What to Do When Your Loved One Dies Outside of the Country

The Steps You Need to Take When a Loved One Dies in another Country

In our increasingly mobile world, it happens on a regular basis. Your loved one travels to Europe, Israel or another part of the world and unfortunately passes while in a foreign country. You want them returned to the United States for a memorial service and/or burial. It can be done, but there are specific procedures you need to follow to avoid unnecessary complications.

At Gutterman’s and Gutterman Warheit, we have decades of experience helping individuals and families in New York and Florida with all details involved in the funeral process, including the shipment of bodies to and from anywhere in the world. We have longstanding relationships with all major airlines and can ensure that your loved one is secured in a container that meets airline specifications. We will confirm that someone escorts your loved one to the airport and confirms that they are safely on board. We will also have someone meet the body upon arrival anywhere in the United States, ensuring that they are safely delivered to the funeral home or other location.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you when a family member or loved one dies in another country. Your first call, however, should be to Gutterman’s or Gutterman Warheit. We have extensive experience working with families whose loved one has died in a foreign country. We can help you at any stage of the process.

Step One—Contact the U.S. Consulate or Embassy

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (“Bureau”) can help you with a number of the tasks that must be completed after the death of a loved one. You must notify the consulate or embassy offices in the country where your loved one died (don’t try to work through the State Department in the United States). The Bureau will help you take appropriate measures to transfer or transmit any funds necessary to cover costs incurred in the foreign country. In addition, the Bureau can help you secure a local death certificate. Once that certificate is issued, the consulate will typically prepare a “Consular Report on the Death of an American Abroad,” a document that will ultimately be used to settle estate matters and other affairs in the United States.

The Bureau assists “next of kin” with matters related to the death of a loved one. To qualify as next of kin, you must submit a “Next of Kin Affidavit.”You must also provide a signed “Letter of Instruction,” telling the Bureau what your intentions are for the body. All necessary forms are available at Bureau offices.

Step Two—Determine Whether Someone Needs to Travel to the Country Where Your Loved One Died

The laws differ from country to country with respect to:

  • Who can claim the body
  • Who can make decisions about the movement or relocation of the body
  • Who must sign any documents to allow for the transportation of the body

The consulate or embassy in the country where your loved one died will be able to answer your questions, so that you can determine who, if anyone, needs to go there.

Step Three—Hire a Translator, If Necessary

If you determine that you need to travel to the country of death, and you don’t speak the language, it’s a good idea to hire a translator to help you effectively work with officials there. You may need assistance communicating with a coroner or person performing an autopsy, or with the funeral home. In addition, many of the documents that need to be signed may be in a foreign language.

Step Four—Retain the Services of a Funeral Home and Director in the United States

You’ll need to make arrangements with a funeral home in the United States. When looking for the right funeral home, ask if they have experience working with people who have passed in another country. Determine whether they have the capability and experience to ensure that your loved one is safely shipped back to the United States. Be certain they understand that there may be significant time differences, based on where your loved one died.

Step Five—Make Arrangements to Have Your Loved One’s Body Shipped to the United States

The Bureau will prepare what is known as the “Consular Mortuary Certificate.” This document identifies essential information about the cause of death and will facilitate both orderly shipment of your loved one, as well as U.S. Customs clearance.

It’s important to understand that there may be delays in the shipment of the body. For example, if your loved one died as a result of violence or under suspicious circumstances, there may need to be an autopsy. In addition, if the cause of death was illness, there may need to be some type of quarantine. If the cause of death was a communicable disease, the Centers for Disease Control may require a permit.

As a general rule, if your loved one has been embalmed in a foreign country, the only requirements for entry into the United States are the Next of Kin Affidavit and the Consular Mortuary Certificate. However, if the body is not embalmed, additional documentation will be required:

  • The local death certificate
  • An affidavit from the foreign funeral director
  • A statement from foreign authorities that the person did not die from a communicable disease

Let Us Help You When Your Loved One Dies in Another Country

We offer comprehensive funeral home services to families and individuals in New York and Florida. To learn how we can help you or to retain our services, call one of the numbers listed below.  We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist you.



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