Article published 31 July, 2023
Second-home owners in France report struggles with the EU’s 90/180-day rule but in Spain there are even fewer options, says an activist for those who spend part of the year in the country.
There is no six-month temporary visa option, said Andrew Hesselden, founder of Facebook group 180 Days in Spain.
Read more: The EU's 90/180-day rule: How does it work?
What are the options for second-home owners in Spain?
Non-EU citizens without residency cards (including Britons post-Brexit) are limited to the EU’s standard Schengen area rule of no more than 90 days in any rolling 180-day period, looking back, or otherwise applying for full residency visas or for ‘golden visas’.
The latter are for people who have invested at least half a million euros per person in Spanish property, who Mr Hesselden said are free to come and go as long as they spend at least two days a year in Spain.
“The alternative [aimed at those intending to move to Spain as full-time residents] is a ‘non-lucrative visa’ that takes up to eight months to be approved and I've heard that you have to give your passport in for that time while they think about it,” he said.
He added that, for the latter, Spain charges £516.
He said he understands this is due to the UK's high charges for Spanish people, and is on top of a standard fee of around €180.
“The visa is then issued and after arrival in Spain you have to go through a process to convert it to a residency card.”
‘Spain could scrap 90-days rule for Britons’
Last year, the then-Spanish tourism minister said he supported scrapping the 90-days rule for Britons.
He planned to lobby the EU for this, saying the solution had to come from there.
Mr Hesselden, 45, a freelance communications consultant, said he understands that the Balearic and Canary islands and Valencia region have all told the Spanish government that they want Britons to be exempted from the 90-days rule.
He lives partly in the UK and partly in Spain, and disagrees that a solution must come from the EU, as he said it largely leaves immigration matters to individual states.
It mostly intervenes only to say that states must allow visitors from certain countries to come without a visa under the 90/180-days rule, he said.
For example, in Portugal it is relatively easy for visitors of many nationalities that have a short-term visitor visa waiver, such as Americans and Britons, to apply in the country to extend their 90 days by another 90 days, whereas this is not the case in Spain or France.
‘Brexit is unique and needs unique solution’
Mr Hesselden’s group lobbies for Britons in Spain to be treated in the same way as Spanish people are in the UK, which has a national immigration rule allowing EU citizens and other ‘visa waiver’ visitors to stay for up to six months at a time.
He argues this could be done unilaterally or in bilateral deals with the UK, not giving extra time in the wider Schengen area.
He believes this is fair because of Brexit's consequences for Britons whose lives involve spending part of the year in the EU.
“It is a unique, one-off situation and you need a unique way of dealing with it,” he said.
“Before Brexit, if a Briton had a home in Spain they could use it freely, without having to worry about a business trip they've got to make to Germany next week, or a ski trip they may have planned next February in Switzerland.”
‘We spent 47 years in EU and bought property with those rights’
Several non-EU states already have their old bilateral agreements with France, including sections on visiting rights.
For example, a 1949 US-France deal giving Americans the right to stay three months could, in theory, be used to extend the standard Schengen area ‘90 days’.
However, Americans usually do not attempt to make use of it and it is not mentioned in US travel advice for France.
“But they live on the other side of the world and, for them, a trip to Europe is a big pre-planned project, and they haven’t spent 47 years as EU members and bought property on the basis of those rights.”
‘Post-Brexit mobility rights could have been maintained’
Mr Hesselden, whose job requires frequent EU travel, said the Brexit ballot never stated what kind of Brexit was being voted for, and better ‘mobility rights’ to visit and work could have been maintained.
It was then-prime minister Theresa May who imposed a hard Brexit from the outset.
Our archives show that she explicitly ruled out a ‘Norway’ (EEA) or ‘Swiss’ Brexit as early as autumn 2016, when she also said that controlling immigration was a priority for the UK.
This was then reflected in the two Brexit deals, which protected residency rights of those who had moved to the UK or EU to live full-time before Brexit.
Otherwise, it largely left other Britons and EU citizens subject to basic national or EU immigration laws, both when moving full-time and when travelling for work or other temporary stays.
In early 2018, as negotiations got under way, The Connexion reported on how British second-home owners would probably face the EU’s standard ‘90-days rule’ that dates back to the 2006 Schengen Borders Code.
It is thought that there are 800,000 British-owned homes in Spain, compared to 187,000 Withdrawal Agreement residency cards issued (according to the latest joint report from the UK/EU committee overseeing citizens' rights), suggesting that most of the owners spend only part of the year in Spain.
Edit (August 2, 2023): We have made several small alterations to clarify parts of this article as originally published. Also, with regard to Spanish visa types, we note that Spain has this summer launched a 'digital nomad' visa, aimed at non-EU nationals who want to live in the country and work remotely for a company abroad – a kind of visa option that does not exist in France.