Staying in Schengen Zone: the 90/180-day rule explained

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Published on 25 August, 2022 • Last updated on 05 April, 2024

By Portugal Homes

Staying in Schengen Zone: the 90/180-day rule explained

When travelling to a country within the Schengen Zone, one must be aware of a few rules to maintain a lawful visit. One of the most important is the 90/180-Day limitation, applicable to all third-country nationals. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, defines a third-country as “not a member of the European Union as well as a country or a territory whose citizens do not enjoy the European Union right to free movement (...).” Even though the rule is somewhat tricky to understand, it is not difficult to calculate if your travel details comply with the 90/180 Schengen rule.

Schengen zone - passport page.

Why does this affect Portugal?

Even though Portugal has been an EU member state since 1986, it only signed the Schengen Convention in 1995.  

Ever since, Portugal has been part of the Schengen Zone, a common area shared with 26 other countries where the borders have been abolished. Founded by the idea of freedom of movement, nationals from Schengen states can move freely, work, and live in each other’s territories without special formalities. Portugal further solidified its presence in the EU when it joined the Eurozone in 1999, becoming an active participant in the European landscape.

Thus, as a Schengen state, the 90-day rule applies to Portugal.

What is the difference between the European Union and the Schengen Zone?

It is important to note that the EU and the Schengen Zone are not mutually exclusive. A country can be in the EU and not in the Schengen Zone. Likewise, a country can be in the Schengen Zone, and not in the EU. While the EU is a political and economic union, the Schengen Zone is a common area ruled by freedom of movement.

As of April 2024, the EU is composed of 27 Member States:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

In March 2024, The Schengen Zone got bigger, with the Accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Now, the Schengen Zone includes 25 of the aforementioned 27:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

Out of the 27 EU member states, only Cyprus and Ireland are not part of the Schengen Zone. Traveling to these countries will require understanding each country’s visa policies. Ireland, due to its Common Travel Area shared with the United Kingdom, operates its own visa policy. Cyprus is also under evaluation to join the Schengen Zone.

Furthermore, 4 other non-EU member states are part of the Schengen Zone: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). 

Created by Portugal Homes, March 2024

The Schengen Zone 90/180-day rule explained

To control its external borders and verify the legal status of those who enter the Schengen Zone, the signatory states consider short stays if they do not surpass the threshold of 90 days. If a traveller seeks to stay in any of the Schengen states for longer than 90 days, they must either acquire a long stay visa or a residency permit.  

When a third-country travels to a Schengen state, and if they do not have any intention of surpassing the threshold, they can only stay for a maximum of 90 days within a period of 180 days. The 180-day period starts ticking on the day the traveller first steps into any of the 27 countries in the Schengen Zone.

Zone of Schengen arrivals.

Here is a Schengen 90-day rule example: if a traveller flies to Lisbon, Portugal, the 90 days will start as soon as you arrive at the airport. This will be day 1 of the 180-day period. Arriving in Lisbon, for instance, on the 1st of January, and staying in Portugal for 90 consecutive days means an obligatory date of departure from the Schengen Zone by the 31st of March.  

However, if the traveller does not wish to stay in Portugal for 90 days in a row, they can also leave the country and return to Portugal as many times as desired, for short visits, between the period of the 1st of January and the 29th of June, accounting for the 180-day period. This can be done as many times, so long as the total amount of time spent in Portugal does not exceed 90 days.

After spending 90 days in Portugal or any other Schengen state, a traveller must leave the Zone and wait another 90 days before being able to return. This period of 90 days will start to count one day after the end of the 180 days. In the previous example’s case, this would be the 29th of June.

Even if a traveller has spent a total of 90 days in a Schengen state and left the Zone before the 29th of June, the following required 90 days out of the Zone will only start to count after the 29th of June. This means the traveller is only allowed to return 90 days after. In this case, the 28th of September onward.

Since the ability to travel completely unrestrictedly within the European Union and the Schengen Zone is exclusive to Citizens, many have no choice but to travel out and wait the allotted time before returning. For the longest time, Romania and Bulgaria remained the most popular options to wait out the 90 days. However, as of the 31st of March 2024, the two countries have officially joined the Schengen Zone, meaning they are no longer eligible options. Other countries remain available, like Cyprus and Ireland, also in the European Union but not in the Schengen Zone, and Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Türkiye, Serbia or even Morocco.

In 2024, the Schengen Zone is tightening its border controls with its new “Smart Borders” policies, making it more difficult for third-country nationals to enter the Schengen states. British citizens are expected to be particularly affected, considering the new policies affect land and maritime borders.

Obtain a Schengen Visa with Portuguese Residency - The Portugal D2 Visa: The Best Alternative to the Portugal Golden Visa

Colourful riverside of Porto.
If you wish to stay in Portugal for more than 90 days without the need to leave the country or the Schengen Zone, obtaining Citizenship is a must, and getting a Residency Permit is the first step toward it. The Portugal Golden Visa once proved the easiest and most profitable programme to achieve Portuguese Residency, due to the option of buying Real Estate.

In 2023, this option was discontinued. The Portugal Golden Visa still exists, available through other eligible options, including donations, contributions, and subscriptions to investment funds, though its appeal has greatly been diminished.

A new alternative arises in the form of the Portugal D2 Visa. All third-country nationals who establish or operate a business in Portugal can apply for Residency status. At Portugal Homes, we offer exclusive packages eligible for the D2 Visa, starting from €280k.

The Portugal D2 Visa enables benefits such as family reunification, visa-free travel to the Schengen Zone, and opportunities to expand into the EU and the rest of the world. Portugal is one of the safest countries to live in the world, with an affordable quality of life, and excellent healthcare. It has replaced the Portugal Golden Visa as the best Residency by Investment programme in all of the European Union. Citizenship awaits you at the end of 5 years, allowing you to never worry about the 90/180-Day rule ever again.

Portugal Homes is proud to announce we have curated D2 Visa packages with the best Residency solutions. Contact us today to find more information about these exciting new opportunities!


Portugal maintains the Golden Visa Programme

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