Here’s How to Vote as an American Abroad

3 minutes

Teach English Spain participant in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.
Teach English Spain participant in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.
Image courtesy of Dana Carbone

In 2014, only 4% of Americans abroad who were eligible to vote did so. In 2018, if you’re an American living, working, and/or studying abroad, don’t be part of that 96%!

Here’s how to vote in the November 6 elections as an American abroad. It’s easier than you think.

#1 Yes, You Can Vote While Abroad!

Most U.S. citizens 18 or older living abroad are permitted to vote for federal offices like president, senator, and representative, including in the midterm elections on November 6. If you’re turning 18 before the election, you can request your ballot prior to your birthday.

#2 Register and Request Your Absentee Ballot

The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) makes it easy to register and request your absentee ballot. You’ll fill out a Federal Post Card Application, or FPCA, print it, sign it, and then actually mail it to complete the process (though some states allow you to submit by email or fax [fax, seriously?]).

So do it ASAP! Follow the instructions carefully, as they differ state by state. If your state allows you to request your ballot to be sent to you by email, do so! Otherwise you’ll have to wait for it to arrive by good old fashioned snail mail.

#3 Vote in the State of Your Last Address

The typical guideline is to vote in the state of your last residential address, even if you no longer live there and won’t again. (Mail won’t be sent there.) It’s also possible to use an address that’s on an unexpired driver’s license or other federal ID. If you go to school in a state different than where you live, you can register in one of those states, but not both (check the states’ residential requirements).

#4 Register Again Even if You Voted in the Last Election

Even if you voted in the last federal election, register again. Sending in your request for an absentee ballot via FVAP automatically registers you and updates your contact information, so easy-peasey.

#5 Cast a Write-in Vote if Your Ballot Doesn’t Arrive

If the election is closing in and your ballot still hasn’t arrived, you can cast a backup vote using the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). If your official absentee ballot arrives after you submitted your FWAB, fill it out and send it anyway. Your state will count only one.

You can email or call your local election office to ask if they received your request for your absentee ballot. You can also contact them to ask if they got your actual ballot once you’ve voted. You can email again later just to chat, though that’s probably a bit much.  

#6 You Can’t Vote at an Embassy

Embassies and consulates will help you fill out a FPCA or FWAB, but you can’t vote there. Elections are run by states, so you have to communicate with them directly via the above methods.

Check out the very useful FVAP FAQs for more info. Good luck and here’s to participating in American democracy!

Mark Overmann

After studying in France and teaching in China, Mark was hooked on cultural exchange. He's worked in the field of international education and exchange for 15 years, and is InterExchange's Vice President of External Affairs.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation