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CHRISTMAS

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

Christmas is coming, and the question of sending seasonal parcels from Spain to the UK - and vice versa - for the first post-Brexit festive season is approaching even faster.

How Brexit will affect the postal service between Spain and the UK over Christmas
Since Brexit came into effect, costs have gone up because of customs charges and VAT requirements. In a few cases, products may no longer be sent at all. Photo by Jorge Guerrero / AFP

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 Spain 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 of this. 

All types of parcels – whether commercial or private – are affected by changes to rules that came into force when the UK left the EU.

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.

The recipient may have to pay customs or VAT charges and a handling fee in the receiving country before they can claim the parcel. The amount will depend on the country you are sending to, the value of the item and whether it’s a gift or commercial goods.

When the new rules came into effect in January, several people reported being charged large amounts in delivery fees from items being sent from friends and family in the UK.

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 – and is causing British stores in Spain to run out of products.

READ ALSO: ‘It’s a disaster’: How British stores in Spain are being hit by Brexit

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 Spain 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 Spain 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 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 goods is over £135.

On the Correos website for sending a parcel online (and then dropping it off at a post office), the cost of sending a parcel from Spain to the UK starts at €31.65, for parcels weighing under 30kg.

Food products

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

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 jamón serrano 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.

READ ALSO: How to avoid high fees when sending a gift between Spain and the UK post-Brexit

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For members

BREXIT

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

A group of lawyers is campaigning for a new visa which would allow non-resident British second-homeowners in Spain to freely enjoy their properties post-Brexit without having to show the high level of savings currently required.

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

As most Britons are now fully aware of, since Brexit came into force, UK nationals who aren’t EU residents can only spend 90 days out of 180 days in Spain and the Schengen Area.

This has proven very problematic for Britons who own a second home in Spain who, when purchasing their Spanish properties, were under the impression they would always be able to split their time freely and flexibly between the UK and Spain without having to become Spanish residents (as long as they respected Spain’s residency and fiscal rules).

It used to be an ideal situation for these ‘part-year dwellers’, the best of both worlds some may argue, but the UK’s exit from the EU has complicated things enormously for them. 

Estimates based on Spanish government data suggest that in 2020 the number of Britons who owned property in Spain was anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million.

There are now 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022, and although there is no exact data on the number of Britons who own or rent property long-term in Spain without being residents, it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands. 

READ ALSO: Is it true Britons are leaving Spain ‘in droves’ after Brexit as UK tabloids claims?

They are undoubtedly of great economic importance to some parts of Spain, as evidenced by the Valencian government’s announcement last November that they would push the national Tourism Ministry to make it easier for non-resident British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the region without having to apply for a visa.

There hasn’t been a public update on this front since, but Spanish law firm Costaluz Lawyers has recently put the issue back on the table, proposing a new type of visa for British second-home owners. 

The Local Spain spoke to María Luisa Castro, the lawyer who’s been leading the campaign, to learn more about it.

“We propose a new visa that caters to British property buyers who want to live in Spain but don’t have the necessary funds for the current visa options,” Castro explained. 

“We’d like to make it very simple with just two main requirements. Firstly, applicants would have to show that they have owned a property in Spain for at least three years and secondly that they have proof of an income of at least €1,130 a month, roughly half the funds required for the non-lucrative visa”.

Castro also stressed that as part of this potential visa, applicants should have to fulfil conditions for health insurance and have a clean criminal record, a standard practice for most Spanish residence visas.

“But the main condition would be property ownership and sufficient funds,” Castro emphasized.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

The campaign calls on British second homeowners to sign a petition to get the Spanish government to listen to the proposal and meet demands.

“We need 500,000 signatures in order for the issue to be discussed by the Spanish government, but we are also gathering signatures to give these people a voice and create awareness. We hope to be able to lobby both the UK and the Spanish governments to start bilateral negotiations” she explained.

Castro believes that there is definitely a need for this type of visa, especially for Britons, who now have to deal with stricter rules and have fewer options since they became non-EU nationals after Brexit.

“There are thousands of British property owners in Spain who bought their properties many years ago as second homes, but also as a place for future retirement or for health reasons,” she said.  

Crucially, even though the petition states non-EU citizens, Castro believes that it should really only be made available to Britons.

“It is not simply the fact that they are homeowners that means they should be considered for a new type of visa, but the fact that they had full-time ownership rights in the past, which makes the current restriction a loss of acquired rights”.  

In other words, Castro argues that those from other non-EU countries bought properties in Spain knowing that they could only stay 90 days out of every 180, but those from the UK bought them on the basis that they would have greater flexibility in this regard.  

“We hope that a visa which requires proof of finances, plus the evidence of being a homeowner with a retirement plan in Spain will be sufficient,” she said.

Another lawyer, Fernando del Canto, from Del Canto Chambers law firm, has previously argued that ownership plus health and retirement associated rights are being infringed upon by the Schengen limitations as per the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC). “A bilateral or reciprocal agreement between the UK and Spain on this particular matter is needed,” he said. 

The EHRC states that “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. No one shall be deprived of their possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”.

Judging by the above, it is open to interpretation as to whether it means that Britons’ rights are being infringed upon or not.

Nonetheless, Castro believes that the 90-day rule has had a huge negative impact on British non-resident homeowners and on Spain itself.

“We are frequently contacted by clients desperate to keep staying here for longer periods, as part of an acquired lifestyle and for health reasons. Now they need to explore the possibilities of the non-lucrative visa, which on many occasions, they cannot afford”. 

She believes there is a risk that Britons could stop buying in Spain, “particularly those who bought a property for retirement”, and that many of her British clients have already felt forced to sell their Spanish properties because of Brexit limitations.

READ ALSO: What worries British second home owners in Spain most about Brexit

Britons have historically accounted for the largest group of foreign property buyers in Spain. In 2018, they represented 24.3 percent of the market share. The figure dropped to 20 percent in 2019 and by late 2021 Germans had surpassed Britons as the main foreign buyers in Spain.

This however may have had more to do with Spain’s coronavirus restrictions for non-EU travellers and the UK’s own complex traffic-light system than only as a consequence of Brexit, as in early 2022 UK nationals were back at the top of the property podium again.

So despite the new setbacks, it appears that Spain is still an attractive location for budding British second-home owners, but perhaps more so now for those who can afford the golden visa or non-lucrative visa. 

But how likely is it that such legislation will be approved?

READ ALSO: Can Spain legally offer more than 90 days to Britons?

Castro firmly believes that the Spanish government will listen to foreign homeowners’ demands. “If we get a good number of signatures and the UK government is also lobbied, it will create awareness. Retired people are an increasing source of economic strength for our country.

“Currently, only those buying properties over €500,000 can apply for residency based on property purchase (through the golden visa). Other EU countries have lower financial thresholds”, she explained.

READ ALSO: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Castro encourages second homeowners to do whatever they can to help this visa proposal become a reality, as well as signing the petition.

She advises them to make their voices heard through blog posts, newspaper articles and writing to local politicians.

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