This constituency casework page explains how British expats can vote in a general election. These are called overseas voters.
This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Before someone can vote they must be registered to vote.
Voters can register to vote online using the GOV.UK Register to vote service. Voters may also use a paper form that must be sent to the local electoral registration officer. There is a separate paper form for those registering in Northern Ireland that must be sent to the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland.
Who can register?
To be eligible to register someone must meet the three requirements based on nationality, residence, and age. These vary depending on where you live. These are explained in full in the Library briefing paper CBP 8985, Who can vote in UK elections?
A person must also not be disqualified from registering. They may be disqualified because of conviction for electoral fraud. Members of the House of Lords are disqualified from registering for elections to the UK Parliament but may register to vote in other elections. Some prisoners are disqualified.
British citizens resident in the UK can register to vote for all elections.
Citizens of the Republic of Ireland are eligible to register for all elections in the UK, including UK Parliament elections, as long as they resident and not disqualified.
Qualifying Commonwealth citizens are eligible to register for all elections in the UK, including UK Parliament elections, as long as they resident and not disqualified. These are those who are resident and have leave to enter or to remain in the UK or do not require such leave.
EU citizens resident in England and Northern Ireland can register to vote for local and devolved elections depending on when they arrived in the UK and their immigration status. They cannot vote in UK Parliament elections regardless of how long they have been resident. Who can vote in UK elections? explains this in more detail and the rule changes taking place from 7 May 2024.
Foreign citizens of any nation, including EU citizens, who are resident in Scotland or Wales can register to vote for local and devolved elections in Scotland and Wales. They cannot vote in UK Parliament elections regardless of how long they have been resident.
Registration officers have the right to check an applicant’s immigration status.
You must be resident in the place you are registered. For nearly all people it is their normal home address.
People who spend roughly the same amount of time in two places may be able to register at both addresses. This includes students and MPs.
People who have a holiday home may be able to register at both addresses but only if they spend roughly equal times at both their home address and holiday home. If they only visit their holiday home a few weeks a year they are unlikely to satisfy the residence requirement.
Residence is not defined in electoral law and electoral registration officers will decide on a case-by-case basis.
Some voters cannot satisfy the residence requirement, such as overseas voters or voters who live in mobile residences. In these cases, residence is ‘notional’.
Who can vote in UK elections? explains issues relating to residence in more detail.
In order to vote you must be registered to vote, eligible to vote in the election being held and be of voting age on polling day.
- For UK Parliament elections the voting age is 18
- For all elections in England and Northern Ireland the voting age 18
- For local elections in Scotland and Wales and for Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru elections the voting age is 16.
The full and open register
There are two versions of the electoral register: the full register and the open register.
Certain organisations are given or can request copies of the full register. These include the Electoral Commission, political parties, the Office of National Statistics amongst others. Anyone can inspect the full register under supervision. Usually, at a local council office.
The open register is available to anyone, for any use, on payment of a fee.
People can opt out of the open register (about 60% of those registered to vote have) but they can’t opt out of the full register.
Those whose safety might be put at risk by appearing on the full register, such as survivors of domestic abuse, can register to vote anonymously.
- Library briefing paper CBP 8985, Who can vote in UK elections?
- Commons Library casework article Voting while living abroad
- Commons Library briefing paper CBP 1020, Supply and sale of the electoral register
About the author: Neil Johnston is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in elections.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.