Robert Winchester. / J. RHODES

Campaign group calls for changes to post Brexit 90-day travel rule

Hundreds of Britons who spend part of the year on the Costa del Sol have had their travelling rights curtailed since the UK left the EU

Jennie Rhodes

A campaign group has been set up to help British people who used to spend a number of months living in Spain each year before Brexit and who have seen their travel and residency rights changed since the UK left the EU.

Before Brexit, those affected did this lawfully by registering according to EU rules or keeping stays in Spain less than 90 days at a time. But without any specific arrangements, people in this position have found themselves facing a restrictive limit of just 90 days in a rolling 180 day period. This rule applies to the entire 27-country Schengen zone, not just Spain.

The group, called 180 Days in Spain, is led by Andrew Hesselden, who is in his early 40s and divides his time between London and his home in Mallorca. Andrew also travels frequently throughout the EU for work and pleasure and explains that while he was an EU citizen, he "made extensive use of freedom of movement".

Hesselden decided to set up the group to help people in similar situations to him. "After watching the results of the referendum unfold in 2016 and realising the impact a bad Brexit could have, I joined many British emigrant groups online and waited to see what Brexit would mean for people living for part or all of the year across Europe.

Many of the organisations set up to advocate for Brits abroad seemed to have a bit of a blind spot for people like seasonal workers or part-year residents who had made a home in two or more countries, so, I decided these people needed to have a voice.

The group's 5,400 members include seasonal workers, second home owners, retirees, freelancers, consultants, artists, business owners, students, remote workers and the list goes on.

Equal rights

They are asking Spanish politicians to make changes that will let them regain the right to spend time in the country in more or less the same way they could before Brexit. They are also asking for the same access for all British visitors to Spain as Spanish visitors to the UK enjoy.

"Spanish citizens can still visit the UK for up to six months at a time without any need for a visa. This means that Spanish people in the reverse situation are not affected by loss of freedom of movement in the UK in quite the same way," Hesselden pointed out.

Carlos Pérez-Lanzac, the president of the Andalusian association of tourist properties and apartments, told SUR in English that the limitations placed on Britons coming to Andalucía for extended periods of time is "a problem" that is causing "damage" to the regional economy.

Hesselden responded saying, "The tourism industry might begin to feel the impact of the 90/180 problem, because anyone who has a home in France, Italy or Greece or travels a lot on business might find they can't even visit Spain for a one-week holiday."

Spain's tourism ministry has indicated that it might "be lobbying for change in Brussels", adding that it is not in Spain's interest to have such strict rules now. However, Hesseldon believes that there is a simpler way around the problem and argues that the two countries could sign a new bilateral agreement, or even grant a visa waiver specific to Spain.

Appeal to UK MP

Part-year resident in Nerja, Robert Winchester, who is the president of the town's international club, said he and his wife have been affected by the rule. He has also owned a property in Catalonia for over 30 years and before Brexit would travel "every six weeks or so" to Catalonia and also spend winter in Nerja.

"I have contacted my MP in the UK and tried to get hold of the British and Spanish embassies, but I've given up. I haven't had any answers," he told Sur in English, adding, "It's affecting everyone. In Nerja they need more tourists and lots of people who used to spend long periods of time here now can't."

The group works closely with similar campaign groups in France, Germany, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, all of which have similar aims. It has found that both Sweden and Portugal already "appear to have simple extension processes that British people can make use of", explained Hesselden.