What to do when someone dies abroad

Aeroplane wing with clouds and sun behind, Ross Parmly, Unsplash, Poppy's funerals

Four minute read

When someone dies overseas, it can be an extremely stressful and disorientating experience for their family or friends.

On top of your grief and shock, you will need to deal with unfamiliar systems — perhaps in a foreign language; face unforeseen expenses and experience unplanned delays.

You may be put under pressure by local funeral agents, hospitals, or police to appoint funeral directors or to make other decisions very quickly. But it is absolutely fine to wait, ask questions, and do your own research. The most important thing is that you feel able to make an informed decision.

Clients in this situation have told us they felt unsure what to do, who to trust and how to stay in control of the process. These are all perfectly normal feelings and experiences.

Here, we explain what to expect when someone dies abroad and needs to be repatriated to the UK, some useful contacts and some things you will need to do.

First steps to take after someone dies overseas

First of all, contact the British embassy or consulate of the country that you are in or call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK on 020 7008 5000. They can give advice on how to register the death in-country, how to arrange to bring your person home, and about any other necessary procedures.

The UK government website has a wealth of information, along with contacts for organisations that can provide you with support after someone dies overseas. You can also use this index for detailed, country-specific information and advice.

You will also need to contact the person’s insurance company as soon as possible. Travel insurance may cover costs such as medical, repatriation, legal, interpretation and translation fees.

Some insurers will have their own arrangement with an international funeral director, or will need to approve any funeral director that you appoint.

Whatever pressure you are under, do not appoint or sign a contract with a local funeral director until you have spoken to the insurance company.

Before returning to the UK

You will be able to repatriate the person who has died only once processes like post mortems, or police or judicial inquiries have been completed in the country in which they died. This can take time. Waiting, combined with a lack of clear information, can be difficult and frustrating.

An international funeral director will arrange for the person to be transported back to the UK, and can advise you on what documents you will need once they arrive back — and how to get these translated. Some international funeral directors will have an agent in-country with specific local knowledge who can help you.

This is one of the only situations in which someone will need to be embalmed. Embalming is required before the person can be transported home. It’s important to be prepared that standards of embalming can vary considerably from country to country.

If the person who died overseas had already purchased a natural burial plot, they can still receive a natural burial in the UK. Otherwise, this is not possible, although cremation and traditional burial options will be unaffected.

The standard coffin for repatriation is wooden, with a zinc lining, however this is not suitable for cremation in the UK. Once your person reaches the UK, you can choose any coffin that you like for them to be buried or cremated in. When making arrangements for them to be transported home, be careful of being overcharged for a coffin you do not need or want.

You may decide to have the person buried or cremated in the country where they died, rather than repatriating them. In this case, you could still arrange for their ashes to be transported back to the UK or for a memorial service in the UK, instead of a funeral.

How Poppy’s can help when someone has died abroad

If you choose Poppy’s as your UK funeral director, we’ll start supporting you from the moment you need us, even before your person has arrived back in the UK.

We can answer your questions and start planning the funeral with you whenever you are ready to begin thinking about what you want and need.

We will arrange with the international undertaker to bring your person into our care. From then on, we will care for them in exactly the same way as we would if they had died in the UK.

You will not need to register the death in the UK, but you will need to get a death certificate from the local authorities in the country where the person died. This enables you to use the Tell Us Once service to notify UK government services of the person’s death.

Next, we can contact the coroner on your behalf. The coroner in the borough, or other area, where the funeral will take place will need to see the translated paperwork. This can be confusing and varies from country to country, but we can support you in working out exactly what is needed in your case.

The coroner must also be satisfied that no further investigations are needed before you can set a date for the funeral. In some cases, it is possible that the coroner will want to do a new post mortem, in addition to any post mortem carried out overseas.

There can be a lot of uncertainty and anxiety when someone dies overseas. But we’ll be by your side and on your side throughout the whole process.

Find more ideas, advice and guidance on our Talking Death blog or contact us by phone or email. You can discover what really happens at a cremation or what to expect when you visit someone at Poppy’s.

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