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What Happens When Someone Dies Abroad?

Dealing with a family member’s death is never easy, but if it happens while they’re traveling overseas special steps are needed to get their remains.
When Someone Dies Abroad
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People travel overseas for many reasons. They may travel abroad for work that’s either short-term or long-term. And every year many people take a vacation overseas to experience a totally new culture in a different part of the world. 

When a loved one is traveling the idea of them possibly dying away from home thousands of miles from where you are isn’t what most people are thinking about. But the sad truth is it happens every day. Regardless of why someone is traveling or whether you are with them when it happens, special steps must be taken to ensure everything is handled properly. If not, there could be delays getting your loved one’s remains back home or even filing insurance claims. 

Let’s go over the pivotal things the next of kin should do if their family member dies abroad while traveling. 

Contact the Country’s Embassy and/or the U.S. Consular’s Office

The most important thing to do if your husband, wife, child or another family member dies in another country is to immediately contact the country’s embassy and the U.S. Consular’s Office. Most countries have an embassy, which serves as the official headquarters for U.S. officials there. 

The officials at the embassy or Consular’s Office will be able to provide guidance on what needs to happen next. They will also serve as your representative that can coordinate with locals to verify the death, handle payments for services and arrange for transport of the remains back home.

Issues Involving Immediate Disposition

The U.S. officials helping you may relay some distressing information if your loved one died in an area without facilities for properly storing remains. In these cases, immediate disposition may be ordered. Many people prefer cremation in this situation since the cremated remains can be shipped back home, but the form of disposition used will depend on the practices that are legal in the country where your loved one died. 

Getting All of the Death-Related Documents in Order

Just as when someone dies in the U.S., there’s going to need to be documentation verifying the death and its cause. This is one of the most important ways that embassy and Consular officials can help. They will not only provide guidance on what documentation is necessary, but they will also help facilitate the process and even create official administrative records themselves. 

Important death-related documents that are necessary include: 

Consular Report of Death Abroad (CRODA) 

This is probably the most important document that you’ll need to receive. The CRODA is like a death certificate when a U.S. citizen dies overseas. It notes specifics that identify the person and the cause of death. You’ll need the CRODA in order to arrange funeral services stateside, take legal action and to file life insurance claims.

Death Certificate From Local Authority  

In order to create the CRODA, you’ll need a death certificate or the equivalent for a local authority who is authorized to create the documentation. Like here in the U.S., typically a physician or medical examiner will need to issue the death certificate that includes the: 

  • Name of the deceased
  • Cause of death
  • Time of death
  • Place of the death

Transit Permit From Local Authorities 

A transit permit that’s issued by local health authorities may be needed to release the remains so that they can be transported out of the country. 

Affidavit From Local Funeral Director 

A local funeral director will need to complete an affidavit if the remains are going to be transported. The affidavit states if the body was embalmed and verifies that only the remains, clothing and packing material are within the transport container.

Consular Mortuary Certificate 

A mortuary certificate will need to be issued by a consular officer in order for the remains to get through customs. 

Arrange for Transport of the Remains

Once all of the documentation is in order you’ll be able to arrange for the remains of your loved one to be transported back to the U.S., also known as repatriation of remains. You’ll need to work closely with the embassy or Consular’s Office to make arrangements. There will likely be fees that must be paid before the remains are transported. 

When repatriating remains, regulations set by the CDC must be followed. What is required for transport will depend on whether the person had a communicable disease at the time of death, if the body was embalmed and if the remains were already cremated. 

Examples of Deaths While Traveling Abroad

Let’s look at a few scenarios that are examples of how a family would handle matters after a family member dies abroad. 

My wife died in Spain in a car accident.

In this case, the cause of death will likely be determined right away. The foreign medical examiner will be able to verify the death and document it appropriately so that the next steps can be taken. It’s unlikely that immediate disposition will be ordered, so instead the embassy or Consular’s Office will be able to arrange transport of the remains back to the U.S. for burial or cremation. 

My son died in India after becoming ill in a remote location.

This scenario is a little more complex due to the nature of the death. A local physician may need to determine what illness caused the death and if it poses a threat to others. That means there could be delays in arranging transport of the remains back to the U.S. If it is determined that they had a communicable disease or if the area doesn’t have facilities for holding remains, then immediate disposition could be ordered. In India, cremation is by far the most common form of disposition so that is likely what would be used if immediate disposition is necessary. 

As you can see from these quick examples, how things are handled after the death will depend on a number of factors including how your loved one died and what country they were in at the time. However, in all instances embassy and Consular officials will be there for you to help you get through the ordeal. 

Through my work at Cremation.Green, I’ve helped families arrange eco-friendly cremation services both when their loved one dies abroad and when they are traveling here in Texas and unexpectedly pass away. If you find yourself in this difficult scenario, please reach out by phone, text or email any hour of the day for assistance and expert guidance.

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Marlaena Gonzales

Funeral Director
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