The Tourist Visa: Staying in Spain and the Schengen Area

Posted by Dreamer

The most up-to-date guide on the Schengen tourist visa, category C on the web, and for those traveling to Spain in particular.

What is the Schengen visa?
What are the Schengen-area countries? Where is the Schengen visa valid?
Who needs a Schengen visa and who doesn’t need one?
How long is the Schengen visa good for?
Can I leave and enter the Schengen area more than once?
Where can I apply for the Schengen visa?

What is the Schengen visa?

The Schengen visa, category C, also known as a standard tourist visa for Europe, is a short-term visa that allows you to travel to, stay in, and travel freely within the Schengen-area countries as a tourist, student, or business person for up to 90 days. (In this article we will only concern ourselves with category C of the Schengen visa, which is intended for short stays, unlike category A, which is an airport transit visa intended for brief stop-overs at airports for people of certain nationalities, etc.) Note that the Schengen visa does not allow you to reside, work, or be self-employed in Spain or any of the Schengen-area countries. Those activities are governed by separate visas and legislation. 

The Schengen visa gets its name from the Schengen acquis, which commonly refers to the sum of two international agreements (the 1985 Schengen Agreement and the 1990 Schengen Convention) and the related European Union laws and regulations made possible by the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam. The Schengen acquis concerns itself with the free movement of persons and provides for shared rules regarding short-stay visas, the absence of internal borders, shared rules for external borders, and the creation of the Schengen Information System database (SIS), as well as customs, judicial, and police cooperation and the sharing of information in order to combat trafficking, fraud, illegal immigration, and other crimes.

Making things a bit more complicated is the fact that being part of the Schengen area, being bound by the Schengen acquis, and/or being part of the European Union are not the same thing with regard to the Schengen visa. But I’ll explain more about this later.

What are the Schengen-area countries? Where is the Schengen visa valid?

For the purposes of the Schengen tourist visa, the current Schengen area is composed of 26 countries. That's 22 European Union countries – Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden – in addition to two associated countries, Norway and Iceland.

The Azores and Madeira, as part of Portugal, and the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands, as part of Spain, are included in the Schengen area. Ceuta and Melilla – Spain’s autonomous cities in northern Africa – are a special case: they are part of the Schengen area, but border control is still in force there. France’s overseas possessions, on the other hand, are considered to be outside of the area.

Ireland, the UK, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Romania are all members of the European Union and the Schengen acquis. However, Ireland and the UK have reserved the right to only subscribe to certain provisions and do retain their own border controls. Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Romania, on the other hand, do plan to fully participate in the Schengen area, but this has not been implemented as of yet. 

Who needs to apply for a Schengen visa and who doesn’t need one?

You do not need to apply for a Schengen tourist visa to travel to Spain and the Schengen area if you meet the following conditions:

  1. You have a valid passport or travel document.
  2. You plan to stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days.
  3. You are a passport holder of one of the following countries: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Holland, Honduras, Hong Kong and Macao (China), Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, or Venezuela.

(Note that EU citizens do not need a visa to travel anywhere within the Schengen area, and neither do their official family members, i.e. spouses, when in possession of a valid residence permit from a Schengen member country, excluding permits from Ireland or the UK.)

If you meet the three conditions listed above, then you are exempt from the visa requirement, though you are considered as if you were in possession of a Schengen tourist visa when you enter the Schengen area. Exceptions include being deemed a “threat to public policy or national security” to any Schengen-area country or having earned the dubious honor of being banned from the Schengen area as recorded in the Schengen Information System database (SIS). However, even though you don’t actually need to apply for the Schengen tourist visa, as a short-stay traveler without additional authorization you must still abide by the limitations of the Schengen visa (i.e., the maximum length of stay). 

If you are planning to stay in the Schengen area for less than 90 days, but you are a passport holder of a country on the following list (or if you do not currently have a country or are a national of a non-recognized country), then you will need to go ahead and apply for a Schengen tourist visa: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central Africa, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoro Islands, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Granada, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Northern Marianas, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Palestinian National Authority, Papua-New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Western Samoa, Yemen, Zambia, or Zimbabwe.

If you are a national of a country that does not appear in this section on the two lists of countries, then please check with your nearest embassy or consulate of Spain or Schengen-area country regarding your particular visa requirements.

If you are not a citizen of a European Union country AND you plan to stay in Spain and/or anywhere in the entire Schengen area for more than 90 days in any 180-day period, then you will need a work, residence, long-term, and/or other type of visa (depending on what you plan to do).

Last but not least, no matter what your nationality is, if you already hold a valid residence permit with a Schengen member country (except for residence permits issued by Ireland or the UK), then that is automatically considered equal to a Schengen visa (which is only valid up to 90 days) when traveling to other Schengen countries, but you will still need to carry a valid passport or travel document issued by the country where you hold citizenship.

How long is the Schengen visa good for?

The Schengen tourist visa is good for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. This means that if you enter and exit the Schengen area with a Schengen visa, the time you spend outside the Schengen area is not counted toward your maximum of 90 days only as long as you do not exceed the maximum of 90 days in ANY 180-day period.


To further clarify in the case of those exempt from needing to apply for the Schengen tourist visa, exiting the Schengen area does not “restart” or “renew” the Schengen visa or the 90-day maximum stay limit. This is only the case if you have been outside of the Schengen area for a minimum of 90 days (e.g., three months in and three months out).

Can I leave and enter the Schengen area more than once?

