Europe’s 90/180 rule: How long can you stay in an EU country and how does it work?

Counting the days: The UK asked to become subject to the EU’s maximum stay limits (Simon Calder)
Counting the days: The UK asked to become subject to the EU’s maximum stay limits (Simon Calder)

Now that the UK has left the European Union, the ease with which the British have holidayed, worked and lived in the EU for decades has ended.

When negotiating the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the government arranged for the UK to be treated as a “third country”.

That means the maximum stay in any European Union nation except Ireland is strictly limited – with the “90/180” rule applying to British passport holders.

So how does it work, and which aspects are tricky to navigate? These are the key questions and answers.

How long can I stay in a European Union country with a British passport?

For the Schengen Area (comprising the vast majority of EU countries, plus others) there is a limit of 90 days in any 180. The simplest way to look at this: if you went out to the Schengen Area on 1 January 2023, you would be able to stay there until the end of March. You would then need to stay out of Schengen for another 90 days, until late June.

Of course most people will have more complex travel plans than this. The question to ask on the day you plan to travel to the Schengen Area is: going back 180 days (almost six months), on how many days have you been in the the zone? Your passport should contain entry and exit stamps, allowing you and passport officials to calculate the timing. (Days of entry and exit are included in the tally, even if you spent only a couple of hours in the Schengen Area.)

If the answer is less than 90 days in the past 180 days, you are entitled to enter the Schengen area. But how long you can stay depends on a “rolling count”.

What does that mean?

You always have to be looking back 180 days. Suppose after not having travelled to Europe in the past year, you spend from 1 January to 1 March in Schengen, and then leave – after 60 days in the zone.

You then return on 1 April. You could stay only up to 30 April before having to leave. Your score is now 90 days, and that means you have used up your allowance for the entire 180 days from New Year’s Day (when the clock started ticking). Only at the very end of June, when you start erasing those days at the start of January, are you allowed back in.

The European Union provides a handy online calculator for your own circumstances.

Can you simplify, please?

I can try. Just imagine a calendar that stretches back almost six months from today (T). What happened before “T minus 180” is completely irrelevant. What counts is the number of days you were either inside (I) or outside (O) the Schengen Area in the last 180.

You can easily keep count on a calendar yourself, either printed or digital.

If “I” hits 90, you must leave that day.

Just remind me about the Schengen Area?

The “passport free” zone includes almost all the EU countries except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania – plus Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and the Vatican City.

Stays in all these countries count towards that 90 day limit.

What happens if I overstay?

In general travellers are given three days’ grace on breaking the 90-day limit. Any longer than that and they are likely to be handed an entry ban for one year. This applies throughout the Schengen Area – not just the country in which you overstayed.

What is different for Ireland?

Freedom of movement for UK citizens and unlimited length of stay is guaranteed under the provisions of the Common Travel Agreement.

But because the Brexit deal created a “border in the Irish Sea” there are new controls from Great Britain to both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on pet passports, currency and food – no cheese or ham sandwiches allowed.

I live in Northern Ireland. Am I exempt from the 90/180 rule?

Only if you have a passport from the Irish Republic, which is easily obtained by most people in Northern Ireland. Using a British passport the standard limitations apply, even though the nation is part of the European customs union.

What about the other EU countries that are not in Schengen?

Each of Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania has its own individual 90/180 day limits. You could therefore effectively keep flipping between Schengen and those other countries – though frontier officials may raise eyebrows and demand to see how you are supporting yourself financially.

I still have a burgundy British passport with “European Union” on the cover. Does that make any difference?

No. It remains valid as a UK travel document. But it loses all its EU powers.

Just remind me of the passport validity rules for Europe?

The stricter rules on passport validity for “third countries“ now apply. Your travel document must comply with two rules:

  • Day of arrival in the EU – less than 10 years since issue.
  • Day of intended departure from the EU – at least three months remaining to expiry.

EU fast-track lanes for passport control are no longer open to British travellers, although countries that receive a large number of visitors from the UK, such as Spain and Portugal, make special arrangements when flights arrive.

But immigration procedures will be slower, and UK citizens no longer have any guarantee of entry. Frontier officials are required by European Union law to conduct deeper checks.

They may ask for the purpose of the visit; where you plan to travel and stay; how long you intend to remain in the EU; how you propose to fund your stay; and whether you constitute a threat to public health.

I want to stay longer. Can I?

Many British people with second homes in France or a tradition of spending winter in Spain are in this position: they do not want nor need residence, but simply want to stay longer than three months.

Each country has its own version of a long-stay visitor visa.

For France, you can apply for a Visa de long séjour (VLS-T). The six-month version entitles the holder to make multiple trips to France. For the remainder of the year, you can use the 90/180 Schengen allowance twice.

These visas demand evidence of income and/or financial resources plus and accommodation. You must attend an interview in London, Manchester or Edinburgh, have fingerprints taken and pay €99 (£87) for the visa along with a processing fee of about £30.

Spain has a similar “long duration” visa, for which you have to submit a medical certificate showing you pose no threat to the Spanish people, an official document confirming you have not been in trouble in the past five years and evidence of at least £2,000 per month for your intended stay.

You have to attend an interview at a Spanish consulate general – in London or Edinburgh.

A long-stay permit for a specific EU country does not mean that you are entitled to spend more than 90 days in 180 in other Schengen Area nations. But any time spent in the country for which you have a visa doesn’t count towards the 90-day tally.

Increasingly many European nations are setting up “digital nomad” visas, but for these you will need to demonstrate a flow of income.

My passport wasn’t stamped when I left Spain four months ago. Could I be in trouble?

A frontier official could challenge your apparent overstay, but if you are arriving from the UK they are likely to acknowledge that a mistake has been made.

Supporting evidence such as a boarding pass showing a flight from Spain to Britain could be useful to support your version of events.

Will I need a ‘eurovisa’ soon?

Yes. From November 2023 (or possibly later) British visitors will need to register online and pay in advance for an “Etias“ permit under the European Travel Information and Authorisation System.

This is a relatively light-touch visa, akin to the Esta used by the US. It will cost €7 (£6) for a three-year permit. The 90/180 rule will continue to prevail – limiting the amount of time that can be spent in the Schengen Area.

Didn’t the 90/180 day rule apply to British visitors to the Schengen Area before Brexit, because we were outside the zone?

No, but there is plenty of misinformation online claiming that it did.

The free movement directive of 2004 says: “Citizenship of the Union confers on every citizen of the Union a primary and individual right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States,”

Whatever Brexiteers keen to rewrite history may claim, the idea that stays were limited to 90 days in 180 is nonsense – as anyone with an Irish passport will confirm.

The government in Dublin says: “Irish citizens continue to have EU citizenship wherever they live. They continue to enjoy the right to travel and live and work anywhere in the EU.”

An Irish passport holder who lives in the UK is not subject to the 90/180-day rule.

Talking of history, weren’t we assured nothing would change for British travellers after Brexit?

Immediately after the 2016 referendum, Boris Johnson reinforced that impression when he wrote: “British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to study; to buy homes and settle down.”

Yes. David Davis, the first Brexit secretary, said: “There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside.”

What does the government say now?

“This is a hugely exciting time for our country, one filled with potential and opportunity.

“This is a government that possesses the ambition and determination the UK needs to succeed now and for many years to come.”

Published by anthonyhayble

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