Official procedures for dealing with death abroad

Essential information on following official procedures abroad

Dealing with death abroad and making the necessary funeral arrangements, in accordance with local, official procedures raises additional complex issues compared with when a death occurs on home territory.

What to do first when dealing with death abroad

If you live in the UK, the first thing you need to do when a British citizen dies while abroad is contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 020 7008 1500 (24-hour service) for consular assistance. The FCO will: 
  • first, notify next of kin, if a death abroad is reported directly to the FCO; 
  • liaise on your behalf with the overseas authorities regarding your immediate wishes about dealing with the body
  • offer information on the cost of transporting the body and personal belongings back to the UK
  • advise on the cost of a local burial or cremation
  • provide a list of local and international funeral service providers
  • give basic information on the local legal system, if the death has occurred in suspicious circumstances; and
  • provide lists of local lawyers, interpreters and relevant support groups

  • If you are abroad when the person dies, you should contact the appropriate Consulate, Embassy or High Commission for help. If you know that the deceased was suffering from any infectious disease at the time of death, e.g. HIV positive, it is important that you inform the local authorities and agencies dealing with the body, as a matter of priority.

    Registering the death

    The death must be registered, according to local regulations, in the country where the person has died. Documentation for both the informant and the deceased, including confirmation of name, date and place of birth, passport details, etc., will need to be presented to the local registrar of the country in question, before the formalities of issuing the death certificate can be completed.

    UK residents can also apply to register a death which happened abroad through the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, in London (see details above).

    Registering the death with the relevant overseas British Embassy, although not a legal requirement is, nevertheless, generally recommended, where appropriate. The record will then be sent to the UK GRO within 12 months. Once the GRO has received the record of the death, it can then provide additional copies which may be required for probate or sorting out the deceased’s affairs.

    It should be noted, however, that registration with the British Embassy abroad is not necessary, in certain countries, (e.g. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, South Africa and Zimbabwe); this is because death certificates issued by the local authorities in these countries are acceptable in the UK for the purposes of probate and the completion of other legal formalities.

    For more information on the option of registering a death from the UK with the British Embassy in countries other than those listed above, please contact the: Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Consular Division); tel: 020 7008 0168; website:www.fco.gov.uk.

    Repatriation

    The FCO can also advise on how to organise repatriation when someone dies while abroad, as well as providing a list of specialist repatriation service providers.

    Important Repatriation Considerations

    If the body is to be repatriated, delays may occur, for example, if a post mortem is required. In addition, it is a legal requirement that the coroner is notified if the body is to be cremated upon repatriation, (Form E needs to be completed in order to issue a Certificate of Cremation).

    Furthermore, if the body is to be transported to another country for the funeral, the body will first have to be embalmed and placed in a zinc-lined coffin, before the body can be removed from the country where the person died.

    The necessary documentation will also have to be in place before repatriation to the UK can take place. Documents, where the body is to be repatriated include: authorisation to release the body from the country, a certified English translation of the foreign death certificate, as well as a certificate of embalming.