What to do when someone dies abroad: repatriation of a body to (or from) the UK.

What to do when someone dies abroad: repatriation of a body to (or from) the UK.

by Martin Jackson2022-09-190

What is repatriation of a body?

After a death abroad, the process of moving a deceased body, or their ashes, across country borders, is known as repatriation. This may be necessary when someone dies on holiday, or when working abroad. Or, if the person lived in another country but had expressed the wish to be buried in their country of birth, repatriation is also necessary. 

How much does repatriation cost to the UK?

The cost of transporting the body (or ashes) of someone who’s died abroad back to the UK depends on a wide range of factors. Every country has their own set of rules and forms to fill out, and the level of help you can get from people in the local area (e.g. from the British Embassy) can vary a lot. As a rough guide, repatriation can cost anywhere from £2,000 and up to £15,000 or more. Factors that influence this include:

  • Where the deceased body is coming from – generally, the further away and more difficult a place is to get, the more repatriation may cost.
  • What kind of body preparation is required – more often than not, embalming is required, due to the amount of time the transportation may take.
  • The size and weight of the body.

Don’t forget that many travel insurances include repatriation costs, so if that’s relevant for you, check the policy.

At Fenix, we can offer you both expert advice and peace of mind when it comes to dealing with a death abroad. Our knowledgeable and supportive advisers can offer transparent, reassuring advice. Or, you can choose to have Fenix act as your funeral director and arrange every step of repatriating a body to (or from) the UK. Get in touch to find out more.

How to bring a body back to the UK from abroad

When you first hear about the death of a loved one abroad, the news might come as a shock. There are several things that need to be done as soon as possible, as this will make the repatriation process much easier. (For an in-depth guide to coping with a death abroad, the UK’s official government website has a very useful guide).

Step 1: Contact

You can call the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) 24 hours a day on 020 7008 5000. Or, contact the nearest British embassy, high commission, or consulate in the area of the death. From them, you’ll get information about exactly what you need to do, and other organisations who will be able to help.

Step 2: Insurance

Travel insurance companies can also offer excellent advice when someone dies abroad. They’ll have advisers trained specifically for situations like this, and should be able to offer great support.

The insurance may also cover essential costs, from hospital bills to repatriation flights, translation fees and legal representation. If you don’t know whether the person had insurance or not, you could consider getting in touch with their employer or financial institution (e.g. their bank or credit card company).

Step 3: Funeral location 

It’s possible to arrange a burial or cremation in the country where the death occurred. That might have been the wishes of the deceased (e.g. if they lived in that country), and it may also help to reduce costs (transporting ashes back to the UK will be cheaper than repatriating a body).

Step 4: Funeral director

The right funeral director will have knowledge and experience dealing with all these steps, and everything else that will need to be arranged. At Fenix, our supportive team is here to speak with you, with no absolutely no commitments needed, about your needs and questions. Feel free to contact one of our personal advisers.

How to repatriate a body out of the UK

If the deceased died in the UK, but is to be buried or cremated in another country, the process is also called repatriation. Again, the process will differ according to which country the deceased is being transported to. However, there are always a few key steps to follow:

  • Inform local UK authorities and the relevant embassy about the death.
  • A death certificate must be obtained.
  • Permission for repatriation of the body must be obtained from the coroner.
  • If a post-mortem is required, the coroner may request an inquest before body repatriation takes place.
  • The embassy of the country the deceased is being repatriated to should be informed, and will be able to advise on any documentation needed.
  • The body will most likely need to be prepared, e.g. by embalming before transportation.
  • A zinc-lined casket with an airlock seal will be needed.
  • Some countries may require a certificate stating that the deceased body is free of infectious disease.  

How to transport ashes back to UK, or abroad from the UK.

Transporting ashes to or from the UK is often easier than repatriating a body, but there are still several things to keep in mind:

  • You’ll need both the death certificate and cremation certificate.
  • You’ll need to contact the airline before you book a ticket, as different providers have different rules. For example, they may request that you carry the ashes in carry-on luggage, or in a checked suitcase; and the ashes may need to be in a non-metal urn or container so that they can be x-rayed.
  • The urn must be securely closed, and may need a ‘certificate of sealing’.

Don’t forget to check on the specific requirements for the country you’re transporting the ashes to or from. 

Does a body need to be embalmed before repatriation to the UK?

In most cases, airlines or border agents request that a body is embalmed before repatriation, and that all wooden coffins (and some metal ones) are lined with zinc. This is to ensure the utmost hygiene and safety for airline staff and others along the way, by creating an entirely airtight and secure coffin.

What is the cheapest way to repatriate a body?

Given that the repatriation of a body can be very expensive, many people choose to have the deceased cremated in the country where they died. Travelling with the ashes is a far simpler process, and the airfare costs are far lower. 

Whatever you are considering, our personal advisers at Fenix can help you reach the right decision, and can even organise every step of the process for you if required. Find out more by getting in touch with one of our warm, professional advisers.

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