What to do when a loved one dies abroad

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After the death of a relative or friend abroad you will have many questions to find answers to. What should I do now? How can I communicate with people in a foreign language? Who can I turn to for help? This guide looks at the practical steps you need to take.

If a loved one dies abroad while on holiday, while working overseas or as an expat, they are subject to the policies and laws regarding the passing of a life of the country in which they died.

Whatever the circumstances, if you wish for the funeral to take place in the United Kingdom or if you want the body buried or cremated here, the body will need to be repatriated. Alternatively, you might want the loved one to be buried (or less likely cremated) locally, or that might have been their desired wish. 

Who to inform when a death occurs 

In either case, if the deceased was a British subject the first thing you must do is register or notify the local authorities of the death. All deaths must be registered in the country where the death occurs. You can do this through the local police or the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. Embassy or consulate staff can also provide information about international repatriation arrangements, or if appropriate, contact local undertakers for assistance in organising your loved one’s burial.

When registering the death, make sure you have as much documentation as possible about the person who has died and yourself. This should include:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • passport number
  • when and where the passport was issued
  • the name of the next of kin of the person who has died.

Once a death has been reported to a British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate overseas, they will pass the details to the UK police and ask them to inform the next of kin. If the next of kin are not in the UK, this task will be handed to consular staff in the country where they are.

While every effort is made by consular staff to ensure that next of kin are informed of a death before the news is more widely distributed through the media, this is not always possible. In some circumstances, relatives may be informed by telephone.

Repatriation of a loved one

If you want the funeral to be in the UK, it’s best to commission a UK-based funeral company, in whom you trust, who will have experience in dealing with deaths overseas and repatriation of the deceased.

If you wish for the body to be repatriated, allow 10 days depending on the circumstances and location. Local regulations will apply regardless of the nationality of the deceased, and they may include post mortem or retaining organs without the family's consent.

If relatives or friends were travelling with the deceased, they should collect all valuables and luggage and bring them home. If there are no travelling companions, the next of kin should request an inventory of the deceased’s property to select the items they wish to receive, and ask for an estimate of transportation costs.

Although loved ones and friends might want to meet the flight and the casket at the airport, this is likely to be prohibited for security reasons. Only the consignee, normally from the appointed funeral director, will be permitted to collect the coffin from the designated collection area. Customs clearance can take several hours.

It will not always be possible or appropriate to see the deceased when the body has arrived back in the UK as embalming procedures and standards in the country of death might make this distressing. Seek your funeral director's advice about viewing after your loved one arrives home.

Rules around the local death certificate can complicate issues

For instance, a local death certificate may not be available immediately, or a precise medical cause of death not given. Local documents may not be in English, but all available local documents should accompany the deceased.

Repatriating a body is expensive

If the loved one was travelling, for instance on holiday, try to find the travel insurance company and call the emergency telephone number as soon as possible. If the loved one lived abroad, it is possible that expatriation of the body in case of death was included in the policy. If the loved one was employed by a company to work overseas, it is likely they will pay for the repatriation.

Wait until your loved one has arrived home before confirming a date for the funeral as flights may be delayed, cancelled or diverted. Ask your funeral director or the member of the Embassy staff you have been dealing with if there will be any delay before the funeral can take place.

Transportation caskets are usually simple, though zinc lined to meet international transportation requirements. Many families select another coffin for the funeral service. Ask your funeral director for advice.

Useful repatriation service links

Homeland International

Mears Repatriation

Paul Williams Repatriation Services

Sources: Foreign Office Guide

Note: This advice does not include those working in the armed forces or for the Government.

Tags: burial repatriation death overseas death in a foreign country repatriation to the UK British Embassy High Commission British Consulate

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