Explore this guide to learn how to vote in the United States while you’re abroad.
I’ve lived outside the US as a United States expat for over 5 years. Over the years I’ve had to deal with things US citizens typically deal with, like voting. That motivated me to write this guide for other Americand abroad.
A US citizen may vote in a foreign election only if they hold dual citizenship with that country and meet the specific voting requirements of that nation.
Most US expats can vote from abroad, but eligibility depends on factors such as their voting residence and the state they last resided in. It’s important to verify your eligibility before attempting to vote.
- You can vote in the US while abroad.
- Whether you can vote will depend on your state.
- You’ll need to mail a ballot at least a week before the voting deadline.
How to Vote in the US while Abroad
Here are the steps required to vote in the United States as an American expat:
- Receive & complete ballot
- Return ballot
Each section will cover each point further in-depth. Keep reading to learn more.
1. Know Your Eligibility
To simplify the process, keep these points in mind:
- Voting rights depend on your last US domicile
- State-specific requirements affect eligibility
- FVAP website is your go-to resource
- US Department of State offers additional support
As a US expat, you maintain your right to vote in federal elections, regardless of where you reside.
Your eligibility to vote from abroad depends on several factors. Including your last US domicile and the state’s specific requirements.
Your voting rights hinge on your previous US domicile, meaning the last place you lived before moving abroad. Each state has different rules about voter eligibility for expats, with some requiring proof of intent to return.
To verify your eligibility, consult the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website, which provides comprehensive information and guidelines for overseas voting. The US Department of State’s website also offers resources and support for Americans living abroad who wish to vote .
2. Register to Vote & Request Your Ballot
Keep the following crucial deadlines in mind:
- Submit FPCA early: Aim for 90 days before the election
- Ballot receipt: Return it as soon as possible, ideally before 45 days prior to the election
- State-specific deadlines: Visit FVAP’s website for detailed information
You need to register and request your absentee ballot. The process involves filling out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and submitting it to your local election office.
The FPCA serves as a voter registration form and a request for an absentee ballot. Streamlining the process for overseas voters.
Visit the FVAP website to access the online FPCA form or download a PDF version (PDF link). Complete the form, providing accurate information about your last US address and your current overseas address.
Once completed, sign and date the form. Then submit it to your local election office by email, fax, or mail. Upon receipt, your local election office will process your request and send your absentee ballot. Usually via snail mail or email.
3. Receive and Complete Your Ballot
Keep these tips in mind while completing your ballot:
- Follow instructions: Carefully read and adhere to the provided guidelines
- Use the correct ink color: Typically black or blue ink is required
- Double-check your choices: Ensure your selections are clear and unambiguous
You may receive your ballot electronically or by mail depending on your state’s regulations. For visually impaired voters, assistance is available to ensure you can participate in the democratic process.
To receive electronically, add an email address on your FPCA form.
Visually impaired voters may receive assistance from a person of their choice. So long as the helper isn’t their employer or union representative. Your chosen assistant should help you mark the ballot according to your preferences.
4. Return Your Ballot
To guarantee your ballot arrives on time:
- Check deadlines: Be aware of your state’s specific deadlines for ballot receipt
- Send early: Aim to send your ballot at least a week before the deadline
- Track your ballot: Use your state’s tracking system to monitor its progress
Depending on your state’s regulations, you may have the option to return your ballot via mail, fax, or email.
Mailing your ballot requires postage and a trip to the post office. Some states offer prepaid envelopes for your convenience. If your state allows faxed ballots, you must include a signed waiver of your right to a secret ballot.
If email is an option, attach a scanned copy of your completed ballot and any required forms to the designated email address.
Special Circumstances for Voting
Special circumstances for voting include:
- Military voting: FVAP offers tailored resources and support
- Never lived in the US: Vote in the state where your US citizen parent(s) last resided
- Emergencies or disasters: Alternative voting methods may be available
Some US citizens face challenges when voting from abroad. Including military service members, those who have never lived in the US, and individuals impacted by emergencies or natural disasters.
For military personnel and their families, the FVAP website offers resources tailored to their needs. Including detailed instructions on voting while deployed. The process remains similar to civilian overseas voting, but military members receive additional assistance from their unit’s Voting Assistance Officer .
US citizens who have never lived stateside might wonder how to vote in federal elections. In most cases, you’re eligible to vote in the state where your US citizen parent(s) last resided. The voting process will vary based on their state of residence.
The FVAP’s website has more information .
In the event of an emergency or natural disaster, you could still vote through alternative methods, such as fax or email. Keep informed about your state’s specific provisions in these cases.
Troubleshooting and Assistance
Keep these troubleshooting tips in mind:
- Ballot not received: Use the FWAB as a backup option
- Local election office: Contact them for help with registration or voting issues
- US embassy or consulate: Seek assistance with voting procedures and requirements
If you haven’t received your ballot close to the election date, consider using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) as a backup option [4 PDF link].
The FWAB allows you to vote for federal offices, including the President, Senators, and Representatives. Fill it out, sign and date it, then return it following your state’s guidelines.
For additional support, reach out to your local election office or the nearest US embassy or consulate. They can provide guidance on voting procedures, registration, and ballot submission.
Read on to find frequently asked questions about voting abroad as an American citizen.
Who Is Considered a US Expat?
A US expat, or expatriate, is a US citizen who is living temporarily or permanently in a foreign country.
What Is the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA)?
The FPCA is a form used by US citizens abroad to register to vote and request an absentee ballot. It can be completed and submitted online, by mail, or fax.
Can I Vote in-Person at a US Embassy or Consulate?
No, US embassies and consulates do not serve as polling locations. However, they can provide assistance with the voting process, such as helping you complete the FPCA or providing information on returning your ballot.
When Should I Submit My FPCA?
Submit your FPCA at the beginning of each calendar year, or at least 45 days before an election, to ensure you receive your absentee ballot on time.
How Can I Stay Informed About US Politics and Elections While Living Abroad?
Keep up with news sources, engage in online forums, and join expat groups or social media communities to discuss politics and elections. This will help you stay informed and make educated decisions when voting.
Can I Vote in Local and State Elections From Abroad?
This depends on your state’s laws. Some states allow expats to vote in state and local elections, while others only permit voting in federal elections. Check your state’s regulations to determine your voting options.
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- Tips to Moving Back to the US After Living Abroad
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