Law change means millions more Brits abroad can vote in UK General Election

Voters will go to the polls on Thursday 4 July after Rishi Sunak called a General Election. Credit: ITV Channel

Millions more Britons who moved abroad will be able to vote in the UK's upcoming election following a law change earlier this year.

The 2024 General Election, announced by Rishi Sunak outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon, will be the first to allow expats who left the UK more than 15 years ago to vote.

The UK Government estimate that the number of expats now eligible to vote will have increased from around one million to between 3.2 and 3.3 million.

Among them will be British citizens living in the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, who have often been affected by political decisions in Westminster but without the ability to vote.

Last year, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said these people had been "overlooked for too long" despite decisions made in the UK "having a huge impact on their futures".

Despite the Crown Dependencies being constitutionally separate from the United Kingdom, the change to the UK's Elections Act means just under a third of Channel Islands residents will be eligible to vote on 4 July, according to the 2021 censuses.

Jersey's Census does not differentiate between British-Isles-born people in the island so some may not be able to vote if they never lived in the UK.

Before January 2024, British people living overseas could only vote in elections for up to 15 years after they left the country, which the UK government called an "arbitrary limit on their voting rights".

Campaign groups like British In Europe believe the move aligns the UK with other major democracies, such as the US, Canada, and France, where citizens have a lifelong right to vote.

In a post on its website, the group says: "Ultimately, voting is not compulsory in the UK, so you don't have to vote if you don't want to, but the new rules mean that those who do want to vote can."

Who is eligible to vote in the UK General Election?

Anyone over 18, a British citizen, or an eligible Irish citizen (if registered to vote in Northern Ireland) can vote in UK parliamentary elections. This applies even if you move abroad.

Where will overseas votes be counted?

Votes cast by expats will be counted as part of the constituency results where they were previously registered to vote when they lived in the UK.

How long can someone vote overseas?

Once registered to vote, Brits living abroad can remain registered for up to three years. After that, they must renew their registration or be removed from the register and have to apply again.

Previously, an overseas voter could only vote in elections for up to 15 years after they left the UK. That limit was scrapped in January 2024.

How can someone vote from abroad?

That depends on whether the person will be temporarily out of the country on election day or have permanently moved overseas.

In most cases, they can either vote by proxy (appointing someone in the UK to vote in person on their behalf) or vote by post.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...