One day, in my mail I found an envelope with a big red URGENTE sign on it.
It also had some very frightening looking text on it, saying:
AVISO DE LLEGADA ENVIÓ POSTAL INTERNACIONAL
To be honest, for a moment I got scared, what trouble did I get into, because this letter totally looked like something from the Spanish authorities that they send to people when they messed up something. After opening the envelop and of course translating what the hell this Aviso de llegada envió postal internacional means, I realized that I didn’t mess up anything, I just got a package from outside the European Union.
Why did my package stuck at the Spanish customs?
When you receive a package from outside the EU, you have to pay VAT and in some cases import duty too. For example if you order something from China on the internet, the Spanish customs will hold back the package and send you a notification to pay X amount of VAT and duty if the commercial package’s value is more than 22 euros or 45 for non commercial packages. If they can’t determine the package’s value, because the is no attached invoice on the package, they will send you a letter just like the one I got, with the frightening URGENTE sign, asking you to declare the contents of the package.
In my case, I received gifts from South Africa. Since the package was a surprise I had no idea that it’s coming and what is the content, I had to ask the sender. She said it’s a surprise. Well, unfortunately you can’t declare something generic such as “Gift” or even worst “Surprise” because the customs don’t allow it and moreover, they might get the wrong idea. What kind of surprise can you receive from Africa? Drugs, weapons, human organs, immigrants or maybe ebola?
Also you can’t declare zero value, which is totally stupid because let’s say you get something hand-made from a friend, it doesn’t have any commercial value. Anyway, the rules are simple: You can’t declare generic content such as “gift, surprise, personal stuff” and it must have a value bigger than zero. So I had to contact and ask the sender what is in the package: About 6 euros worth of sweets, which pretty much ruined the surprise, the point of the package. I mean it’s still nice to get a package with sweets, but it’s not a surprise any more.
In the scary looking envelope, there was a printed form that I needed to a fill and on the other side of the sheet some Spanish text explaining what is going on. On the bottom of the page an English sentence: “This document is available in English at www.adtpostales.com” which turned out to be not true. There is not a single English word on that website and you can’t get any English document from there. You are stuck with the Spanish, so deal with it!
Fortunately my Google Chrome browser can translate the page to English on the fly, so I managed to register, log in, and then start filling the necessary forms on the website, upload a photo of the form that I received in mail plus a photo of my ID. After sending all the things they asked for, next day I received an email, that everything is fine, the provided documentation is complete, so they move forward with the procedure. I was happy…
Until the next day, when I got a new email that was saying something about some payment. I was well aware that there should be no duty or VAT payable if the value of the package is less than 22 euros or 45 euros if it’s a commercial package. So I was curious why do I have to pay?
After logging in to the website, there was a new option, where I can download the invoice that the Correos released and transfer the money to their bank account. Well, this is when my happiness turned into horror.
I was right, there was no tax, duty or VAT payable, but still, they wanted me to pay 48,13 euros to receive my gift package with 6 euros worth of sweets. Here is the invoice:
As you can see, they charged 20,15 for some bullshit and then 4,63 for some more bullshit, then 15 euros for some unnecessary inspection, and finally throw 21% VAT on the top of the whole thing, so the final amount payable is: 48,13 euros.
I wanted to call them, but guess the Correos on their website has only a premium number that you have to pay extra to call. Fortunately I managed to find a free number after some googling: 900 400 004 and asked a customer service representative, what the hell they were thinking when they charged 48,13 euros for a 6 euros gift package? She said, blah blah blah… it might be a mistake, they will get back to me in email. I said that I hope so, because if this is the price, then I don’t want the package. Send it back!
Originally I wanted to write a nice article with a detailed step-by-step guide, how to complete this import process. But after this horror story, my only advice is: Avoid Correos like the plague when it comes to receiving international packages from outside the EU. I don’t know if others like FedEx, DHL, UPS are better or not, I can just hope they are.