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EU laws state that EU citizens have the right to reside (ie. travel) in other member states without restrictions for up to three months.

Article 6 of Directive 2004/38/EC states:

Union citizens shall have the right of residence on the territory of another Member State for a period of up to three months without any conditions or any formalities other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport.

The wording of the directive seems to suggest that this right applies every time you enter another member state. Rules on what this three month period relates to do not appear to exist.

If I stay in one member state for three months, can I leave for a period of time (let's say one month) and then re-enter and have the right to stay another month (or three months if needed)?

The main residence in the home country continues to exist and the subject is not relocating.

More thoughts on this:

  • The concept of continuous residence does not seem to exist in the context of this 3 month period.
  • The right of entry is of course not affected and always exists
  • In Italy you are deemed to have exceeded the 3 month period if you did not register your presence and cannot prove otherwise
  • EU law is usually very straight forward. It usually is what it says.

Examples:

  • long-term travel
  • holiday homes
  • visiting relatives
  • climate tourism (north-south for summer and winter)

Notes:

  • The word "residence" is frequently used in tax laws which do not have any effect on EU freedom of movement
  • The consequences of exceeding the three month period obviously matter. What exactly they are is not directly related, however.
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    Traveling and residing are two different things, and EU regulations are actually stronger on your right to reside and work than on your right to visit. Perhaps you should ask on Expatriates Stack Exchange. – o.m. Sep 15 at 6:10
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    "travel" does not exist in eu-speak... it's always "reside". see europa.eu. I thought of posting it at expatriates but this as this is not about relocating to another member state but travelling there for instance for a lengthy hiking tour or staying at a holiday home, it is clearly in the right place. – life-on-mars Sep 15 at 8:56
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    This "travel" vs. "reside" distinction is just the point. The EU principle is that you have a right to live and work, tourism is just an afterthought. – o.m. Sep 15 at 9:40
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    @o.m. I doubt that. – life-on-mars Sep 15 at 10:12
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    @o.m. do you really imagine that the "right of residence for up to three months" guaranteed by the directive does not apply to short-term travel? There is nothing in the directive to suggest that is the case, nor in its practical implementation by the various member states. In fact, the contrary is true. – phoog Sep 15 at 12:50
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Can I leave for a period of time (let's say one month) and then have the right to re-enter and stay another month (or three months if needed)?

Basically, the answer is yes. As you may be aware, this is controlled by Directive 2004/38/EC

There's not a whole lot of clarity about this because it's simply not enforced very regularly. In fact, an EU citizen can stay indefinitely in another state subject only to very limited conditions. Among these conditions, the host country can impose a requirement that the EU citizen register. But any penalty for failing to register must be "proportional" to penalties for a country's own citizens failing to register. (This is why the UK does not, strictly speaking, require registration.)

(I assume that the exceptions concerning public safety, public health, and public policy are not in play.)

Accordingly, there's not much reason to go about hunting down people who've failed to register and have been present for more than three months. The benefits simply do not justify the costs. Furthermore, such an enforcement effort would be critically difficult, since the EU does not stamp the passports of EU citizens. It would not be easy to establish the person's whereabouts and the actual duration of their stay. On the other hand, someone who had crossed the border from one country to another, theoretically resetting the three-month period, might have trouble presenting evidence of that fact as well.

Consider someone who is informed by a country's authorities that they've fallen afoul of the registration requirement. Such a person is likely to register, or maybe just leave. Or maybe the authorities would accept the person's assertion of having left and returned, in which case they might enforce a later registration deadline. Regardless, for both parties, going to court would not be worthwhile. So there is no judicial precedent (as far as I'm aware) to help arrive at an answer.

Someone who has been present in an EU country other than their own for less than three months is not subject to the registration requirement, so your question could be rephrased thus:

After staying in an EU country under freedom of movement for three months, what is necessary to reset the three-month period?

The answer probably depends on several factors, and, more importantly, a specific analysis of each case. Consider someone who moves all their things to a home in the country, lives in that home, and then goes away for one month. After the person returns, there is a reasonable argument to be made that the person has exceeded the three-month right of residence. But someone who travels around the country with a backpack for three months could reasonably argue that they are resetting the period with an absence of just a day or two. Furthermore, different EU countries will regard this question differently (remember, the UK doesn't even require registration), so the answer also depends on the country in question.

The foregoing assumes that the person is self sufficient, therefore falling under point 1(b) of Article 7. If that is the case, then the person cannot be expelled from the country nor denied entry. If it is not the case, however, then the person can be expelled from the country. Whether they can subsequently be denied seems to be a matter of dispute. The linked article says that the directive is quite clear that they cannot, yet two governments are trying to create such a possibility (see also Rough sleeping is not an abuse of EU free movement rights).

If someone who was not self-sufficient repeatedly entered a country and became a nuisance, a ban for "abuse of rights" (Article 35) might be imposed. But a second entry, a month after an initial three-month stay, would be very unlikely to rise to that level.

  • I am aware that the rights of free movement go beyond the three month period. That is also not exactly what I meant. It is more about other implications related to this 3 month period. This could be anything from tax, social security to insurance policies of any kind. For instance, someone who is like you said rough sleeping may not be abusing free movement but after three months he could be punished for not having health insurance. – life-on-mars Sep 14 at 23:18
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    @life-on-mars tax is always a problem. The details vary from one country to the next. So do penalties for not having health insurance, if one is in a country where such penalties exist. But you were asking whether the three month period could be reset. The point of discussing the situation for people who stay longer than three months is to examine the difference in the circumstances of someone who returns after a three month stay and a brief absence, depending on whether that does or does not cause the three months to reset. – phoog Sep 15 at 6:14
  • I can only disagree. Examining any circumstances will not help in any way as neither of us have any clue whatsoever when, if and how the three month period is reset. – life-on-mars Sep 15 at 9:12
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    @life-on-mars in a real life scenario assume what will happen to a local failing to observe local registration rules will happen to other EU Citizens. If you are not working or causing costs, nothing much will happen. Taken up a residence and/or start working will cause (as for a local) more problems if you continue ignoring all rules. As apposed to a local an other EU Citizen can be deported if they become a great nuisance. – Mark Johnson Sep 15 at 9:13
  • @MarkJohnson I'd really like to avoid talking about "real life scenarios". It's a simple "what are my rights" question. – life-on-mars Sep 15 at 9:23

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