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BREXIT

Brexit: How Brits can properly plan their 90 out of 180 days in Italy and the Schengen zone

British second home owners and other UK nationals who aren’t residents in Italy now have to plan their time carefully due to the '90-day rule' for non-EU nationals. Here's how to do it successfully.

Brexit: How Brits can properly plan their 90 out of 180 days in Italy and the Schengen zone
Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP

What are the new rules?

As you may know, since the start of 2021 non-resident Brits now face new restrictions on the length of time they can spend within the Schengen area, which includes Italy.

The rule, which applies to all residents of non-EU or Schengen zone countries, says that people who are not resident can only spend 90 days out of every 180 in the bloc.

The Schengen zone is a group of 26 European countries (of which 22 are EU states) which have agreed to allow passport-free travel between their mutual borders. This includes Italy.

Map: European Travel Information & Authorization System

As the rule now applies to British nationals (who are not resident in a Schengen country), it’s become an important consideration particularly for people with second homes in Italy, and anyone else who usually splits their time between two or more countries for any reason.

How do I calculate my 90 days – and what exactly counts as a ‘day’?

“The 180-day reference period is not fixed,” as the European Commission explains, “it is a moving window, based on the approach of looking backwards”.

That means taking a calendar and highlighting all the time spent in Italy and other Schengen countries already over the past 180 days.

The date of entry is considered the first day of stay in the Schengen territory and the date of exit is considered the last day of stay in the Schengen territory.

This means you start counting on the date you arrive in Italy (or the Schengen zone), rather than on the first full day in the country. Your entry and exit days may count as either full days or half days spent in the country, depending on timing.

This site has a full explanation of how the 90-day rule works, as well as a calculator to allow you to work out your visits.

If police or border officials ever question how long you’ve been in the EU or Schengen zone, this will be how they calculate if you’ve overstayed or not. 

A few things to note are;

  • The Schengen rule doesn’t work with the calendar year – it’s always a case of counting back 180 days.
  • The rule allows for 90 days in every 180, so in total in the course of a year you can spend 180 days in Italy, just not all in one go
  • The rule applies to the whole of the Schengen zone, so if you spend a whole three months in Italy you can’t then go for a week in Paris within the same 180 day period
  • Any time spent in Italy or the Schengen area authorised under a residence permit or a long-stay visa are not taken into account in the calculation of the duration of the 90-day visa-free stay.

Photo: AFP

Will I have to spend three months away from Italy?

Whatever your preferences or calculations for your time spent in Italy and other Schengen countries, once the 90 in 180 day-period is over, you will have to spend 90 days outside of the Schengen zone. 

As the europa.eu website puts it, “an absence for an uninterrupted period of 90 days allows for a new stay for up to 90 days”.  

Plan ahead to make sure this absence from the Schengen area doesn’t fall at a time when you want to be in Italy. 

However, remember that you are always counting back the last 180 days, so if you have not exhausted the 90-day limit over the past six months, you will not have to leave the Schengen area until that’s the case. 

READER QUESTION: Can Brits stay more than 90 days in the EU if they have a European spouse?

When that happens, know that 90 full days outside of the Schengen area and Italy will give you a new period of 90 days.

This means that if you start your 90-day period during the summer in Italy, it will mean that the six-month window will end in winter, and you won’t be able to enter the Schengen zone for the next three months.

For many Brits in this situation it will mean spending the coldest, darkest and wettest months of the year back in ‘Blighty’, which is often exactly what they don’t want.

In order to enjoy warmer winters in Italy and mild summers in the UK, try to avoid starting your 180-day Schengen window in summer and wait instead until at least October or November to enjoy three months of winter sunshine for the following six months.

Can you split your time in Italy into several trips?

Over a period of 180 days, you can spend four three-week holidays (22.5 days each) in Italy, and alternate it with three-week periods in the UK or outside the Schengen Area.

You can also break the three months you have available into six-week periods. For example, if you arrive at the beginning of November in Italy, spend six weeks there till the middle of December, then return to the UK to spend Christmas and New Year in the UK,then go back to Italy in the middle of January until the end of February.

