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What happens if a family member dies abroad?


A death of a family member is a distressing situation, made even more difficult if the death occurs abroad. Here, we’ve covered ten steps to follow so more stress isn’t added to the situation.

In the unfortunate event that a family member passes away abroad, there are several steps that need to be followed. This will help to make a traumatic situation less stressful. 

Of course, making a fatal accident claim if the death was caused by the negligence of someone else may help to cover some of the costs you will encounter. That said, you’re unlikely to know where to even begin, whether that be the costs, the practicalities, or the legalities of it all.

That’s where this article may come in handy. Here, we’ve provided ten steps to follow in the event of something like this occurring.

1. Contact the British Embassy
If you and the person who has passed away are both abroad when the death occurs, you need to contact the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or consulate. They will help give you advice on the next steps.

If you are on a package holiday, you should inform the representative at your hotel. They will help you to deal with the situation and might be able to translate things for you. Tour operators might also have a welfare team that can support you throughout the process. 

If a family member dies whilst you are in the UK, you will be contacted by the UK police once they have been informed by the British consulate. The Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) can then help you with arrangements.

2. Register the death
The death must be registered in the country where the person died. In many countries you can register the death in the country the death occurred and with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in the UK. However, this is not the same for all countries.

When registering the death, you need to have the following information to hand:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Passport number
  • Where and when the passport was issued
  • Next-of-kin details (if it’s not you)

Tell Us Once is a helpful service in these situations as it lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go, rather than notifying each system individually and having to go through the motions more than once.

3. Make funeral decisions
You can choose to have the funeral overseas, or for the body to be returned to the UK, known as repatriation. But, before you can bring the body home, you need the following documents:

  • A certified English translation of the foreign death certificate from the country in which the person died.
  • Authorisation to remove the body from the country.
  • A certificate of embalming.

If you want to bring the body home for cremation, you also need to have a Certificate for Cremation granted by the coroner.

The British consulate or an international undertaker will be able to tell you how to get these documents.

Once you have authorisation to bring the body home, the body will be embalmed and placed in a zinc-lined coffin. Unfortunately, this can take a while to happen, so you need to be prepared for this. 

4. Funeral costs
Before you confirm arrangements, make sure to discuss the costs of repatriation and if your insurance will cover any costs. Repatriation is an expensive process and the FCO will not cover burial, cremation, or repatriation expenses. 

If the funeral is taking place in another European country, you might be able to apply for payment from the Social Fund to cover some costs.

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

5. Inform the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages
If the body is returned to the UK, the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages where the funeral is to take place must be informed. They will then issue a certificate of burial before any service can take place. 

If you are going to cremate the body, the Home Office also needs to be informed and give permission. You can get an application for a Home Office cremation order from your local crematorium.

6. Contact a register office
Once the body is home, you need to take the death certificate to the register office. You should get a ‘certificate of no liability to register’. This can be given to the funeral director and then the funeral can go ahead. 

If you’re arranging the funeral yourself, give the certificate back to the registrar after the funeral’s taken place. You must do this within 96 hours of the funeral.

7. Make a claim on your travel insurance
If the person who has passed away had travel insurance, you might be able to claim the costs of the arrangements back. Contact the insurance company as soon as you can. Here, you can find more information on making a claim on an insurance policy.

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

8. Suspicious circumstances
If you believe the death occurred due to suspicious circumstances, the British embassy will be able to give you advice about how to raise your concerns with the local authorities. They will also advise you on how to access legal advice.

A coroner will usually hold an inquest in England or Wales if the cause of death is unknown or if it was sudden, violent, or unnatural.

9. Making a fatal accident claim
If you believe the circumstances of the death were caused or materially caused because of the negligence of someone else including a health care provider, you can make a fatal accident claim. 

10. Bringing ashes home
If you decide to go ahead with the funeral or cremation abroad and want to bring back ashes, you will need to have proof of:

  • The death certificate.
  • The certificate of cremation.

It is important to note that each country has its own rules about taking human ashes out of the country, so you will need to check with their requirements. You will also need to fill in a standard customs form when returning home. 

You should also contact your airline to find out whether you can carry the ashes as hand luggage or as checked-in luggage. They may ask you to put the ashes in a non-metallic container so that they can be x-rayed. Preparing this beforehand will reduce any additional distress at the airport. 

DO not have the person cremated abroad if you wish the coroner in the UK to conduct an inquest into their death. 

Photo by C. Cagnin from Pexels

Do you need more support and advice?
Dealing with the death of a family member abroad is an extremely distressing time, but the British Embassy, FCO and Home Office will be able to talk you through the process so you can get your loved one home if that is what you wish. 

Remember, you are not alone and there are support groups out there.

If you have any advice, support or tips you can offer, let us know in the comments below. 

Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained legal professional. Be sure to consult a solicitor/lawyer if you’re seeking advice about the death of a loved one abroad. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.

Main photo by Kat Smith from Pexels

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