Adapting,  How to

How to: Cheaply Send a Package to Spain

Dear Mrs. Williams,

As your daughter has moved halfway across the globe for this amazing experience of living abroad in Spain, I can imagine you might be wondering about sending her a few things in the mail. It’s such a sweet gesture (that will, no doubt, be greatly appreciated) however there are definitely some tips and tricks you should have in mind in order to avoid astronomical costs for you and her!

When I spent my first year teaching in Spain, I received numerous packages from my parents at no cost to myself and didn’t understand the horror stories I was hearing from other expats about correos, or the postal service here in Spain. Of course, that all changed the first time I experienced it myself…let me set the scene for you:

You can definitely send some lovely care packages to Spain, just be careful about how you do it if you don’t want to spend a fortune.

You can definitely send some lovely care packages to Spain, just be careful about how you do it if you don’t want to spend a fortune.

I had JUST been home in the US for Christmas and I had picked up some Fannie Mae Mint Meltaways to bring back to my friends as a souvenir. However, I didn’t have them set aside with the rest of my stuff to be packed and promptly forgot them. My mom said “no worries, I’ll send them along! They’ll be there in no time.” Little did either of us know, it would take me a month and a half and 86€ in fees to receive them. Without thinking anything of it, my mom decided to also include a pair of boots and a couple extra tops I hadn’t been able to bring back with me (all of which were my own, used clothes) but which made the package larger.

I don’t know if it was the size of the box or the fact that she had chosen ‘gift’ as the overall description of what was in the package, but correos decided that they needed to hold it at customs in Madrid until I applied to receive it. An entire fiasco ensued as I needed to set up an online account with correos in order to claim my package (which was further complicated in my case as I had to use my roommate’s identification number as it would not accept mine) and then to pay the fee as well. Thankfully, I finally got my package and my friends finally got their candy…but it was one of the most expensive token gifts I’ve ever given!

Moral of the story is that it’s probably going to be expensive for you to send you packages to start with. However, you can avoid making it even more frustrating and costly by following these simple tips:

Do not ship in a box, use a large envelope: I generally say “manila envelope” so that people can imagine the size I’m talking about, but your post office will likely have a variety of this kind of envelope in more durable (think plastic, sometimes with bubble wrap) materials. I’ve never had anything sent in an envelope like this held at customs, but boxes are regularly searched and charged import fees.

Be very conscientious about weight: Granted, the above recommended packaging option is going to limit what you include in your package to begin with, but that’s probably for the best in terms of weight. Keep in mind that the heavier your package, the heftier your shipping fee—and it’s usually a higher fee that you might imagine. My mom sends some amazing ‘care packages’ of favorite foods, cosmetics, clothes, etc but we’ve learned that beef jerky is a much more viable option than corned beef hash, just as the snack size bag of Cheezits is preferable to the larger bag of Ghardettos—you get the idea.

‘Envelopes’ like these large ones will help you send your package for far less than an average box.

‘Envelopes’ like these large ones will help you send your package for far less than an average box.

Be selective about how you define the contents of your package: When filling out the paperwork to send a package, you will need to indicate what the package contains (i.e. documents, gifts, personal items, etc). My personal advice is to not use the ‘gift’ option. This may be fact or fiction (the anecdotes always vary), however more often than not, a person who ends up having to pay import fees for their package is receiving a package labeled as a ‘gift.’ Likewise, I recommend toning down the cost of your contents as well. The postal service understands that you won’t be coming with a receipt of the exact price of every item included in the package. Even though a package may have 15 separate items, my mom will condense it into 2 or 3 broad categories such as “clothes: $10, candy: $5, magazines: $2.” No one has ever come after either of us because the magazines actually cost $5. No matter what, keep the contents of your package below $100 (for peace of mind as well as lower likelihood of getting held up in customs).

Do you research about what can and cannot be shipped: All that being said, please don’t imagine that following these simple steps will allow you get around import laws about what can be shipped into the country and what is on the “prohibited” list— which includes perishable food, drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter medicine), and many seeds, among other items. Keep in mind that sending these items, similarly-looking items, or even just wrapping your items so thoroughly that an agent suspects you are shipping prohibited items could lead to your package being stopped at customs.

As a final note, I want to clarify that following these tips will not guarantee you cheap shipping costs and/or that your child will be able to receive the parcel without any fees. These are simply a few things that have worked well for me and my family and may help you avoid added hassle, headaches, and cash as well.

Let us know if there’s anything we missed that’s worked well for you or if you have any questions or concerns! We hope to be a resource to the parents (and family in general) of those adventurers here in Spain as well so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or need anything!


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