The Schengen 90180-day rule puzzle explained

As many British nationals know, the rules for staying visa-free in Spain changed radically in January this year. Since the British are no longer EU citizens and, as a result, are classed as third-party nationals, the Schengen 90/180-day rule applies when they visit Spain. However, the regulations are not easy to understand so we’ve put together some FAQs to help make sense of the puzzle. 

What is Schengen?

Schengen is the name given to the group of EEA countries including Spain that allows border-free travel within it. Almost all EU countries form part of Schengen except for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area and the EEA states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are also members. 

Citizens who are EU nationals can travel within the area visa-free and with no restrictions on the amount of time they spend in each country. Non-EEA nationals can travel to Schengen without a visa, but they cannot stay for longer than 90 days in 180. 

Read our Schengen Visa FAQs. 

What is the Schengen 90/180 rule?

Under the terms of Schengen, non-EEA nationals cannot spend more than a total of 90 days within a total period of 180 days without a visa. Furthermore, once you’ve used up your quota of 90 days, you cannot return to Schengen until 90 more days have passed.

For example, if you enter Spain on January 1st and spend 90 days in the country until June 30th, you cannot return to Spain until at least the end of September. 

What does it affect?

The Schengen 90/180-day rule applies to anyone who is not an EEA citizen. As of January 1st 2021, this includes British nationals. 

Why does it affect British nationals now?

Before the UK left the EU, British nationals could visit other EU countries as much as they pleased and stay for as long as they liked. However, once the UK officially left the EU on December 31st 2020, British nationals became third-party nationals in Spain and the entire Schengen Area. This means they have to comply with the same requirements as North Americans, Australians, and Japanese. 

Find out about other short-term visa options in Spain. 

How do I count my 90 days?

The clock starts ticking the moment you first enter Schengen independently of the country. So, if you fly to the Costa del Sol, the 90 days start as soon as you arrive at Malaga Airport, but if you travel by car from the UK, the countdown begins as soon as you enter Schengen even if it’s France. 

Use this handy calendar to calculate your 90 days.

Do I have to stay for 90 consecutive days?

No, you are free to use your 90/180-day limit anyway you wish. For example, you could arrive in Spain on January 1st and stay for 90 days in a row (until March 31st). Or you could take several short breaks in Spain between January 1st and June 29th (180 days), spending a different amount of time on each. 

What happens when I’ve used up my 90 days?

You must leave Spain (or anywhere in Schengen) immediately because there are stiff penalties for out-staying the 90-day limit. Once you leave, you cannot return to Spain (or Schengen) without a visa until a further 90 days have gone by. For example, if you have spent 90 days in total in Spain and leave on June 29th, you cannot go back without a visa until at least September 28th. 

How will the Spanish authorities know how long I’ve been in Spain?

Your passport is stamped on entry and exit and a computer program keeps track of how long you spend in Spain each time. 

Can I undertake paid work or study while I’m in Spain?

If you enter Spain under the 90/180-day rule, you cannot carry out any paid employment or studies. If you wish to do either of these, you must apply for the appropriate visa before you arrive. 

What is I want to stay for longer in Spain?

If you wish to be in Spain for longer than 90 days every 180, you must apply for a visa before you enter the country. There’s a variety of visa options for both short and long-term stays. Read about long-term Spanish visas.

Can I apply for a visa to stay longer once I’m in Spain?

No, if you’re a third-party national and want to stay in Spain for more than 90 days, you must apply for the correct visa before you enter the country. 

Does the Schengen 90/180-day rule affect property ownership?

No, nothing has changed for British nationals as regards property purchase and ownership in Spain. You can still buy and own property with the same rights and obligations as Spaniards. 

Read our free guide to buying property in Spain

How can I find out more?

The professional team at Costaluz Lawyers includes visa and immigration experts who will be only too pleased to share their knowledge on the best visa options for you. Get in touch for a free consultation and to find out how they can help you.

Maria Luisa Castro

Director and Founder
María founded CostaLuz Lawyers in 2006 and is the Firm’s Director. María is registered Lawyer number 2745 of the Cadiz Bar Association and is licensed to practice in all areas of law throughout Spain. Working closely with her team, María has developed the firm into one of the most highly regarded and trusted Spanish Law Firms acting for English-speaking clients with legal problems in Spain. We’re here to help. Contact us today for a free no-obligation consultation.
 

24 thoughts on “The Schengen 90/180-day rule puzzle explained”

  1. We are going skiing in Italy on 5 March -19 March and then going to our house in Menorca for various times until we have done 89 days I total leaving on July 31 st. Can we return on September 4 th to stay until Oct6 or 9 th ? We would then not return until the following year. I do not understand when the next 180 days begins!
    Pam Thorpe
    pamthorpe@ msn.com

  2. Could you please help, I read from the EU document on the 90/180 day stay rules, that you cannot rely on the online calculators, as these would not be recognised in law, one would have to rely on the border guards. I have a host of technical qualifications, and am a post graduate in management studies and took a law option. And I am finding it impossible to plan my holidays with any certainty, why is it, as far as I am aware border guards are normally on minimum wage, “no disrespect implied”. What do they have to make it so easy for them to make their decision.
    My wife and I have had a holiday home in Spain for the last 16 years and have always spent less than the 180 days in Spain so remaining “Non Resident” this rule will drive us away to sunnier winter climates.. I note that if our military have to come to Spain’s aid there is no restriction on length of stay.
    Also my wife and I have just paid Banco Sabadell a fee for proving we are “Non Resident”, (fee for certificate fee to bank) and yet on our bank statement it shows us paying renta tax (only paid by non residents, also now the insult of having our passports stamped to come in and out of Spain, which only applies to only non residents, more proof we are non resident.

