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How Can Expats Politically Make a Difference?


Jerry Andrew Nelson


January 13, 2022


08:13 PM

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As an American, packing up the house and moving abroad is no reason to stop exercising the democratic rights our founding fathers bequeathed us. Should expats be politically active? Well, the short answer is yes, depending on what you mean by activism. Of course, you can’t vote in your host country's elections, but you can stay active back 'home'.

Here is how you can remain active, despite this being a strange time to be an American living overseas.

I imagine you already know my routine. Before I even have my first cup of coffee, I debate whether to check the news first to see what happened while I was sleeping. There is something which feels almost voyeuristic and undignified, but I end up checking, anyway.

I’ve tried to make rules with friends about not discussing American politics over dinner, but it’s always brought up.

Overwhelmed and powerless, I am torn between laser-focusing on what is happening in America and soaking in the comfort of being far away. Retreating is a privilege and comfort is transitory and fleeting.


Breadth and Depth

Trying to engage in every important policy issue which darkens your inbox can be paralyzing. Decide if you want to take small actions on a range of issues, or do a deep and sustained dive on one issue.

Power Recognition

As adult American citizens living overseas, we enjoy greater political power than many still living in America.

For example, we have more power than those who do not have the right to vote, such as children, immigrants, refugees and people in prison.

Unless your last residence was in Washington DC, or a U.S. territory, you maintain the right to vote in all federal elections in the district of your last US place of residence.

Call Congress

A question I hear frequently is if members of Congress care about calls from their overseas American constituents. The answer is a resounding yes.

In a representative democracy, Congress people and Senators don’t tolerate my calls because they are polite. They take my calls because I am their boss. They know that if they don’t do a good job for me, I’ll fire them and vote them out of office.

I call because no one likes to use the telephone anymore. It’s easy to send an email or sign a petition; it’s the ease which makes emails, letter writing and petitions ineffective.

Put the numbers for DC and local offices of your members of Congress into the ‘contacts’ section of your phone.

Sign up for alerts from advocacy groups, and don’t worry about long distance charges or time differences. The call will be less than a minute and I can always leave a voicemail. If I can never reach a staffer, I can always send a free fax through free Internet software.

Support News Outlets

If you feel a free press is important, be sure to get subscriptions to several high-quality media outlets.


Support promising candidates for midterm elections.

Search out the track records of your members of Congress, and follow the races carefully.

Consider donating to viable candidates, register to vote, and get your absentee ballot.

In Closing

I have heard Americans overseas ask, “But how can we be sure that any of these steps will make a difference?” We can’t.

It is possible that everything you do will be for nothing. But as Americans, we should take political action not because success is certain - or even likely but because we are duty-bound as members of a living, breathing democracy.

So let us So let us call, write, organize, march, donate, boycott, vote, work, and create anyway.

Then tomorrow, we can wake up, pour another American-sized cup of coffee, and do it again.

Jerry Nelson is an American writer living the expat life in Argentina and winner of the Revi 2021 Reader Award. You can find him at any of hundreds of sidewalk cafes and hire him through Fiverr, join the quarter-million who follow him on Twitter or contact him at [email protected]

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