How to Vote While Studying Abroad

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With young adults making up more than 20% of the voting population, study abroad students truly have the power to make a difference with their voice—and their vote!—this election season. To make sure that studying abroad doesn’t get in the way of your vote, we’ve collected these four steps for how to vote from abroad.

THE BASICS:  Because you’re studying abroad this fall and will be out of the country on Election Day, November 8th, you’ll be unable to visit a local polling booth. Instead, register for a federal absentee ballot* to cast your vote.

Since this is most likely this is your first time voting—nonetheless abroad!—we recommend finding a guide you feel comfortable with. Try the Overseas Citizen Voter section of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website, the Overseas Vote Foundation, or another nonpartisan guide dedicated to helping U.S. citizens vote from abroad. The steps below follow the FVAP process.


All voting forms are based on your state of residence, which may be different than where you go to school. Not sure where or if you’re registered to vote? Visit to double check.

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.


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 change your voting party if you wish.

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:

  1. Visit FVAP’s Voter Registration and Ballots webpage, and select your state.
  2. From there, familiarize yourself with the deadlines for your state.
  3. Begin the online assessment listed at the bottom left in the “Register to Vote, Request a Ballot, or Update My Voter Info” section.
  4. Complete the electronic form, and pay close attention to the addresses:
    • Voting Residence Address (Block 7) - Your permanent address in the United States where you are registered to vote
    • Mailing Address/Where to Send my Ballot (Block 8) - The IES Abroad Center in your host city

      Pro Tip: Include your email address and ask for an electronic 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 +/- 45 days prior to the presidential election

Process: Depending on how you requested your ballot to be delivered, you may receive a hard copy ballot at the address 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.


Congratulations—you’ve exercised your right to vote, and possibly for the first time! It’s an awesome, exciting thing, and we’re proud of you for participating and using your voice.

Spread the word and share our "I Voted Abroad!" button on social media. Feel free to tag us with @IESabroad and/or #IESabroad. 


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 all semester and academic year 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.



*If you are studying abroad on a short term program (shorter than a semester), you will need to apply for a state absentee ballot. These instructions are for federal absentee ballots. Contact your local election official to learn more about state absentee ballots.