In this article, we explore the nature of extraterritorial voting among Colombian migrants in the 2010 elections in London and Madrid. To address the neglected issue of why voter turnout from abroad has been so low, we take into account the views of voters and non‐voters alike to show that, while the external vote privileges the professional and well educated, this does not mean that migrants are not interested in politics back home. Drawing on Bauman (1991), we conceptualize ambivalent citizenship as the paradoxical manner in which, through the external vote, states impose hegemonic notions of citizenship from above, which people embrace in an ambivalent manner from below. We show that the workings of the state make voting a difficult process; they create structural ambivalence for migrants who, even if they practise their citizenship in other ways, exercise individual ambivalence because they find it difficult to engage with a political system back home that they do not trust. The conceptualization of ‘ambivalent citizenship’ therefore encompasses the contradictory complexities inherent in the provision of external voting rights that actively privilege and exclude migrants in mutually constitutive ways.