In the absence of reliable, internationally available migration flow data necessary for statistical forecasting, policymakers increasingly turn to survey data on emigration intentions to evaluate future migration trends. The important assumption – i.e. that there is a measurable and systematic relationship between the intention to migrate and actual migration – has not been firmly established at the international level. We examine the association between estimated population averages of emigration intentions and official migration flow data based on data for more than 160 countries. The results show a strong association between emigration intentions and recorded bilateral flows to industrialized countries, as well as between intentions and aggregated out‐migration. The results provide policymakers with a reliability assessment of survey data on emigration intentions and encourage future attempts to incorporate survey data in formal statistical migration forecasting models.