24 Mar, 2022 @ 11:30
5 mins read

Where has my parcel gone? The quixotic experience of postal deliveries from the UK to Spain post-Brexit

correos post Frank Lindecke/Flickr
correos post Frank Lindecke/Flickr

Before Brexit, parcels used to flow seamlessly between the UK and Spain. However, now that the UK is a “third country”, outside the single EU market, our post can be intercepted by Spanish customs to check for restricted items, or to see if taxes are due.

Anything sent via Royal Mail (including Parcelforce) goes into ADTPostales at Madrid Barajas Airport. If your shipment is marked “held by customs”, it can be difficult to liberate.

Brexit post packages tax
Brits in Spain have reported receiving packages with tax demands attached. Photo: J Austerfield

According to readers, this process can drag on for weeks, with a high failure rate. In some cases, parcels are returned to the UK without warning.

What is ADTPostales?

ADTPostales, acting for the Spanish Correos, has a formidable reputation. The company has a 1-star rating on Trustpilot, with 99% of users ranking it as “bad”. Says one Trustpilot user: “I would give zero if possible.” There are some reports of shipments being returned even after import duties have been paid.

Cath Wall was so disgusted that she booked a flight to collect her goods instead. 

“My husband ordered some spares for his medical equipment, that aren’t available in Spain,” she explained.  “ADT wanted nearly as much to release them as they cost, so we refused to pay, and the package was returned to sender. I flew to the UK to collect the parcel myself, and the return flight cost just €15 more than ADT’s fee.”

Another reader was stuck awaiting mental health drugs that were sent for pharmaceutical testing. Meanwhile, they had nothing for their symptoms.

Andy Linton complains: “ADT Postales can be very sticky about the paperwork and seem to review what you’ve submitted only once a day, so it can take a week to get cleared.”

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 Photo: Frank Lindecke/Flickr

We try to “liberate” a parcel held by customs

So, is it really that difficult to deal with ADT? On February 4, the author had an old inkjet printer, packed inside a suitcase, sent from the UK. By February 6, it was reported as “held by customs”. 

The author proactively set up an online account at www.adtpostales.com . She selected “transmit your customs procedure with Correos”, rather than the other option of “transmit with AEAT” (the Spanish Hacienda) – and completed the required documents. 

This process requires printing, scanning, uploading JPEG or PDFs, and your NIE.

 Sure enough, the process went wrong, largely caused by specifying on a vital form that the printer was “mundaza de trabajo”. Apparently, this means “moving for work” and not “piece of office equipment”. 

The correct tick box was “regalo” (gift). Unknown to the author, the “mundaza” category requires proof of your new Spanish work contract! 

Equally, selecting “luggage” means uploading your airline ticket, while “student goods” requires proof of your higher education course. This was, apparently, in the small print… somewhere.

Just as readers suggested, it does take 1-2 days for the agents to view any uploaded documents and reject them all, without explanation. 

Trying to phone for help is difficult, as the system didn’t recognise the tracking number and kept terminating the call. However, if you do manage to speak to an agent, they are polite and helpful.

On February 25, the parcel finally left Madrid Barajas Airport. 

Trinity Treft Ul9awo4i 4w Unsplash
Photo by Trinity Treft on Unsplash

Transmit your item with the Spanish Hacienda?

The Olive Press spoke to the Oficina de Consumidores (consumer office), whose representative said to choose “transmit your customs with AEAT” instead of Correos. 

He advised unhappy consumers to denounce ADTPostales via the Guardia Civil if they pay import duty, but their parcel is returned to sender or lost.

We tried to transmit our stuck parcel with AEAT. However, this proved impossible because a vital confirmation email repeatedly failed to arrive. Making matters worse, the Hacienda has redesigned its website and we kept getting dead links cheerily saying “error – we have a new website!”.

Lucy Hayes Logan, an adviser at the Tus Alpujarras agency in Lanjaron, was unimpressed.

“Can ADT not create a PDF telling British people how to use the system?” she said. “Customs processes should be carried out by a customs agent, not members of the public.”

She added:: “As a lot of the process is fully digital, people suffering from the ‘digital divide’ get left out. Correos can’t help, as it’s usually out of their hands, and the AEAT have ‘help guides’ that currently advertise their website over providing actual information. It leaves people feeling hopeless. 

“This isn’t accounting for the language barrier, and that it’s hard to speak to someone about your paperwork. I’ve found the agents to be very helpful, but perhaps only in Spanish.”

Royal Mail versus Correos – who is to blame?

Brett Jordan T Jska7je3o Unsplash
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Olive Press contacted the Spanish Correos, whose spokesperson said: “Since the new customs regulations came into force on July 1, and for Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla from November 21, all merchandise destined for Spain from third countries must be declared to pay VAT. This declaration is made automatically if the operator of origin sends the correct information in the ITMATT message – an electronic message with customs processing data. If the information isn’t received correctly, it goes through a manual process at the destination exchange office.”

He adds: “Royal Mail is the UK operator with the worst quality of electronic advance data, which causes delays and generates costs for the onward shipment operators. The reason for the delays isn’t because of Correos España – it’s the responsibility of the Royal Mail.”

We spoke to the Royal Mail. A spokesperson said: “When sending gifts abroad, customers need to complete and attach a customs declaration – CN22 or CN23 -available from our Click&Drop or the Post Office. Items sent without a customs declaration, or an incorrectly or partially completed declaration, may be delayed or returned to sender.”

“The recipient may then have to pay customs or VAT charges and a handling fee before they can claim the parcel. These charges will depend on the value of the item and whether it’s a gift or commercial goods. There’s a threshold before gifts become liable for VAT or duties (150e) – it’s important that customers tick the ‘gift’ box on the customs declaration when sending to their friends and relatives.”

Senders should read the Royal Mail customs guide and electronic customs data and the Royal Mail for businesses.

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Use a different courier service

Many reliable courier services can transport your parcel from the UK to Spain. The parcels, with other services, do not go into ADTPostales.

Parcel2Go compares prices from different couriers, offers good rates, and provides customs documents. A UK reader says: “You can’t proceed to booking until the customs details have been completed. These are printed with the normal labels and attached to the parcel.”

If you’re sending personal effects to Spain, you can use Sendmybag, a company dedicated to shipping suitcases. This is easier than dealing with the Correos. Sendmybag advises: “You will be required to complete a packing list detailing the contents and estimated used value of your goods. Over 99% of shipments aren’t stopped by customs.”

Anecdotally, DPD/SEUR is reliable at avoiding customs problems and takes about 5-7 days to deliver from the UK.

And, if you want to buy goods from UK vendors, Amazon.co.uk sorts the import duty beforehand and has a reliable refund process.

Claudio Schwarz Q8kr Ie6wni Unsplash
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash


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