Overseas Voting: What US Citizens Need to Know

Quick tips and guide for US citizen for voting overseas

Your vote matters.

As a US citizen, your vote is your voice, your chance to be heard. It is one of the cornerstones of our democratic society. Whether voting in new state representatives, voting for social issues, or electing a new president, with a little preparation, you will be able to fulfill your rights and responsibilities as an American Citizen from abroad. Just because you will be overseas during an election does not mean you have to “sit this one out.”

US citizens who are living abroad during election time can still exercise their right to vote. The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) makes it easy for families and individuals living, working, or traveling abroad to register to vote, receive their absentee ballot, and stay informed of voting deadlines.

You will definitely need to provide a copy of a valid US passport when you vote absentee, so make sure it does not expire anytime soon. (Click the link if you need to renew your passport, and click this link if you need an expedited passport.)

With millions of Americans living abroad, this population of voters is often considered their own “swing state.” Unfortunately, many Americans don’t know how easy it is to vote from abroad, and so do not cast their vote. Here you’ll find quick, easy answers to take the mystery out of overseas voting.

Am I Eligible to Vote Absentee?

According to FVAP.gov, if you are over the age of 18, a US citizen, and meet one of the following criteria, you are eligible to vote using an absentee ballot from overseas.

  • An active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine;
  • An eligible spouse or family member of an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine; Or
  • A US citizen residing outside the US for any reason, even if you have never lived in the United States

Getting Started

All US elections are organized on the state level – even the presidential election – so you will need to arrange for your overseas absentee ballot through your US state of residence.

The first thing you need to do is complete the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and mail it in. This form is required by most states, and simplifies the process. It is a standardized form that serves as both your voter registration and absentee ballot request form.

You can fill out the PDF and mail it, pick up a hard copy from your nearest embassy or consulate, or use the FPCA Online Assistant.

FPCA Quick Tips

  1. Fill out the FPCA form and sign it according to your State’s instructions. Find them
  2. Use one of the approved envelope templates and get free postage.
  3. Don’t forget to include your foreign address and include postage, so they can mail your absentee ballot to you!
  4. Make sure you fill out the FPCA at least 90 days before the election you wish to vote in, so you have time to receive your absentee ballot and return it by the voting deadline.
  5. You will need to complete the FPCA each year, so it is recommended to put on your January to-do list each New Year.
  6. Create a Voter Account with the Overseas Vote Foundation that moves with you, and makes registering to vote each year easier and faster.
  7. Make sure your passport is up-to-date! You will need to provide a copy of your passport when you send in your absentee ballot.

Click here to expedite your passport renewal

What to do if you don’t Receive your Ballot in Time

If you have not received your ballot within 30 days of election time, don’t panic. There is a backup resource for you! Simply complete the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) form by using the easy FWAB Online Assistant, filling out the PDF, or picking up a hard-copy from your nearest
US embassy or consulate and mailing it in with a special postage-paid envelope.

Are you a US Citizen, but have Never Resided in the US?

Some citizens are born abroad and have never lived within the US, so do not have a state as their main domicile and place of residence to vote. In many states, a US citizen who has always lived abroad is eligible to vote absentee if they have a parent or guardian who was last registered to vote within the state.

Find out if you are eligible to vote absentee by reviewing this list of different US state absentee requirements.

Obtain an Absentee Ballot Before Traveling Abroad

Vote in US election from abroadIn some cases, you may be abroad for only a short time, or with no permanent overseas address during an election. It may be easiest to obtain your absentee ballot before traveling abroad.

All you need to do is complete an absentee ballot application and drop it off at your local county elections office. If absentee ballots are available, you will be able to pick up the ballot when you drop off your application. If none are available, you can have it mailed to your US address or come back to pick one up.

If you cannot pick up your ballot, or have an address to mail it to, you can designate a person on your application to pick up the ballot and deliver it to you.

Voting in the Primary Elections from Abroad

If you are a Democrat and living abroad, you are in luck! It is very easy to vote in the primaries once you register with Democrats Abroad, the official Democratic Party arm for Americans living outside of the US. Click here to join (it’s free), and gain access to on-site voting in one of 121 locations across 40 countries (don’t forget to bring your American passport with you!), or cast your vote by fax or email.

Unlike the Democratic Party, Republicans do not have an overseas arm, nor do they allot delegate votes to overseas voters. However, it is still possible to vote in the primaries, just a little bit more difficult. You must be a legal resident of the state, and registered well before you state’s primary election. For more information, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website.

It’s Easy to Vote from Abroad

True, there are extra forms and extra steps, but in general, voting from abroad is a simple process. There are excellent websites (FVAP, Overseas Vote, Democrats Abroad) that walk you through every step of the process to make sure your vote is counted, and your voice heard. One of the main differences between voting from abroad or voting in the States, is that you need a valid passport when you cast your vote. If you need a passport in a hurry, you have plenty of options to obtain an expedited passport at the last minute and still be prepared to send in your absentee ballot.

Traveling or living abroad does not mean you give up your right as a US citizen to vote. You are affected by the outcome of an election, even while living abroad, and your vote affects those outcomes.

It is important to stay informed of your rights, and of great value to continue to participate in the US political process. We hope this article helps you get started, and clears up any confusion you may have had about voting from abroad.

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