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Politics

How to vote if you are living abroad

"I voted" signs displayed in different languages on June 5, 2018 with the KPBS Voter Hub overlay.
KPBS Staff
"I voted" signs displayed in different languages on June 5, 2018 with the KPBS Voter Hub overlay.

Voting abroad isn't as much of a hassle as you'd think. It's quite easy and a good way to get your voice heard.

Election results are not finalized until all absentee votes are counted — including those coming from citizens outside the U.S., and those votes may determine an election. Click here for the tl;dr version.

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How do I register if I am living abroad?

You can register to vote using your old U.S. address — your address in the state where you last resided — on the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and mail (or fax) it back to your local election office. For San Diego, that's the Registrar of Voters, P.O. Box 85656. San Diego, CA, 92186-5656 or fax (858) 467-9670. Californians can also register online here.

You will need to submit a California residential address to be able to verify your eligibility to vote in the state. Your election office needs this to determine which offices and candidates you can vote for to send you the right ballot.

You must select if you want to receive your ballot by mail, fax or email on the FPCA form.

A residence is valid even if:

  • You no longer own property or have other ties to that state.
  • Your intent to return to that state is uncertain.
  • Your previous address is no longer a recognized residential address.
  • Voting in an election for federal offices often may not be used as the sole basis of determining residency for the purpose of imposing state and local taxes.

Note: If you cannot remember the address where you last physically resided, check old tax records, passports, or family correspondence. Sometimes election offices can help identify your address if you were previously registered.

Source: www.fvap.gov

The deadline to register to vote for the November 2022 General Election is Oct. 24, but you should register as early as possible to receive your ballot information on time.

It is recommended that you fill out a new FPCA form each year or each time you move.

How do I register if I am in the military and stationed overseas?

Military members and their spouses cannot vote at military installations and should follow the same process above. Likewise, U.S. embassies and consulates are not voting centers, though they may help with resources for you to register to vote.

Remember: The earlier you register, the more time election officials have to get your voting materials to you in a timely manner.

How do I register to vote if I've never lived in the U.S.?

This one is tricky. In some states, U.S. citizens without any U.S. residence are eligible to vote absentee.

For a full list of states that allow citizens to vote absentee, go here.

In California, "a U.S. citizen who has never resided in the U.S., and has a parent or legal guardian who last resided in California, is eligible to vote in California, as long as the parent or legal guardian has not registered or voted in another state," according to the Department of Defense.

You can follow these steps to register.

The deadline to register to vote for the November 2022 General Election is Oct. 24.

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Can voting from abroad impact my tax status?

It may. Voting as a resident of a state may subject you to that state's income taxes. Some states, such as California, have safe harbor laws for voters who are living abroad but are voting for local and state offices they care about. And these may protect you from having to pay additional income taxes.

For more information, contact a tax expert.

How will I receive my ballot?

When you register to vote, you will need to provide a mailing address. It could be a Post Office Box or any place that allows you to receive mail there.

If you've selected to receive your voting material by fax or email, the Registrar will send all your voting information through fax or email.

How do I vote now that I am registered?

Once you are registered, you can vote as soon as you receive your ballot in the mail (or via email/fax if you've chosen that option). For military members, the California Secretary of State office recommends mailing your ballots back by Oct. 1 if you're on a ship at sea, Oct. 24 if you're stationed outside the United States and Oct. 31 if you're stationed within the United States (but not in San Diego).

📬 By mail

Return your ballot to:
Registrar of Voters
P.O. Box 85902
San Diego CA 92186-5902.
This is a different PO Box than the one used to return voter registration.

Mail-in ballots must be date-stamped no later than the election date and received by the Registrar of Voters no later than seven days after the election.

📄 By fax

You may also fax your ballot (including the return envelope) to (858) 467-9670. You must also include the "Oath of Voter" form provided to waive your right to a confidential vote. This is in addition to the oath on your return envelope.

Faxed ballots must be received no later than 8 p.m. on election day.

💻 By email

While you have the option of receiving your voting materials by email, under California law, you cannot vote by email. You will have to fax or mail back your ballot.

How do I vote if I haven't received my ballot by the deadline?

If your ballot hasn't arrived within 30 days of the election, you can vote by casting a backup ballot using the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot.

If your ballot arrived after you cast your vote, you can still mark up and return your ballot to the Registrar of Voters. The ROV will only count your backup absentee ballot if the office has not received your ballot (or if the ballot was received after the deadline).

I've voted, now what?

You can check the status of your ballot here: https://voterstatus.sos.ca.gov/

Important ⚠

🗳️ Vote-by-mail ballots begin to be sent to all active California registered voters starting Oct. 8. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 24. (If voters miss this deadline they can still register and vote in person at any vote center location.) Nov. 8 is the statewide election day but many vote centers are open prior to election day. Vote center and drop-off locations close at 8 p.m. on election day.

Not sure who to vote for? Find election guides with candidates and measures information in KPBS' Voter Hub.

Explore all national, state and local returns now.