DHL ‘Remote Areas’ – A GIS Project

A short while ago I ordered some stuff from China. The site offered free delivery via DHL. Cool! I was later contacted by the seller to say that I lived in a ‘remote area’ – the DHL delivery cost would be double. What. The. Heck? I live within the municipal boundaries of a mainland city with about half a million inhabitants in Western Europe. Not Afghanistan. This week I heard the same story from a colleague trying to send me an urgent parcel from London via DHL. OK, that’s it, GIS project o-clock!


Very kindly, those lovely people at DHL explain this ‘remote area’ concept on their website. I counted 7120 postal codes in Spain that they claim are ‘remote areas’.

Now, for map data. The Spanish government has finally got the idea that data made by the government is paid for by you and me, the taxpayers, and should be available to us to do anything we want with it. I found postal code geometries (and other, bulky, incomplete, mostly-useless stuff in the same zip files) here. After going through the RSI-inducing file selection pages I finally discovered that you can download data for each Spanish province with a simple URL of the format:

where XXXX is the name of the province that you need data for. So, for Guipuzcoa, you’d use something like wget to download:

This, for the benefit of my readers, means that you can make something much more scriptable with a simple text list of the 50 Spanish provinces. In fact, the ‘handy’ Java tool that CNIG provides to download a collection of selected maps corrupted (truncated) several of the downloads, anyway – I had to repeat manually with wget.

Anyway, this total download is about 4.5GB. I made a Python script to go through all 50 zip files, take the postal code SHP file from each and load them into a unified PostGIS table, reprojecting on the fly from the weirdo Europe-knows-better ETRS89 to lovely, familiar WGS84. As a public service I created a SHP file of just the Spanish postal code areas for you to download here.


Paint me red all over! The red parts are ‘remote areas’ of Spain according to DHL:


  • Just how much of Spain is a remote area, who knew?!? (Probably millions of people in Spain didn’t know that they were living in such a remote part of the world!)
  • People of Southern Extremadura rejoice! You thought you were in a remote backwater of Spain, but no! DHL says you have your fingers on the pulse and you are definitely not a “Remote Area”! You’d better hope that nobody from DHL reads this and realises their terrible mistake.
  • Equally, the people of the Canary Islands no longer need to feel like they are remote from Spain! (Despite being over a thousand kilometres away from Spanish mainland, way off in the Atlantic ocean.)
  • Just to illustrate how arbitrary this stuff is, some parts of Ceuta and Melilla are not remote, and others are. Pof! (That was the sound of head exploding in disbelief.)

Which Courier Should Be Used To Send Stuff To Spain?

For the last ten years my I’ve used all of the major courier companies to get stuff delivered to my home. UPS remains the most reliable. For example, my favourite, professional-level electronics components supplier is Digi-Key. They’re in the USA. If I place an order on Monday morning of over €65 worth of stuff, Digi-Key ships it free of charge via UPS and it would be with me on the Wednesday, latest. That’s an economy service, across the Atlantic, to a ‘remote area’ in 48 hours or less. No extra charge or delay because I’m in a ‘remote area’.