This article examines voluntariness in migration decisions by promoting the acknowledgement of forced and voluntary migration as a continuum of experience, not a dichotomy. Studies on conflict-related migration and migration, in general, remain poorly connected, despite calls for interaction. This reflects the forced–voluntary dichotomy's stickiness within and beyond academia, which is closely connected to the political implications of unsettling it and potentially undermining migrants’ protection rights. We delve into notions of the ‘voluntariness’ of migration and argue for the analytical need to relate evaluations of voluntariness to available alternatives. Drawing on qualitative research with people from Afghanistan and Pakistan coming to Europe, we hone in on three particular renderings of migration: migrants’ own experiences, scholarly qualitative observations and labelling by immigration authorities. Analysing migration as stages in a process: leaving – journey (and transit) – arrival and settlement – return or onward migration, we highlight the specific effects of migration being described as being forced or voluntary. Labelling as ‘forced’ (or not) matters to migrants and states when asylum status is on the line. For migration scholars, it remains challenging to decouple these descriptions from state systems of migration management; though doing so enhances our understanding of the role voluntariness plays in migration decisions.