For millions of Americans living abroad, voting in US elections can seem complicated and confusing. Many doubt whether their vote would even matter. Most skip it altogether. But voting from overseas is easier than you might think—and it definitely counts. Here’s how to vote as an American living abroad.
Can Americans abroad vote in US elections?
Yes! US citizens living outside of the country have the exact same right to vote in federal elections as anyone living within the United States. That means that if an expat is 18 or older, they are eligible to vote for national offices such as presidents, senators, and representatives.
This applies regardless of:
- How long you have lived abroad
- Whether or not you intend to ever return to the US
- How long ago you last voted—or whether you have ever voted before at all
- Whether you have a residence in the US
Even if you were born and lived your entire life outside of the US, as long as you have one citizen parent, you may still be eligible to vote in whichever state your American parent resides or resided.
Some states also allow US citizens living overseas to vote in state or local races. However, while voting for candidates for federal offices will never affect your state or federal tax liability, voting in state or local elections might.
Regardless, as a US citizen, you always have the right to vote, regardless of where you’re living at the time of the election.
How to Vote from Abroad as an American Citizen
If you’re an American citizen living abroad, how exactly do you cast your vote? Don’t worry. It’s simple and painless.
Voting from abroad just takes three easy steps:
- Register to vote.
- Wait for your absentee ballot.
- When your ballot arrives, fill it out and send it in.
1. Register to vote abroad.
Just like any American citizen living on US soil, in order to vote, you will have to be registered with local election officials in the state of your voting residence. In most cases, that will be whatever state you last lived in. You may also be able to use the address linked to a valid driver’s license or state-issued ID. And as mentioned above, if you’ve never lived in the US, you might be able to use the address of a citizen parent or other relative.
Then, in addition to registering, you will also need to request an absentee ballot.
For both registration and requesting a ballot, use the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). You should submit a new FPCA early each year and any time you change your address, name, or email. If you haven’t done so yet, just try to submit your FPCA at least 45 days before an election to give officials plenty of time to process your request.
You can find the FPCA on several websites, such as:
- Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP)
- Overseas Vote Foundation
- VoteFromAbroad.org (Despite being run by Democrats Abroad, this is a nonpartisan site.)
All three sites make it as easy as possible to understand and complete the form, so don’t expect a hassle.
Note: Depending on what state you register in, you may need to send in a hard copy of your FPCA. If you don’t have a printer handy, you can always visit the nearest US embassy or consulate to pick up an FPCA and a list of your state’s rules.
Many states require you to be registered at least a month before election day, so don’t delay. That said, even if it’s too late to submit an FPCA before the election, don’t worry. You haven’t missed your chance. The Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) is a backup option also available on the FVAP website.
Either way, once your application is approved, your name will be put on a list of voters to receive absentee ballots.
2. Wait for your absentee ballot.
Once you’ve completed all the required steps, all you can do is wait for your absentee ballot to arrive. If you aren’t sure about who you intend to support, this is a good time to research the various options and make your choice. Your local election office may send you a voter information guide, or you can consult the website for your state’s office of elections or secretary of state. Sites like Vote411.org can help you find your local ballot.
If you haven’t received your absentee ballot by 30 days before the election, you’ll want to request the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) mentioned above. You can use the FWAB as your ballot. Just write in your preferred candidates and send it to the local election officials in your registered state.
However, if your regular absentee ballot arrives after you’ve submitted an FWAB, go ahead and complete and return that, too. Some states only count your FWAB if your regular ballot doesn’t reach them by their deadline. Submitting both will not disqualify your vote or cast two votes in your name.
3. When your ballot arrives, fill it out, and send it in.
After receiving your absentee ballot, complete it as quickly as possible. Then, you generally have a few options for returning your completed ballot:
- Online, fax, or email: Some states let you submit your completed ballot electronically. Consult the Voting Assistance Guide for options in your state.
- Local mail: If you’re able, mail your ballot with appropriate international postage.
- Express Courier Service: If you don’t have much time or the standard mail service is unreliable, you can use professional courier services such as DHL, UPS, or FedEx at your own expense.
- US Embassy Diplomatic Pouch: You can mail ballot requests and completed ballots from any US embassy or consulate. Simply address the package to the relevant election officials and mail it with sufficient US postage. (You can get a postage-paid envelope from the FVAP website.)
Whichever method you choose, make sure you send it to the appropriate local election officials in time to meet your state’s deadline.
And that’s all it takes. Congratulations! Your vote is cast.
Even as an American abroad, your vote really does count.
There’s a common misconception that absentee ballots are only counted during very tight races. This is not true. US law mandates that all valid votes must be counted in every election regardless of how they are cast. And every vote, whether absentee or in-person, counts the same.
No matter where you’re living, your vote will matter. So vote now, and make your voice heard!
And if you could use a little extra guidance, we can help. Greenback Expat Tax Services is committed to making your overseas life as easy and uncomplicated as possible. Contact us today, and we’ll help you along your expat journey.