Brexit: EU issues guidance after Britons ‘wrongfully held’ at Schengen borders

The European Commission has been forced to issue guidance to EU member states on the treatment of UK citizens with post-Brexit residence rights transiting the Schengen borders, after it emerged some were wrongfully detained last year.

Brexit: EU issues guidance after Britons 'wrongfully held' at Schengen borders
UK nationals are being 'wrongfully detained' whilst transiting through the Schengen area. (Photo by Iroz Gaizka / AFP)

The document was distributed on July 14th to national delegations of EU countries, as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland/Liechtenstein, but it was made public only on September 5th by Statewatch, a charity reporting on civil liberties.

It was distributed after the Commission noted in 2022 that there have been some cases of UK citizens with post-Brexit rights as legal residents of EU member states “encountering problems when transiting Schengen states on their way to the member state where they reside.”

The Commission received reports of UK beneficiaries of the withdrawal agreement entering another Schengen country and being “held by the police because they did not have a valid residence document”.

In the first case, the individual had a valid document, but the state that issued it had not asked the Commission to include the documents in the Schengen Practical Handbook for Border Guards, which is used as a reference regarding which forms of documentation are valid for which purposes, Statewatch explained. The second case concerned residence documents that were no longer valid.

The cases were reported to the Commission, which is tasked to monitor the correct implementation of the post-Brexit arrangements for UK citizens. The issue was then brought to the attention of the UK-EU Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights.

UK nationals living in the EU did not retain free movement rights after Brexit. Under the Withdrawal Agreement the rights they previously enjoyed were maintained only in their country of residence.

In July, the Commission circulated the note to “remind member states of the applicable rules with regard to UK nationals that are beneficiaries of the withdrawal agreement” and “to prevent that they are being wrongfully detained whilst transiting through the Schengen area”. The guidelines apply to UK nationals and their family members.

The Commission specifies: “In a nutshell, beneficiaries of the withdrawal agreement can use their residence documents issued under the Withdrawal Agreement as well as other means of evidence at the border to prove their residence status and connected rights, such as not being subject to the maximum duration of stay of up to 90 days in a 180 days’ period in their host State.”

As a “fall-back solution to tackle comparable incidents”, it is also recommended to border guards of “second member states” (not those of residence) “to ensure that the individuals concerned are afforded the opportunity to rebut the presumption of their illegal stay” and to “regularise” their short-term stay by an entry stamp on the passport.

The note further reminds countries that UK citizens legally resident in the Schengen area will not be included in the Entry Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which are expected to be introduced probably next year.

“Further practical instructions will be issued closer to the entry into application of these two systems,” the document says.

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FACT CHECK: Spain’s ‘£97 daily rule’ isn’t new nor a worry for British tourists

The British tabloids are at it again causing alarm over the so-called '£97 daily rule’ which Spain is apparently imposing on UK tourists, who in turn are threatening to ‘boycott’ the country. 

FACT CHECK: Spain's '£97 daily rule' isn't new nor a worry for British tourists

American playwright Eugene O’Neill once said: “There is no present or future – only the past, happening over and over again – now”.

In 2022, The Local Spain wrote a fact-checking article titled ‘Are UK tourists in Spain really being asked to prove €100 a day?, in which we dispelled the claims made in the British press about Spain’s alleged new rules for UK holidaymakers.

Two years on in 2024, the same eye-catching headlines are resurfacing in Blighty: “’Anti-British? Holiday elsewhere!’ Britons fume as tourists in Spain warned they may be subject to additional rules” in GB News, or “’They would be begging us to come back’: Brits vow to ‘boycott Spain’ over new £97 daily rule” in LBC.

The return of this rabble-rousing ‘news’ in the UK has coincided with calls within Spain to change the existing mass tourism model that’s now more than ever having an impact on the country’s housing crisis.

Even though Spaniards behind the protests have not singled out any foreign nationals as potential culprits, the UK tabloids have unsurprisingly capitalised on this and run headlines such as “Costa del Sol turns on British tourists”.

READ MORE: Why does hatred of tourists in Spain appear to be on the rise?

What is the so-called ‘£97 daily rule’?

Yes, there is theoretically a ‘£97 a day rule’, but it is not a new rule, nor one that applies only to UK nationals specifically, and not even one that Spain alone has imposed (all Schengen countries set their financial means threshold).

As non-EU nationals who are not from a Schengen Area country either (the United Kingdom never was in Schengen), British tourists entering Spain could have certain requirements with which to comply if asked by Spanish border officials.

Such requirements include a valid passport, proof of a return ticket, documents proving their purpose of entry into Spain, limits on the amount of time they can spend in Spain (the 90 out of 180 days Schengen rule), proof of accommodation, a letter of invitation if staying with friends or family (another controversial subject in the British press when it emerged) and yes, proof of sufficient financial means for the trip.

Third-country nationals who want to enter Spain in 2024 may need to prove they have at least €113,40 per day (around £97), with a minimum of €972 (around £830) per person regardless of the intended duration of the stay. It is unclear whether this could also possibly apply to minors.

The amount of financial means to prove has increased slightly in 2024 as it is linked to Spain’s minimum wage, which has also risen. 

Financial means can be accredited by presenting cash, traveller’s checks, credit cards accompanied by a bank account statement, an up-to-date bank book or any other means that proves the amount available as credit on a card or bank account.

Have Britons been prevented from entering Spain for not having enough money?

There is no evidence that UK holidaymakers have been prevented from entering Spain after not being able to show they have £97 a day to cover their stay, nor any reports that they have been asked to show the financial means to cover their stay either. 

17.3 million UK tourists visited Spain in 2023; equal to roughly 47,400 a day. 

Even though British tourists have to stand in the non-EU queue at Spanish passport control, they do not require a visa to enter Spain and the sheer number of UK holidaymakers means that they’re usually streamlined through the process, having to only quickly show their passports.

The only occasional hiccups that have arisen post-Brexit have been at the land border between Gibraltar and Spain (issued that are likely to be resolved soon), and these weren’t related to demonstrating financial means. 

Therefore, the British press are regurgitating alarmist headlines that don’t reflect any truth, but rather pander to the ‘they need us more than we need them’ mantra that gets readers clicking. 

To sum up, there is a £97 a day rule, but it is not new, it has not affected any British tourists to date, and it is not specific to Spain alone to potentially require proof of economic means.