Spain is one of the most popular destinations for visitors from around the world, with over 100 million people visiting the country in 2022. Visitors from certain European countries can travel freely due to relaxed borders between parts of Europe, but international visitors from other places – including the UK and the US – will need a specific visa.
This is known as a Schengen Visa, which allows citizens who don’t benefit from agreements between European nations to access simplified travel documentation and travel within specified countries for a limited time, including Spain. However, travelling or remaining in Spain past the expiry of this visa can have serious consequences.
To make sure you stay on the right side of international laws and keep your travel paperwork in order, this blog explains why visitors can only stay in Spain for 90 days out of every 180, and what you should do if you want to stay in Spain for longer than this without getting in trouble.
What is the 90/180-day rule for Schengen Visas?
The Schengen area covers a group of 27 European countries that allow free travel between their mutual borders – one of which is Spain. Nationals of these EU and EEA (European Union and European Economic Area) countries can travel through the Schengen zone visa-free.
However, non-EU/EEA nationals wanting to stay in a Schengen country or travel through the zone must obtain a Schengen Visa. This is a short-stay visa that allows you to stay within the Schengen area for up to 90 days, which is typically used for tourism, studying, volunteering, or business trips.
Once a three-month Schengen Visa has expired, you must leave the Schengen area and cannot return to any countries within it until 180 days have passed from its date of issue. This is because there is a limit on Schengen Visas that only allows non-EU/EEA nationals to spend a maximum of 90 days in the Schengen area out of any 180-day period.
The 90 days don’t have to be consecutive – for example, you could spend 30 days in Spain, 30 days in France, and 30 days in Italy within the six-month period allowed, with gaps in between each stay. If you spent 90/180 days in just one country, like Spain, the 90/180 rule does mean that you can’t visit any other Schengen country until the next 180-day period.
Once you have reached the 90/180 day limit, you must return to your country of origin. If you wanted to extend your stay in Spain, you would still need to return home to apply for an appropriate visa at your country’s Spanish embassy, so that you can come back to Spain and obtain a residence permit for a longer stay.
What happens if you overstay on a Schengen Visa?
If you don’t leave the Schengen area completely when your 90 days are up – meaning the entire zone, not just moving from one Schengen country to another – then you are officially overstaying your Schengen Visa. This means you’re breaking the law, and there will be legal consequences.
Some Schengen countries are more lenient than others and simply instruct overstayers to leave right away, but others may be stricter about enforcing the penalties for overstaying a Schengen Visa. The possible consequences for staying more than 90/180 days include:
- ⦿ Fines – depending on the country and how long you’ve overstayed, you could be made to pay a fine of anything from 500€ to 10,000€. This penalty may be combined with an entry ban.
- ⦿ Deportation – EU countries can give you a limited number of days to leave, or they will officially deport you. This tends to only happen if you are working or claiming benefits without a valid visa.
- ⦿ Entry ban – you can be banned from re-entering if you overstay for a significant length of time, especially if you commit a crime during this time. The ban can last for 3 years or longer.
- ⦿ Prison – overstaying on an expired visa can lead to a jail sentence of 6 months–1 year or more, which is more likely if you overstay in order to work and earn money without a work permit.
Authorities will know whether you’ve overstayed, because third-country nationals must get their passports scanned or stamped on entering or leaving any country. The EU Council is also enforcing a new Entry/Exit System (EES), which creates ‘smart’ border checks using pre-registration of the traveller’s information, including biometric data.
How long can you stay in Spain if you own a property there?
You don’t need to be a Spanish resident to buy and own property in Spain – Spanish property rights aren’t based on residency status. To complete a property transaction, you don’t need a residency visa or even a Spanish bank account, necessarily. You just need an identification number – an NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjeros) or TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero).
However, your nationality and immigration status do affect the time you can spend in the country staying in your Spanish property. If you use a Schengen short-stay visa to visit your holiday home in Spain, the 90/180 rule still applies, so you must bear this in mind to plan your trips.
Remember that any time you spend in any Schengen country counts towards your 90-day limit – so if you were a Brit travelling from the UK through France to get to Spain, this time would be included. Similarly, if you have properties in other Schengen countries, the 90/180 rule applies to all of them, so you would have to split your time between them carefully.
If you wanted to stay in Spain for longer than 90 days at a time, you would have to apply for a different visa from the embassy in your home country and travel to Spain to get a residence permit, though changes to Spanish immigration processes could introduce completely digital applications soon. The type of visa you would require depends on your planned activity – e.g. tourism, studying, working, family reunification, etc.
How long can you stay in Spain without becoming a resident?
The short-stay visa only allows you to reside in Spain for up to 90 days at a time out of every 180 days, or a maximum of around 180 days a year. This is fine if your trips will be no longer than three months at a time, no more than twice a year.
If you want to spend more than six months a year in Spain, you can’t do so on a Schengen Visa, and will have to secure a long-stay visa before visiting the country. You can spend up to 183 days a year in Spain, consecutive or not, without becoming a long-term resident.
To spend this amount of days or more in Spain legally, you’ll need a temporary residence visa, which will allow you to say in Spain for up to 1 year, renewable every 2 years for up to 5 years under certain conditions. These will depend on whether you will be financially self-sufficient or not.
Even if you get a temporary residency permit that allows you to visit Spain for as long as you like, whenever you like, you should also consider tax residency. If you stay in Spain for more than 183 days a year, then the authorities will consider you a resident for tax purposes, which would make you liable for a range of taxes in Spain.
However, if you have a temporary residence visa but only stay in Spain for less than 183 days a year, you’ll be classed as a non-resident. This doesn’t mean you won’t be eligible for any taxes at all, though – especially if you own a property in Spain. You’ll still have to pay an annual municipal tax on the property and file an income tax return, as the authorities will consider it a taxable benefit.
Which visa do you need to stay in Spain more than 90 days?
To get around the 90/180 rule and live in Spain for longer and more frequent periods, you’ll need to look into potential immigration routes. Even if you don’t intend to live in Spain full-time, year-round, you can still benefit from greater freedom of movement with a temporary residence permit. There is a range of Spanish visas available for different purposes, including:
- ⦿ Employment Visa – for non-EU/EEA citizens who want to work and earn money in Spain.
- ⦿ Non-lucrative Visa – for non-EU/EEA nationals who want to live in Spain on their savings or passive income (e.g. pensions, investment returns).
- ⦿ Golden Visa – for non-EU/EEA investors who can make significant approved investments in Spain (including real estate, businesses, innovative research, and government debt).
- ⦿ Digital Nomad Visa – a new option for non-EU/EEA citizens to live in Spain temporarily while earning income from working remotely for foreign employers or clients.
The right long-term visa for you depends on your situation and what you want to do while staying in Spain. It’s important not to confuse temporary residency with Spanish citizenship, and to understand the tax implications of living in Spain – even if it’s only part-time.
Should you need legal guidance on such matters, Manzanares Lawyers can assist with a range of concerns, from visa applications to non-resident tax in Spain. Give our office a call on +34 952 82 41 12 (Marbella) or +34 952 59 50 42 (Alhaurin) to speak to our team.
Alternatively, you can email your enquiry to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will respond as soon as we can to explain how our services can help you.