French voters registered abroad (end of 2011 figures) numbered 1,594,303 say their consular service. Signing up to take part in an election is optional.
Four countries host sizable French expatriate communities – of more than 100,000. They are Switzerland (155,743), the UK (123,306), the US (122,686) and Germany (114,372).
More than 40% of these people have dual nationality.
Those numbers are just the ones who are on record. It is estimated that there may be as many as one million people who are not registered.
In the UK, for instance, the figure is thought to be between 250,000 and 400,000. These French people are mostly based in London.
In an election, these expatriates are not to be ignored, if a candidate wants to boost his or her chances.
In the last presidential election, in 2007, 54% of French men and women abroad voted for the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, and 46% of them voted for the Socialist, Ségolène Royal.
These figures reflected very closely the balance within French territory itself.
There was quite a difference, however, in the rate of abstention. In France, more than 83% of the eligible electorate cast a ballot, while outside the country only some 42% chose to exercise their democratic prerogative.
This time around, in the 2012 election, according to a survey conducted by Opinionway for Lepetitjournal.com and TV5 Monde, French people living abroad will hand Sarkozy 37% of their votes and his Socialist rival François Hollande 27%.
This is a far more pronounced gap than is expected in France.
To participate in the presidential election, French expats must:
– be at least 18 years of age – hold full civil and political rights – and be registered with a French consular office in their country of residence.
A person living outside France can also be signed up on an electoral list in France. In that case, his or her vote will be counted nationally and not extra-nationally.
An expatriate can cast a ballot at a voting station set up by a consulate in the host country in person or by proxy.
First round voting for French people in North and South America is to take place on Saturday 21 April. Elsewhere it will be on Sunday 22 April.
Second round voting will be on Saturday 5 May in North and South America and on Sunday 6 May in other parts of the world.