Dying abroad and repatriation
First published 16 July 2018 • Updated 19 July 2018
Losing a loved one overseas and arranging their funeral can pose a few challenges, both practical and emotional. But if you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry. There are a few additional steps to go through compared to an ordinary bereavement, so follow this guide to ensure that the repatriation of your loved one is as quick and stress-free as possible.
Repatriating your loved one after death
The first step is to register the person’s death in the country where they died. You need to do this through the local authorities of that country. In many countries, you can also register the person’s death with the UK authorities simultaneously, which you can do via the British consulate. Find out more about registering a death.
If you know that the person wanted to donate their organs or their body to science, then you need to let the hospital, coroner or other authorities know as soon as possible.
The UK government has a Tell Us Once service designed to ease the process of registering and informing the authorities of a death. Tell Us Once is available to those who died in a Commonwealth country, a European Economic Area (EEA) country, or if the person died in Switzerland. The Tell Us Once service contacts HMRC, the Passport Office, the DVLA and other national and local authorities to ensure that any future payments, pensions and taxes are cancelled. Note that Tell Us Once is not available to every local authority in England and Wales, nor is it available in Northern Ireland. Where it’s not available, you’ll need to contact the necessary offices separately.
If the person was on holiday, find out about their travel insurance policy and whether this covers the cost of returning their body to the UK in the event of their death.
If the person was living and/or working abroad, contact the International Pension Centre, as they will tell you whether or not the person was receiving a pension or other benefits.
Contact your chosen funeral directors
Funeral directors know better than anyone that death is not always predictable, and many are experts at dealing with a wide variety of circumstances relating to deaths abroad (or simply a long way from home). When searching for your funeral director, look for one that can provide a repatriation service, whether this is the transportation of the body home for the funeral, or arranging an overseas cremation and repatriating their ashes.
Rules for repatriation - bringing home the person’s body
In England and Wales, you need to get a certified English translation of the death certificate from the country where the person died. You will also need permission to remove the body, and this will be issued by that country’s coroner or an equivalent person of authority. If the person died suddenly, violently or from unnatural causes, then you will need to contact a coroner in England and let them know. They will then hold an inquest upon the return of the person’s body and issue a Cremation 6 certificate, if required.
Before you do any of the above, you should seek advice from the British embassy, consulate, or high commission in the country where the person died to ensure that you carry out the required processes properly. Note that the rules are different for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
You do not need to arrange flights or other transportation for bringing home the person’s body. Your chosen funeral directors in the UK will liaise with overseas hospital morgues and funeral companies to arrange the shipping of the body. You can specify requests for things such as costs, transport dates and times, and body preparation.
When the person’s body has returned home to the UK, you need to take the death certificate to the register office in the local authority where the funeral will take place. The registrar will give you a ‘certificate of no liability to register’, for you to give to the funeral directors. If you’re carrying out a DIY funeral, you must return the certificate to the registrar within 96 hours after the funeral service.
Rules for repatriation - bringing home the person’s ashes
If you choose to have your loved one cremated abroad, be aware that different countries have different laws and regulations about transporting human remains. Speak to the British embassy or equivalent of that country to find out more. Do not have the person cremated if you want an inquest into their death upon their return to the UK.
To leave a country with human ashes, you will need to show the death certificate and the certificate of cremation. You should also check with the airline beforehand about whether you can have the ashes as hand luggage or checked-in luggage.