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What you need to know about sending post between Germany and the UK after Brexit

As of December 31st 2020, when the Brexit transition period officially ended, the cost of sending packages between Germany and the UK went up, and there's more paperwork involved. Here's what you need to know.

What you need to know about sending post between Germany and the UK after Brexit
A DHL delivery worker in Halle. Photo: DPA

Many residents in Germany may have already noticed a difference when they have tried to post a package to the UK recently – or if they’ve received something from Britain.

That’s because the rules changed after the Brexit transition period ended at the start of this year, and the UK left the single market and customs union.

All types of parcels – whether commercial or private – are affected by changes to postal rules that came into force on January 1st 2021.

VAT and duty costs

The new rules could mean that you have to pay extra VAT and duties.

The taxes can be imposed when you order 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 Germany. Typically, you have to pay the fees before you’re allowed to pick the item up at the post, delivery office or online.

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”.

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

Residents in Germany 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.

‘Complete nightmare’

Another issue that many UK residents in Germany have already noticed are the higher delivery costs.

Thanks to the UK no longer falling within the EU postal zone, sending a parcel to friends or family back home is a lot more expensive.

In Germany, for example, delivery firm DHL has now moved the UK into a new zone alongside Switzerland, with the price for sending small to medium packages rising from €4 to €10. The cost of posting a larger parcel used to be up to 5kg used to be €15.99 – and now it’s €26.90.

When you’re sending items, you also have to fill out a customs declaration form. 

“I sent a parcel to England from Berlin with DHL in January and it was a complete nightmare,” Alice, 30, a reader based in Berlin told The Local.

“I know it was more of a nightmare after the Brexit transition ended because I sent a similar parcel home for Christmas.

“The first frustrating thing is you have to do a customs declaration. It feels like preparing a parcel for Australia or something like that. It seems silly because the UK is right there.”

The customs declaration form, which you can get at the post office, has to include information about the contents of your package.

“You have to write down the weight of each item and how much it cost,” Alice said. “If it’s more expensive than a certain amount of money, the person at the other end receiving the package needs to pay customs duties on it. 

“I found it annoying because if it’s for a present it’s not great that you have to list everything on the outside of the parcel.”

And as we mentioned, the costs to send something home are now much higher.

“It’s much more expensive,” Alice said. “I sent a package of a similar weight – or probably slightly heavier – from Germany to England before the Brexit transition and I paid €18.
 
“After the Brexit transition I paid €30 to send a parcel and it was lighter.
 
“It’s a significant price difference and will be a bit of a deterrent to sending stuff home – that’s in addition to having to do all this customs stuff.”

Some people have raised concerns about mail taking longer to arrive.

This could be connected to the travel bans against Covid-19 variants that were put in place in December.

But delays could also be linked to businesses and individuals adapting to the new rules, plus the extra customs processes.

What else should you know?

Importing products derived from an animal into the EU from a Third Country (which is what the UK now is) is a complicated process and the rules apply to both businesses and individuals.

On the business side, our sister site the Local France saw shortages of fresh food in the Paris branches of Marks & Spencer, which imports its sandwiches and ready meals from the UK, due to the complicated process of obtaining veterinary certificates on all meat, dairy, eggs and other animal-derived products.

The EU’s strict sanitary rules mean that all imports of animal derived products – even just a packet of home-made fudge from your mum – technically come under these rules.

Known as Personal Imports (which also covers items that you bring back in your luggage after a trip to the UK) these have some exemptions including limited amounts of baby milk, food required for medial reasons or limited amounts of honey and certain fish products – find more information here.

Parcels that contain banned animal products can be seized and destroyed at the border.

You can also check out this extensive (and frankly, a little intimidating) information sheet on what people in the UK are allowed to send to Germany.

Member comments

  1. “The first frustrating thing is you have to do a customs declaration. It feels like preparing a parcel for Australia or something like that. It seems silly because the UK is right there.”

    Find it incredible that anyone is surprised. That’s what happens sending to ANY Country outside the EU, whatever the distance!

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BREXIT

What Brits in Europe need to know if they move back to the UK post-Brexit

Most Britons now accept that moving to an EU country is tricky and involves a lot of paperwork, but for Brits deciding to go back to the UK it's easy, right? After all, you're just going home? Wrong.

What Brits in Europe need to know if they move back to the UK post-Brexit

Moving countries is a time-consuming process – but if you’re British and living in the EU you might think that moving back to the UK would be simpler? Well, there won’t be a language barrier and as a UK citizen you won’t need any immigration paperwork (although if you’re bringing an EU partner with then that gets complicated) – but you will still face administrative hurdles around pensions, healthcare, driving and taxes. 

Some of these issues existed before Brexit, while others are as a direct result of the UK leaving the EU. Here are the most common questions from Brits thinking of moving back to the UK; 

Do I still qualify for NHS treatment?

You are entitled to NHS treatment if you are ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK – there is no minimum time limit so as soon as you are back in the UK on a permanent basis, you can use the NHS. You will need to register for a GP in your local area in order to access non-emergency treatment, and to get an NHS number if you do not already have one.

You may need to provide proof of a UK address in order to use NHS services – although in reality UK citizens are rarely asked for this apart from when registering with a GP. 

If you have been an S1 holder while living in the EU you should cancel that, just so there is no confusion over where you are getting your healthcare.

If you go back to the EU for a visit, remember that you are now a tourist and will need a GHIC card to get European healthcare, while travel insurance is also advised in case of accident or illness while visiting an EU country. 

Can I drive on my EU licence in UK?

If you have been living in the EU you may have had to change your UK licence for a French or Spanish one for example.

