What if your loved one died abroad?

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Identifying the person who died

After someone has died, they are usually taken to a mortuary, where they will need to be identified. If the person who died was travelling with a friend or relative they may be asked to do this. Otherwise, the local authorities, or a consular official, may do it.

Seeing the person

Depending on the circumstances, you may have seen the person after death. If not, you may wish to travel to the country concerned to view the deceased. Depending on what country your friend or relative died in, this may prove difficult. Your caseworker will be able to offer some guidance. If you do decide to travel, we can try to assist you where we can, but we cannot meet any costs involved in travelling overseas.

If you are unable to travel overseas or seeing the deceased is not possible in the country concerned, you may be able to do so in the UK should you decide to repatriate the deceased to the UK.

Repatriation or local burial

When a friend or relative dies overseas, you will be faced with difficult decisions. For example, whether to repatriate them to the UK or conduct a service in the country where they died and whether to have a burial or a cremation. You should be aware that if you decide on a cremation overseas, there would not normally be an inquest in the UK.

Whatever decisions you make, consular staff will do all that they properly can to help implement your wishes. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is unable to pay any burial, cremation or repatriation expenses or settle any debts.

You should look, in the first instance, to the insurers to cover the cost. If your friend or relative was not insured, then friends and family will be asked to bear the cost. We can help transfer money from friends and family in the UK to pay these costs.

Our ability to assist with funeral arrangements is dictated by the facilities, laws and culture of the country in which your friend or relative died. For example, burial or cremation facilities may be limited in certain countries. You should be aware that, in some countries, a lack of suitable storage may make it impossible to get the necessary international certificates to transport the body.

Personal possessions

Overseas, as in the UK, the police or hospital staff often look after the personal possessions of the person who died. You may want to arrange for the possessions to be returned to the UK. If you are having difficulty doing this, in exceptional circumstances, our consular staff may be able to secure them on your behalf and help to arrange for them to be returned. The cost of returning possessions to the UK must be met by the insurance company or by friends and family.

Personal items, especially of those travelling alone, often go missing. We can make initial enquiries at the hospital or with the police but anyone concerned about missing items may need to seek legal advice. Unfortunately, if the person's property is to be used as evidence in a prosecution, it can take a long time before the items are released. If a prosecution is brought and someone is convicted, the property may need to be retained until that person is released from prison. Again, the precise rules surrounding this will vary from country to country. If you have any concerns you should raise them with your caseworker.

The passport

If your friend or relative has died overseas, we will cancel their passport. The normal process, irrespective of why the passport is being cancelled, is to cut the corners from the passport and stamp it as cancelled. The cancellation is also recorded on a database. This prevents the passport being used fraudulently, by a third party, at a later date. We will return it to you, if you wish, once it has been cancelled. Alternatively, we can dispose of it on your behalf.

The death certifcate

All deaths must be registered in the country where the person died. We can advise you how to do this. You will need documents about you and the person who has died, including, for example, the full name, date of birth and passport number of the person who has died. The local authorities will need to be told if the person suffered from an infectious condition (such as hepatitis or HIV) so they can take precautions against infection.

Most countries, but not all, issue a death certificate for all deaths in their jurisdiction, including foreign nationals. Depending on the country, this may take longer than it would in the UK and it is likely to be issued in a different format and usually in the local language.

You can also register the death with the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate if you are overseas, or with our Consular services department in London if you are in the UK (Gov.uk - Register a death).

The enquiry line is 020 7008 0186 (Monday to Thursday: 10am to 12 noon) or email bmdenquiries@fco.gov.uk.

You do not have to register a death at the British Embassy, High Commission of Consulate. However, there are some benefits:

  • An entry will be made in the death register by the British Consulate in the country concerned.
  • You'll be provided with a UK-style death certificate.
  • A record of the death will be held by the General Register Office in the UK.

You'll need to register the death with the foreign civil authorities and obtain a full foreign death certificate before you can apply for consular death registration. The consular death certificate won't include a cause of death as many foreign death certificates don't include this detail. In certain countries, British Embassies, High Commissions or Consulates cannot currently issue death certificates and the local ones are suitable for British purposes. These countries are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland and South Africa. If in doubt, do check this with your caseworker.