Right of expatriates to vote in their country of origin
The right of expatriates to vote in elections in their country of origin varies depending on the legislation of an expatriate’s country of origin. Some countries (such as France) grant their expatriate citizens unlimited voting rights, identical to those of citizens living in their home country. Other countries allow expatriate citizens to vote only for a certain number of years after leaving the country, after which they are no longer eligible to vote (e.g. 15 years for the UK and 25 years for Germany). Other countries reserve the right vote solely to citizens living in that country, thereby stripping expatriate citizens of their voting rights once they leave their home country (such as Ireland, with extremely limited exceptions).
Expatriates' voting rights in local elections sometimes vary within individual countries, usually those with federal systems, such as Switzerland and the United States. For example, Swiss expatriates originally hailing from certain cantons may vote in elections at cantonal level, while those from other cantons may not. The issue has been raised by European Union institutions, particularly in relation to citizens of one EU state resident in another.
- 1 Country-by-country breakdown
- 1.1 Australia
- 1.2 Austria
- 1.3 Belgium
- 1.4 Brazil
- 1.5 Canada
- 1.6 Chile
- 1.7 Colombia
- 1.8 Costa Rica
- 1.9 France
- 1.10 Germany
- 1.11 Greece
- 1.12 India
- 1.13 Ireland
- 1.14 Italy
- 1.15 Japan
- 1.16 Luxembourg
- 1.17 Malta
- 1.18 Namibia
- 1.19 Netherlands
- 1.20 New Zealand
- 1.21 Philippines
- 1.22 Portugal
- 1.23 Singapore
- 1.24 South Africa
- 1.25 Spain
- 1.26 Sweden
- 1.27 Switzerland
- 1.28 Tunisia
- 1.29 United Kingdom
- 1.30 United States of America
- 2 References
Australian citizens living abroad may vote if they register to vote within three years of leaving and intend to return to Australia within six years of leaving. Australians who were under 18 when they left Australia may vote if they intend to return to Australia within six years of their 18th birthday. Voting may be done by post or at an Australian embassy, consulate or high commission. Unlike for Australians living in Australia, voting is not compulsory for expatriate Australians.
Austrian citizens living abroad may vote by post in Austrian presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as referendums, with no expiry date. They must enrol on a dedicated foreign voters' register and must renew their registration every ten years.
As of 2017, Belgian citizens living abroad can register to vote for elections to the Chamber of Representatives and the European Parliament. Once registered in a consular post (which is optional), the person is subject to compulsory voting. Expatriates cannot vote in regional or local elections.
The very first legislation regarding eligible Belgians abroad was implemented during 1919–25 to accommodate Belgian military stationed in German territories after World War I. Their votes were cast on an earlier date and sent to their corresponding electoral district in Belgium.
The first modern law, the law of 18 December 1998, gave Belgians living abroad the right to vote in federal elections (i.e. for the Chamber and Senate). However, the law was inadequate[clarification needed] and not generally applied.
The law of 7 March 2002 improved the procedure. Belgians abroad could register in a municipality of their choice, determining the constituency in which their vote would be cast. In practice, most votes were cast in the linguistically sensitive Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde constituency.
The sixth Belgian state reform (ca. 2012), which also abolished the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde constituency and direct Senate elections, replaced the free choice by an objectively defined municipality (where the person last lived, or else further criteria apply).
The law of 17 November 2016 slightly changed the procedure, and also extended the right to vote for European Parliament elections to Belgians living in a non-EU member state. Belgians living in another EU member state already had the right to vote on Belgian lists in European Parliament elections.
Brazilian citizens living abroad aged between 18 and 70 must vote, as Brazil's policy of compulsory voting includes expatriate Brazilians. Voting is possible, but not mandatory, for Brazilian expatriates aged over 70 or under 18 (Brazil's minimum voting age is 16). Brazilian voters abroad cast ballots only for presidential elections.
Previously, Canadian law dictated that citizens living abroad could only vote by post if they had lived outside the country for less than five consecutive years (citizens that worked for the Canadian government, a Canadian company or an international organisation in which Canada was involved were exempt from this rule). On 11 January 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada, after deliberating the case of Frank v Canada for which the Ontario Court of Appeal had upheld these restrictions, struck down the restrictions. The Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirmed the rights of long-term expats to vote.
