When Death Occurs Abroad

October 15, 2021

Navigating the Challenges of an Overseas Death

How Funeral Homes Guide Families Through a Complicated Process

Many families never imagine that a loved one could die while away from home—let alone overseas—but it does happen. According to the most recent death statistics data from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, there were more than 240 reported deaths of U.S. citizens abroad between January 2021 and June 2021. Those of us in the mortuary shipping industry know that while these occurrences are relatively low, the process of bringing a decedent home from a foreign country can be complex.  


What happens when someone dies abroad?

If a citizen of the United States dies abroad, whether they were living abroad temporarily or traveling for work or pleasure, the U.S. consulate offers assistance for families. The U.S. consulate’s main job is to assist any residents of the United States who were abroad return home. When an individual dies overseas, officers from the consulate will help families make arrangements with local authorities to prepare and return their loved one’s remains to the United States. This process, and the available mortuary shipping options, will depend greatly on any local law or practices in the foreign country.


How do you obtain a permit to transport a decedent back to the United States?

In most cases, there will be several documents required before a decedent can return to the United States. All required documents must accompany the decedent through every leg of the journey. According to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ process for the return of remains of deceased U.S. citizens, these documents may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Consular mortuary certificate (detailing information concerning the decedent’s cause of death and facilitating U.S. Customs clearance at the airport)
  • Affidavit of a local funeral director (located in the country where the decedent died)
  • Transit permit (provided by local health authorities)


What are the complexities involved with international mortuary shipping?

Grieving families can have difficulty making arrangements and complicated decisions under normal circumstances. If their family member has died while overseas, their anxiety and stress may be amplified due to the unknown and the simple desire to return their loved one home as quickly as they can. However, some families are surprised to learn that they cannot by law make flight arrangements for their deceased loved one—they must hire a funeral home to assist them. In these situations, they will lean heavily on you, their funeral services provider, to work with the U.S. consulate to make the necessary arrangements, secure the proper documentation, and coordinate their loved one’s flight home.

You will need to become familiar with the country’s specific rules and regulations regarding things like whether embalming needs to take place prior to the decedent returning home or what type of shipping container is approved, as well as arrange livery services for the decedent upon returning to the U.S. to be transported from the airport to the funeral home. Families will likely also have questions or concerns regarding the cost of the flight to return their decedent. Fortunately, you do not have to navigate this process alone—NMS exists to assist funeral homes like yours with all of your international mortuary shipping needs. Our experience and resources in this area run deep, and, no matter how complicated, there’s no problem that we are incapable of solving.


NMS Is Your International Mortuary Shipping Partner

Trust Us to Handle Every Detail for Your Funeral Home

Your funeral home is concerned with assisting the family who is desperately seeking to return their loved one home following a death abroad—and NMS is here to assist you in making that happen as smoothly and quickly as possible. If you have never had to make international mortuary shipping arrangements for a decedent, the process may be unfamiliar and overwhelming. Our experienced team has 40 years of experience coordinating complex international mortuary shipping flight arrangements from locations around the globe. When you need us to step in, we will be here. Our international mortuary shipping experts are standing by 24/7.

Contact NMS