You can indeed leave and re-enter the Schengen area, but make sure to keep in mind how long the Schengen visa is good for. However, if you are not exempt from applying for the Schengen visa (see Who needs to apply for a Schengen Visa and who doesn’t need one? for more information on this), then you must have originally requested a two-entry or multiple-entry Schengen visa in order to leave and re-enter the Schengen area.

Where can I apply for the Schengen visa?

If you’re planning to travel to Spain and no other Schengen country on this trip, you must apply for the Schengen visa at your nearest Spanish embassy or consulate. For trips involving several Schengen countries, apply at the embassy or consulate of the country in which you will be spending the most amount of time. And for trips involving several Schengen countries in which you will be spending an equal amount of time or if you don’t have a primary destination, then apply for the visa at the embassy or consulate of the country you’ll be going to first.

You can download the Spanish Schengen visa application form here (in English and Spanish), but you must apply in person at the nearest embassy or consulate of Spain (or the particular Schengen country as advised above). Once there you must submit:

  • A completed and signed application form;
  • Three recent passport-sized photographs;
  • Your original, physical passport or travel document;
  • Proof of available financial resources;
  • Proof of plane reservations, plane tickets, or travel itinerary;
  • Proof of hotel reservations, housing, or an official invitation from a Spanish resident;
  • Proof of employment or income;
  • Proof of health, accident, and/or travel insurance for the length of your stay and its validity in the countries you will visit;
  • Payment to cover the current visa processing fee.

You will need to submit the original documents as well as one photocopy of each document. In addition, I recommend you make extra photocopies both for the embassy and to keep as a record for yourself.


Note: Additional documents and obligations may be required depending on your nationality, where you’re applying from, and if the applicant is a minor. Check with your nearest Spanish embassy or consulate for the latest requirements.


Last updated 22 02 2013

Donation to

If you find this site helpful, please leave a donation for us. This will encourage us to remove ads, keep responding to your questions and add more great information about living in Spain to


If you'd like to ask a question for discussion, please mosey on over to the Spain Forum. See our posting rules and instructions here.

msmoby said:

Please note that the article contains some information that might need clarification:

IF your non-EU partner/ dependent family member has been given an EU based family member residency permit from the UK / Eire they do NOT need a Schengen Visa to travel .. If they have applied for residency in the UK / Eire using national laws ( e.g. UK FLR, then ILR) THEN the article *is* correct.. a Schengen is necessary, but must be issued free of charge

dondon said:


Good day!

I am from Philippines and I have a Schengen visa that is expired. I have been in Spain for almost 3yrs from June 2006 to December 2009. As of now, I?m working here in Canada with my Spanish employer. What should I do to get a new visa to enter Spain?

Thank you very much in advance.

julia.learned said:


I am an American citizen. I am going to be living in Spain as an au pair but can't get a visa doing that because I won't be a student. If I enter Spain for less than 90 days, go back to the US for Christmas, and then enter again, do I get to stay another 90 days legally?

Thanks so much!

Limes said:


The maximum visa-free stay of 90 days in any 180-day period in the entire Schengen area does NOT apply to New Zealand citizens.

New Zealanders are permitted to stay visa-free for up to 90 days in EACH of the following 18 Schengen countries regardless of the time already spent in the entire Schengen area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland (plus Hungary if visiting it as the final destination in the Schengen area).

However, if visiting any of the 7 other Schengen countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia), the normal restriction of 90 days in any 180-day period applies for visa-free stays by New Zealanders in these 7 Schengen countries only.

See: and

Thank you,

rolyn said:


We are a family of 3- couple and son aged 21. We wish to travel to Italy and France in December 2012 for a 2 week holiday and would like to know the following

1. When can we start applying for the visa?
2. Is it advisable to book flights and accommodation before we get visas?
3. What is the cost of a visa per passport?

Thank you!

jmari said:


I have a south African passport with permanent residence for UK, do I need a visa to travel to Spain for 10 days and how long before I go do I need to apply?

Thank you!


Register, then sign-in with your SpainExpat username to post your comments.

Go to Top

Recent Discussions
La Liga table , Spanish Football Round Up - By: jurdyr

Total Views: 10496, Last Post On: 01/12/2021 07:59 am By: Alessandro01

But what if I don’t like French Fries? - By: mightyfrea

Total Views: 13622, Last Post On: 01/12/2021 07:56 am By: Alessandro01

How do you spend your weekend in Spain? - By: Garry_Oldman

Total Views: 1924, Last Post On: 02/25/2019 11:21 pm By: Alessandro01

Online Shopping from Spain... who delivers? - By: The Expatriator

Total Views: 7524, Last Post On: 02/24/2019 05:24 pm By: TolDR

Inflatable swimming pools - for all the family! - By: susanspain

Total Views: 7356, Last Post On: 02/10/2019 10:23 am By: angelala

Top 10 Tips for Learning Spanish - By: don Pablo

Total Views: 6496, Last Post On: 02/09/2019 04:30 pm By: mikkelkasper

Spanish Culture and Lifestyle - By: hollysurly

Total Views: 3874, Last Post On: 02/06/2019 05:30 pm By: Kate2228

Recent Talkbacks
On EU Residency in Spain for EU Citizens, Their Spouses and Family Members, Dreamer said:

"Hi Billy,

The article has just been updated with all the new info."

On EU Residency in Spain for EU Citizens, Their Spouses and Family Members, redglasses said:

"Can a british resident live in spain? Is Britain considered part of the European Union?
What about taxes for running a business in Spain for an Expat?"

On Moving to Spain, rojo36 said:

"Glasgow Man and Van has a dedicated team of movers who can provide a reliable removals service to Spain. We are often able to move you along with your belongings if transport is a problem, keeping the cost down."

Expats on Facebook