With young adults making up a key population of today’s voters, study abroad students truly have the power to make a difference with their voice—and their vote!—during election season (even if they are having the adventure of their lives outside of the U.S.). To make sure that being abroad doesn’t get in the way of your vote, we’ve collected these five steps for how to vote from abroad.
If you’re studying abroad and will be out of the country on Election Day, you’ll be unable to visit your local polling booth. Instead, register for a federal absentee ballot using the process below to cast your vote.
Step 1 – Determine Where or If You Are Registered to Vote
Regardless if an election is federal, state, or local, you will need to register to vote in your state of residence. Your state of residence can be either your home state or your college state, but you can only register to vote in one state. BestColleges.com offers a detailed FAQ if you are debating where you want to register to vote as a student attending college out of state.
Step 2 – Familiarize Yourself with Your State’s Voting Policies
All voting forms are based on your state of residence. The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) offers helpful state-specific links to learn more about the policies and specific requirements of your state of residence. Find your state’s voting webpages, and do some educational research.
Heads up: there is a lot of information out there—but don’t get discouraged! You can do this, and we’re here to help. For now, just keep that webpage open in another window so you can find state-specific information if you need it.
Step 3 – Complete a Federal Post Card Application
What: The Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) is a multi-function form. With this form, you can register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and update contact information.
When: As soon as possible!
Process: While there are a few ways to complete and return the FPCA, we recommend following these steps to complete it digitally:
From there, familiarize yourself with the deadlines for your state.
Click “Use FVAP’s Online Assistant” listed at the bottom left in the “Register to Vote, Request a Ballot, or Update My Voter Info” section.
Complete the electronic form, and pay close attention to the addresses:
Voting Residence - Your permanent address in the United States where you are registered to vote
Mailing Address - The IES Abroad Center in your host city Pro Tip: Include your email address and ask for an electronic ballot.
Follow instructions given to print, sign, and send your FPCA
Step 4 – Receive, Complete & Submit Your Ballot
What: A ballot is a way to cast your vote in secret. Your ballot is unique to you, and should be treated as such—meaning, if you requested a mail-in ballot, you should return your ballot individually rather than mailing one package with ballots from you and your classmates.
When: You'll receive your absentee ballot around 45 days prior to election day
Process: Depending on how you requested your ballot to be delivered, you may receive a hard copy ballot at the mailing address you provided (the IES Abroad Center) or a ballot to your inbox.
Electronic ballots – Each state has its own way to accept your ballot, so be sure to follow the instructions provided. You can see the state guidelines by selecting your state on FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage.
Hard copy ballots – Follow the instructions on your ballot and mail it back right away. Familiarize yourself with the deadline to return your ballot, and keep possible postal delays in mind. Remember, you can view all deadlines by selecting your state on FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage.
If you don’t receive your ballot at least 30 days before the election, you should contact your local election officials and ask for an update. Contact information can be found by selecting your state on FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage.
Still haven’t received your ballot? A last resort is to complete the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)—an emergency backup form. This can also be found on FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage. Select your state and open “FVAP Online Assessment” in the “Get My Ballot” section.
Step 5 – Pat Yourself on the Back! You Voted!
Congratulations—you’ve exercised your right to vote! It’s an awesome, exciting thing, and we’re proud of you for participating and using your voice.
Questions? Your local election official is your main contact. He or she will be able to answer any questions you have about the voting process. Once abroad, the IES Abroad Center and local U.S. Embassy are great resources.
We want study abroad students to vote. Now that you know how to vote from abroad, help us spread the word! Feel free to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, via email, or any other medium.
This post was originally published August 1, 2016 and updated August 30, 2018.
After studying abroad, Brianne Recker (IES Abroad Granada, Spring 2016 | University of Michigan—Ann Arbor) made her way back to teach in Spain. Read on to discover how she made it happen, and her advice for other alumni looking to do the same.