Explained: What Brits need to know about visas for Italy after Brexit

The UK’s Covid-19 travel restrictions and testing requirements mean this isn’t as affordable or practical at the moment, but in normal times there are countless low-cost airlines operating between both countries to make it a feasible option. 

This way you’ll be able to spread out your time in Italy over a six-month period. 

It’s worth highlighting that time spent in other Schengen countries counts towards the total number of days, so factor this in if you’re planning on travelling around Europe. 

If you have to leave Italy but you don’t want to return to the UK, there’s also the option of spending some time in other countries outside of the Schengen area. 

What happens if you overstay?

Needless to say, overstaying your time in Italy is not a good idea. There is no clear mention in Italian government sources regarding fines, deportations or travel bans from the Schengen area for overstayers, but the likelihood of there being a record of this is high. 

If you are caught over-staying your allocated 90 days you can end up with an ‘overstay’ flag on your passport which can make it difficult to enter any other country, not just Italy, and is likely to make any future attempts at getting visas or residency a lot more difficult.

Is there a way I can stay in Italy longer than 90 days?

After the end of the Brexit transition period, British citizens now require a long-stay visa in order to legally spend more than 90 days in 180 in Italy.

Requirements and fees vary depending on the type of visa you need to apply for.

Here is a quick overview of the types of visa available for non-residents hoping to spend more than 90 days in Italy.

For more details about the process of applying for a long-stay visa, see the Italian Interior Ministry’s website or the EU immigration portal.

If you really want to spend long periods in Italy you may look at taking up Italian residency.

This is more than simply declaring that you live in Italy. To become resident you will need to apply for a residency permit, or permesso di soggiorno – which means you’ll pay tax in Italy and comes with its own conditions: find more information on those here.

See The Local’s Brexit section for more updates.

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BREXIT

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

British nationals living in Italy are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of news about a reciprocal driving licence agreement post-Brexit, and say the current 'catch-22' situation is adversely affecting their lives.

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Italy who are currently playing a waiting game on the validity of their driving licences.

Those who are driving in Italy on a UK-issued permit currently have just over six months left before their licence is no longer accepted on Italy’s roads.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

That is, unless a deal is reached between the UK and Italy, or another extension period is granted.

Another extension would mark the third time the authorities have deferred making an agreement on UK driving licences in Italy.

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal deal on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

With just days to go before the deadline in December 2021, those still using a UK licence were granted a reprieve when it was further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

But the situation from January 1st, 2023, remains unknown.

In the remaining few months, British nationals driving in Italy who hadn’t converted their licence to an Italian one before January 1st, 2021 face the same choice again: wait and hope for an agreement or start the lengthy and costly process of taking their Italian driving test.

There is still no confirmation on reaching an agreement on driving licences. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Many UK nationals have contacted The Local recently to express their frustration, anger and concern over the situation, explaining how the possibility of not being to drive in Italy would profoundly impact their lives.

For some, it would mean not being able to get to work, losing their independence, not being to reach supermarkets for the food shop in remote areas, or not being able to take their children to school.

And in the meantime, many readers told us it means ongoing worry and uncertainty.

Reader David (not his real name), who moved to the southern region of Puglia shortly before Brexit hit, tells us he now finds himself in a “horrible catch-22 situation”.

He summed up the feeling among many of those who contacted The Local by saying: “It is highly concerning and not at all helpful for mental or physical health in a period when we are trying to settle in to a new life in Italy.”

He points out that, for him, retaking his driving test and getting an Italian licence would also mean having to sell his car and buy one with a less powerful engine.

“I realise that if I pass the Italian driving test and obtain an Italian licence, then I will be a neopatente (new driver) with three years of serious restrictions,” he says.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Newly administered licences in Italy carry restrictions including on the maximum engine size of the car the holder may drive, tighter speed limits on the motorway and extra penalty points for breaking them.

“In this situation, I am honestly dis-incentivised to get the Italian licence unless there seriously is a real ‘no deal’ scenario on the table,” he says.

