Death Abroad: What Happens When You Die Out of the Country

By M. Kotch

Running with the bulls


Whether we’re vacationing, working, or on military duty, Americans travel abroad for many reasons. Sadly, over 6,000 Americans die in foreign countries each year. Death is never easy to deal with, but the logistics of planning a funeral are far more complicated when they involve a foreign country.

The following points provide general information, tips and helpful links about what to do when an American dies abroad:

  • According to the State Department:
    • Death should be immediately reported to the embassy or consulate
    • The consulate officer will confirm the death, identity and U.S. citizenship of the deceased;
    • Make notification to the next-of-kin if they do not already know about the death, providing information about disposition of the remains and the effects of the deceased, and provides guidance on forwarding funds to cover costs;
    • Serve as provisional conservator of the estate, absent a legal representative in country;
    • Prepare documents for disposition of the remains in accordance with instructions from the next-of-kin or legal representative, and oversee the performance of disposition of the remains and of the effects of the deceased
    • Upon completion of all formalities, the “Report of the Death of an American Citizen,” based upon the local death certificate, is prepared by the Consular Section and forwarded to the next of kin or legal representative for use in U.S. courts to settle estate matters.
    • This document is an administrative report that provides essential facts concerning the death of the U.S. citizen and the custody of the personal estate of the deceased.
  • If the deceased passed away due to unnatural causes (murder, car accident, etc.), the local police and law officials will probably become involved in the matter and cause delays in transporting the remains. Local officials may need to issue a coroner’s report (that can take days or weeks to complete), and may not release the remains to next of kin until all procedures are completed.
  • In Europe, most countries require that remains go through the embalming process before they can be transported out of the country.
  • Muslim countries forego embalming because they traditionally bury their dead within 24 hours.
  • If the deceased wished to be buried in the foreign country where he or she died, get acquainted with laws and customs of that country. Keep in mind that the range of funeral costs varies widely across the world. For example: traditional funerals are cheaper in Australia and England than the U.S, while cremation costs are higher in those countries.
  • Comprehensive travel insurance, particularly plans that cover accidents, injuries or death can offset expensive fees and traveling costs to provide financial assistance in a difficult situation. Interglobal and International SOS are just two companies that offer assistance as well as individual and corporate travel insurance.
  • Most airlines offer cargo service for transporting remains. Contact a travel agent or visit a specific airline’s Web site for quotes.
  • Return remains of Americans home
  • Estate of deceased Americans
  • Tips for traveling abroad

Visit the U.S. State Department’s Web site for more information.

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