You’d probably like to think that using the postal system is the same everywhere, but unfortunately it’s not. While the experience in Spain can be rather simple and straightforward if you know what you’re doing, it helps have some background knowledge. We’ve found that there are definitely some factors that you might not think about otherwise that can truly save you some headaches. In Part I, let’s break it down into what you can expect when using the post office, or correos, and other entities for sending a letter or package back home from Spain.
Sending a standard letter or postcard
Sending letters and postcards is definitely the most pain-free process related to the post in Spain. Actually, you don’t even need to step foot inside the post office to do it! For a standard size/weight/shaped envelope or postcard you can simply attach the standard international stamp and drop it in any of the yellow, phallic-shaped mailboxes you find around town.
Such stamps can be purchased at the customer service desk of the post office or in any tobacco shop (estanco in Spanish). We find the tabacco shops to be easiest as they’re are on almost every street whereas there is typically only one post office per neighborhood. This means that you’re likely to receive quicker service at an estanco, especially since you can just walk to the next one if there’s a line.
Simply tell the person the country you would like to use the stamp for and they will provide you will the correct one. If you are sending a letter outside of Europe, they will often not have one stamp for the exact price required to reach your country. Instead, they should look up the cost and sell you a number of lower-priced stamps to attach to your envelope. When we first got to Spain, a single stamp for the US cost approximately .96€ whereas we believe it now costs 1.45€.
If you have a non-standard letter or package you’re going to want to get it weighed and properly posted. Many tobacco shops actually have small scales to do this so you should have no problem getting a large envelope weighed and posted there. However, you will still be responsible for getting this into the post, so if you are looking to send a envelope that is too large to fit into a mailbox or mail shoot outside the correos building, this is not advisable as you will still need to wait in line at the post office anyways.
Fun fact: Those lion-mouths on the walls of post offices are not merely ornamental! They date back centuries but are still functioning mail shoots that will get your letter into the right bin —simply choose localidas (within your neighborhood), Resto de provincias or nacional (within Spain), or extranjero (international).
Sending a package
If sending a package (or a large envelope that will not fit into the mailbox) you’re going to have to wait in line at correos. Be sure to grab a ticket from the machine in front. In this case you will want to choose enviar, or to send, and then listen up for your number to be called and displayed on the screen which will tell you which teller to go to. Try not to get frustrated as other people who have entered after you get called up first; the system is set up so that you are in a queue with only the other people sending packages (not those you are picking up a package or getting another service). Unfortunately, sending is usually the longest queue.
For an international package (or if you plan to get your envelope insured and tracked), it will be necessary for you to fill out the paperwork for this and you can save some extra time by asking the customer service desk (or simply perusing the countertops where these forms are normally displayed) and getting it filled out to the best of your ability before you reach the teller.
This process is required for a package (which involves a literal box) whereas it is not required if you choose to put your things in a large manila envelope (in our experience, this includes all envelopes- with or without bubble wrap and of any size). For this reason, especially if you do not wish to purchase the insurance and tracking, we recommend shipping non-fragile items in an envelope as it will be much more economical.
As with the post office anywhere, the teller will likely give you a variety of options in very different price ranges depending on how quickly you want your mail delivered. Unless it is an urgent situation, ask for the most basic (lo más básico) and the cheapest (lo más barato) to avoid astronomical prices. Depending on the weight of your package, you may be looking at very different costs as this is charged incrementally (i.e. a package between 1 kg and 1.5 kg may cost the same, but 1.6 kg is going to be much more expensive).
Pro-Tip: Do not be afraid to ask about the pricing or to try out switching to a flat-rate box if you think it might be more affordable. we used to be too nervous to “waste people’s time” doing this but after awhile you learn that the price difference may be worth the hassle. You can always say that you’ll step aside as you transfer things over to a different box and/or fill out new paperwork. If you’re at all anticipating doing this, we recommend not taping your box shut until you decide.
Hope this helps you to understand a bit more about the process and to feel more confident as you go forth using the post office here in Spain. Let us know if the tips have helped or if you have your own tricks to add to the conversation!