  3. My husband is a lorry driver, living in Northern Ireland working in Holland 2 days a week every week, because he is working does that count to how many days he can spend in Europe on the 90 day rule.

    1. MARIA LUISA CASTRO

      Dear Karen,

      Those 2 days a week, every week, are work periods and must be covered by any type of work visa in Holland, as such they do not count as the 90/180 period.

      Best,

      Maria

  4. Jane Bainbridge

    What happens if I only spend 74 days out of 180 days in Spain – does my 90 days start again after 180? This is doing my head in – if I put this sensation into the calculator it starts counting backwards?!

  5. hii have a Holladay home the Germany ,on the last but one time i traveled thought the euro tunnel and on my return my passport was not stamped , i retuned last week and on my way home i asked the French border control what where i could get my passport stamped as i had only been out of the uk for 5 days but a month has now gone by , the French border control guy said dont worry we do it to mess with the British system this does not help . so i when stopped at the British passport control he was not interested .where do i go

    1. MARIA LUISA CASTRO

      Dear John,

      I would advise that you contact the Police Department/ Foreign office there in the Uk and explain your situation to them

  6. Could you please correct if any of the following rules are not correct.
    Rule 1 In a 180 day period only stay 90 days or less
    Rule 2 when you have taken 90 days in Schengen or less and 180 period is reach leave .
    Rule 3 When you have used your 90 day stay allowance stay out of Schengen 90 days
    Rule 4 First day back after after 90 days staying out of Schengen new 90 day allowance new 180 day period starts (? is this correct)
    Rule 5 If you do not use your 90 day allowance in your allotted time of 180 days you loose those days.
    I do not know if I am correct on the above items, but my own view is that counting back is confusing, which most recommend to use.
    When I plane my holidays I always count first day back of my 90 days away, then 180 days forward and make sure I leave Schengen in that time.

  7. Donna Gardner-Hickman

    My husband has an Irish passport I have a British passport, can I stay with him outside the 90/180 day rule as his wife in spain?

    1. Dear Donna,

      Yes, of course, you can stay longer than the 90/180 as a spouse of a European resident. You both need to register as European residents and NON-EU family members of European residents.

      We can help you with that if needed.

      Kind regards,
      Maria

  8. SHENGEN VISA QUESTION:
    According to the 90/180 days rule, if you stay 90 days out of 180 days, then you have to wait 90 days before you enter Europe again
    MY question: if you stay LESS than 90 days, i.e. 75 days, do you still have to WAIT 90 days before you return to Europe?
    My travel plans are as follows:
    24 Feb – 2 May: 45 days in Europe
    Approx. 18 July – 2 August: brings me to around 65 days
    Do I then have to WAIT until 2nd of November to return to Europe, even if I haven’t used up my 90 days?

  9. Is the 180 days a “rolling 180” period? Or is it a static period from the first day of entry? If I use the 90 days in several different visits, the last period of 90 days completing on day 179, the 180 restarts after the first 180 expire.

  10. Hi
    Re posting this 30 mins later as it has been deleted

    Why am i restricted to the 90 day rule when EU citizens can come to the uk and not be stamped ?.
    This is a one way street. I have lived in spain for 16 years as a none resident as i work in the uk but commute.
    My wife and kids are residents and can travel backwards and forwards no problem.
    I have spanish friends who work here in uk and same for them.
    But if i go home now i have to count my days !.

      1. MARIA LUISA CASTRO

        Hi Stephen,

        Unfortunately, since the UK is no longer part of the EU, British nationals are classed as third-country nationals and, consequently, the Schengen 90/180-day rule applies when visiting Spain.

        But, as your spouse and children are Spanish residents, you could apply for residency if you are interested in spending more time in Spain. We could help you with that.

  11. Stuart Simmons

    We have holiday home on the Costa del Sol & for the past 18 years had been spending 6 months in Spain.
    As things have become more complicated with the 90/180 rule for Uk residents, my wife now has a Irish Passport & therefore is now a member of the EU.
    Unfortunately she has now been told she must abide by a Health Protocol & must apply for a Visa if she wishes to stay for 3 months, any longer my wife would have to become a Spanish Resident & I would have to apply as a non EU Family member to becone a Resident also. We do not wish to become Spanish Residents, but would like to spends 6month each year in Spain. Could you please clarify? THANKS

    1. MARIA LUISA CASTRO

      Hi Stuart,

      As your spouse is an EU citizen, she just needs to register as an EU citizen in Spain. Once registered, you could register as his non-EU family member in Spain. This registration allows you to reside and work in Spain. We could help if needed.

      That is your only option if you would like to stay in Spain for 6 months. Regarding tax implications, if you do not spend 183 days, you will not be a Spanish tax resident.

  12. Hi, I am traveling to Crete in a few weeks anad staying for 90 days, I will then come home to the UK and travel out to Croatia, as Croatia is not in the Schengen area, am I able to do this and not face a penalty? Thanks

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top