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EUROPEAN UNION

Why am I being charged to receive gifts in Italy sent from outside the EU?

Sending low-value gifts to Italy from outside the bloc should be exempt from VAT duty, but many people are still being asked to pay extra postal fees at the doorstep.

The doorbell rings and I skid on the floor tiles as I run to buzz in the courier, a childlike bounce in my half-jog-half-walk in anticipation of the package I’ve been told to look out for.

Receiving a little thought from loved ones back home is a highlight when you live in another country. It keeps you connected to each other and sometimes, a parcel just might contain something you’ve been craving and missing in Italy.

Crumpets, Yorkshire Tea and Marmite immediately spring to mind. Does that give away that I’m from the north of England?

I hop to the front gate, a smile on my face, arms outstretched to receive the bundle that will make me feel closer to the people I hardly see and realise the postman isn’t letting go of the package.

“That’ll be €27.57 please.”

“Excuse me?”

“€27.57.”

Without much more explanation than that, I asked why I was being charged to receive a gift and was told they’re just fees you have to pay. If you don’t want to pay, the parcel will be returned.

EXPLAINED: Why are residents in Italy being charged to receive small parcels from outside the EU?

As I’d been waiting for this package weeks after it was due to arrive, I shrugged, smile vanished replaced by a furrowed brow, and trundled off to get my purse, muttering all the way.

On handing over €30, he said he didn’t have any change.

Of course he didn’t.

This became a habit I unfortunately got used to over the following weeks. Gifts turned up, I had to pay anywhere between €3 and €30 and the person delivering it never had change. So naturally you have to round up and lose even more money.

Or I’d get home and receive a notice of missed delivery in the postbox. So then I’d have to take time out of my day to go to the post office (which in Italy is eventful itself and can take hours if they’re really on form), queue up and cough up the fees to collect the gift.

Not only are there fees, delivery can take weeks or months (if at all)

I’ve been particularly stung by these extra fees lately, as I got married in August and most people from England couldn’t make it due to travel restrictions. So they sent across a little present instead.

Then it was immediately my birthday, so there were more gifts I ended up paying almost the same value of the present to receive.

I’ve now spent around €150 in postal fees on delivery since July.

All in all, the cost to deliver a parcel for my family and friends and the charges I end up paying when it gets here matches or outweighs the value of the item.

Fees of €7.31 applied to a parcel labelled as ‘gift’ on the customs form for items worth a total of £20. Delivery charges paid in England are £14.10. Photo: Karli Drinkwater

We’re usually talking about something little, some tea and chocolates perhaps, but although low in monetary value, these items are priceless when you know someone has taken the time to think of you and send you a gesture.

But it’s now got to the point where I’ve asked people back home not to send anything, which is sad, let’s face it – especially as Christmas is coming and the exchanging of gifts is going to effectively come to an end.

Others have got in touch to say it’s happening to them too. Jess in Tuscany reported that she paid €35 for receiving an item marked as ‘gift’.

Only on Monday, I groaned as I received another notice of an attempted delivery of a parcel from England – with the fees due as usual. What was once a joy now has me belligerently swearing every time I tentatively open the mailbox.

I used to love the courier. They were the bearer of surprise and delight. Now I pull back the curtain and grab my purse in exasperation every time I see them clutching my goodies.

This particular parcel was sent over 9 weeks ago and was sent tracked with 3-5 days delivery.

Not only are residents in Italy getting charged for gifts, readers have reported that the delivery time is excessively delayed, which I have repeatedly experienced too.

In some cases, the parcel never reaches its destination with no clear explanation as to why.

For Jessica in Rome, she said her mum had sent her a present she had personally made by hand. It had “sentimental value”, which is something you can’t claim compensation for – and had it arrived, she’d have had to pay €5 to receive it.

I received news of another example of the procedure, where a resident in Italy paid €10 to receive a T-shirt from the UK.

Although not everyone has been hit by these charges, making the situation even murkier.

Mira in Rome managed to evade paying postal fees on her low-value parcels, even if based on others’ experience this seems to be down to chance.

Since these charges have only just started being applied halfway through the year on everything I receive from outside the EU, I wondered whether the fees on gifts in particular were a mistake.

Why are gifts getting taxed?

New EU regulations mean people now have to pay VAT charges on all parcels from outside the bloc, a measure that came into force on July 1st, six months later than scheduled due to the pandemic.

Nevertheless, despite the rule slipping in halfway through the year and it being applicable to all purchased items of any value, there is still an exemption for low-value gifts.

The EU’s taxation and customs union website reports that private packages with a value of up to €45 “are not subject to prohibitions or restrictions,” and the customs and finance authorities of various countries, including Austria, Finland, and Germany, also say on their websites that gifts of up to €45 are not subject to customs duty or VAT charges.

In that case, will these levies be recognised as an error and be dropped?

Looking at my receipts, there’s a breakdown of diritti postali (handling charge) and the VAT – which shouldn’t be applied. The handling fees of the post service or courier are always much higher. In the example of my first package, out of €22.57 of charges, €22.20 were for UPS’s handling fees.

