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Steps to take if someone dies abroad

The death of a loved one can be devastating. But the situation can be even more distressing if they die during a holiday or business trip abroad. Here’s our practical guide on what to do if someone dies overseas.

The death of a loved one can be devastating. But the situation can be even more distressing if they die during a holiday or business trip abroad. Here’s our practical guide on what to do if someone dies overseas.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
13 JANUARY 2021
6 min read
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1. Contact the British authorities 

If you’re abroad
If you’re with a loved one and they die abroad, you should contact the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate in the country you’re visiting. They’ll be able to offer practical advice and help with what to do next. 

If you’re staying in a resort, tell your holiday rep about the death as soon as you can, or if you’ve booked through a tour operator, let the organisers know. They may be able to help you contact the right authorities, as well as give you emotional support. 

If you’re in the UK
If a loved one dies abroad while you’re in the UK and you’re the next of kin, you’ll be contacted by the UK police. 

If you hear about the death from someone else, for example, a travel companion, tour operator or the media, you should phone the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) on 020 7008 5000. The FCDO offers help and advice on what to do. It also provides country-specific bereavement packs with practical information on legal processes and services available following a death abroad.

2. Find out if the person who died had travel insurance 

If your loved one had travel insurance, check whether they’re covered for death. Most travel insurance policies include repatriation cover as standard. This simply means returning someone to their country of origin. Contact the insurance provider as soon as you can. It can often arrange repatriation on your behalf or cover funeral expenses if your loved one is to be buried or cremated abroad. 

Some travel insurance policies also include personal accident benefit as standard. This can provide family members with financial compensation on top of repatriation costs, if the policy holder dies following an accident abroad. 

Repatriation costs can be very expensive, often thousands of pounds. The FCDO will not pay for repatriation or funeral expenses. If your loved one didn’t have insurance, the next of kin will usually need to appoint a funeral director and bear all the costs involved.

3. Appoint a funeral director 

If your loved one died during a temporary stay abroad, such as a holiday or business trip, it’s most likely that you’ll want to hold their funeral back in the UK. 

It’s advisable to use the services of a funeral director who specialises in repatriation. They’ll have expertise to guide you through the repatriation and funeral process. You can find a list of UK-based international funeral directors here

It may not be necessary to arrange this yourself if your loved one’s insurance provider has its own funeral directors.

4. Register the death 

All deaths must be registered in the country where the person died, and you’ll need to obtain a death certificate. The British Consul, local police or hospital can help you with this. 

If the person died on a ship or aircraft, you must register the death in the country the ship or aircraft is registered in. 

You can also register the death with the UK authorities via the GOV.UK website. This is known as a Consular Death Registration. It’s not legally required, but it does mean the death will be officially registered in the UK, either with the General Register Offices for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or with the National Records of Scotland. 

To register the death with the UK authorities, you’ll need to provide: 

  • the local death certificate
  • a certified translation if the language is not in English
  • evidence of the deceased’s British nationality (usually their British passport)
  • details about yourself and the deceased, including full name, passport number and date and place of issue

5. Repatriate the body 

Most families will want to bring their loved one home for a funeral in the UK so friends and relatives can attend. To do this, their body will need to be repatriated

To enable repatriation, you’ll need: 

  • the death certificate from the country where the death occurred
  • permission from a coroner to repatriate the deceased
  • to notify the coroner if the cause of death is unknown, the death was violent or unnatural, or happened while the person was in police custody
  • an embalming certificate 

If the death certificate has been issued in a language other than English, you’ll need to get a certified translation for it to be registered by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the UK. Without the official translation, your loved one won’t be able to be buried or cremated in the UK.

6. Report the death to government departments 

When someone dies, there are various government bodies that need to be informed. If the person died in a Commonwealth or European country, you may be able to use the time-saving Tell Us Once service. This lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go, although the service isn’t available in Northern Ireland. 

HM Passport Office will guide you through what to do with a passport when the passport holder has died. Don’t cancel it until you’ve repatriated the body to the UK as you may need the passport to do this.

7. Finalise the funeral arrangements 

Once the body of your loved one is home, take the death certificate to the register office closest to where the funeral will be taking place. 

Because the death has already been registered abroad, the registrar will give you a Certificate of No Liability to Register. You should give this to the funeral director so the funeral can go ahead and you can give your loved one the send-off they deserve.

Why take out travel insurance? 

The FCDO strongly advises travellers to take out comprehensive travel insurance before they go abroad. Injury or death are the last things you want to think about when planning a trip, but travel insurance could help alleviate the financial burden of an already devastating situation if the worst happens.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if someone dies on a plane while heading abroad?

When someone dies on board a flight, certain protocols must be followed by the cabin crew, airport and local authorities once the plane lands. Medical staff will pronounce the time of death before removing the body. The family of the person who’s died will need to follow the correct repatriation process if they want the funeral to be held in the UK.

How do you bring ashes home after a funeral abroad?

If a family member or friend was cremated abroad but you want to bring their ashes home, you’ll need to show a death certificate and a certificate of cremation before leaving. The exact rules will depend on the country’s regulations. Contact your airline to find out whether you can carry the ashes as hand luggage.

Where can I find support after a death overseas?

The FCDO can provide a range of help and advice to take away some of the distress of dealing with so many formal procedures at such a difficult time. It can also put you in touch with UK-based organisations that can offer support after a death abroad, ranging from ones that specialise in road accidents to ones that offer bereavement counselling.

Anna McEntee - Insurance expert

Anna’s all about delivering fantastic insurance products at a great price. Value is the most important thing for Anna, as she cuts through the jargon and finds what’s most important and worth your hard-earned money.

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