The Schengen Area’s 90/180 Day Rule Made Easy

September 9, 2021

As the whole of Europe continues to adjust to Brexit, many UK nationals are faced with new travel requirements and restrictions. We take an in-depth look at one of those new responsibilities for UK nationals: staying within the Schengen Area’s 90/180 day visa-free stay rule.

European Union versus Schengen Area

Although comprising of a similar group of countries, the European Union (EU) and Schengen Area are separate entities with different political, economic, and travel functions. On the one hand, the EU is a political, legal, and economic union that provides for, in part, a single European market and free-movement for EU citizens amongst the 27 member states. The Schengen Area, on the other hand, is intended to abolish border and passport controls within the zone of the 26 signing countries. As such, travellers within the Schengen Area are able to treat the entire zone as a singular country when it comes to border controls.

There are also slight differences between the countries included in each group:

The EU comprises Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

The Schengen Area comprises Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Stay Limits within the Schengen Area: Counting the 90 Days

With the UK’s exit from the EU, UK nationals’ freedom of movement within the EU came to an end as well; however, they are still able to travel within the Schengen Area without a visa. As such, UK citizens are now subject to the Schengen Area’s visa-waiver stay limitation of 90 days within any 180 days throughout the entire zone. The count begins as soon as a traveller enters the Schengen Area until the day they depart. For example:

  • If a traveller entered Germany (in the Schengen Area) from the UK (not in the Schengen Area) and spent 10 days in Germany, then took a train to Poland (in the Schengen Area) for a stay of 7 days, and then flew back to the UK, they would have stayed 17 total days in the Schengen Area.
  • Even if the traveller briefly departed the Schengen Area, their stay calculation would still be based on the time spent in the zone. For example, if the traveller were to enter Germany from the UK and spend 10 days in Germany, departed back to the UK for 5 days, flew to Poland for a 7-day stay, and then returned to the UK again, they would still have stayed 17 total days in the Schengen Area.

Finally, note that the date of entry is considered the first day of stay and the date of exit is considered the last day to stay.

A Moving Target: How to Calculate the 180 Days

Calculating the 90 days is fairly straightforward, but where the most confusion arises is the rolling 180-day period. It’s often easiest to think of this 180-days as a moving block of time that is counted backwards from each day of staying in the Schengen Area. Another example may help illustrate this concept:

  • If a traveller entered Austria on 1 November 2021, the 180-day “block” of time would be calculated backwards from that date (back to 6 May 2021) and then any additional days of stay within the Schengen Area. Each day they stay in the Schengen Area will advance the 180-day timeframe – so the calculation on 2 November 2021 would advance the 180-day block by one day to 7 May 2021.

Still confused? Luckily, the European Commission has an online Short-Stay Calculator that allows users to either assess previous and/or ongoing compliance with the 90/180 rule or to check the maximum length of stay that will be allowed on a particular day in the future. The calculator is free to use and available here.

Penalties for Overstaying

While compliance with the 90/180 day rule may be tedious, it is crucial for all non-EU nationals to adhere to the stay limitations. Each Schengen Area country has its own set and standards for penalties for overstays; however, individuals who exceed the 90-day period will typically be issued with a monetary fine and an order to depart the country and entirety of the Schengen Area within a certain period of time (sometimes immediately).

In addition to the immediate consequences of fines and deportation, non-compliance with the 90/180 day rule may result in future difficulties when attempting to enter the Schengen Area. These individuals may face additional scrutiny during entries/exits from the area and, in serious circumstances, may even be banned from entering the zone entirely for a certain period of time.

Finally, it is important to note that penalties will be significantly more substantial if the individual is found to be engaging in work activities while utilising visa-free travel within the Schengen Area. These penalties – which can include considerable monetary fines, immediate deportation and future bans from re-entering the country, and possible imprisonment in the most severe cases – may be brought against both the individual and the company for which they are working.

When making visa and immigration decisions, it is essential to remember that it is the activities in which the traveller will engage and not the duration of stay that determine the travel and immigration requirements. For Schengen Area travel, this means that if a traveller will engage in non-tourist/business/work-permit-exempt activities even for a short trip, they will most likely require a work authorisation (and possibly a visa and/or residence permit). Newland Chase understands how important these decisions are and can help ensure a traveller always holds the right visas and permits.

With the complex, fast-changing nature of Brexit and its considerable impact on employers, it is critical to have a trusted advisor by your side.

Newland Chase stands ready to support you and your travel programme. Contact your dedicated Client Services Manager today for more information. Don’t have a Client Services Manager? Contact us.

This publication is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are reminded that immigration laws are subject to change. We are not responsible for any loss arising from reliance on this publication. Please contact CIBTvisas or Newland Chase should you require any additional clarification or case specific advice.