British expats in UAE granted long-term rights to vote in general elections

Previously there was a 15-year cap on eligibility to vote for UK citizens living abroad

People come to vote in UK General Election to a polling station at St John School Nursery in London. Getty Images
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Long-term British expatriates living in the UAE have welcomed a change in British law that gives the country's citizens a right to vote in general elections in the UK no matter how long they live outside the country.

From Tuesday, all British citizens living abroad will be permitted to vote in countrywide polls, regardless of how long they have been resident outside the UK.

The law removes the previous 15-year time limit on voting rights and entitles overseas residents to donate to UK political parties and campaigns.

The move, which is part of the UK government's Election Act, passed in 2022, is expected to affect up to three million citizens living abroad who have either previously lived in or been registered to vote in Britain.

The next general election is widely expected to be held this autumn. Long-term British expats living in the UAE have welcomed the move.

“The rationale for disallowing voting by long-term expats appears to be because we’re thought to have weaker ties to the UK, but this is not true – we are still Brits,” Jennifer Bell, a Scot who has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past 19 years told The National.

“A lot of us maintain only British citizenship, have family back home and visit regularly. At the end of the day, we’re still citizens who deserve protection via voting rights.

“And we care about our home country.”

Keren Bobker, administrator of the British Expats Dubai and UAE Facebook page, and a columnist for The National, said she also welcomed the change in a discussion about the topic on the group.

“I am delighted. It was announced ages ago so we are well overdue this change. I will be registering to vote although I expect another battle from the district council as they made it so hard in the past.

“For those that think non-residents shouldn’t vote, many of us have property and assets in the UK, and pay tax too. Many UAE residents will return to the UK so of even more relevance to them.”

The change in law came after a challenge was raised by the late Harry Shindler, a Briton who fought a 20-year campaign to end the 15-year limit on voting rights, eventually bringing the case to the European Court of Justice.

Mr Shindler, who died in February aged 101, said the UK was "not a complete democracy” until all Britons were given the right to vote.

"This change gives more British citizens living abroad the opportunity to participate in UK Parliament elections, and to contribute to the funding of political parties and campaigns,” said Craig Westwood, spokesman for the Electoral Commission.

"We know there are eligible voters in every corner of the world so we're calling on those with friends and family abroad to help spread the news.

“With a general election likely this year, it is important this newly enfranchised group of voters are aware of the change and can take action. Registering to vote can be done online in just five minutes."

Anyone interested in registering to vote can do so at

They must provide the address and time they were last registered or resident in the UK.

Local authorities, which are responsible for the electoral roll in their area, must be able to verify an applicant's identity and past connection to the area. Voters living overseas can find contact details for the relevant local council by entering the postcode of the last place they lived in the UK, using the Commission's postcode lookup tool.

Updated: January 16, 2024, 9:31 AM