Abroad and Overseas

By Maeve Maddox

Lucia Waterman asks:

What is the difference between “abroad” and “overseas”? When use it?

As adverbs meaning “out of one’s own country,” abroad and overseas are used interchangeably, as can be seen in these headlines and the text that follows them:

Renewable energy money still going abroad, despite criticism from Congress
Money from the 2009 stimulus bill to help support the renewable energy industry continues to flow overseas…

Lawyer Barred from Going Abroad
Authorities ban a Chinese rights lawyer from traveling overseas.

Overseas and abroad can also be used as adjectives, but overseas is used before a noun, while abroad always comes after the word it describes.

In an increasingly global economy, overseas employment is becoming a realistic alternative for many people.

Thin U.S. job market translates study abroad into work abroad

Here’s a headline that manages to use both overseas and abroad as adjectives to describe the same noun:

Overseas Jobs Abroad, International Jobs in Caribbean & Cayman Islands

As adverbs, overseas and abroad are not always interchangeable. Travelers from the United States to Canada or Mexico can be said to be going “abroad,” but it would make little sense to say that they are going “overseas.”

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7 Responses to “Abroad and Overseas”

  • Paul Russell

    Maeve, you say ‘As adverbs meaning “out of one’s own country,” abroad and overseas are used interchangeably.’

    Yes, they are, but should they be?

    Your last paragraph suggests “overseas” would not be the correct word unless one is actually crossing a sea or ocean. Is that true?

    As an aside, here in Malaysia English speakers have an odd word for people who are inside the country but out of town. They say “outstation.” I always find that kind-of quaint.

    –paul

  • Cecily

    “Abroad” can also mean “at large”, e.g. Werewolves were abroad on that moonlit night.

  • surfmadpig

    I suspect it has more to do with the UK than the US. In the UK, “overseas” is everywhere else, the US has to be more careful.

    I’ve got a pet peeve with Americans using “ocean” instead of “sea” every time. It’s not the ocean everywhere you know. You can’t be in Italy, or Greece, or Egypt and say the ocean was calm. It’s not the ocean. O_o

  • Kathryn

    Then, of course, there is “half seas over”; but that’s something else entirely!

  • Rod

    Both imply foreign countries but to go overseas you’ve got to cross an ocean.

  • Emma

    So, following on from Rod’s comment, as a resident of England, does that mean I can only go “overseas” to North America / Australia (i.e. ‘over an ocean’), but if I go to France or even Malaysia it’s merely ‘abroad’ (no Oceans en-route)

  • Cecily

    @Rod: Surely crossing a SEA would be sufficient for going overSEAs?

    However, as Emma points out, we Brits can go abroad without going over a sea or an ocean: we can go UNDER, via the Channel Tunnel.

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