In another, smaller item, I was charged €2.00 handling fee by Poste Italiane and €0.26 for the customs fee.

The website of the Italian postal service, Poste Italiane, stated, “If the item is not of a commercial nature (as the object is sent between private individuals on an occasional basis and without remuneration) and its intrinsic value is less than 45 euros, no charge is required.”

However, as we have experienced, that’s not been communicated yet as many residents in Italy continue to report paying fees on gifts of this nature.

Photo: Ina Fassbender / AFP

As of September 21st, The Local had not received a response from Poste Italiane to a request for clarification on why in practice Italian residents are being charged to receive low-value gift packages.

And it’s still happening on every single gift item I receive, whether that’s delivered by the Italian postal system or a private courier.

For now, it seems gifts are being bundled together with all items and no distinction is being made between goods purchased online and a hand-knitted scarf sent from your granny.

The EU taxation and customs website noted, “Customers in the EU will only receive the goods bought after the VAT has been paid.”

Online sellers need to register with the EU’s VAT ‘One Stop Shop’ to clear customs “in order to avoid VAT being levied upon importation and to therefore speed up the release for free circulation of the goods”.

So this explains why so many parcels are getting stuck and taking weeks and months to be delivered, but it only applies to sellers who may not have registered with the EU’s import system – and it doesn’t account for low-value gifts that shouldn’t be swept along with these changes.

Residents in Italy are in a frustrating phase of knowing these charges shouldn’t apply but having to pay them anyway.

For now, there is at least one item that can be sent without getting taxed at the door: the written word.

The Local spoke to VAT and tax experts Sarah Shears and Philip Munn, who both confirmed that there should be no charges on letters or cards.

So at least we’ll still be able to keep loved ones on our Christmas card list, even if there won’t be any tax-free figgy pudding.

The Local is continuing to look into the current rules in the EU and in Italy, and will provide updates as we receive more information.

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BREXIT

ML Test for millions of Ukraine refugees

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, the EU's executive warned on Sunday that Europe should be prepared for its biggest humanitarian crisis in years.

ML Test for millions of Ukraine refugees

The number of refugees to enter Europe from Ukraine could reach around four million, the EU announced at a news conference in Brussels.

After interior ministers gathered for a special meeting of EU member states to discuss the crisis, leaders indicated that the need to intervene was becoming increasingly urgent.

“We are witnessing what could become the largest humanitarian crisis on our European continent in many, many years. The needs are growing as we speak,” said Janez Lenarcic, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.

OPINION: This is Russia’s war, but we Europeans need to learn fast from our mistakes

He said the number of Ukrainians affected by the conflict in humanitarian terms could be 18 million within Ukraine itself, while seven million people are at risk of being internally displaced and four million could flee the country as refugees.

That’s a figure also echoed by the UN refugee agency.

More than 368,000 refugees, mainly women and children, have fled Ukraine into neighbouring countries so far based on data from national authorities, the agency said on Sunday.
 
A large number of those escaping have crossed over into Poland, where the authorities have counted some 156,000 crossing since the invasion started early Thursday.
 

Romani people fleeing Ukraine arrive at facilities of the local Roma community after Ukrainian refugees crossed the Ukrainian-Hungarian border in Tiszabecs, Hungary, on February 27, 2022. (Photo by Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)
 
Border guards counted some 77,300 arrivals from Ukraine on Saturday alone. The refugees have arrived in cars, in packed trains and even on foot.
 
Germany’s rail operator said it will offer free train rides from Sunday to Ukrainian refugees travelling into the country from Poland. 
 
Up to six trains are running daily from Poland to Germany at the moment, Deutsche Bahn said, but it was preparing to increase that capacity “at short notice”.
 
Also on Sunday neighbouring Austria announced that its state railway company OeBB would offer free travel to those escaping the conflict.
 
Austrian Transport Minister Leonore Gewessler said in a tweet that she had agreed with OeBB that “Ukrainians who are fleeing will be able to use OeBB trains without tickets”.
 
“In these times it is important to help quickly and simply. That it exactly what we are doing,” she said.
 
Meanwhile, Italy is receiving its first refugees, Italian broadcaster Rainews reports.
 
Around fifty people made their way by bus, mainly women and children, as their husbands are said to be in Ukraine to fight.
 
 
After arriving at the Fernetti border in Trieste, police forces and guards carried out the border controls.
 
They are reportedly heading to friends’ or acquaintances’ homes, mainly in the north of Italy between Brescia, Vicenza and Milan. Some are also going to Rome.
 
Some 236,000 Ukrainians have residence in Italy – around 80 percent of those women, according to data from Italy’s national Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).

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Section 1.10.32 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum”, written by Cicero in 45 BC
“Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?”

1914 translation by H. Rackham
“But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?”

Section 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum”, written by Cicero in 45 BC
“At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.”

1914 translation by H. Rackham
“But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?”

Section 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum”, written by Cicero in 45 BC
“At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.”

1914 translation by H. Rackham
“But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?”

Section 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum”, written by Cicero in 45 BC
“At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.”

1914 translation by H. Rackham
“But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?”

Section 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum”, written by Cicero in 45 BC
“At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.”

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