(Editor’s note: This post detailing visa requirements in Spain and Schengen is the second part of a two-part series. it originally appeared in Spain Expat. It’s reposted here with the permission of the author. You can jump to Pt. 1 here.)
One of the unexpectedly important – yet seemingly trivial – tasks for expats is tracking your presence both in Spain and elsewhere as a means to determine tax obligations and meet residency requirements. Learn how to count your days, confirm the requirements for your residency situation and review the technologies available to help you.
Permanent residency, enforcement and apps that can help track your day
If you plan to repeatedly renew your temporary residency permits and thus earn permanent residence, your presence in Spain must be nearly continuous over five years. The maximum you can be outside of Spain over five years of residency is 10 months, total.
If you have been absent from Spain for more than 10 months out of the last five years, your application for permanent residency may be denied. In addition, continuous absence from Spain for 12 months or more in the last five years can actually cancel your non-permanent residency.
Even if you own property or have other ties in Spain (aside from marriage or family ties), you would need to apply for a new visa to return. In fact, a similar requirement applies even for permanent residents, who must ensure they are not absent for more than 12 continuous months over any five-year period in order to avoid losing permanent residency.
A slightly different situation applies if you are a citizen of a former Spanish colony (all the South and Central American countries that were colonized by Spain, Equatorial Guinea, or the Philippines); you can apply for Spanish citizenship after only two years of continuous residency in Spain, instead of the usual amount of time (10 years).
According to Ainhoa Manero of Sterna Abogados, such applications are decided by judges, who have more leeway for their decisions than do immigration officials. So, the number of months you could be absent from Spain during those two years can vary. But as a general rule, you should be careful not to be absent more than three to four months out of the two years total, as it’s most important to demonstrate your Spanish connections and integration into Spanish life and culture.
Spain Days vs. Schengen Days
As mentioned above, a non-EU citizen holding a 90-day Schengen travel visa is allowed to be in the Schengen area without a residency visa for only 90 out of each 180 days, regardless of calendar year. If you have a Spanish residency permit, your time in Spain does not count against the Schengen limit. But as soon as you leave Spain’s borders and enter a Schengen country, the 90-day Schengen “countdown” begins, and you will need to ensure that you don’t overstay those Schengen limits.
Fortunately, apps exist that can help you keep track and stay on the right side of Spanish residency visa laws.
But … how will Schengen or Spanish authorities know?
It could be argued that with the European Union’s seamless travel norms (pre- and presumably post-pandemically speaking), there’s no way for the authorities to know that rather than being in your normal residence in Spain, you nipped off to Bordeaux or Berlin for a few months. However, this is not a wise assumption to make. The penalties are just too significant. You could find yourself banned from the EU entirely for a number of years, asked to pay a steep fine, or both. Or, if nothing were to happen right away, you might breathe easy, thinking you’ve gotten away with a Schengen violation – only to find it biting you a few years later when you want to make your residency in Spain permanent.
But, you might ask – how would they ever know? Good question.
Remember that you leave clues everywhere, and that multiple sources of information about you in Spain are tied to your NIE tax number. For instance, the electric bill for the apartment you lease in Spain, conveniently pulled out of your bank account every month? If that bill stops for three months here and four months there because you’ve skipped town to hang out in another EU country, that information is easily traceable by the Spanish government, and therefore available to the Schengen authorities.
They may require bank account statements as well (although the official required documentation list indicates a bank statement is only part of your evidence of financial means). A bank statement would show your spending, wherever it occurred. In short, be extremely careful about your electronic and financial trails. It’s not as easy as it used to be.
Noted. So, how am I supposed to keep track?
In sum, it’s very important to keep track of how long you spend outside of Spain for the long term. Fortunately, apps exist that can help you keep track and stay on the right side of Spanish residency visa laws. We’ll highlight our top three here.
TrackingDays (Lauco Trading Ltd.)
Download: Tracking Days website
TrackingDays was once free, leading to its popular adoption among expats looking to effortlessly track their travels. It is now a paid app, but the reasonable fee ($3.99/mo or $41.99/yr) buys you the peace of mind of knowing precisely how many days (and nights) you’ve spent where. The company offers a one-month free trial as a courtesy, but you’re likely to want this app for the long haul. You can even add in trips and locations after-the-fact, and TrackingDays will track them for you in your trip History, along with your current travel in your Timeline (in which the app tracks your location automatically).
You do need to keep TrackingDays running at all times when you need to track your presence. It is not an intrusive app, nor does it drain battery life; but you will need to regularly make sure that it’s running. Note that this app is available only in the Apple App Store; there is no Android version.
TRVL (Cyril Chandelier)
Download: TRVL in the iOS App Store
TRVL, like TrackingDays, turns your iPhone into your personal country presence tracker. Just as with TrackingDays, it will track your travels as long as your iPhone is on and the app is running. (With TRVL, you can also set the app to track your location while it’s not running.)
The Pro version ($2.99) lets you access day counts by country; group day counts by calendar year; and email a list of countries you have visited (to share with, perhaps, your immigration lawyer or your tax professional). TRVL improves on TrackingDays by allowing you to enter an arbitrary “start date” for any trip, even one that’s been automatically tracked. (So, no painstakingly-slow adding of days from the past.) You can include extra data like your transportation mode for a trip, and also mark a stop in a country as a layover (great for those EU connector flights from the US to Spain). Note that this app is available only in the Apple App Store; there is no Android version.
Apple App Store, 4.0 Rating; Google Play Store, 4.1 Rating.
A large number of more general-purpose day counters might be useful for tracking your days in a country, and exist for both iOS devices and Android by the dozen. Most of these apps let you track the number of days of X (sobriety, yoga sessions, meditation) or count down the number of days to Y (anniversaries, wedding dates, birthdays). Any of them could be tweaked to purpose just by some clever tracker-naming. In addition, there are lots of travel diary apps and similar; while not expressly advertising themselves as location-trackers, they could be used that way.
For example the nifty and multi-purpose TravelLog (Meagan Sanchez, 5.0 Star Rating in the Apple App Store) might be just the thing, and is a travel diary as well as a tracker. But it’s relatively new, and only has one review. The similarly-named, similarly multi-functional TraveLog (Panterra, 4.2 Rating in the Google Play Store with more than 1,000 installations) looks very promising, but we were unable to test it at this writing.
Speaking of Android apps, it must be noted that there are numerous highly rated Schengen and Visa-related apps available in the Google Play Store that are compatible solely with Android devices. Our apologies to fans of these apps, but we were unable to test any of them. If we promise to do a follow-up article rounding up the best Android apps for Spain, Visa and Schengen-tracking purposes, do you promise not to be too mad at us? (Even better, send us your recommendations!)
About the author:
Jennifer Dixey earned her Masters of Library and Information Studies from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. Her decades of experience in web and interactive media development for corporate, non-profit, education and small-business clients has provided her with a deep technical background that informs all of her work.
Jennifer has lived in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Spain, and travelled in Europe and Japan. She has lived in Washington State near the Canadian border with her husband and son since 2002, but is currently realizing a lifelong dream of living in Europe, as a North American Language and Cultural Assistant (Auxiliar de Conversación) in a small primary school in Vigo, in the scenic autonomous community of Galicia, Spain.