BACKGROUND: Schizophrenia has a variety of clinical profiles, disabilities and outcomes requiring responsive management and the devotion of considerable resources. The primary objective of the European Schizophrenia Cohort (EuroSC) is to relate the types of treatment and methods of care to clinical outcome. Secondary objectives include the assessment of treatment needs in relation to outcome, the calculation of resource consumption associated with different methods of care, and the identification of prognostic factors. METHOD: EuroSC is a naturalistic follow-up of a cohort of people aged 18 to 64 years, suffering from schizophrenia and in contact with secondary psychiatric services. The study was done in nine European centres, in France (N = 288), Germany (N = 618), and Britain (N = 302). Participants were interviewed at 6-monthly intervals for a total of 2 years. This initial paper describes the methods used and presents clinical and social baseline data. RESULTS: The clinical and socio-demographic differences between patients from the different countries were small. However, patients from Britain were considerably more likely than their continental counterparts to have a history of homelessness, rooflessness or imprisonment, even when social and clinical differences between the samples were controlled. CONCLUSIONS: The samples were largely similar in clinical terms. Thus, the social differences between the samples seem likely to be due more to the societal context and may reflect relatively benign situations in the continental locations of our study.