Home Auto Family Finance Health & Beauty House & Home Insurance Legal Pets Professional Services School & Work Seasonal Shopping & Fun Sports & Fitness Vacations & Travel
What Happens when an American Dies in a Foreign Country?

What Happens when an American Dies in a Foreign Country?

Share with friends


It’s estimated that more than 6,000 Americans die while in a foreign country each year. In addition to dealing with their grief, the deceased’s next-of-kin have to navigate the logistics of what happens next. Although the exact details can vary depending on the country, here’s a general guide to the procedure when an American passes away while abroad.

1. Notification

The first thing that should happen when an American is pronounced dead is that the consulate or embassy of the US is notified (usually based on the deceased’s passport or other identification). The consulate will verify that the deceased was an American citizen, and then contact the US Bureau of Consular Affairs. This government department is responsible for notifying the next-of- kin and informing them how they can make arrangements for local burial or to have the body returned to the US.

2. Legal Matters

There will likely be legal procedures that need to be followed in the country where the death occurred, including determining exact cause of death. Once this is taken care of, the next-of-kin can put in an official request to have the body returned or for disposition in that country. The Bureau of Consular Affairs can be very helpful as a go-between here, especially if the survivors don’t speak the language of the country in question.

A funeral home in the US can also help work out the logistics of getting the body back to the US for a funeral and burial. If there’s a preferred funeral home, it’s a good idea for the next-of-kin to get in touch with them as soon as possible so they can assist with the procedure.

3. Return of Remains

If the return of the body to the US is desired, there are some laws that must be followed. Most countries require the body to be embalmed before it can be transported out of the country. There are also laws about what sort of casket is acceptable for transfer. Transportation of the remains can get very expensive, too, so it’s important to figure out what the general cost will be (the Bureau of Consular Affairs or a funeral home should be able to help with an estimate) and come up with a way to cover these costs.

4. Other Points of Consideration

If the death is complicated in some way or the country is hard to deal with, it can be smart to engage the services of a lawyer who specializes in this kind of case. Make sure they’re well versed in international law as it applies to death.

Since legal fees, transport, and funeral services can end up being extremely expensive, many travelers choose to protect their loved ones by purchasing comprehensive travel insurance. This will help offset costs in the event of a death abroad.

Share with friends