Abroad and Overseas

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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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9 thoughts on “Abroad and Overseas”

  1. 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.


  2. 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

  3. 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)

  4. @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.

  5. @Emma:
    Going from Britain to Malaysia, Singapore, or Burma has traditionally been overseas – via steamship! You departed from a port like London or Southampton, crossed part of the Atlantic Ocean to get to Gibraltar, thence through the Mediterranean Sea to get to Egypt, thence through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea, thence through the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea, thence via the Indian Ocean to Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, etc. That should include enough seas and oceans for you.
    Long-distance air travel has made things a little different, but still you cannot fly from London to Kuala Lampur or Singapore w/o flying over the North Sea and part of the Indian Ocean, and you might find yourself over the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and/or the Caspian Sea.

  6. According to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), these are all parts of the North Atlantic Ocean:
    the North Sea, the English Channel, the Bay of Biscay, the Baltic Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Greenland Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the Ionian Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, etc.
    These seas give connection to, and literal justification for, such longstanding members of NATO as Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
    The same goes for the newer members in Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Montenegro (the newest member, as of mid-2017).
    However, there are some other members of NATO that are landlocked countries, but not very far from the Atlantic Ocean:
    Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.
    Some other countries are closely associated with NATO through the “Partners for Peace” program, and some of these are on the Atlantic, too: Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Austria, and Switzerland.

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