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Reader question: Which items are exempt from duty for Britons moving belongings to Spain?

Brexit has ushered in a host of extra rules and restrictions on imports to Spain from the UK, but what is the rule for people bringing household items - either if you're moving to Spain or just want to bring a few belongings to your second home in Spain?

Reader question: Which items are exempt from duty for Britons moving belongings to Spain?
Photo: Loic VENANCE/AFP

Moving house within the EU is pretty simple – load up a van with stuff and cross freely across borders until you reach your destination.

But since the UK left the EU, bringing any goods from the UK to Spain has become a lot more complicated.

So what’s the deal if you want to move and bring all your possessions over, or you just want to shift some furniture or household items to a second home in Spain?

Well, there are quite a few things to consider.

The following information is taken from Spain’s Agencia Tributaria tax agency, Spanish foreign ministry sources and European law portal EUR-lex. In some cases the information provided by them differs slightly so it may be useful to use a forwarding agent or customs clearance agent in Spain.

Remember as well that the Canary Islands have a different tax regime called IGIC. This article will focus on the duty tax applicable under the IGIC tax laws that apply to the rest of Spain.

Personal belongings

This includes all manner of personal property that people are transferring from their normal residence in a non-European country – in this case the UK – to a European country, Spain.

However, Britons are only exempt from these charges if they have been living legally as a resident in Spain for no more than 12 months. After that, Britons bringing in personal goods to their homes in Spain could well be taxed on them. 

New British residents in Spain will therefore have a year to bring over without paying duty their furniture, electronics, kitchen appliances and other personal goods, some of which fall under the categories listed below.

According to the latest information published by Spain’s tax agency in March 2021, these belongings should have been owned/used for at least six months before they can be taken to Spain duty-free.

The items can’t be rented, loaned or lent and certain personal belongings may still have to be accredited if Spanish customs requires it.

It is possible for Britons to move their belongings over to Spain before they’ve obtained residency, as long as they commit to staying in Spain for the following six months and that they show proof of the residency process or their registration at a town hall in Spain (padrón). 

It is also necessary for them to have lived consecutively for 12 months in a non-EU country for them to be exempt from duty when importing their belongings to Spain.

Photo: JOSEP LAGO/AFP

The following belongings fall under Spain’s 12-month VAT exemption rule:

*Pets: Find out more about the rules for travelling with pets between Spain and the UK here.

Imported goods after marriage: goods imported to Spain after a couple gets married, provided that the person concerned has resided outside the EU for at least 12 consecutive months and can prove that they have been married.

Inherited goods: Personal belongings inherited by people residing in Spain and the EU

Study or work goods: equipment needed to carry out a trade, study material and other furniture for students who come to study in the EU. 

Vehicles: bikes, motorcycles, cars and other vehicles such as boats and their add-ons that are meant for private use. “The time given for the exemption of VAT on vehicles is 12 months,” writes Spain’s tax agency, suggesting that even those who have been resident in Spain for more than a year may still import their vehicle duty free until the end of the 2021, marking 12 months since the UK left the EU. Find out more about importing a vehicle here. The key step-by-step guide for importing a car into Spain

When do Britons moving belongings to Spain need to pay duty?

As explained above, if the UK national has resided in Spain for over a year, they may have to pay duty on personal belongings such as furniture or appliances. 

In this case, the item’s value may be the determining factor and it cannot be of a commercial nature. 

Then there are the limits on consumables such as alcohol and tobacco Britons were no doubt familiar with already, but new rules apply to them as non-EU citizens.  

According to Spain’s leading airport operator AENA, “some goods and products are subject to specific regulations (total value, quantity, etc.) when entering or leaving Spain on flights with third countries, Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands”.

Tobacco

In principle, there is no limit to the amount of tobacco that you can transport to Spain, as long as it is for personal use. However, if the tobacco exceeds the following amounts, you must declare it at customs upon arrival and pay import duties, VAT and excise duties, or the authorities may confiscate them:

Cigarettes: 200.

Cigarillos: 100 ( with a maximum weight of 3 g./unit).

Cigars: 50.

Rolling tobacco: 250 g.

Alcohol 

Similarly, if you transport alcoholic beverages from Spain to the UK above the following amounts, you will have to declare it at Spanish customs and pay import duties or the authorities may confiscate them.

Alcohol and alcoholic beverages higher than 22 percent vol: 1 litre limit

Alcohol and alcoholic beverages lower than 22 percent vol: 2 litres limit.

Wine: 4 litres.

Beer: 16 litres

Any combination of the above can be brought in by Britons arriving in Spain as long as their individual limits aren’t surpassed.

Banned items

Products such as meat and meat-based foods, dairy produce, vegetables, plants, seeds and certain medications may not be subject to duty but that’s because they are now banned for Britons entering Spain as non-EU citizens. Find out more here

You can find out more about the requirements and the paperwork here – How Britons can import belongings into Spain duty-free post-Brexit

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Member comments

  1. How about vice versa, what’s the situation with moving personal possessions back to the UK from Spain ?

  2. What about after 12 months? What are the tax costs? What if I have lived for more than 12 months and then inherit things?

  3. We have a holiday home in Spain. We’ve recently purchased a small chain saw in the uk to take over with us in the suitcase. We paid £150. Do we have to
    Declare the item? Do suitcases get checked for goods? How much duty would we have to pay?

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BREXIT

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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