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Citizen USA, retired. My tentative plans for next year are to go to Spain early in the year and find a low-cost apartment, probably in Navarra or La Rioja. Most of the year will be spent wandering around on hiking trails, improving my Spanish, and acquiring Chinese and/or Dutch online. I will likely volunteer at one or more albergues on Camino de Santiago, though nothing has been scheduled there. One of them has already offered to write a letter for me. Also, part of the year, do Camino Francés by bicycle. And occasional short trips to other parts of Europe.

A website that I read said that if I have official approval for such a stay from a Schengen country, that it would authorize free travel for the duration to any other. However, https://travel.stackexchange.com/questions/79494/both-tourist-and-language-course-visa/79547 says that I would still be subject to the 90/180 rule for all the others.

Different pieces of advice I've been given (opinions of the "advisor," not necessarily mine):

  • Retirement visa—easy to get, no conditions on what you do.
  • Find a cheap language school as your reason. The school will help with the paperwork. Maybe Spain will do like USA does—if you drop out of school, you're not in violation for a year.
  • Don't tell them the entire plan. Just tell them one thing and they won't care what else you do.
  • Don't worry about the 90/180 because no one checks except in an airport.
  • Don't worry about a visa because Spain never checks (from someone who lived there for several long periods).

Another thing odd is that the government website listed a huge amount of documentation and said everything must be in Spanish. But the application for itself is in English. I'm pretty good at Spanish.

I have to go to U.K. for a couple of days at the beginning, so I will go from there to Spain by bike, bus, and/or ferry. Most likely through France but there are ferries to Spain. Considering a cruise ship or freighter to U.K. (cost comparable to airfare plus meals/lodging for same number of days).

Would want multiple-entry, so I can visit Andorra and Gibraltar. (Possibly U.K. again, and/or Morocco.)

I "hoard" expense receipts, so not afraid of questions on where I have been and when.

So, that's all the gory details, but the question again is (more verbosely), "What is the best type/method of visa application for an American to go to Spain for almost a year and have flexibility for the rest of Europe?"

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    As an I, citizen USA, retired.... research on living in Europe for extended periods: here's my earlier response expatriates.stackexchange.com/questions/9075/… and here's the pdf with everything you need to do exteriores.gob.es/Consulados/SANFRANCISCO/en/ConsularServices/… – Giorgio Sep 27 '16 at 2:29
  • I have a similar document (with minor differences) from the Houston Consulate, and I think there were also differences in the Spanish one on the extranjeros.empleo.gob.es website but I can't seem to find that one again. Just wasn't clear whether "reside" implied permanence. My income may go under the threshold if the exchange rate changes significantly, although I know I can live on a lot less (I have spent five months in Spain since I retired two years ago). If it's considered a residence even though temporary, does that remove the 90-day limit for the rest of Schengen? – WGroleau Sep 27 '16 at 5:01
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    @WGroleau Reside does not imply permanence. It tends to mean "longer than 90 days" but not always. Nothing removes the 90-day limit for the rest of Schengen, technically, but it's difficult for them to enforce it. Would you really want to spend more than half your time outside Spain? You could probably get away with it because you won't have any passport stamps showing that you've done so. – phoog Sep 27 '16 at 6:07
  • I don't want to risk having to appeal a Schengen ban due to "luck" or miscounting. Very unlikely I would exceed ninety days outside of Spain, but my plans are vaguer than vague. – WGroleau Sep 27 '16 at 6:42
  • The question you're referring to is about a short-stay visa (also called "type C" or "uniform" Schengen visa), an entirely different thing. If you do get approved to stay in Spain for a year, what you will have is a different visa (or possibly a residence permit), governed by entirely different rules. – Gala Sep 27 '16 at 12:01
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The Schengen system is (mostly) concerned with short stays (defined as stays under 90 days of duration). There is no visa or permit that would allow a third-country national to stay in the whole Schengen area for more than that, only authorizations to stay in a single country. Such an authorization can come in the form of a long-stay visa or a "residence" permit, be temporary or renewable, but in any case it can only be issued by a given country for a stay on the territory of that country (i.e. there is nothing that Spain could issue that would legally allow you to take up residence, say, in France).

Schengen countries haven't agreed on harmonized rules for long stays and are still (mostly) free to set their own requirements for these long-stay visas. That's why most of the things you read about Schengen visas (including the Both tourist and language course visa question) would not apply to you but also why the 90/180 rule very much would. For if you were not restricted in your travels to other countries in the Schengen area, any country in the area could effectively grant anybody the right to reside anywhere else in the area and people could use that to circumvent the requirements set by each country.

In practice, passports are not stamped during trips inside the Schengen area and there is no way for the authorities to be automatically alerted if you spent a little longer than you should somewhere else but legally speaking, your position is clear: You need a Spanish ("type D") visa. I don't know much about those but a retirement visa would indeed seem like a good option and, since it's a national visa, it's not particularly odd that it would have other requirements than Schengen visas or that the documentation must be in Spanish. You would still be allowed to travel in the Schengen area but would also be expected to spend most of the time in Spain, there is no way to have more flexibility than this (short of getting another citizenship or a spouse covered by the EU freedom of movement, of course).

  • It's not add that everything must be in Spanish. It's odd that they say that and then give an application form that is in English. As for it having no effect on Schengen, many have said that, but an official website said that legal residence in a Schengen country means you get treated like a Schengen resident in the others. Perhaps that was referring to permanent residence. – WGroleau Sep 27 '16 at 12:49
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    @WGroleau It depends what you mean by being treated "like a Schengen resident". For people who, unlike US citizens, need a visa for short stays, it does make a big difference in that they are allowed short stays under the 90/180 rule. Without that, they would not even be allowed to enter other Schengen countries without a visa, at all. Beyond that, there are also special rules for long-term residents (i.e. people who have resided in one country longer than 5 years) intended to make it easier to move within the EU but you still need to apply for an authorization, it's not automatic. – Gala Sep 27 '16 at 13:06
  • I wish I had bookmarked the page. It was some official site, and it did not define 'reside' but it also implied automatic. Had I not asked the question here, I would have believed that receiving the visa from Spain gave me free rein (as long as Spain remained "primary"). – WGroleau Sep 27 '16 at 15:17
  • @WGroleau Well it kind of does, 90 days out of any 180-day period is only half of the time after all, not a very high threshold for Spain to be considered primary. – Gala Sep 27 '16 at 15:58
  • I suspect the page in question only referred to short stays under the 90/180 rule. Judging by your comment elsewhere, it seems you thought that a long Schengen visa or a residence permit in a Schengen country would free you from this constraint but it's the other way around: It's only then that it becomes relevant and being able to do that is already a huge benefit. Many other people (and in particular those who require a visa to visit the Schengen area in the first place) face even stricter restrictions. – Gala Sep 27 '16 at 16:03

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