Linda, a British citizen looking to visit her son in Spain, reached out to The Local to explain how she had recently been prevented from entering Spain from Gibraltar by border officials who suspected she had exhausted her 90 out of 180 days in Spain and the Schengen Area.
The reason for refusal? Her passport didn’t have a stamp showing that she had indeed left Spain and abided by the new rules for non-resident British visitors in Spain since Brexit came into force in 2021.
“I was denied entry to Spain on September 26th due to my passport not being stamped on exit on a previous one-week visit to Spain which started on June 4th,” Linda, who is 72, told The Local.
“The guards initially stamped my passport to enter, then they noticed I had no exit stamp from that one-week visit in June, thereby classing me as an overstayer and subsequently marked the entry stamp with the letter F and two lines.
“Even though I have proof of returning to the UK via banking activity as well as the test and trace COVID app, the border guards would not accept or look at any proof nor let me speak to anyone that could help.
“My son, who speaks Spanish, tried to explain that I had other proof of returning to the UK but the guards would not accept or even consider looking at it; they just kept insisting that I had no stamp, that I had overstayed and would be arrested as illegal.”
Linda was attempting to travel over to Spain with her daughter, who was allowed into Spain as she hadn’t been on the previous June visit. Her mother on the other hand had to return to Gibraltar and spend two nights there before flying back to the UK.
As non-EU nationals, Britons who aren’t residents in Spain or another EU/EEA nation can spend a maximum of 90 out of 180 days in the Schengen Area.
Passport stamps reflecting the date of entry and exit are a way for border officials to calculate that Brits and other non-EU nationals who aren’t Spanish residents haven’t overstayed, but the changing status of UK nationals means not all border officials and airport staff fully understand the new rules yet.
This is of particular concern for non-resident Britons who visit Spain regularly to spend time in their second homes or for an extended holiday, as they have to pay special attention that border officials DO stamp their passports when they fly between Spain and the UK, inbound and outbound.
UK residents in Spain are also getting their passports stamped by Spanish officials even though they should not be, as Spain’s Ministry of Interior confirmed via the UK Embassy back in July, but even if they do get only one stamp this should have no impact on their stays in Spain if they have the correct residency documentation.
Almost a month since the incident, the situation is still not resolved for Linda.
“It would seem there is no solution, the Spanish consulate in the UK will only accept my original boarding cards as proof of exit, and as flights were booked online I obviously don’t have them,” she told The Local.
“They will not accept screenshots or copies of any other proof I have.
“I have contacted my MP but was just directed back to the consulate thereby going round in circles.”
As the EU states, the 180-day reference period is not fixed, it is a moving window, based on the approach of looking backwards.
But if you exhaust the 90 days in 180 day-period all in one go, you will have to spend 90 days outside of the Schengen Area. These rules have been in place long before Brexit.
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As for the penalties or punishments for overstaying, Spain’s immigration bill has different fines ranging from €500 to €100,000 depending on the severity of the violation, although whether these are imposed in practice – along with temporary bans from visiting Spain as suggested by some sources – isn’t clear.
A spokesman for Spain’s Interior Ministry told The Local in March that British nationals who overstay and do not apply for residency in Spain will be “advised of the situation”.
“We will act with proportionality,” he said.
Linda’s concerns are that she still doesn’t have a stamp in her passport that proves when she actually left Spain in the first place.
“It’s frustrating as I feel I’m being held responsible for something I had no jurisdiction over, in other words the guard’s failure to stamp my passport,” she told The Local Spain.
“As I still have no exit stamp, I’m worried I will be denied entry again on further visits.
“My main concern is that as I cannot prove exit, I will be prevented from visiting my son indefinitely which is why I need to find any way I can resolve this”.
Spain’s Interior Ministry has since told The Local that their department cannot comment on individual cases but stressed that Spanish border officials were aware of the current legislation relating to British nationals, resident and non-resident.