SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

VISAS

Mythbuster: Can you really ‘cheat’ the Schengen 90-day rule?

It's human nature to look for a loophole, shortcut or workaround to the rules, but most of the advertised 'dodges' to the EU's 90-day rule are nothing of the sort.

Mythbuster: Can you really 'cheat' the Schengen 90-day rule?
A French police officer checks passports at a border post. Photo by IROZ GAIZKA / AFP

If you’re the citizen of a non-EU country and you want to spend long periods in the EU/Schengen zone, you will need a visa.

But citizens of certain countries – including the US, Canada, Australia and the UK – benefit from the ’90-day rule’, which allows you to travel visa free within the Schengen zone for 90 days out of every 180.

Anyone wanting to spend longer than this will need a visa or residency card.

READ ALSO: How does the EU’s 90-day rule work?

So a simple enough rule, and for most travellers 90 days out of every 180 is perfectly adequate for holidays, family visits etc.

However some groups – especially second-home owners – might want to spend longer than this.

For Brits, entering the world of the 90-day rule is a recent development, since before Brexit Brits were EU citizens and therefore benefited from EU freedom of movement.

The harsh reality of the post-Brexit world has prompted a steady stream of articles in UK media (examples pictured below) promising ’90-day loopholes’ or ‘how to beat the 90-day rule’ (scroll to the end of this article for what the below ‘loopholes’ really entail).

But do these so-called loopholes really exist?

Despite the claims in the headlines, there are really only three options for non-EU citizens wanting to spend time in the EU – limit their stays to 90 days in every 180 (which still adds up to six months over the course of a year); get a short-stay visitor visa (if the country offers them like France does); or move to an EU country full-time and become a resident.

READ ALSO Your questions answered about the EU’s 90-day rule

All of the advertised tricks, dodges and loopholes are really just variations on these three options.

Limit stays to 90 days

Advantages – the big advantage of this method is no paperwork. You can travel visa free and there is no requirement to register with authorities in the country you are visiting (although second home owners will of course have to pay property taxes and other local taxes in the area where their property is located).

In this scenario you retain residency in your home country and are simply a visitor in the EU – a status identical to that of a tourist.

Disadvantages – the time limit is too short for many people and there is also the problem that stays are limited to 90 days in every 180. Although over the course of a year this adds up to six months, you cannot take your six months all in one go – so for example spending the winter in Spain and the summer in the UK is no longer possible. Likewise travelling to your French holiday home for four months over the summer is no longer an option.

It’s up to you to keep track of your 90 days, which you can use as either one long trip or multiple short trips. The 90-day limit is calculated on a rolling calendar and keeping track of the days and making sure you have not exceeded your limit can be stressful.

As a visitor, you have no rights to enter the country if the borders close (as, for example, happened during the pandemic).

READ ALSO How to calculate your 90-day limit

Short-stay visa – if country offers them

If you want to remain a resident in your home country but don’t want to be constrained by the 90-day rule, you might be able to get a short-stay visitor visa if they are an option. Visas are issued on a national level, there is no such thing as an EU-wide visa, so you will need to apply for a visa in the country where you want to stay.

Different EU countries have different visas, but most (including France although not Italy) offer a short-stay visitor visa (usually six months) that gives you the status of a visitor, but allows you to stay for longer than 90 days.

Advantages – no more counting the days, for the period when your visa is valid you can stay for as long as you like in the country of your choice. By maintaining your residency in your home country, you don’t have to register with authorities in the EU country and won’t be liable for residency-based taxes.

Disadvantages – visa paperwork can be complicated and the process is time-consuming and sometimes expensive (most countries require an in-person visit to the consulate as part of the process). You also need to plan in advance as visas take several weeks or months to be issued.

A visitor visa usually requires proof of financial means, so this is not available to people on very low incomes.

You are still classed as a visitor, so have no rights to enter the country if the borders close (as, for example, happened during the pandemic).

If you are spending a significant amount of time each year out of your home country, this might also affect your tax status, depending on the rules of your home country around ‘tax residency’ (which is not the same as residency for immigration purposes).

Move to an EU country

If you were accustomed to splitting your time roughly equally between your second home and your home country, you might want to consider becoming a resident in the EU.

Advantages – as a resident, you are no longer constrained by the 90-day rule in the country in which you live. The rule does, however, apply to other EU countries. So if for example you are a Brit resident in France, there are no limits on the amount of time you can spend in France. However the 90-day rule does still apply for trips to Italy, Spain, Germany and all other EU/Schengen zone countries. In practice, border checks while travelling within the Schengen zone are pretty light touch, but technically the rule still applies.

