The death of a loved one will probably be the most stressful experience you’ll ever face. However, when someone dies abroad that stress is compounded by having to deal with an unfamiliar system. Language and culture barriers can all make the task feel insurmountable at a time when the grief is so raw and you’re struggling to cope with the loss.
To help you navigate this complex situation, we’ve put together the following steps you can follow. The process will vary depending on whether you’re with your loved one or at home, and whether you want to repatriate them or conduct the funeral overseas.
1. Inform the British Consulate
Wherever you are in the World, if you’re with someone who dies, the first call you should make is to the nearest British Embassy or Consulate. They can advise you on the specific procedure to follow and help with inquests, repatriation or funeral arrangements. They can also provide translation services, to ensure you understand every step of the process. If you’re on a package holiday, your tour operator should be able to put you in touch with the correct authorities, or even help with the arrangements.
If you’re at home in the UK, then you’ll be notified of the death by someone else, this could be your local police force, the British Consulate or by the tour operator. In this instance, you should contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who will be able to assist you and provide country-specific bereavement packs to help guide you through the specific legal processes.
Unfortunately not all deaths overseas are from natural causes. If you suspect the death happened in suspicious circumstances, then the British embassy or consulate will be able to advise you on pursuing your concerns with local authorities and police.
2. Register the Death
The first advice you’ll receive from the British Consulate is to register the death in the country where your loved one has passed away. Every country has a different procedure, and the Consulate can help guide you through this process. You will then need to register the death in the UK. This is done via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and you will need to have the following information to hand, for both yourself and the person who has passed away:
• Full name
• Date of birth
• Passport number
• Where and when the passport was issued
• Details of the next of kin, if you're not their closest relative
3. Arrange Repatriation
If you want the funeral to be held in the UK, then your loved one will need to be repatriated. Repatriation can be expensive, so before beginning the process, check whether or not the costs will be covered by travel insurance. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office won’t cover these costs, so it’s important to know you can cover all expenses. If you were on a package holiday, the tour operator may have this information and be able to clarify repatriation cover. Many insurance companies will have a repatriation team who will arrange the repatriation. Alternatively, there are international funeral directors who will fly out and help oversee the process.
To arrange repatriation you will need:
• A certificate of embalming
• Authorisation to remove your loved one from the country
• A certified English translation of the death certificate
4. Organise the Funeral
Once back in the UK, you’ll need to submit the death certificate to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Just contact the Register closest to where the funeral will take place and they can help you. You will then be issued with a ‘certificate of no liability to register’ that can be handed to the funeral director and allows burial to take place. A coroner will usually only get involved if the death was sudden, unnatural or violent.
If you want a cremation, you’ll need to obtain a Home Office cremation order. This can be organised from your local crematorium. Once all the relevant documents are in place, you can go ahead with the funeral arrangements.
Different rules apply in Scotland, for further information, consult the Healthcare Improvement Scotland website.
5. Holding the funeral overseas
With the costs of repatriation reaching thousands, and depending on the wishes of the deceased, you may decide to have the cremation overseas and bring the ashes home. If so, you will need to travel with the death certificate and the certificate of cremation. Check your specific country’s rules before you leave – again, this can be done via the British consulate – and make sure to check your airline’s policy. You also need to complete the standard customs form when you enter the UK.
It’s important to note that if you’re receiving certain benefits or tax credits and the funeral is taking place in a European Economic Area country or Switzerland, you may be able to apply for a Funeral Expenses payment, to help cover the costs.
6. Notify authorities
There are many local and central Government authorities that will need to be notified after the loss, but you can use the Tell Us Once service if the person passed away in a Commonwealth country, European Economic Area country or Switzerland. This will ensure that departments such as HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the British Passport Office are all notified.