Dying abroad: a guide

Dealing with a death abroad can pose all kinds of difficulties. Being away from home in an unfamiliar place with different languages and systems can make an awful event even worse.

Death has no local beat and with The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office putting the number of British passport holders living abroad at 13 million, dealing with an overseas death is becoming more frequent. As with many things in different countries and cultures, the laws and beliefs surrounding death can vary. For example, In France a body needs a police tag and the local mayors approval to be transported, and after 24 hours must be embalmed and placed in a wooden coffin. In Islamic countries, it is common for the deceased to be buried before sundown or within 24 hours, without embalming.

Thankfully, this guide (and the British Authorities both in the UK and overseas) can help to get the body back to Blighty.

Here’s what to do:

Tell someone

If you are present when the deceased departs, you should contact the nearest British embassy, High Commission or Consulate. They will be able to offer advice and help you with arrangements.

If you weren’t invited on holiday, your local police force or the British Consulate will probably deliver the news. If someone else tells you, be sure to get in touch with the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and make sure it isn’t an elaborate hoax.

Make it official

Now you have to register the death in the country where the deceased died. You will have to register the death with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, too. Details on how to register the death abroad are available in this quick and easy form

When registering the death you will need the following information about yourself, and the deceased:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Passport number
  • Where and when the passport was issued
  • Details of the next of kin, if you’re not their closest relative (ProTip: write this in your passport) 

It’s worth noting that your embassy cannot pay for any expenses regarding disposal of the body, transportation of the body or any outstanding debts said body may have had.

Check for insurance

The Repatriation process (bringing the body home) will start to get very expensive if the deceased didn’t have insurance. It’s worth mentioning that if you intend on expiring abroad, you should give a copy (or three) of your policy to your next of kin. Not crumpled up in a jean pocket, or locked away in an email account. Most travel insurance policies include repatriation insurance, which can help pay for travel expenses etc. To bring them home, you will need:

  • A certified English translation of the foreign death certificate
  • Authorisation to remove the deceased’s body from the country
  • A certificate of embalming

As always, the British Consul can help you get a hold of the relevant documents.

It is important to take note of your airlines policy on what they will and will not transport. It isn’t as simple as stuffing an urn in the overhead lockers.

Homecoming

A death certificate in a foreign language will need to be professionally translated so it can be accepted by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the UK.

Without this translated document, you cannot be bury or cremate the body in the UK.

It is common practice for another coroner to examine the body once it is back in the UK. This is just to check the other coroners work and make sure everything is up to scratch.

Once you have submitted the translated copy of the foreign death certificate. You will be issued with a certificate that allows a burial to take place. If you want a cremation, you will need a Home Office cremation order. The paperwork for a cremation order is (funnily enough) available from the crematorium.

Once you have these documents allowing burial or cremation, or if you want something completely different, you can proceed with the funeral arrangements here.  

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