OPINION: Yes, second-home owners in Spain should be furious about the post-Brexit 90-day rule

Yes second-home owners in Spain and frequent visitors should be furious, but don't blame the EU for the "new" post-Brexit travel rules, writes Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain.

OPINION: Yes, second-home owners in Spain should be furious about the post-Brexit 90-day rule
Second home owners in Spain will be limited to 90 days. Photo: Elektra Klimi/Unsplash

If you’re a British “expat” who follows the UK press, you’re presumably “furious” about the “EU’s new post-Brexit travel rules”, which ban you from spending more than three months in your European holiday home from January 2021. At least, that’s what the ‘Daily Mail’ suggests. In that particular publication, a bit of outrage and EU-bashing never go amiss.

Personally, I hate the term “expat”, as it confers an unwarranted and unwelcome status on to Brits. We are immigrants – no better or different to EU citizens living and working in the UK. I understand, however, that journalists use the term as shorthand for “British citizens living abroad”, which is a bit of a mouthful.

I’m not disputing that “expat” second-home owners are furious. I expect they are also worried, confused and saddened by the “news”. After all, there’s ample cause for concern.

However, the changes to our rights aren’t down to “new post-Brexit travel rules”. Yes, this is a result of Brexit but, no, it’s not new. The same rules have always applied to non-EU citizens, moving around as third country nationals.

We were fortunate to enjoy special rights that waived this rule. Brexit takes those benefits away. Countries that aren’t members of the EU club cannot expect exclusive membership rewards. Without the EU changing anything, Britain has chosen to put itself in a different category.

The ‘Daily Mail’ says that a 90-day stay means anyone visiting any EU country cannot return for a further three months.  It’s actually worse than that, as the rule doesn’t apply to just one country, but the entire EU bloc. 

So, once a 90-day allowance in a 180-day period has been spent, you cannot return to your holiday home in Spain, France, or travel anywhere in the EU.

Say goodbye to that romantic weekend break to Rome or Paris. While you can enter the Schengen area more than once in the 90 days, official guidance from the EU says “you must carefully calculate your days of stay as the overall period of stay must not exceed the overall total of 90 days of stay within any 180-days period”.

Photo: AFP


Hard luck on the “swallows” that like to spend all winter in the Spanish sun. They will find themselves returning to cold Britannia sooner than intended.

The ramifications of overstaying in Europe could be serious. Post-Brexit, British passports will be scanned on arrival and departure. Anyone caught “illegally present”, staying longer than permitted, risks an “over-stay flag” on their passport. This could lead to a fine, difficulties applying for any future visa, or even a re-entry ban.

As more details emerge re our lost rights, blame has frequently been levelled at the “vindictive” EU.  Spin abounds concerning “rules brought in to punish the Brits” when, really, it is standard third country national rules being applied.

The Leave campaign sold the lie that “nothing would change”, and many Brits assumed the UK could negotiate the parts of EU membership it liked and ditch the rest. Compliance with third country national rules didn’t register on voter consciousness. To allow British citizens special rights after Brexit would be unfair to other third countries – and in many cases, illegal.

Anger exists at the dawning realisation of what we will lose. For some people, late awareness has been a real shock. For those of us that have been pointing all this out for the last four years, it is incredibly frustrating.  We’ve been accused of “project fear” and told repeatedly that Brexiters knew what they were voting for. I’m not sure that was ever true, but they’re getting the idea now!

Why any British citizens living in Spain – under or over the radar – voted for Brexit is still difficult for me to fathom. It’s hard to think of a better definition of “turkeys voting for Christmas”.

I have some sympathy for second-home owners who are “furious” about the effect of Brexit on their lives. I empathise with anyone who stands to lose something they value, for no good reason and through no fault of their own.

However, those with second homes will merely have their European visits cut short. Brits in the UK on lower incomes may be deprived of their European visits altogether, and that could mean us seeing less of our families.

Regardless of your financial status, Brexit will make us all poorer, and that’s not the EU’s fault. No, it is entirely the fault of the charlatans who sold the British public a lie. Perhaps ‘Daily Mail’ editors and readers could be “furious” about that instead.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain


Member comments

  1. Nicely explained Sue! Hopefully people will read this and stop blaming Spain or the EU or anybody other than the Tory government and those who voted for them!

  2. Is the ‘Daily Mail’ correct in stating that a 90-day stay means anyone
    visiting any EU country cannot return for a further three months?
    Although the rule doesn’t apply to just one country, does it apply
    to the ENTIRE EU bloc or just the Schengen zone?

    The example is Ireland. Many people will spend over 180 days a year
    in each of UK and Irish republic. Will days in the republic count
    against allowed days in Spain or vice versa? Obviously not – as there
    is no mechanism to monitor cross-border transits in Ireland. However
    this would seem to counter the assertion that the 180-day limit applies
    to “visiting any EU country”

    Is there official clarification on this?

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UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”