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How travel from Spain to Bulgaria and Romania changes now they’re in Schengen

The Local Spain
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How travel from Spain to Bulgaria and Romania changes now they’re in Schengen
Newly installed non-Schengen automatic border control gates are pictured at the Henri Coanda International Airport in Otopeni, Romania. Photo: Daniel MIHAILESCU/AFP.

After Bulgaria and Romania partially joined the Schengen travel zone, border rules and how long you can stay in the country depend on where you're from and your residency status, as well as how you arrive.

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Two new countries recently joined the borderless Schengen zone travel area: Bulgaria and Romania.

Both had already been in the EU for almost two decades but were not part of the free-travel arrangement, until now.

Their inclusion in the borderless travel zone comes after a 13-year wait, and allows borderless travel through airports and ports, though there will still be some checks for road travel.

As of March 31st, the two Eastern European countries officially joined the group of countries (which is now up to 29, including the two new members) that don't require passports to enter and have no, or very little, border controls.

25 of the 27 EU member states are now in the Schengen zone, as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, welcomed the change: “I welcome the lifting of internal air and sea border checks. This is a great success for both countries. And a historic moment for the Schengen area - the largest area of free movement in the world. Together, we are building a stronger, more united Europe for all our citizens.”

However, the two countries are not entirely part of the full Schengen rules yet because land travellers will still be required to undergo some border checks following Austria's veto on full membership based on concerns about undocumented migration and asylum seekers.

This has left some unsatisfied, particularly truck drivers, who argue the non-inclusion of road travel makes their job more difficult and costly.

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Travellers arriving in Romania or Bulgaria by air and sea will enter under normal Schengen rules, with no checks at airports or ports for those arriving from other Schengen countries.

But that doesn't just mean that you can stroll in and out whenever you please. There are still rules on length of stay, depending on your nationality, and your residency status.

So what are the rules now when travelling to Romania and Bulgaria from Spain now they're in the Schengen zone? And how does your nationality (and residency status) affect your stay there?

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EU citizens

If you're an EU citizen, the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in the Schengen zone essentially increases the number of countries you can visit with borderless travel.

According to the EU itself: "As an EU national, you enjoy the right of free movement. This means you're entitled to travel, work and live in another EU country. If you're a citizen of a Schengen country – which is most EU countries – you're also free to travel to other Schengen countries without the need for border checks."

So for Spaniards and EU citizens living in Spain who travel to Romania or Bulgaria, they aren't subject to Schengen 90-day rule but technically have to register as residents after 3 months there, as they would in any other Schengen country.

For Bulgarians and Romanians, it means they can now also enjoy borderless travel when entering into fellow Schengen countries from their homeland via air or sea.

Non-EU nationals resident in Spain

As residents in Spain, non-EU nationals aren't subject to the Schengen 90 days out 180 days rule when in Spain, but they are when visiting other Schengen countries.

This means that non-EU nationals are subject to the Schengen rules in Romania and Bulgaria, as they are in any other Schengen zone country. 

Non-EU nationals, non-resident in Spain

If you're a tourist on a Schengen visa in Spain, you will now be subject to the 90/180 Schengen rule if you decide to also spend time in Romania and Bulgaria.

What changes is that previously non-EU nationals had to either apply for an individual 90-day Bulgarian or Romanian visa or enter visa free but with a 90-day limit in either country, and this didn't count towards the 90 out of 180 days in the Schengen Area. Now their time in Romania and Bulgaria does count towards Schengen time rules.

UK nationals

As UK nationals are non-EU citizens, their time in Romania and Bulgaria is now subject to Schengen rules, whereas previously they could spend up to 90 days in each country individually visa-free. 

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