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Nearly 30% of the species currently listed under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) neither live nor migrate through the United States or the territories under its jurisdiction. Consequently, many of the protections afforded by the ESA, such as the development of species recovery plans and the requirement for federal consultation, are not applied to these “foreign listings.” Overlap between the ESA and other international legislation has created an idiosyncratic patchwork of protections for endangered foreign species, which is further complicated by court rulings that affect the administration of the law. This overview of the historical, legal, and administrative elements of the ESA as have been applied to foreign species aims to provide a straightforward guide for ecologists and conservation biologists on this complex legal issue. We discuss the potential advantages and disadvantages of foreign listings and raise important questions about the practical benefits of listing foreign species under the ESA.