The Schengen zone covers 23 countries of the 27 that make up the European Union. These are countries that have abolished all border and passport controls at their respective borders. Especially when driving on the motorways, the only sign that you have entered another country in the zone is the sudden change of road signs from one language to another.
The 90 day rule
If you are from outside the EU, in a third country such as the UK or US, then you are only allowed to spend a maximum of 90 days in the zone during any 180 day period.
This seems to create a lot of confusion. I see people on forums asking if they get a new 180 days each year, or if the count is reset as soon as they leave and then return to the EU.
There are plenty of free apps that can calculate this for you, just search for “schengen” on Google or Apple. You put into a calendar in the app all the time you are in the EU, and it tells you how long you have left.
For most people coming to Spain or wherever for holidays, 90 days is plenty of time. If you have a holiday home or want to stay longer then this 90 days limit can be an issue.
This limit needs to be taken seriously, if you exceed it, the border authorities have the power to prevent you from coming back for up to five years!
The 90 day rule explained
The 180 day period that 90 days is measured, is a rolling period. This means it does not have a start or finish, it is just any arbitrary 180 day period. So if you came to Spain for 30 days you would have 60 days left. If you went home to the UK for 15 days, you would recover 15 days again, so you would have 75 days available in Europe.
I think the simplest way to visualise it is as a bath tub. When you are in Europe, the tap is turned on, and the plug is in so water cannot drain away. When you leave Europe, the tap is turned off, and the plug is pulled out allowing the water to drain away. The longer you are in Europe the fuller the bath tub becomes. The bath tub takes 90 days to fill up or drain away. Hope that makes sense!
What happens if I want to stay longer than 90 days?
The short answer is you need a visa. There are plenty of articles in this blog which describe our journey to obtaining the non-lucrative visa for Spain. Check this out if you are interested.