Context: The expansion of network magnetic fields with height is a fundamental property of flux tube models. A rapid expansion is required to form a magnetic canopy. Aims: We characterize the observed expansion properties of magnetic network elements and compare them with the thin flux tube and sheet approximations, as well as with magnetoconvection simulations. Methods: We used data from the Hinode SOT NFI NaD1 channel and spectropolarimeter to study the appearance of magnetic flux concentrations seen in circular polarization as a function of position on the solar disk. We compared the observations with synthetic observables from models based on the thin flux tube approximation and magnetoconvection simulations with two different upper boundary conditions for the magnetic field (potential and vertical). Results: The observed circular polarization signal of magnetic flux concentrations changes from unipolar at disk center to bipolar near the limb, which implies an expanding magnetic field. The observed expansion agrees with expansion properties derived from the thin flux sheet and tube approximations. Magnetoconvection simulations with a potential field as the upper boundary condition for the magnetic field also produce bipolar features near the limb while a simulation with a vertical field boundary condition does not. Conclusions: The near-limb apparent bipolar magnetic features seen in high-resolution Hinode observations can be interpreted using a simple flux sheet or tube model. This lends further support to the idea that magnetic features with vastly varying sizes have similar relative expansion rates. The numerical simulations presented here are less useful in interpreting the expansion since the diagnostics we are interested in are strongly influenced by the choice of the upper boundary condition for the magnetic field in the purely photospheric simulations.