Ambassador April 2016

Can you vote in the EU poll?

UK expats: register online by 16 May

Tim Hitchens CMG LVO British Ambassador to Japan

Tim Hitchens CMG LVO
British Ambassador to Japan

Whether you think the UK should remain in or leave the European Union (EU), 23 June will be your chance to have your say. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the British people to decide.

The British government is clear that we believe the UK should stay in. As Prime Minister David Cameron put it: “every family, household, business, community and nation within our United Kingdom will be stronger, safer and better off by remaining inside this reformed European Union”.

But what do you, as overseas electors, think?

At the time of the 2015 general election, there were more overseas voters registered than ever. Almost 106,000 of them registered to vote—three times the number that was on the register ahead of the previous general election in 2010.

While this is a real improvement, the number is still a fraction of the estimated 5.5mn UK citizens living overseas who are potentially eligible to vote in the EU referendum.

Millions of British citizens living outside the UK could miss out on their chance to take part in the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU because they don’t know they are eligible to vote.

That is why we are working with partners, such as the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan, to spread the word and inform British residents in Japan that many of them are eligible to vote. And it’s now easier than ever to take the first step by going online to register.

You can register to vote in minutes at

Thousands of expats have already taken advantage of this new system. To have your vote count, be sure to register by 16 May.

If you can’t or don’t want to register online, you can download and post paper forms. But remember to return your completed form as far in advance of the deadline as possible. Once you’ve registered, you can choose how you wish to vote. You can vote by post, by proxy (voting by appointing someone you trust to vote on your behalf), or in person at your polling station.

To register as an overseas elector you must have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years. You will also need to share your National Insurance number and date of birth, and have your passport to hand. If you don’t have a National Insurance number you can still register, but you may have to supply more information to show who you are.

If you were too young to have been registered when you left the UK, you can register as an overseas voter if your parents (or guardians) were registered in the UK in the past 15 years.

You might be asking yourself, why bother to vote? Although you may now live in Japan, most expats still have strong ties to the UK, whether they are financial or social—family and friends. You may also decide to return one day. So you very probably do have a stake in the outcome and how it may affect your life.

I strongly encourage you to register to vote. And please join us in spreading the word among friends, family and colleagues. Pass the message on that your vote matters.

EU referendum timetable

16 May: Electoral Commission’s recommended deadline by when overseas voters should register

23–27 May: Electoral Commission’s window for overseas voters’ ballot papers to be sent

27 May: Statutory restrictions on publications by government and other public bodies begin (purdah)

23 June: EU referendum