Skip to main content

Why We Love Overseas Voting

Insider tips for understanding overseas voting—and why it’s so special!

One of the most important aspects of overseas and military absentee voting is that the process is defined and protected by a federal law called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Because it’s a federal law, the requirements, features and benefits of the UOCAVA voting program are fundamentally the same across all states and territories.

In contrast, domestic absentee voting laws are state-level, so each state has the right to define its own rules and requirements for eligibility to vote with an absentee ballot. 

There are many beneficial features that are unique to the U.S. overseas voting program:
 

  • One Form Across All States

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) mandates that all states must allow overseas civilians and uniformed services members to register and request an absentee ballot for federal elections, using the same form across all states. The uniformity of the application process creates an ease of understanding not found when voting by absentee ballot from within the United States.

ONLY BY USING THIS SPECIFIC FORM WILL YOU BE PROTECTED BY THE UOCAVA VOTING LAW.
 

  • Single Form, Dual Function

A special feature of the official form, historically called the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), is that it has a dual purpose. The form will serve to simultaneously register you to vote from abroad and request your overseas absentee ballot. The form must be submitted once per calendar year, as well as whenever you change your address. 
 

Complete the Overseas Voter Registration / Absentee Ballot Request Form (FPCA)
 

  • Sign, Scan and Email Your Application

Most states, with some exceptions, allow voters to sign, scan and return their Registration and Ballot Request form/FPCA by email to their election office. That can be very convenient, especially as form filing deadlines approach.
 

  • Receive Your Blank Ballot Online* or By Post

UOCAVA also mandates that all states must provide your ballot according to your wishes, either online or on paper. Be aware, that online ballots must be printed. If you are in a region of the world where the postal system is reliable, it may be easier for you to receive your ballot, already printed, by postal mail, together with a return envelope.
 

  • Overseas Absentee Ballots are Available 45 Days Before the Election

If you plan ahead and send in your Registration and Ballot Request form/FPCA early, you’ll have plenty of time to vote. Overseas absentee ballots begin going out to voters who requested them as of 45 days before the election.
 

  • Online* and Postal Ballot Return

Every state allows you to return your voted ballot by overseas postal mail. U.S. Vote Foundation and Overseas Vote recommend postal mail as the most secure and confidential method of ballot return. Mail your ballot from the post office to assure correct postage. Your ballot envelope must have an overseas postmark. (Do not give your overseas ballot to a friend to drop into the US mail system!)

Many states also allow you to return your ballot online*, by fax or email. You can look up your state’s Voter Materials Transmission Options to see all of your options.
 

*Keep in Mind – Overseas Voting is not 100% Online

There is no 100% online, real-time internet voting in any state. If you choose to receive your ballot online, you will be required to print it. All ballots must be completed on paper, even if they are then scanned and returned online. For that reason, if you have a reliable postal system, a paper ballot, already printed, together with a return envelope, may be easier for you.

  • Eligible U.S. citizens, 18 or older, who are outside of the United States at the time of an election are qualified to vote in federal elections as overseas absentee voters.
     

  • To obtain an overseas absentee ballot, a voter must send in the official overseas registration and ballot request form by the deadline set by each state
     

  • If you are planning to travel, study, or work abroad temporarily and you know the address where you’ll be during the election, you may apply for the overseas absentee ballot prior to leaving the U.S. to make sure you meet the application deadline. 
     

  • Receipt of your overseas absentee ballot, voting, and return of your voted ballot must all be executed from outside the U.S.


Excellent question! 


Please see our “Step-by-Step Guide to Overseas Voting” which is dedicated to explaining the overseas voting process. 

The overseas voting program is defined and protected by a federal law, called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA)
 

This voting law is applicable to all states and territories. If you use the federal official form, historically called the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), to register and request your overseas or military absentee ballot, you will benefit from UOCAVA voting rights, along with all of the features and benefits inherent in the program. (Please see“What makes the U.S. overseas voting program so special?” for a list these features.)
 

The overseas Voter Registration/Ballot Request form (FPCA) is available on the U.S. Vote Foundation website. 
UOCAVA makes it clear that election officials cannot discriminate as to the eligibility of overseas citizens, and provides protection from certain indiscriminate demands that might prevent voters from casting a ballot:

 

Size of Ballot Paper or Envelope 

  • Your overseas voting documents must be legible, but the size and format of the paper onto which your overseas voting documents are printed, or the envelopes in which they are sent, cannot be used as a reason to disqualify your application. 
     
  • Paper and envelope sizes in countries outside of the U.S. are not necessarily the same as those in the U.S. The UOCAVA law makes it clear that an application sent on a different size of paper, or in a different type of envelope, cannot be denied based on those features. 


Never “Too Early” to Send in Your Form

  • While U.S. citizens abroad and uniformed services members who are absent from their domicile are required to send in a Voter Registration/Ballot Request form each calendar year that they want to vote, there is no specific time within the calendar year to send in your Overseas Registration/Ballot Request Form (FPCA).
     
  • We only encourage you to send it in as early as possible and avoid any delay. While domestic absentee voters may have their forms rejected based on “too early” arrival, the overseas voting law, UOCAVA, makes it clear that your form cannot be rejected for being received by your election office too early—only if it is received too late!
     

Additional “Protections” 

  • Rather than calling them “protections,” we tend to refer to the special aspects inherent in the overseas and military voting process as “features and benefits” of the program. 
     
  • These specific features and benefits are available to all eligible overseas and military voters who file the Overseas Registration/Ballot Request Form (FPCA) to register to vote and request their ballot.
     