You can of course pay unlimited visits to your home country, provided you maintain your citizenship.

Disadvantages – moving countries involves a lot of paperwork. The process varies slightly depending on the country and your personal situation but in general you will first need to get a visa (which must be applied for from your home country, before you move) and then on arrival will usually need to undergo extra admin to validate the visa and register with local authorities. You might also be required to undergo a medical examination and take classes in the national language.

Depending on the type of visa you apply for, you may also need to provide proof of financial means, which disadvantages people on low incomes.

You will also need to register for healthcare under the system of the country you live in, and may be required to either pay taxes or at least complete an annual tax declaration in the country you live in.

Admin is not a one-off event either, most countries require you to regularly renew your visa or residency card. Being officially resident abroad will likely also affect your tax status and access to healthcare in your home country, while your pension entitlements may also be affected.

Can’t we just ignore the 90-day rule?

As a responsible publication, The Local obviously doesn’t advise breaking any laws, but aside from the moral issue, the practicalities of the 90-day rule make it a difficult one to get around.

If you’re not working or claiming benefits most EU countries are unlikely to even notice that you have over-stayed, and the prospect of police knocking on your door is pretty remote.

However, the problem arises when you need to travel, as border guards will likely spot that you arrived in the EU more than 90 days previously and have no visa. Penalties for over-stayers include fines, deportation and ‘over-stay’ stamps in your passport that will make future travel more difficult.

Planned changes to EU border controls (due to come into effect in 2024) will tighten up these checks.

So in short you could over-stay your 90-days but only if you were prepared to never leave the Schengen zone. And if you’re now living here full time there will come a day when you need to access healthcare or other social benefits and that will be difficult if you do not have an official status as a resident.

All EU countries have undocumented migrants living in them, often working illegally on a cash-in-hand basis, but their existence is precarious, they are ripe for exploitation and often live in poverty. We wouldn’t recommend it. 

PS: Those ‘loopholes’ promised in the articles above? The couple in the Telegraph got a visa and moved to France full time, where they are now residents. They told the paper: “The visa process took 9 to 10 months – we had thought it might take three. Yet we think our new life is wonderful and more than worth all the effort.”

The travel influencer mentioned in The Sun simply limits her stays in the Schengen zone to 90 days out of the every 180, but instead of returning to the UK for the rest of the time, she goes to Bulgaria (which is not part of the Schengen zone).

Truly, there are no loopholes . . .

Member comments

  1. If you are married to, and travelling with, a citizen of the EU/EEA or Switzerland (but not France) you can enter France under the Freedom of Movement rules with just your non-EU passport for up to 3 months. You can then leave France for at least 24 hours and re-enter France (or any other EU country) for another 3 months. This is all described in EU Directive 2004/38/WC Article 6. You just need to be able to show that you have left France at least once in the past 3 months.

  2. What if you have a Permesso di Sogiorno? I have o e as the spouse of a citizen; Delta did not quite
    Know what to do with me, but ultimately accepted my Permesso to permit them to board a passenger (me) whose ticket for return exceeded the 90 day limit.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

TECHNOLOGY

European travel services hit by major global IT glitch

Businesses across Europe - including airports, airlines and other transport operators - have been hit by major IT problems caused by a rogue software update.

European travel services hit by major global IT glitch

Windows users reporting getting the notorious ‘blue screen of death’ error screens on their systems which prevented them from carrying out their work – a problem caused by a software update on the CrowdStrike security platform.

CrowdStrike’s CEO says the problem has now been identified and a fix deployed, but it’s likely that knock-on disruption could continue for some time.

The air travel industry has been particularly badly hit.

On Friday morning flights were suspended at Berlin airport while passengers at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport reported chaotic scenes and long queues at check-in.

Spain’s airport operator Aena warned that the problems were causing alterations to their network’s system, meaning that they’ve had to go from digital to manual. Aena, which manages 46 airports in Spain, has warned that delays are likely over the course of Friday, but that not all airports are affected equally.

READ MORE: Global IT glitch starts to cause travel chaos in Spain

Meanwhile numerous airlines including Air France, KLM and the budget airline Ryanair reported major IT problems.

Anyone due to fly on Friday is advised to contact their airline before going to the airport.

Meanwhile in the UK Sky News was off the air and several train companies said they were suffering severe IT problems that could lead to train cancellations.

For more detailed country specific information, head to the homepage for The Local France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway or Denmark

SHOW COMMENTS