How Brexit will affect the postal service between Italy and the UK over Christmas

A man poses with a handful of
A man poses with a handful of "CN 22" customs declaration forms inside a Post Office in the City of London on December 29, 2020, as UK businesses and individuals learn to follow new rules after the UK leaves the European Union. Photo: Tolga Akmen / AFP
Christmas is coming, and with it the question of sending seasonal parcels from Italy to the UK - and vice versa - for the first post-Brexit festive season.

Now that Britain has left the EU, the rules for sending parcels have changed. In many cases, costs have gone up because of customs charges and VAT requirements. In a few cases, products may no longer be sent at all.

It’s not unusual for Britons in Italy to get parcels from family containing a little taste of home – from homemade treats to products not easily available in Europe – but Brexit has changed some aspects of this. 

READ ALSO: Why sending parcels between the UK and Italy is more expensive after Brexit

All types of parcels – whether commercial or private – are affected by changes to rules that came into force when the UK left the EU, as well as by new EU regulations affecting packages from all non-EU countries that came in at the start of July.

In practical terms, it means that it costs more to send gifts from the EU to the UK, and vice versa. It also takes longer, and certain items are banned.

UK to EU

As well as having the appropriate postage, gift parcels sent from the UK to the EU need an extra customs declaration form attached.

This form asks for the sender and recipient’s details, whether the item is a gift or an item sent for sale (which can affect the level of duty to be paid) and a detailed description of what’s inside – so, sadly, Christmas parcels lose their element of surprise. 

The form is available to download here. And the basic prices are on the Royal Mail website here.

Because of the Northern Ireland protocol, these new rules do not apply to people sending parcels to Europe from Northern Ireland.

While both the websites of the European Taxation and Customs Union and the Italian postal service say private gift packages with up to a value of €45 ought to be exempt from Italian VAT charges, Italian customs authorities don’t seem to be applying this exemption in practice.

Many readers have reported being charged VAT on even small gift packages.

READ ALSO: Why am I being charged to receive gifts in Italy sent from outside the EU?

If your parcel is stopped at customs and charged, you will likely have to pay an additional handling fee to the courier or postal carrier delivering your package. This varies between handlers: Poste Italiane, for example, charges between €2 and €15 depending on the package’s value.

Cards and letters should under all circumstances be exempt from any VAT and handling charges.

Food products

Additional issues come into play if you plan to send food products from the UK to the EU – you may remember the brouhaha over lorry drivers’ ham and cheese sandwiches back in January. 

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.

The EU’s strict phytosanitary rules mean that all imports of animal-derived products technically come under these rules, so sending a box of chocolates by post to Italy is now not allowed (because of the milk). 

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

EU to UK

New rules also affect sending parcels from EU countries like Italy to the UK. 

As with sending parcels the other way, a customs declaration must be completed before sending, either at the post office or in advance by downloading it from the postal service of the relevant country.

If you are sending a gift from Italy to the UK, import VAT typically only applies to goods whose value is over £39, or the equivalent in euros (about €45). Customs duty is due only if the value of goods is over £135.

Food products

Here at least, there’s good news. UK rules are currently less restrictive than EU ones – which means sending food parcels from Italy to the UK is slightly easier than the other way around.

The British government website currently states the UK has imposed no restrictions on dairy food or meat for ‘personal’ imports of food – though the usual rules on customs and duty still apply, and there are limits on amounts that can be claimed as ‘personal’.

This means gifts of food and drink – up to strict limits and suitably packaged – should be accepted by UK customs officials.

While probably quite expensive, you’ll still be able to send a bit of delicious prosciutto to friends and family in the UK for Christmas. Just make sure you give it enough time to get there before the sell-by date.


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