  • Please see “What Makes the U.S. Overseas Voting Program So Special?” for the full list of program features.

Unfortunately, misconceptions about voting and taxes keep many overseas citizens from casting their ballots. 
 

  • Here is our best advice: If you are living abroad indefinitely and do not own any property in the U.S., vote for federal-level offices only to avoid any tax status implications. 
     
  • We cannot offer the same assurances when it comes to the tax implications of voting from abroad for offices at the state and local levels. 
     
  • The overseas absentee voting program (UOCAVA) is a federal program that allows you to vote for federal offices. This includes President and Vice President of the United States, your U.S. House of Representatives Congressperson, and your U.S. Senator. UOCAVA does not technically include voting for any state or local offices. Your state may send you a ballot that includes federal, state and local races, but that is because the state has chosen to do so. You are not obligated to vote for all races listed on the ballot. If in doubt, you can vote only for the federal offices.
     
  • We will risk repeating: If you are overseas with no plans to return and do not own any property in the U.S., vote for federal offices only to avoid any tax status implications. Don’t let the fear of taxes stop you from casting your ballot!
  • Unfortunately, there are a few holdout states—namely, Alabama, Virginia and Wisconsin—that still require a United States citizen witness to sign your ballot documents.
     

  • The instructions will come with your ballot - and it's no big deal. 
     

  • Don't let this stop you from requesting your ballot!

  • No, notarization is not a requirement in any state or territory. 

  • Here’s the background: 

    • In 2009, when the original UOCAVA protecting overseas voting was amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE), it was mandated that overseas voters and military voters do not need to notarize their documents. 

    • The reason for this was because the notarization process abroad is vastly more complex and expensive compared to the process in the U.S. The amendment removed a major burden that many voters faced. 

Believe it or not, it matters a lot which form you use to register and apply for your overseas absentee ballot.
 

  • You can submit your overseas Registration/Ballot Request form (FPCA) at any time during the calendar year of the election. In other words, you can apply on or after January 1, 2024 to vote in the 2024 general election or any primary, special, or runoff election scheduled for 2024.
     
  • The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) specifically supersedes and overrides any “not earlier than” state law regarding when a citizen abroad or active-duty service member can apply for their absentee ballot. The pertinent UOCAVA section is as follows:
     
    • A State may not refuse to accept or process, with respect to any election for Federal office, any otherwise valid voter registration application or absentee ballot application (including the postcard form prescribed under section 101 [52 U.S.C. § 20301]) submitted by an absent uniformed services voter during a year on the grounds that the voter submitted the application before the first date on which the State otherwise accepts or processes such applications submitted by absentee voters who are not members of the uniformed services. 
       
    • Under the “Supremacy Clause” of the United States Constitution,  a Federal statute like UOCAVA overrides conflicting State statutes and constitutions. 
  • Only active-duty members of one of the U.S. uniformed services who are stationed away from their home voting district at the time of the election can use the UOCAVA voting program. 
     

  • The uniformed services are the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard, as well as the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps. 
     

  • Members of the U.S. flag Merchant Marine also qualify as absent uniformed services voters, as do spouses and voting-age family members of uniformed service members and Merchant Marine members, if they are accompanying the service member. 
     

  • All references to “overseas” voting in this document and throughout this website also include qualified military voters and their family members.

“Voter abroad” and “overseas voter” are both terms that refer to U.S. citizens who vote from outside the United States They are essentially used interchangeably.
 

  • It can be argued that a voter who is in Canada or Mexico, countries which border the United States, is not “overseas.” However the federal law written to protect such a voter is titled the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Within this law, citizens outside of the U.S.—even if they’re in a country that borders the U.S.—are considered overseas for the purposes of voting.
     
  • A “uniformed absentee voter” is an active-duty member of one of the U.S. uniformed services who is serving away from their home voting district during an election. 
     
  • The uniformed services are the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard, as well as the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps. 
     
  • Members of the U.S. flag Merchant Marine also qualify as absent uniformed services voters, as do spouses and voting-age family members of uniformed service members and Merchant Marine members, if they are accompanying the service member.

Another wonderful feature of the overseas voting program is that if for any reason a voter does not receive the ballot they requested in time to vote, it is possible to use an emergency Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). The FWAB is available on the U.S. Vote Foundation website. You can complete the cover page online, then download the ballot with instructions and the return address.
 

Here are some things to keep in mind:
 

Write-in Candidates

  • You will need to look up and write in the names of your chosen candidates. You can do that with the Sample Ballot Tool available on the U.S. Vote Foundation website.
     

If Your Ballot Arrives After You Submit the FWAB

  • If you send in the FWAB and your absentee ballot arrives afterward, you should vote and return that as well. This is common practice. Your election official knows to count the absentee ballot and disregard your FWAB in the event that they both arrive in time.


Before you Use the FWAB Emergency Ballot

  • The FWAB is a very basic substitute for your real ballot and should be your ballot of last resort.
     

  • Before jumping to use the FWAB, contact your election office to see if they sent your absentee ballot to you. 
     

  • If your election office sent your ballot, but you did not receive it, and if there is still time, ask if they can void the first ballot and send you a replacement ballot. That will always be preferable to the FWAB.

U.S. Vote Foundation and our Overseas Vote initiative are very proud of our Voter Help Desk, which offers a detailed library of Frequently Asked Questions
 

People Registration US Vote

Overseas Vote is redirecting you to our parent site, U.S. Vote Foundation.

U.S. Vote Foundation offers complete voter services to all voter types including voters abroad and uniformed services voters and their families.

US Vote

You will be automatically redirected to the new website in 5 seconds...