Citizens living abroad have always maintained their eligibility to vote in person if possible.
Chilean expatriates have the right to vote in presidential elections (primaries, first and second round) and national referenda in the consulate where they registered. The law allowing expatriate Chilean citizens the right to vote was presented by President Michelle Bachelet and approved by Congress in August 2016. The primaries for the 2017 presidential election were the first time that expatriates were allowed to vote.
Regardless of their time living abroad, Colombian expatriates enjoy full voting rights in national referendums, presidential and parliamentary elections. One member of the House of Representatives comes from the international constituency and is elected exclusively by citizens living abroad. In order to vote, Colombian citizens have to register in their respective consulate or embassy in the established periods before the election dates.
Costa Rican citizens can vote for president and national referendums regardless of their time living abroad since Electoral Code's reform of 2010. They can't, however, vote in local elections which includes deputies and municipal authorities. The first time this was implemented was in the 2014 Costa Rican general election. Costa Ricans vote in the respective consulate or embassy and have to register their location a year before the election.
France has a dedicated Assembly of French Citizens Abroad, the president of which is the French Foreign Minister. France also has a system of 11 constituencies for French residents overseas, each of which are represented by a deputy who sits in the National Assembly.
Article 12(2)(1) of the Federal Voting Act states that German citizens who live abroad and have no residence in Germany may vote in German parliamentary elections and European Parliament elections if:
a) they have resided in Germany for an uninterrupted period of at least three months since their 14th birthday and within the last 25 years; or
b) they have a close personal and direct relationship with German politics and are personally affected by political developments in Germany.
Expatriate Greek citizens are allowed to vote in home country elections. But they must return to Greece in order to do so. Their vote is also not obligatory like for most persons residing in Greece.
Expatriate Indian citizens have been allowed to vote in all Indian elections since 2010, provided that they have not acquired the citizenship of another country (India does not permit dual nationality). However, overseas voters must be physically present at their original constituency to vote, making it infeasible for most expatriates to actually cast their votes.
At most elections in the Republic of Ireland the electoral register is based on residential address, and the only nonresident voters are those serving abroad on government business; this includes Irish diplomats and their spouses, and Defence Forces and Garda Síochána personnel but not their spouses. An exception is in elections to the Seanad (upper house) for which graduates voting in the university constituencies (National University of Ireland and University of Dublin) may be nonresident. Expatriates intending to return to Ireland within eighteen months may retain their Irish address for electoral purposes, but must be present to vote in person. Since the 1990s there have been proposals to allow emigrants to vote in elections to the Dáil (lower house) or Seanad, generally via a dedicated (single transferable vote multi-seat) constituency. In 2017 the government agreed to allow expatriate citizens to vote in presidential elections and promised a constitutional referendum to be held alongside the 2019 local election.
Italian citizens living abroad retain the right to vote in Italian parliamentary elections and referenda. They may vote either by post or at an Italian consulate or embassy. However, for Italian citizens who live in a country which has no Italian diplomatic representation, the only way to vote is to travel to Italy to vote in person. Citizens who choose to do so are reimbursed by the Italian government for 75% of their travel costs.
Japanese citizens living abroad have been allowed to vote in Diet elections since 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that a ban on eligible overseas Japanese citizens from voting was unconstitutional. Citizens can vote either by post or at their local Japanese embassy or consulate.
Maltese citizens may only vote if they are physically present in Malta on election day. There is no rule forbidding expatriate citizens from voting, but they may only vote if they return to Malta in person to do so, at their own expense. There have been attempts and petitions to allow Maltese citizens living abroad to vote by post.
Namibian citizens living abroad have been allowed to vote in national elections since 2014, when amendments were made to the Electoral Act 2009, Namibian expatriates may vote at temporary registration points, usually set up at Namibian embassies or high commissions.
Dutch citizens who live abroad (and have deregistered as Dutch residents) are allowed to vote in elections for the House of Representatives and for the European Parliament, but cannot vote in municipal or provincial elections. They must register as voters in order to vote from abroad.
