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Dying abroad: Death, dying and repatriation of mortal remains of NRI >> Main Travel >> Dying Abroad

Death and dying is a topic we seldom give much thought to. And when we encounter untimely death of family or friends, we try and follow the rituals as dictated customs and mores dictated by the society. If a relative or a close one dies in a foreign country, the costs and paperwork associated with repatriation can make a terrible event even worse.

The logistics of Death gets magnified when the person in question dies in a foreign land. For instance, when a death occurs in Abu Dhabi, or Toronto expatriate’s family might choose to have the funeral and last rites in India, their home country.

Paperwork and formalities for repatriation of mortal remains

The cultural and legal aspects of death and dying are as varied across the globe as the practices of marriage and divorce. No two countries are alike. Take embalming. In France a body cannot be transported without a police tag and the local mayor's approval. After 24 hours, the body must be embalmed and placed in a wooden coffin.

In Islamic countries, it is common for the deceased to be buried before sundown or within 24 hours, without embalming. In the United States, embalming is common practice. In many countries – when embalming does take place – it is a qualified embalmer's job, whereas in some countries, for example Portugal and Spain, it is against the law for anyone but a qualified doctor to undertake this procedure.

IATA (a worldwide airline trade association) rules state that if moved from one country to another, a body should have an embalming certificate. Tony Rowland, senior partner at Rowland Brothers International funeral directors, warns: "In many cases when embalming is not up to US or UK standards, the result is that a body is totally unviewable when it returns to its homeland."

Requisite documentation includes a death certificate, embalming certificate, 'no objection' certificates from various government ministries and a 'sealing of the coffin' certificate undertaken in the presence of an embassy official from the country receiving the body.

A common question arises: How long does it take ?

'If it is a murder, in most countries the body is not allowed to leave the country until the defence lawyer no longer requires it for post-mortem,' says Rowland. 'Normally it takes five to seven days to repatriate a body from abroad – in the case of murder it is 10 to 15 days but could take anything up to three months.'

A traffic accident should in theory be processed more swiftly than a murder, and often is. When a British citizen recently died in a South African road accident outside Cape Town, the family approached the British Embassy, but discovered that the deceased had been insured. It took only seven days, including police involvement, to repatriate the remains to England.

Repatriation of a 'natural causes' death should be relatively fast to process, but First Assistance reports the recent case of a New Zealander who died of a heart attack in Beijing, where, although the police were not involved, it took two weeks to get the body returned to New Zealand.

Source - Dying abroad - The Guardian

“for every body he has to process 126 documents in 17 sets, for which he has to visit a number of offices and officials, hospitals and doctors and over and above, the family members of the deceased.” - Source - A selfless act for families of the dead - GulfToday

Cost of repatriation of mortal remains

Someone has to pay for your demise. If it is abroad where expenses can soar in cases of repatriation, multiple factors come into play. Coffins travel as international freight and must be hermetically sealed. The cost of moving mortal remains depends, for instance, on body weight, location of death and transport. To move a body from the US to Kenya, for instance, is estimated to cost between $6,000 and $10,000. There is no international tariff for fees levied by funeral directors across different countries.

Excluding the funeral, an example cost of repatriating the mortal remains back to, say, the United Kingdom from Australia is approximately $13,000 to $17,000, or from Spain, around $4,700 to $6,500. The final cost, however, is very much dependent on circumstances of death, local regulations and the amount of local bureaucratic red tape. Source - Dying abroad - The Guardian

How do families bear the cost of repatriation? There are a few ways families try to seek help:

  • Travel Insurance Travelers to foreign lands might opt to buy a Travel Insurance policy, and such policies might include a clause on repatriation of remains back to homeland. “Policies tend to cover reasonable expenses. 'Most policies have an upper limit of cover, although there are some which do offer 100% cover,' says Marco Gantenbein, managing director of Swiss Insurance Partners in Zurich. IHI Denmark, for instance, pays a full refund up to the policy maximum of $2.5m.”
    Only "travel-insurance" with adequate coverage would “arrange and pay for reasonable and necessary expenses, including, but not limited to, expenses for embalming, an appropriate container for transportation, and shipping costs to transport your remains via the most direct and economical route.” - Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation Coverage | Travel Insurance Review
    So, what is the challenge? Many, if not most travelers going overseas for work or study don’t buy “travel insurance” policies. They might opt for health and medical insurance offered by the employer or university. Such health and medical policies will generally not cover the cost associated with death, funeral or repatriation of remains.

  • Out of pocket - Most long-term residents on visas like Work (H1B/ L1), student (F1), permanent residents and dependents wouldn't have bought additional travel insurance. Hence, such expenses would NOT be covered and have to be borne individually. Without access to insurance funds, families of most of the deceased try to reach out to their personal savings.

  • Help from governments, employers, charities and other sources – Expatriate families routinely reach out to the government of their home nations at times of crisis. Some might seek financial or logistical help in repatriating remains of the deceased. In some cases, employers, colleagues and friends of the deceased living in the host nation might provide monetary assistance or donations.

Frequently Asked questions on repatriation of mortal remains

A relative has died overseas. What should I do?

When you are faced with the death of a loved one overseas you should contact their insurance company first. They may be able to take care of all the arrangements for you. You can also contact the British Embassy in the country. They may also be able to assist in appointing a local funeral director.

Can I carry my relative's ashes onboard an aircraft?

In many cases Human Ashes can be carried in the passenger hold on an aircraft. You must ask the airline directly if they will allow it.

Can I travel on the same flight as my deceased relative?

If you inform your Funeral Director that you wish to travel on the same flight as your relative they can advise what you should do. In some cases it is better to get confirmation that your relative is booked on the flight before booking tickets. In some cases the airline will automatically confirm your relative on the flight if you already have tickets. Always check with your Funeral Director before you book your own tickets.

Do I require a Funeral Director to arrange a Repatriation?

Only Funeral Directors can issue a Funeral Directors Declaration, one of the required documents for Repatriation. Funeral Directors are also able to arrange other required documentation.

Do coffins need to be wrapped in hessian?

Airlines will insist on coffins being wrapped in hessian with sufficient protective packing such as bubble wrap. Alternatively a Flight Tray may be used. Some airlines insist on Flight Trays.

FAQ: How To Repatriate a Relative

Links and References: repatriation of mortal remains






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