How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections

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Photo: FVAP
16:37 CEST+02:00
No matter where they are in the world, Americans can vote absentee in the upcoming US elections. But how does it all work? We tracked down some answers.

Help! I just realized the US elections are right around the corner! What do I do?!

For starters, register to vote if you haven’t already! It’s a super-simple two-step process. 

First, go to and request an absentee ballot with the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). Second…

…yeah, yeah. I’ve already sent my FPCA. But how do I actually vote? What happens now?

As I was saying, the FPCA counts as both your voter registration and a ballot request so now all you need to do now is sit tight and keep an eye on your mailbox. Your ballot should arrive in early October.

And then what do I do when my absentee ballot gets here?

Well…fill it out…

But how?

With a pen?

Dude. Seriously.

Alright sorry! The exact layout of your ballot will vary depending on what state you’re from. Most of them are pretty straightforward – just follow the instructions.

But read them carefully, as the exact requirements for properly completing your ballot – signatures, notarizing, etc. – differ from state to state.

Will do! How do I know what regulations apply in my state?

Instructions should come with the ballot, but it’s also easy to find lots of information about your state’s online voting resources at

Got it. And when exactly do I need to send in my voted absentee ballot?

Glad you asked. If you’re living abroad, the recommended mailing date is October 15, 2016.

Good to know. But what if the ballot I requested never shows up?

No worries! There’s a backup plan: the FWAB.

The what?

The FWAB…the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.

Geez – you guys and your acronyms. And how exactly does FWAB differ from the FPCA we were talking about earlier?

The FPCA both registers you to vote and requests an absentee ballot for you. But if the ballot you requested with your FPCA doesn’t arrive, you can instead print and fill-out an FWAB and submit that instead.

Ah, I get it…the FWAB is sort of like a plan B ballot? The absentee ballot of last resort?


Well I’m pretty impatient, so what happens if I send in my FWAB and the absentee ballot shows up later?

You can still fill out the absentee ballot you requested even if it turns up after you’ve lost hope and sent in the FWAB. Election officials will only count one of your ballots if they both arrive in time.

Alright. But, once I’ve sent it in, how do I know if it’s been received or not?

Good question! Luckily these days there’s a marvellous thing called the internet. You can actually check the status of your ballot at

Thank heavens for the internet.

Indeed. Anything else you'd like to know?

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Good grief! Try asking me again after the election. But for now, get out there and vote.

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by the US Federal Voting Assistance Programme (FVAP).

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From our sponsors

Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections

Election Day in the U.S. is less than a month away, and time is running out for Americans living overseas to vote absentee. Here's what to do before it’s too late.


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