How to receive and send packages and mail to/from home, particularly for the USA and Canada. Shares the generally negative experiences with the postal service in Spain and how to avoid these problems in the future.
...if you're expecting a parcel from home, double or triple the normal expected time, although it should eventually arrive."
Regular mail works pretty much the same in Spain as it does at home. You put a letter in an envelope, address it in the same way (return address at the top left and addressee in the middle), then stick a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox. You generally buy stamps at the post office (Los Correos), tobacco shops (tabac), or paper shops (papelerias).
Some helpful vocabulary:
Correo - mail
Sobre - envelope
Sello - stamp
Dirección de correo - mailing address
Devolución - return
Rastrear - to track
Some apartments I've lived in don't actually have a mailbox, and instead the mail is collectively dumped on a small table near the building entrance. Not a great system, frankly. One apartment I lived in did have a mailbox with key access. For receiving standard mail in Spain there isn't a lot to cover here, it's straight forward.
When I moved to Spain one of the nagging problems I had was dealing with mail from home. Of course I had forwarded everything to a family member, at least initially. Eventually this became tiresome and challenging for everyone. I suppose some people just cut off all ties and leave no forwarding address, but I was in no way doing so at the time.
Fastforward 15 years and now we have virtual mailboxes and online mail handling services!
Got a business to manage back home? Set up a virtual business address and save on your registered agent fees.
Need to receive important government and tax notices while you're in Spain? Forward everything to your new virtual mailing address to stay on top of your taxes and never miss a stimulus cheque.
Need to get a package shipped to you in Spain but they don't offer shipping outside of your home country? Ship it to your mail service address and then have them ship it to you in Spain (yes, they'll do this for about $5 plus the cost of shipping it to your home in Spain).
There are a number of options out there, especially if you're coming from the US. For Canadians and Brits, there are only a couple of online services where you can receive mail and have it forwarded, and worse, their features lists are pretty bare compared to the leading international mail handling service… which is indisputably Anytime Mailbox and Earthclass Mail.
Yes, we will make a small fee if you get yourself a virtual mailbox via this article, but, outside of the U.S., there are simply no better options. Period.
If you want to start your own virtual mailbox service either in Spain or your home country, you'll probably need one of these, from Quadient
Not only does Anytime Mailbox allow you to setup virtual addresses and receive mail across the UK, Canada and the US, but they even support a virtual address in Spain (Valencia to be exact)! This is ideal for those of us who spend only 6 months of the year in Spain or have multiple homes and need to receive mail in a timely manner while elsewhere. They even have an app (with some room for improvement) allowing you to manage your received mail, trash it, forward it, etc.
Earthclass Mail is a US-only virtual mailbox service that starts at $19/mon and offers only a single point of mail receipt in Beaverton OR for individuals or a virtual address presence for businesses ($39/mon) in almost any state. What I like about Earthclass is that because it's so centralized, you are going to get more features and a much nicer app experience (currently their app has 4.4 stars in the App Store).
If you have a virtual mailbox, you can receive packages and then have them forwarded on to your address in Spain using the shipment method of your choice. This is ideal once you know the best shipping company for your region(s).
USA: Mail from the USA generally takes about 7-10 days (although recently I received a package after only 4 days). For express delivery from the USA, don’t use FedEx – they don’t have offices here, so they pass it on to MRW, who can take 3 days just within Spain! Using the regular post office’s Priority/Express mail is cheaper and faster. Another alternative is UPS (phone: 900 10 24 10)—they got a document from Sevilla to Manhattan (door-to-door) in 23 hours. Some further research in the Facebook Group suggests DHL is considered the most reliable and quickest way to ship packages between the US and Spain.
Canada: I’ve had few packages sent without problems. Customs have held packages for weeks, sometimes threatening to send it home or destroy it, only to complete the delivery later anyway. One of the packages sent to me was returned to the sender, utterly shredded and destroyed having fallen victim to customs’ curiousity over one package of gummy bears. The contents were worth hundreds of dollars and there was ultimately no compensation. Beware.
Also, do not send vitamins, although prescription drugs seem to cross the borders without difficulty. If you can buy it in Spain: do so. Shipping charges, at least across the Atlantic, can be horrific. Ultimately, expect problems in either direction; if you're expecting a parcel from home, double or triple the normal expected time, although it should eventually arrive. Don't send anything important home using the regular Spanish mail system Los Correos. Things seem to get lost quite often. If you do, ensure it's certificado for the extra 5€ or so. Try UPS or the Priority/Express mail. Fragiles and breakables: the Spanish Correos do not offer any type of fragile handling service, so you either package up your breakable materials to the nth degree and risk it, or send it via UPS, DHL or another private courier.
Some useful quotes about other expats' experiences with Los Correos and Aduanas:
“Sending anything from the US will be held at customs for ransom. Minimum charge is 75€ for the inspection plus 25% of the value of anything they allow in and confiscation of anything they don't. Don't send care packages to Spain. Not worth it!!”
“I sent a box of cookies, candy and a couple sticks of pepperoni to my partner in Spain. Letters and a puzzle and t shirt too. The post office lady put ‘food’ instead of candy and cookies like I said. He got a call from dhl today saying they need a letter with what’s in it and that there are no animal products. But there is pepperoni. Has anyone had this before? If he says there is pepperoni will they send the whole box back to the states or take out the pepperoni? I thought you could send store bought pepperoni to Europe.”
Historically there have been lots of discussions on our forums about sending and receiving mail and packages to and from Spain. Here are a few useful threads (feel free to jump in with your own questions):
We use Amazon.es very successfully in Spain. Yet, there are many products that aren't available through Amazon.es and it becomes tempting to purchase from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com, and indeed Amazon is pretty good at shipping across the channel and across the Atlantic without things getting lost or charging exorbitant shipping fees. I'm surprised just how many sellers offer international shipping too.
The better news is that Amazon.es is shipping packages at speeds rivaling the US in some places. Our neighbour recently furnished nearly his whole apartment via online shopping, including a television and his kitchen utensils, etc from Amazon.es. I purchased some kick-ass frying pans (the ones at the ferreteria are not good) from Amazon.es and they literally arrived in less than 24 hours. That's impressive.
When Amazon delivers, they're usually doing so through a local partner delivery company, so it's highly unlikely that our experience reflected in the prior paragraph is universal. The local delivery company for us in Granada was great however, buzzing our doorbell and huffing up 4 flights of stairs to deliver our package. That's great service! Muchas gracias!
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