Many people report similar nightmares trying and failing to get their packages from non-EU countries out of Spanish customs.
In October last year, Wolf Richter, the publisher of this site, decided to send me two of his beautiful WOLF STREET beer mugs, emblazoned with a bedraggled Wolf howling the timeless pearl of wisdom, “Nothing goes to heck in a straight line.” Meant as a gift in recognition of my years of writing for WOLF STREET, the two mugs were dispatched in early October. They were supposed to arrive at my Barcelona apartment within 7-10 days. But they didn’t. Instead, I received a text message to my mobile phone from Spain’s postal service, Correos, informing me that Customs had withheld the package, as import duties had not been paid on its contents.
Thus began a Kafkaesque ordeal that has caused untold frustration and consumed countless hours of my time. I’ve tried phoning the organization indicated in the text message — ATD Postales, a specialized division of Correos responsible for processing the parcels withheld by Customs — eight times and have only been attended by an operator on two occasions. The other times, either the call was not answered at all or I would be passed from one department to another, one operator to another, until the line eventually went dead. On the two occasions I did get to speak to an operator, I did not receive the follow-up call or email I was promised.
The same thing is happening to increasing numbers of Spaniards who buy goods or receive gifts from non-EU countries, only to find themselves trapped in a hellish labyrinth of delays, red tape, and extra costs that eventually lead many of them to simply cut their losses and abandon their efforts. In 2015 alone, around 490,000 packages were abandoned by their owners, according to El País.
If you live in Spain and buy anything from outside the EU worth more than €45, you’re supposed to pay 21% sales tax, along with a 2.5% import tariff. If you’re importing a product that is specially protected by even higher EU duties, such as a bike from China or a kimono from Japan, the tariff can be as much as 48% of the product’s value. The costs don’t end there. If you actually get through the whole bureaucratic rigmarole, pay the import dues requested and your package is finally released, you will probably also have to cover so-called “administrative costs” and the postage charges for the parcel’s delivery from Barajas Airport to your home.
This is all a necessary part of the fight against fraud and piracy, says Spain’s Tax Agency, which runs the customs service. An estimated 14% of counterfeit brand products enter Europe by post and express deliveries. And that number is apparently growing all the time. But so, too, is the number of Spaniards buying goods from outside the E.U. The tax agency’s response is to demand ever larger amounts of paperwork.
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