How long can you stay in Spain as a tourist? How does the 90-day rule affect that and how does it work exactly?

As tourists, it’s only natural that we would want more time to explore and enjoy the country. But none of us would like to unintentionally put ourselves in an illegal situation. None of us would like to pay unnecessary fines. And, most definitely, none of us would like to face penalties when traveling to Spain.

It’s a good thing this can all be easily avoided with a little research. In this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to know about the 90-day rule and about what happens if you break it. What is the 180-day rolling period? What happens if you don’t leave Spain after 90 days? What can I do to legally extend my stay in Spain? Let’s check the answers.


What is the 90-day rule in Spain?


The 90-day rule establishes the maximum period of time that a foreigner from outside the European Union can stay in Spain during their stay as a tourist.

In other words, if you visit Spain for a short period of time without having a residence permit, whether your country of origin required you to apply for a tourist visa or not, you can stay for a maximum of 90 days before you actually have to leave or obtain a legal residence permit.

However, to be precise, this 3-month period applies not just to Spain but also to any other country in the Schengen area.

So, even if you are in Spain for only one month, you will still have a maximum of 2 months left before having to leave the Schengen area as a whole. Remember that the Schengen Area is made up of 27 countries within Europe, including France, Italy, Germany and Greece. You can find the complete list of countries that are part of this area here.

This is because there is no border control between the member states of this common area, so you can travel freely between them. Hence, this rule applies on a supranational scale rather than just focusing on a single country.

Important! Everything we mention throughout this article also applies to EU citizens. However, completing the legal procedures to stay for more than 3 months in the country is a lot easier for them (they simply have to get their green card).

This rule, stated in this way, seems simple.

However, its details or particularities generate tons of doubts. And that is what we will dive into next. How does this 90-day rule work exactly? And most importantly, how can you make sure to fully understand it to avoid legal trouble?



What does a 180-day rolling period mean?


A 180-day rolling period refers to the overall period of time inside which you can spend your total allowed 90 days in the Schengen Area. This does tend to sound confusing, but it is quite simple. Let’s break it down for you.

Just think of it this way. You are allowed to be in the Schengen Zone for a maximum of 90 days within 180 days (approximately 6 months).

Therefore, even if you have a 1-year multiple-entry tourist visa, this does not mean you can stay for a whole year continuously.

Instead, you must check that over a 180-day timeframe, you have only been in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days. To calculate this, you count 180 days backward from your exit date, and compute how many out of these days were spent in the Schengen.

In other words, we are looking at 90 days in TOTAL. They do not have to be consecutive, and must be considered in any 180-day (6-month) ruling period.

If this is still too complicated to wrap your head around, don’t fret. Here you have the 90-day rule calculator from the European Commission.

So, what if you have stayed within Schengen for 90 days consecutively? Let’s break this down even further.





How does the 90-day rule work in Spain?


The 90-day rule works by adding up the number of days you have been in the Schengen area within a 180-day period. Like we mentioned and like you probably would have guessed, the sum of these days should not go over 90 days.

However, it’s normal to still get a little lost – especially when it comes to the details of it. For instance, if you have spent 90 consecutive days in the Schengen area, how long do you have to spend outside of it before you can come back? Or, when exactly do you start counting these 90 days?

Don’t worry, you’ll find the answers in the following sections.



When can I return to Spain after 90 days?


You can return to Spain after 90 days once the calculation for the 180-day rolling period shows that you have NOT been in the Schengen zone for 90 days in 180 days.

What does this mean?

This means it is impossible to stay in Spain for 90 days, travel to another country outside the Schengen area, stay 1 day there, and then re-enter Spain.

In this case, if you have been in Spanish territory for 3 full months, you must wait another three months after leaving the country This means you would have completed 90 days within a period of 6 months.



When do those 90 days start counting?


This question is very simple and straightforward. These 90 days start counting the day you first crossed the border of the Schengen area, no matter through which country.

For example, if you flew from any country outside the EU and landed first in France; even if you travel to Spain the next day, the 90-day period starts counting from the moment you landed in France. This is because it is the first country with the Schengen Area that you have stepped foot in during this 6 month period.

Do you have doubts so far? Keep on reading for more information or directly ask our immigration lawyers any question:

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What happens if I don’t leave Spain after 90 days? Can I be fined for overstaying?


If you don’t leave Spain after 90 days, you would be in an irregular situation. In other words, you would be in the country illegally. Thus, in the eyes of the immigration law, you would be committing a serious infraction that could result in significant penalties and/or fines.

In general, these sanctions usually turn out to be a fine of between €500 and €1000.

Depending on the seriousness of your particular case, an expulsion process could even be initiated.

The good new is that this expulsion process is something that rarely happens because first of all, the authorities must discover that you have overstayed in the country. Then, they must open a sanctioning procedure, wherein you can submit allegations so that they review their decision.

And, besides, for an expulsion to happen, you must also commit another of the 5 infractions that would actually start the process. You can find that list here.

In the event that this sanction does occur and results in an expulsion from the country, this would imply that you will be prohibited from entering Spain for the next 5 years (which would eliminate your capacity to apply for a residence permit).

In addition, you should bear in mind that the days that you exceed the allowed time would count for the next semester. In other words, if you stay 6 months instead of the 3 allowed, you will have to wait a total of 1 year to re-enter Spain (3 months of waiting for the first 6-month ruling period, and 3 extra months corresponding to the time you have exceeded that are associated with the following 6 months).

