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CHRISTMAS

How Brexit affects sending Christmas parcels between Italy and the UK

Christmas is coming, and with it the question of sending seasonal parcels from Italy to the UK - and vice versa - for the first post-Brexit festive season.

A man poses with a handful of
A handful of "CN 22" customs declaration forms inside a Post Office in the City of London on December 29, 2020, as UK businesses and individuals learn to follow new rules after the UK leaves the European Union. Photo: Tolga Akmen / AFP

Now that Britain has left the EU, the rules for sending parcels have changed. 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.

It’s not unusual for Britons in Italy to get parcels from family containing a little taste of home – from homemade treats to products not easily available in Europe – but Brexit has changed some aspects of this. 

READ ALSO: Why sending parcels between the UK and Italy is more expensive after Brexit

All types of parcels – whether commercial or private – are affected by changes to rules that came into force when the UK left the EU, as well as by new EU regulations affecting packages from all non-EU countries that came in at the start of July.

In practical terms, it means that it costs more to send gifts from the EU to the UK, and vice versa. It also takes longer, and certain items are banned.

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. 

The form is available to download here. And the basic prices are on the Royal Mail website here.

Because of the Northern Ireland protocol, these new rules do not apply to people sending parcels to Europe from Northern Ireland.

While both the websites of the European Taxation and Customs Union and the Italian postal service say private gift packages with up to a value of €45 ought to be exempt from Italian VAT charges, Italian customs authorities don’t seem to be applying this exemption in practice.

Many readers have reported being charged VAT on even small gift packages.

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

If your parcel is stopped at customs and charged, you will likely have to pay an additional handling fee to the courier or postal carrier delivering your package. This varies between handlers: Poste Italiane, for example, charges between €2 and €15 depending on the package’s value.

Cards and letters should under all circumstances be exempt from any VAT and handling charges.

Food products

Additional issues come into play if you plan to send food products from the UK to the EU – you may remember the brouhaha 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.

The EU’s strict phytosanitary rules mean that all imports of animal-derived products technically come under these rules, so sending a box of chocolates by post to Italy is now not allowed (because of the milk). 

Parcels that contain banned animal products can be seized and destroyed at the border.

EU to UK

New rules also affect sending parcels from EU countries like Italy to the UK. 

As with sending parcels the other way, a customs declaration must be completed before sending, either at the post office or in advance by downloading it from the postal service of the relevant country.

If you are sending a gift from Italy to the UK, import VAT typically only applies to goods whose value is over £39, or the equivalent in euros (about €45). Customs duty is due only if the value of goods is over £135.

Food products

Here at least, there’s good news. UK rules are currently less restrictive than EU ones – which means sending food parcels from Italy to the UK is slightly easier than the other way around.

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 gifts of food and drink – up to strict limits and suitably packaged – should be accepted by UK customs officials.

While probably quite expensive, you’ll still be able to send a bit of delicious prosciutto to friends and family in the UK for Christmas. Just make sure you give it enough time to get there before the sell-by date.

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EUROPEAN UNION

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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