Repatriation of a Loved One

Information on what happens when someone dies overseas

Last updated: 1 February 2017

If your loved one has died in another state or a country abroad and must be flown back home, a funeral home approved by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration as a ‘known shipper’ can help.

If you are the next-of-kin, an officer from the U.S. Embassy or consulate in that country will cable to officially notify you of your loved one’s death. When a U.S. citizen dies abroad, the next of kin must bear the funeral and repatriation costs and you will be advised of the options open to you.

Where possible, many families choose to repatriate their loved one’s body back to the U.S. although this can be costly. Others choose for their loved one to be cremated, where permitted, and for their ashes to be shipped home. If you are aware of travel insurance documents, check them carefully to see if the plan included repatriation coverage.

A funeral at home or abroad?

In some cases, families opt for their loved one to be interred in the country where they died. Local burial customs can vary from country to country and sometimes happen quickly after someone has died. So it is important to make an immediate decision and relay your wishes to the appropriate U.S. foreign service official as soon as possible after you are notified of a death overseas.

Some established funeral homes in the U.S. are ‘known shippers’, experienced in mortuary shipping, and have worldwide connections to safely collect your loved one and prepare them for their journey home, arranging the flights and completing the necessary paperwork and arrangements to get them in transit.

You may also have to make arrangements with a local funeral home that is arranging the funeral ceremony. Ensure it has the necessary accreditation to oversee the collection of your loved one from the airport according to regulations when they arrive in the U.S.

Journey home

Some international funeral shipping providers offer a ‘wrap-around’ service to ease the burden of bringing the deceased back from overseas. This means they take care your loved one from the point of collecting them from the place where they died, through to coordinating all paperwork – it’s necessary, for instance, for the embalmed body to be accompanied with an official copy of the death certificate in English and an embalming certificate. They will take care of the legal forms and can arrange the flights to your local domestic airport, overseeing the smooth transition to your chosen funeral home, following a death abroad.

You may wish to fly out and book on the same flight to accompany your loved one on the journey home. But you will need to find out how local laws apply if you wish to personally transport them home from the airport. In some states this is a responsibility only assigned to funeral homes.

Long distance

Funeral homes experienced in shipping can also assist with domestic flights when a death occurs in a different state and it will be required to transport a loved one’s body across state lines. They can also help repatriate loved ones who die in the U.S. but wish to be buried overseas.

If your loved one was cremated abroad or out-of-state,you can travel with their cremated remains. The ashes can be transported as carry-on luggage on most airlines. In order to be allowed on board, the ashes must still go through X-ray machines at airport security. A wood, ceramic, cardboard or plastic urn is suitable for travel on an airplane, as they must be completely lead-free. You can also mail cremated remains domestically or internationally via the US Postal Service in accordance with their guidelines.