New Zealand citizens living abroad have full voting rights with no expiry date as long as they have lived in New Zealand for at least one year continuously at some point in their lives and have visited New Zealand within the last three years. If you do not return within three years you temporarily lose all voting rights.
Portugal has a Council of Portuguese Communities (Conselho das Comunidades Portuguesas), a consultative body which is part of the Portuguese government and represents the interests of Portuguese citizens living abroad.
4 seats of the Portuguese Parliament (out of 230) are reserved for those living abroad: 2 mandates allocated fr Europe, the other 2 from outside Europe.
Singaporean citizens living abroad may vote in presidential and parliamentary elections, with no expiry date. However, they may only vote in person at one of ten designated overseas polling stations, located in Australia, China (two polling stations: Beijing and Shanghai), Japan, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States (three polling stations: New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.). Each citizen is assigned to an overseas polling station depending on where they live. Expatriate citizens are also assigned a polling station in Singapore, where they can vote in person if they happen to be in Singapore on election day.
Pursuant to Chapter 1, Section 10 of Electoral Act 73 of 1998, South African citizens living abroad retain the right to vote in national elections, with no expiry date. Expatriate citizens wishing to vote must do so in person at a South African embassy, consulate or high commission.
Spain has a General Council of Spanish Citizenship Abroad (Consejo General de la Ciudadanía Española en el Exterior, CGCDE), an advisory body which represents the interests of Spanish citizens living abroad.
Swedish nationals living abroad are automatically entitled to vote in Riksdag elections and European Parliamentary elections (for those living in another EU Member State) up to ten years after leaving Sweden. There is no time limit to eligibility, but after the initial 10-year period has elapsed, Swedish expatriates must renew their electoral roll registration by filling out a form every 10 years. They cannot vote in either county or municipal elections. Voting take place either by post or at Swedish embassies.
Swiss citizens living abroad may vote, with no expiry date, in elections for the National Council (lower house of parliament) and in federal referendums, provided that they register with the relevant Swiss representation abroad. Their eligibility to vote in elections for the Council of States (upper house of parliament) and in cantonal and municipal elections depends on the law of the canton in which the person was registered before leaving Switzerland.
British citizens living abroad may vote in UK general elections, referendums and European Parliament elections for up to 15 years after leaving the UK. However, they may only do so if they were registered to vote in the UK while living there. British expatriates who were under 18 at the time of leaving the UK may vote as long as their parent or guardian was registered to vote in the UK.
In February 2018, the Overseas Electors Bill was presented to Parliament, with a view to abolishing the 15-year limit and the requirement to have registered to vote before leaving the UK. This would grant all British expatriates the unlimited right to vote, as long as they have lived in the UK at some point in their lives. The issue became a hotly debated topic among British expatriates who have lived in other EU Member States for more than 15 years and were thus barred from voting in the referendum on European Union membership, despite arguably being more affected by the result than British people living in the UK.
United States of America
US citizens living abroad enjoy full federal voting rights, regardless of how long they have lived abroad. In addition, 36 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow US citizens who have never resided in the US to vote in the respective state based on where their parent or legal guardian was last registered. However some states restrict overseas voters to vote only in federal elections (Presidential, etc) or vote only if the voters have not registered or voted in another state previously. These states include:
- Alaska (only federal elections)
- California (only if voter has not registered or voted in any other state)
- Connecticut (only federal elections)
- Delaware (only federal elections)
- District of Columbia
- Minnesota (only federal elections)
- Nebraska (only if voter has not registered or voted in any other state)
- Nevada (only if voter has not registered or voted in any other state)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York (only federal elections)
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Oregon (only if voter intends to reside in Oregon, have a parent, legal guardian, or spouse that is a military or overseas voter under Oregon law, and that parent, legal guardian, or spouse last resided in Oregon)
- Rhode Island (only federal elections)
- South Carolina
- South Dakota (only if voter has not registered or voted in any other state)
- Virginia (only if voter has not registered or voted in any other state)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin (only federal elections)
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