Once you’re back living in the UK you can continue to drive on you EU licence until the age 70 or if you move to the UK when you are 67 or over you can drive for three years. After this time you’ll need to change your licence.

If your licence or photocard has an expiry date – once it’s time to renew, you should swap it for a UK licence. You’ll need a valid photocard licence to drive in the UK.

You can find details on the swap process for UK licences here, and if you’re in Northern Ireland here

UK residents with an EU licence can if they want exchange their licence for a UK one, if they wish to do so, without the need for a re-test.

Can I bring my EU partner with me?

If you’re returning alone you won’t need to do any kind of immigration paperwork, your UK passport is enough. However if you are bringing with you a partner who is not a UK citizen, it becomes complicated.

After the end of the Brexit transition process there was an ‘amnesty’ period in which Brits with EU partners could move back to the UK under the old immigration rules. This is now ended and EU partners face the same immigration process as all other foreign spouses.

Essentially either your partner will need to have already secured a relatively high-paying job in the UK, or you will need to prove that you have a large amount of money to support them. They will need to go through the process of getting a UK visa (which is expensive – between £1,000 and £1,500 just for the visa fee) and there is no guarantee that their application will be successful simply because they are married/in a civil partnership with a Brit. They will also need to take an English-language exam. 

Find full details here

What about my pension contributions from the EU? 

If you have been working in an EU country, you will probably have been contributing to that country’s pension system. Pre-Brexit, UK and EU pension contributions could be blended into a single pension – but this is no longer the case.

However those Brits still living in the EU who are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement are still theoretically covered by blended pensions if they had made pension contributions in the UK before moving to the EU, but the same does not apply if you move back to the UK and keep working. 

The good news is that EU countries still practice this – so if for example you have worked in France, Germany and Italy your contributions will be totted up and paid out as a single pension – you apply in the last country you worked in. Bear in mind, however, that different countries have different pension ages. So if for example you worked in France (pension age 64 under the new system) and Greece (pension age 67) – you will start to get the French portion of your pension from the age of 64, but you won’t get the Greek part until you turn 67.

The country that is paying your pension may require you to have an EU bank account to pay into – and you should check with the country paying your pension whether there are any other conditions to observe.

When it comes to a pension from the UK, it depends on how long you worked there – the basic rule is that you need 10 years of National Insurance contributions in order to get a state pension. However the UK government states that periods of work done in the EU or EEA ‘may’ count towards your qualifying period. Even if they do, however, they don’t count towards the total pension amount – so for example if you worked for 7 years in the UK and the remaining 35 years of your career in the EU, you can qualify for a UK state pension, but it will only be based on the 7 years of work in the UK (in other words, the payment per month will be tiny).

Further details on UK pension entitlement here.  

Do I need to hand back my residency card, health card etc before I leave the EU? 

Most countries require that you hand back residency cards before you leave, but in truth this is rarely strictly enforced. Check with the local authority that issued your card what they want you to do with them, but most simply ask you to post it back. 

If you do end up keeping residency or healthcare cards – don’t use them on trips back to the EU. Tempting as it might be to avoid border queues or healthcare fees, you will create a confusing official record if you are claiming to be resident of two countries at once.

If you have taken citizenship of an EU country, that is a different matter and of course you are entitled to keep and use your EU passport when visiting the EU.

READ ALL What do dual-nationals need to know about post-Brexit border controls

Do I still have to pay taxes in the EU? 

It’s highly likely that you were paying taxes in the country you lived in. Generally, tax declarations concern the previous year, so you will have to do at least one tax declaration and payment after moving back to the UK.

In France for example, the annual tax declaration takes place in April, and concerns the previous calendar year. So if for example you move back to the UK in September 2023, you will have to complete a tax declaration in April 2024, covering your 9 months of residency in France in 2023.

If you still own property in an EU country you will pay property taxes there, and if you have any earnings in your former home you will likely still have to pay taxes there – check with your local tax office. 

When you left the UK, you will likely have informed HMRC that you were leaving the country, so you will now have to tell them that you’re back. Whether you have to fill out a UK self-assessment form depends on whether you are a salaried employee or self-employed/retired. 

Can I keep my bank account? Do I need a new UK account? 

This one depends on the policy of your bank, but most banks in EU countries require you to have an address in that country.

It’s likely that your UK bank may have closed your account while you were living outside the UK, in which case you will need to open a new one.

A practical option while you are moving and still have interests in both countries is to open an internet bank account with a company like Wise or Revolut – these offer accounts in both pounds and euros and give you a European IBAN and a UK Sort code, so you can use it in both countries.

Will my EU qualifications be recognised?

If you were studying or gaining professional qualifications while living in the EU, don’t assume that these will be recognised in the UK. Brexit ended the mutual recognition of qualifications – check with the professional or academic body that issued them whether these are recognised in the UK, you may need to acquire a certificate of recognition.

It’s a good idea to check this point before you start job-hunting in the UK. 

Be prepared for hassles

The advantage of moving back to the UK is that you’re not starting from scratch and at least you know how things like council tax, electricity billing and healthcare work.

However, don’t assume that it will all be plain sailing – your lack of a recent UK address will make you an anomaly in many companies’ systems and you’re likely to be forced to have several long and annoying conversations with call centres while you explain that while you are a UK citizen, you have not recently been living in the UK.

There are likely to be other niggles too – many UK car insurance companies won’t recognise a no-claims bonus built up abroad, so you’ll be back to paying full premiums on your car insurance, while banks might request extra money laundering checks due to your foreign associations.

And if you fondly imagined that switching from Edf France to Edf UK, or Orange France to Orange UK would be easy because they’re the same company, forget it. They insist they have nothing to do with each other, so you cannot transfer an account. 

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