According to a recent survey, the majority of Germans get annoyed at the sight of a “premature” Christmas biscuit. While most people are only just getting around to packing away their summer clothes, it’s tough to be confronted by a row of gingerbread snowmen suddenly smiling up at you in Aldi.
While we can definitely relate to that, the realities of Brexit mean that it could pay to think about Christmas a few months earlier this year. (Maybe the owners of these supermarkets had British gift-givers in mind when they stocked the shelves with festive marzipan treats way back in August?)
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In the before times, Brits in Germany often enjoyed little parcels from family containing a taste of home – from homemade treats to products not easily available in Europe – but Brexit has made this type of thing a lot more complicated.
All types of parcel – whether commercial or private – are affected by changes to rules that came into force when the UK left the EU. In many cases, costs have gone up because of customs charges and VAT requirements. In a few cases, products may no longer be sent at all.
Since Brexit, it now costs more to send gifts from the EU to the UK, and vice versa, it takes longer, and certain items are unfortunately banned.
Here’s what you need to know when sending gifts between the UK and Germany this Christmas.
UK to EU
As well as having the appropriate postage, gift parcels sent from the UK to the EU need an extra customs declaration form attached.
This form asks for the sender and recipient’s details, whether the item is a gift or an item sent for sale (which can affect the level of duty to be paid) and a detailed description of what’s inside – so, sadly, Christmas parcels lose their element of surprise.
It’s worth noting that new VAT rules on parcels coming from outside of the EU have meant that some people receiving packages from the UK have had to pay a €6 handling fee and 19 percent VAT in Germany.
Though gifts under €45 are supposed to be exempt, The Local has heard from some readers that they have been asked to pay the charges regardless – so it’s a good idea to make sure that the present is clearly marked as a gift on the customs form.
Because of the Northern Ireland protocol, these new rules do not apply to people sending parcels to Europe from Northern Ireland.
Additional issues come into play if you plan to send food products from the UK to the EU – you may remember the uproar over lorry drivers’ ham and cheese sandwiches back in January.
Importing products derived from an animal into the EU from a Third Country (which is what the UK now is) is a complicated process and the rules apply to both businesses and individuals – and prompted the closure of Marks & Spencer stores in France.
The EU’s strict phyto-sanitary rules mean that all imports of animal derived products technically come under these rules, so sending a box of chocolates by post to France is now not allowed (because of the milk).
Parcels that contain banned animal products can be seized and destroyed at the border.
If you’re unsure, you can find an extensive – and slightly overwhelming – list of the items you can and can’t send from the UK to Germany on the Post Office website here.
EU to UK
New rules also affect sending parcels from EU countries like Germany to the UK.
As with sending parcels the other way, customs declaration must be completed before sending. You can either do this at the post office or fill out the form online on the Deutsche Post / DHL or another carrier’s website if you frank your parcel in advance.
A man posts a letter in the snow in Magdeburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Wolf
If you haven’t posted anything to the UK in a while, be warned: the post-Brexit prices may dampen some of your festive cheer. Since Britain left the EU, it’s been shoved into a new geographically category along with Switzerland – and you should expect Swiss prices to match.
For example, the smallest possible parcel will now cost you €9 rather than €5, while a large parcel weighing up to 20kg will now cost you around €50 to send, rather than €32. (A full list of the new postage prices can be found here.)
Unlike parcels sent to Switzerland, however, there’s no option to pay extra to extradite postage to the UK, so be sure to post any Christmas gifts way in advance of the day itself.
Here, at least there’s good news. UK rules are currently less restrictive than EU ones – which means sending food parcels from France to the UK is slightly easier.
The British government website currently states the UK has imposed no restrictions on dairy food or meat for ‘personal’ imports of food – though the usual rules on customs and duty still apply, and there are limits on amounts that can be claimed as ‘personal’.
This means that yummy Stollen you picked up at Netto should be accepted by UK customs officials – as long as it’s properly packaged and not joined by a industrial container full of other marzipan-filled treats.