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Reader question: Can Britons living in EU spend more than 90 days in another Schengen country?

The EU's '90 day rule' governs how long non-European citizens can spend in the bloc without needing a visa and, since Brexit, this has also included UK nationals. But does it still apply if you live in an EU country?

Reader question: Can Britons living in EU spend more than 90 days in another Schengen country?
Photo: AFP

Question: I’m British and I have residency in Italy, but my daughter and her family live in France. I like to spend a good part of the year with them in France, but since Brexit will the 90-day rule apply to me?

This is just one of many questions The Local has received on this topic – from British (and other non-EU) citizens who are permanent residents of an EU country, asking whether the 90-day rule applies to them.

Brits who were already living in an EU country before December 31st 2020 are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, which gives them the right to stay in the countries where they live under many of the same terms as they enjoyed when they were EU citizens.

However, there are several things that the Withdrawal Agreement doesn’t cover.

One of those is moving to a different EU country, which UK nationals will now require a visa for – full details on that HERE.

The other is how much time they can spend in other EU countries.

90-day rule

In this case non-EU residents of EU countries are covered by the 90-day rule, in the same way as visitors from the UK or the US are.  So in other words there is no different rule for those Britons who are resident in the EU.

You can read full details of how the 90-day rule works HERE but broadly, people covered by it can spend 90-days out of every 180 in an EU or Schengen zone country other than their own without the need for a visa.

The 90-day total applies to the whole EU/Schengen zone, so if you live in France you cannot spend 85 days in Germany and then go straight to the Netherlands for two weeks to enjoy the Eurovision Song Contest, as that would exceed your 90-day limit. 

The 90-day limit is also intended for visits only, so if you intend to do paid work while in another EU country then you may need a visa.

Enforcement

Several people have also quite rightly asked us how this could possibly be enforced, given that passports are not routinely checked when travelling within the Schengen zone?

For example, how could French authorities really enforce the 90-day rule on someone who has crossed over from Italy for a lengthy visit?

While it seems unlikely people would be caught they should be aware that while residents of EU countries won’t be subject to the same passport checks and stamping as people entering the Bloc, that doesn’t mean there are no passport checks.

Controls can still be carried out at Schengen borders if, for example, there is a security alert or border restrictions are tightened due to the pandemic.

You could also be asked to produce your passport while visiting an EU country at a police or security check.

One thing to consider is that if you are found to have spent too long in a country where you do not have residency status or a visa you can face some severe penalties.

You may be fined in the country where you are found to have breached the 90-day rule and even deported. Your passport could also be flagged as an over-stayer which can cause problems for future travel or residency/visa applications.

In a worst case scenario non-EU nationals who stay longer than 90-days without a residence permit or visa could end up with a re-entry ban to the Schengen area.

Member comments

  1. There are no borders so if you are driving within EU countries and are staying with friends or family how would the authorities know.

  2. If you were driving from France to Italy for example, with French plates, who is going to know if you are British. If you have a French ID card, you could show that if asked.

  3. Note that there are some work arounds for the 90/180 rule, at least for Australians and New Zealanders. In both these cases, there are bilateral agreements on visa waivers predating Schengen. For example, an Australian can spend 90 days in Germany (only Germany), then travel to a non Schengen country for a single day, then return to Germany for a new 90 day period (https://australien.diplo.de/au-en/service/01-visa/short-term-visa/2073662). This is entirely separate to the 90/180 requirement. I remember reading that a Kiwi managed to use these bilateral agreements to stay in Schengen countries for well over three years. However, seek confirmation from the relevant embassies before using these agreements- not unusual for the border officials to not have a clue

  4. I am a dual passport holder, US/British, and also have permanent residency in the Netherlands (with the ID) where I have lived for years. I like to spend chunks of time in Spain, and am very curious how things are going to work, if there will be any change in passport control within the Schengen Zone and how they would monitor the 90 day rule when passports are not checked. For example, since I am already living with Schengen, my passports will never be stamped on arrival in the Netherlands, and I assume when I land in Spain from another Schengen country there is no change? I am aware they may randomly check, especially for British passport holders, but could I not switch off sometime with my US passport or simply show my residency card from the Netherlands if asked? A bit confused how things are going to work in practice, if anyone knows if there are any changed to passport control within Schengen, that would be helpful to know.

  5. I got into a bit of trouble leaving Spain, a while back, as I was travelling on a NZ passport, but there had been no one to stamp it when I entered the EU (in France). It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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