International Mortuary Shipping During COVID-19

June 19, 2020

Navigating the Difficulties of International Shipping During COVID-19

Whether you have handled the situation just once or many times, international mortuary shipping is a complex, detailed process. As you can imagine, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench - a huge, heavy wrench - into an already challenging process.

National Mortuary Shipping & Cremation regularly handles complicated international shipping issues, from returning a decedent from abroad to coordinating a cremation from thousands of miles away. But even our experienced team has had to deal with the ever-changing landscape of international shipping in light of COVID-19.

Perhaps you will encounter your first experience with international mortuary shipping during this time. You may even be faced with the complexities of returning a decedent who died from COVID-19 complications abroad. To serve as a resource, we have gathered some important information regarding mortuary shipping issues related to the pandemic. Consider the following questions as you approach the process.


Did the decedent die of COVID-19?

The guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) related to mortuary shipping depend on whether the decedent has been embalmed or cremated or if the decedent died of a “quarantinable communicable disease.” Because COVID-19 is considered a “quarantinable communicable disease” by the CDC, one of the following requirements must be met before a decedent who was known to - or suspected to - have died of COVID-19 can be returned to the United States.

These remains must meet one of these requirements:

  • Be cremated
  • Properly embalmed and placed in a hermetically-sealed (airtight) casket
  • Accompanied by a permit issued by the CDC Director

If the latter option is necessary, the permit must accompany the decedent’s remains throughout the entire shipping process. Permits can be requested and obtained through the CDC Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.


Have you referenced guidance from local and/or state public health officials?

The CDC website serves as a great resource regarding death overseas and international mortuary shipping. However, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) reminds us that in some cases, state and local officials may have more stringent recommendations than the CDC and the federal government. As you tackle an international shipping issue, be sure you are referencing not only federal recommendations but also those of your local and state officials.


Have you checked with the airline?

Three words: Delays, delays, delays. Even several months into this pandemic, many international airlines continue to offer reduced flight options, many limiting their flights only to major U.S. hub cities. It is possible that an airline may have stopped the shipping of human remains entirely. All of this, of course, creates considerable delays in the shipping process. Be sure to check with the specific airline, as they are each making their own decision regarding mortuary shipping during the pandemic.


Can we help?

This pandemic has placed enormous stress on all of us in the death industry. International shipping is just one of many challenges. However, if you are called upon to help return a decedent to their loved ones from abroad, remember that National Mortuary Shipping & Cremation is here to help. With our knowledge and experience, we can help you navigate the difficulties of mortuary shipping during COVID-19, allowing you to focus your attention on your many other responsibilities and concerns at this time.

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