain are yet to exchange their EU green residency documents for Withdrawal Agreement TIEs following Brexit.

More than 200,000 Brits in Spain haven't exchanged residency documents

A new study by Spain’s immigration observatory has revealed just how many Brits are yet to exchange their residency documents following Brexit.

The figures from July 2020 to June 2023 show that 159,604 UK nationals successfully exchanged their old residency documents for a TIE, the card that enshrines their residency rights as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

This means over half of the total number of Britons in Spain – 211,274 people to be exact – have not exchanged their old EU residency residency certificate for the TIE.

According to immigration observatory data, as of December 31st 2022 there were 412,040 Britons living in Spain.

That is 4,412 more than the previous year and represents a 1 percent rise. It also includes new UK arrivals who don’t enjoy Withdrawal Agreement (WA) rights and apply like any other non-EU candidate.

Though UK nationals legally residing in Spain before the Brexit deadline are within their rights to keep their old EU green residency certificate (Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión), both the UK and Spanish governments have for some time strongly recommended that they exchange it for the non-EU foreigner identity card, known as the TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero).

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How Brits in Spain can exchange a green residency document for a TIE

This card states Acuerdo Retirada UE (EU Withdrawal Agreement) and grants UK nationals who can prove they were in Spain before Brexit the same residency rights they had prior to the UK’s exit from the EU.

Only one percent of UK nationals with an EU certificado de registro who have applied to exchange it for a TIE have either had their application filed or rejected, 828 people in total. 

Fifteen percent of UK nationals in Spain who were not in possession of a green certificate but applied for a Withdrawal Agreement TIE have had their application archived or denied, 8,924 in total. However, 49,184 (85 percent) of these applicants have successfully obtained their WA TIE.

In their case, showing proof that they lived in Spain prior to the Brexit deadline has included showing payroll slips, social security registration, rental contracts and padrón town hall registration. 

Slow down in applications

Interestingly, the data also shows that after an initial surge in exchanges in the second half of 2020 when the WA TIE first became available to UK nationals, the number of Brits turning in their old residency certificates to get TIE cards has slowed down significantly since then.

As shown in the below graph from the report, after another slight peak in applications in mid-2021, TIE requests have fallen since then and since 2022 generally flatlined.

Graph by Immigration Observatory showing the monthly rate of residency document exchanges by Britons and their family members in Spain since the Withdrawal Agreement TIE first became available in July 2020.

That first period (from July to December 2020) also saw a significant number of residency authorisations granted to UK citizens who did not have the previous EU registration certificate, with a total of 32,730.

In the month of December 2020 alone, 12,269 authorisations of this type were granted, which represents 58 percent of the total number granted in that month.

Who are the Brits in Spain and where do they live?

The report also included some interesting demographic information on the types of Brits living in Spain and exchanging their residency documents.

Of the 218,540 UK nationals with a TIE issued between July 2020 to June 2023, those aged 65 and over and aged between 50 to 64 made up 34 percent and 30 percent of the total respectively.

The average age of UK nationals living in Spain is 55 years old.

Children represented only 7 percent of the total.

51 percent of TIE holders are men (110,930) and 49 percent (107,610) are women. However, in the 65 and over group 52 percent of TIE holders are men.

The 18-34 age group is more female with 52 percent of British TIE holders being women.

Staggeringly, over half (51 percent) of Britons who have exchanged their residency documents are concentrated in just three Spanish provinces: Alicante (55,028 people; 25 percent of the total), Málaga (39,522 people; 18 percent) and the Balearic Islands (16,577 people; 8 percent).

READ ALSO: BREXIT: Why UK and Spain now strongly recommend exchanging green residency document for TIE

Is it necessary to exchange my documents?

Technically speaking it isn’t as the exchange remains optional. However, both the UK and Spanish governments have strongly recommended that UK nationals residing in Spain with the old green EU residency certificate should exchange it for a TIE as soon as possible.

This is not only because the TIE enshrines the rights of UK nationals abroad under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, but also due to the fact that having a TIE can make many bureaucratic processes in Spain much simpler, as well as alleviating any potential travel friction on borders when travelling to and from Spain.

The TIE also has a photo on it, something the old green EU certificate did not, and it is far more durable than the flimsy paper certificates. It does have to be renewed, however, whereas the green certificate doesn’t have an expiry date.