Lastly, a common question that many foreigners ask is: If I have overstayed the 90 days and then return to my country, what will happen?

Generally, you will never be stopped at the airport and you will rarely be fined there. So voluntarily exiting and returning to your country of origin would not be an issue.

However, in case you would like to stay in Spain longer without being fined, there are definitely ways to go about this legally.



Can I extend my 90 days in Spain?


Yes, it is possible to extend your 90 days as a tourist, although it is quite complicated, and there are some things to consider.

There are two situations regarding this extension: whether or not you entered Spain with a visa.

If you entered Spain without a visa, you can extend your stay for up to three months. However, this is only possible in the case of exceptional circumstances related to health care, family, or humanitarian causes. For example, you have suffered an accident that prevents you from returning back to your country of origin, or have contracted a supervening disease.

On the other hand, if you entered Spain with a visa, you can extend your stay for less than 3 months more.

In both cases, you would have to apply for this extension at the national police. You would have to justify your reason, demonstrate sufficient economic means to stay in Spain, and show a ticket back to your country to prove your return.

To be completely honest, in most cases, that request will get rejected, because, like we said, the extension is only admitted and approved of if exceptional circumstances occur.

However, with the implementation of the Entrepreneur’s Law, there is another possibility to extend not the 90-day period per se, but rather extend your time in Spain. Let’s find out how.



What can I do before the 3 months are up?


Before the 3 months are up, you can either: (1) leave the Schengen area or (2) apply for a residence permit while you are in Spain.

If you are opting for the second option, make sure that the residence permit you have chosen does not require you to start the application from your country of origin.

As previously mentioned, the Entrepreneur’s Law has given foreigners more opportunities to apply for residency in Spain. Thus, the permits under this law allow for fast-track applications that can be submitted online, and you would receive your resolution in around 20 labor days.

This law was created essentially to improve Spain’s economy and attract foreign talent. Under the Entrepreneur’s Law, you will find the following residence permits that can be obtained during your 90-day stay in the country:


While it is true that these are 6 great opportunities for foreigners, chances are you can’t find the right fit for you. The good news is that there are 2 extra alternatives.

There a couple of residence permits that fall under the General Immigration Regime that can be applied for from Spain on a tourist visa. Those are the student visa and the family member of an EU citizen card. So if the Entrepreneur’s Law does not offer a valid option for your particular case, you can always use these 2 common paths.



Important: don’t mistake the 90/180-day rule for the 183-day rule


Up to this point, we have analyzed the 90/180-day rule in Spain, which sets the maximum period of time you can stay in the country as a tourist before entering an irregular situation.

Since there is a 180-day rolling period, sometimes people refer to the 90-day rule as the 180-day rule too. This generates a lot of confusion with another rule with a similar name: the 183-day rule.

But the truth is that the 183-day rule has nothing to do with the 90/180-day rule.

The 183-day rule marks the turning point between being a resident and a non-resident in Spain.

In other words, if you are living in Spanish territory and during a calendar year (from January to December) you spend more than 183 days in the country, you become a resident.

This, among others, has important implications for tax purposes: if you are a resident you will pay income tax or IRPF on all the income you generate worldwide, and the tax rates differ.

But, as you can see, it does not dictate how long you can stay in Spain as a tourist.





Will Spain change the 90-day rule?


Spain currently does not have any plans of changing the 90-day rule. Technically, this rule is not under Spanish jurisdiction, as it is a rule that applies to the whole Schengen Area.

So even if Spain wanted to change this rule, the change can only be initiated by authorities of the European Union.

It is true, however, that Spain wishes to create an exception for the rule, specifically for UK citizens. The 90-day rule after Brexit did cause quite some chaos.

Due to Brexit, many UK citizens with homes in Spain could no longer stay in the country for more than 90 days. This has negatively affected both Spanish tourism and British tourists, and has propelled the “180-days in Spain campaign”among the British. This campaign asks that British citizens living in or visiting Spain maintain their pre-Brexit rights.

As always in this blog, we’ll keep you posted with the latest updates of this initiative.



Does the 90-day rule apply even if I own property in Spain?


Yes, the 90-day rule applies even if you own property in Spain.

In the previous section, we saw how Brexit affected British citizens who had property in Spain, as they then had to follow this rule as well.

In any situation, if you are a non-European Union citizen and would like to stay in Spain for more than 90 days, you must apply for a residence permit.

If your property was at least 500,000 Euros and was purchased after 2014, you will have it a bit easier, as you are eligible to apply for residency through the Golden Visa.

And looking forward, if you would like to purchase property in order to obtain Spanish residency, you can read all about buying property in Spain as an expat here.



Following the EU 180-day rule


With all its names and terms (the 90-day rule, the 3-month period, the EU 180-day rule, the 180-day rolling period, etc.), we’re confident that this article has helped you understand everything better.

Hopefully, you’re now fully equipped to compute your legal timeframe as a tourist, avoid any unintended fines, or, even, extend your stay if you wish to!

And if you would like our team of immigration lawyers to help you out finding the right option to stay in Spain for the long-run and obtain your residency (even if you are already in Spain as a tourist), do not hesitate to get in touch:


Book a consultation with one of our lawyers and solve all your doubts:


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