How to Vote as an American Abroad

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3 minutes


U.S. citizens can vote in U.S. elections from Madrid or anywhere else abroad!
U.S. citizens can vote in U.S. elections from Madrid or anywhere else abroad!
Image courtesy of Dana C.

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. If you’re turning 18 before the elections, you can request your ballot prior to your birthday.

Here’s how to vote in the November 3, 2020 elections as an American abroad. It’s easier than you think.

#1 Register and Request Your Absentee Ballot

You can’t vote at an Embassy or Consulate in your host country, but 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. Some states may allow you to submit by email or fax (fax, seriously?).

When should you do this?
ASAP! The deadline to register and request your absentee ballot differs state by state. Check your state’s voter registration to find out when you need to register by, the deadline to request your ballot, and the deadline to send in your vote.

FYI: many states have an early/mid-October 2020 deadline to register for an absentee ballot and the FVAP recommends that U.S. citizens abroad vote by October 13 for the 2020 General Election.

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.

#2 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).

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

Even if you voted in the last federal election, register again just to be safe. FVAP recommends you register every January and each time you move.

#4 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.

Make your voice heard - vote!
Make your voice heard - vote!
Image courtesy of Pexels


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

InterExchange Staff

InterExchange is proud to have an experienced team that is dedicated to international cultural exchange. We come from a variety of backgrounds, but nearly every member of our New York City-based staff has extensive experience traveling, working, or living abroad.

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