I live in Singapore and I will be travelling to Jakarta.

Should I say "I will be oversea next week." or "I will be overseas next week."?

Looking at Google Maps, it looks like there are two seas between Singapore and Jakarta.

Is there any instance where I should use "oversea"?

  • 2
    Just use Singlish “Next week I go oversea lah”! No, just joking – Benoit Feb 1 '11 at 12:12
  • @Benoit, Chinese also say that way. – Zhang Sep 27 '18 at 2:34

You should use overseas: both oversea and overseas literally mean across a sea, but overseas is much more common for the abstract meaning of abroad. So if you're talking about literal travel across a sea, use oversea:

I work in oversea shipping.

While if you mean generally abroad, use overseas:

Is there an extra charge for overseas shipping?
I will be overseas next week.

Edit: Just to clarify, as @kiamlaluno points out, these words make no distinction about the number of seas that you cross. Seas in this sense is not literally the plural of sea, but rather the abstract notion of the waters of the sea that you cross when you go oversea, as opposed to the lands that you cross when you go overland.

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    @kiamlaluno: it doesn’t necessarily refer to more than one sea in British usage either. Jon’s answer describes my (British) usage very well. Here’s another way of describing it: if the example could contrast with here, or in this country/continent, I’d use overseas. (“Will you be around next week?” “No, I’ll be overseas.”) If the example could contrast with overland, I’d say oversea. (“How are you travelling from Gdansk to Helsinki — overland, or oversea?”) – PLL Feb 1 '11 at 5:17
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    @afriza: No, overseas is only used when you actually must cross the sea, usually when you travel to another continent. It just doesn't matter how many seas, beyond one. If you were travelling from India to Pakistan, you would say I'm going abroad. – Jon Purdy Feb 1 '11 at 7:55
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    The term originated in Britain, which is an island, therefore technically everything is over the sea. In UK English overseas is synonymous with abroad as you can't leave the country without crossing a body of water. – Fara Feb 1 '11 at 13:33
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    @Colin, @kiamlaluno: Actually, this is interesting: checking the OED, it seems that until the 50’s or so, oversea was indeed commonly used in the UK where AmE or modern BrE would use overseas. (E.g., in the Times, 1955: “The congress […] has appointed five rapporteurs on […] the French oversea territories.”) But, fitting with our experience, all its more recent citations of this sense of oversea are from semi-fossilised contexts — eg legal statutes and army committee titles (“Defense and Oversea Policy Committee”, 1990). [cont’d] – PLL Feb 1 '11 at 17:52
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    @kiamlaluno, @Colin [cont’d]: And in the entry for overseas, it notes that “Use of this word is now more common than oversea adv.” So the sources describing oversea as the British equivalent of overseas are outdated, but not completely erroneous. – PLL Feb 1 '11 at 17:55

I would go with:

I will be overseas next week.

Overseas, an adverb, means to go beyond the seas. Even with an 's' at the end, I think it still functions as a singular (confirmation anyone?). The number of seas doesn't make a difference, and one sea doesn't mean you have to use oversea. See this link for definitions:


However, Merriam Webster also lists oversea, mainly British usage, as having the same meaning as overseas. Acoording to them oversea was used first, in the 12th century, compared to overseas, in 1533. Nowadays, without offence to the Brits, you hardly hear oversea used.

The nearest synonym to overseas is abroad.

I will be abroad next week.

An occasion when you might use over sea (note separation):

They travelled over sea and land.

which, to my ear, sounds better than:

They travelled over seas and lands.

The other issue is whether overseas would apply if you were travelling to another country without crossing any sea or seas.

By the way, don't confuse overseas with oversee, which means to supervise or to watch over.

  • Does M-W list when 'oversea' was last used in Britain? I don't recall ever seeing it, and would have regarded it as erroneous if I had, regardless of what M-W said about its historical usage. – Jonathan Leffler Feb 1 '11 at 7:39
  • I agree with your remark. Does overseas apply if I travel abroad without crossing any sea nor water? – Afriza N. Arief Feb 1 '11 at 7:54
  • @Jonathan Leffler: No, M-W doesn't mention its passing, in fact, reading the entry, i get the impression 'oversea' is very much alive and well; it is not referred to as archaic etc. But I think we would all agree that overseas is more commonly used, regardless of which part of the world we came from. And, yes, I did regard oversea as erroneous, too. – Sky Red Feb 1 '11 at 7:55
  • @afriza: from the UK, we tend to regard anything in England, Scotland or Wales as 'not overseas' and anything else as 'overseas'. One of the merits of being a (smallish) island is that you do go 'overseas' to most other countries. – Jonathan Leffler Feb 1 '11 at 7:59
  • @afriza: I really don't know, and I haven't found anything authoritative on this point. – Sky Red Feb 1 '11 at 8:27

Maybe it's just me, but that expression sounds very pompous when applied to relatively short distances, no matter how many seas are in between.

When I lived in UK, I never heard the term oversea or overseas applied to continental Europe.

Go simple and you won't go wrong, just say "I'll be in Jakarta next week".

  • 1
    But if we was going to visit several countries, rather than saying, "I'll be in Indonesia, Thailand, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands", it would be more concise to say simply "I'll be overseas." It's also useful if the countries are unknown, like, "This job may require overseas travel." – Jay Jun 25 '12 at 13:53

It would be overseas even if you only cross one sea. Or ocean. That's if you're in America. The Brits say oversea (singular), but you never hear that over on this side of the pond.

Edit: My CD version of Webster's cites

overseas |ˈōvərˈsēz| ( Brit. also oversea)

so I included that mention even though I have never heard the usage in any contet from anyone.

  • 1
    Are you sure about Brits using oversea? As per my comment on Jon Purdy’s answer, I (UK) have always used overseas for the most common meaning, and as far as I’ve noticed, that’s the standard British usage. – PLL Feb 1 '11 at 5:11
  • I have never heard the singular 'oversea' used in Britain, and I lived there a long time before migrating. You can use 'oversee' in appropriate contexts, but that is a wholly different word. – Jonathan Leffler Feb 1 '11 at 7:36
  • I can't imagine using 'oversea' myself, as a British speaker. (Of course, with these things, you sometimes never notice yourself doing it.) – ijw Feb 1 '11 at 13:04
  • @PLL: My Webster's gives oversea as a British usage, but I included that only because I saw it in the reference. I never hear it in the U.S., and from what I'm hearing no one seems to have heard it over there either. – Robusto Feb 1 '11 at 14:07
  • (repeating myself a little since the same question has arisen in several threads — see comments to Jon Purdy’s answer for details): from the OED, it seems that oversea was indeed a common equivalent in UK usage until around the ’50s, but that since then (as we Brits have been reporting), overseas has replaced it in UK usage as well. So Webster’s is a little out-of-date on this, though historically correct. – PLL Feb 1 '11 at 18:02

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