“Because if I get an Italian licence now – and of course I could choose now to invest a lot of time and money to get it – and then an agreement is reached to exchange licenses, then I might find myself in a worse position than if I just waited to do an exchange.”

“I am sincerely hoping for an agreement to be reached for experienced drivers with a UK licence.”

James Appleton lives in Milan and says he feels “frustrated about the situation”. Although he concedes that he lives in the city with all the convenience that implies, he is worried about having a car sitting outside his flat that he can no longer drive from January.

“The frustration now is with little over six months left of the year, advice from the authorities has continued to be quite unhelpful,” he tells us.

“We keep hearing, ‘consider your options’. I know my options: I have to start the process of taking a test, which is expensive and lengthy, and which may turn out to be unnecessary, or wait until the end of the year. Those have been my options for year and a half,” he adds.

Frustration for many British nationals still waiting on a post-Brexit driving licence agreement. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

“I feel very much in limbo. If it gets to November and we still haven’t heard anything, I risk having a car that I can’t drive from January as my licence may no longer be valid.

My hope would be if there’s not to be a deal, let us know so there’s time to take the test,” James says. “I don’t want to find out with a week to go, like last year.”

He points to the fact that many other non-EU countries have reciprocal driving licence agreements with Italy, so why not the UK? Meanwhile, Italy is one of only two countries in the EU still not to have made a deal on driving licences.

While he said he didn’t want to sound “entitled”, the lack of clarity was simply confusing.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

Like many others, he tried but didn’t manage to convert his British licence in time as he moved to Italy shortly before the Brexit deadline.

James registered as a resident in December 2020, leaving little time to begin the conversion process. He admitted it was partly his fault “for not having realised the consequences of what was going to happen”.

But “there are some people in a position where it wasn’t so straightforward to convert your licence,” he notes.

This was true for another reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She tells us that she tried to begin the conversion of her UK driving licence three times in Imperia, where she lives, but was told to “wait and see what is decided”.

“No one has taken a note of my requests and attempts so I cannot prove my attempts to get this sorted or listed,” she says.

READ ALSO: How to import your car or motorbike to Italy

In her case, it would therefore be difficult to prove that she began the conversion process before January 1st, 2021.

She also faced setbacks when trying to convert her licence in time after applying for residency before Brexit.

On being told that she needed her final ID card (carta d’identità) proving her residence, she returned to her town hall but couldn’t get the card for another seven months due to no appointments being available.

“Then I couldn’t get the licence exchanged as the person dealing with this was not at work on the day I went. I had to fly back to UK then Covid restrictions kicked in, hampering travel and by then UK was out of Europe and the Italian/UK driver’s licence issues remained unsolved,” she added.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP

So is there any hope that an agreement will be reached and those driving on a UK licence won’t need to sit an Italian driving test?

At this point there are no indications as to whether a decision will be reached either way. The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while also stating that they’re working on reaching a deal.

The latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

So far, so much conflicting advice, as many readers point out.

Of those who have decided to take the plunge and sit the Italian driving test, some say it’s “not as difficult as it sounds” while others report having trouble with the highly technical questions in the theory test, not to mention the fact that the test has to be taken in Italian.

If you speak French or German better than Italian, the test may be available in those languages – but not in English.

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

“My question is why can’t you take your driving test in English? Adding it as an option for taking the test would help,” says Njideka Nwachukwu, who moved to Italy in 2019. She failed the theory test and has to try again, at a further cost.

Even if you find taking the test a breeze, the process is known to take around six months – if you pass everything first time – and to set you back hundreds of euros.

At the time of writing, neither Italian nor British government officials have given any indication as to if or when a deal may be reached, or an explanation of why the two countries have not yet been able to reach an agreement.

Nor has any explanation been given as to why this important aspect of life in Italy was never protected under the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place.

When contacted by The Local recently for an update on the situation, the British Embassy in Rome stated: “rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Thank you to everyone who contacted The Local to tell us how they are affected by this issue, including those we couldn’t feature in this article.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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