How to Vote as an Expat in the U.S. Elections

Real talk: in today’s day and age, it’s incredible important to know how to vote as an expat. As much as I want to blend into Germany and be an informed “citizen” of my new country, in both local and national happenings, there are cases where I feel the need to be an American. And let’s be really honest—being a citizen of the world means caring about wtf is happening in the U.S. elections. But unlike most of the rest of the world’s citizens, we all actually have the power to influence the way this all turns out.

And that’s why I want to urge all of my fellow expatriates and digital nomads to make sure you register to vote as an expat.

How to Vote as an Expat in the U.S. Elections

It’s pretty painless to register to vote as an expat online. If you’re asking yourself, “Where do I vote if I’m an expat?”, for voting purposes, your state of legal residence is generally going to be the state where you lived immediately before leaving the United States, even if you no longer own or rent property (or intend to return in the future).

You’re going to start by submitting a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). I did mine with Vote From Abroad, an organization that provide non-partisan voter services for expats and U.S. military. The form is super straight-forward—the only tricky part was remembering to format my dates in the American MM/DD/YY.

You need to submit your FPCA either at the beginning of the calendar year or at least 45 days before an election, to allow enough time to process your application and resolve any problems. Head’s up—a lot of states have election cycles beginning even in May. You can check important deadlines here.

How to vote as an expat: Online Voting

Online voting for those of us living abroad is a simple two-step process:

1. Submit a completed Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to your local election officials.

They will:

Confirm your eligibility to vote and put your name on a list to receive absentee ballots for any elections held that calendar year.

Send you a blank absentee ballot electronically or by mail.

2. Complete and return the ballot

It must arrive before your state’s ballot return deadline.

If you have not received your blank ballot 30 days before an election, use the emergency Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote.

Do note: U.S. citizens abroad must submit a new Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) each year to vote in U.S. elections.

How to vote as an expat: In-Person Voting

As simple as the above process is, the act of voting itself can sometimes fall through the cracks. It may come to pass that you’ve printed, completed, and prepared your ballot for mailing…and forgotten to mail it. Don’t panic!

When you register as a Democrat Abroad, you’re actually registering for an expat “state”, same as you would be a California Democrat or a Georgia Democrat. Democrats Abroad actually send 21 delegates to the Democratic National Convention who then represent our votes in the primary. (Republicans abroad, don’t feel left out—you’re represented by Republicans Overseas, and can find party-specific info here!)

I can’t speak for the Republicans, but for the Democrats, there are a surprising number of in-person voting locations for the primary in each country. There are 43 voting centers in 30 cities in Germany alone. For more information about participating in the Global Primary in your country, select your current country here.

**Do note that in-person voting is for the primary election only. You will still need to request a ballot for the general election in November.**

I chose to get my ballot online, where I can download it, print it, and send it via mail. You do have to have your ballot postmarked on or before Election Day (my home county says that in order to be counted, voted ballots must be received no later than 3 days after Election Day, but this may vary by county, so be sure to check). After I submit my ballot, I can then track it online to make sure it has arrived. And that’s it! I voted—although I admit it seems a little anti-climactic without the little sticker. All that’s left to do is watch the election results.

It’s easy to forget our citizenship when we are so far removed from the daily goings-on. That’s fine—I choose not to vote for the more local issues because I don’t feel informed enough about them to vote consciously. But the high-level workings of our government touch basically every country in the world—so no matter where you’re living now, it’s almost certain that you will be impacted by the outcome of the U.S. elections. You might as well voice your say in them. So speak up.