First steps when someone dies abroad

What to do when someone dies abroad depends on the particular circumstances of their death. The deceased might have been travelling alone, working abroad, on holiday with friends or family or have taken up residence in another country. The death may have come about naturally, through an accident or as the result of a crime or a negligent act. It may be necessary to arrange for the repatriation of the body or make local funeral arrangements. For each of these scenarios, there are different considerations to bear in mind.

Practical First Steps

For British Nationals, who have died abroad there is help available for friends and family from the many British Embassies, Consulates or High Commissions maintained in hundreds of countries worldwide. Where the friends and family are in the same country as the deceased, they should make contact with the British Embassy. They will have experience in dealing with most scenarios and be familiar with local laws and procedures.

If the person died alone while abroad, then the family here will be usually informed by the local police or the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The FCDO can provide a range of information and support for bereaved persons about what steps to take in their particular circumstances.

Informing other friends and family and any employer of the deceased is a necessary step once the death is confirmed. If the deceased was on a holiday organised by a tour operator, many of them have specialist teams who can provide help and support. So too will many businesses have procedures in place to deal with the death of an employee abroad. There may be travel insurance or death in service policies which may help with the additional costs of a death abroad.

As with any other death, it is vital to establish the whereabouts of any Will left by the deceased. This may contain specific provisions relevant to the wishes of the deceased or reveal information which needs to be acted on. There will be Executors appointed in the Will who will have to take responsibility for many of the steps needed following a death abroad. The sooner this is established, the better.

If a crime is suspected, then there may be the equivalent of Coroner involved or police investigations needed before the body can be released. This process may already be underway by the time loved ones are notified, but immediate help should be sought where the death occurs in suspicious circumstances.

Registering the Death

When a person dies abroad, it is necessary to register the deathin accordance with the local regulations in the country where the person died. A local death certificate will be issued, which will be accepted in the UK as part of the reciprocal arrangements in place with nations across the world. It will need to be translated and certified as a true copy if it is not written in English. Although registering the death in the country where it occurred is required, in addition, the death can be separately registered in the UK. This can be done online.

Funerals and Repatriation

How to deal with the body once it is available for the funeral is a key first step to consider. Providing there is no ongoing investigation in the country where the person died, and subject to the need for a post-mortem to be carried out, the body will be made available for the funeral.

The deceased may have expressed a wish to be buried or cremated abroad, and so local arrangements will have to be made as with any death.

Where there is a desire to bring the deceased back to the UK for a funeral, the body will have to be repatriated. Before this can happen, it is necessary to:

  • obtain a certified copy of the death certificate translated into English where necessary,
  • get permission to remove the body, from a Coroner (or the equivalent) in the country where the person died,
  • inform a Coroner in England if the death was violent or unnatural.

It is sensible to try to establish if any help is available with the costs of repatriation, either through travel or life insurance or help from employers.

Where a person is cremated abroad, in order to bring the ashes back to the UK, there will be a need to produce both the death certificate and the certificate of cremation. Many countries have specific rules to comply with before ashes can be taken out. So too, individual airlines have their own guidelines on the safe transportation of ashes.


Losing a loved one who outside of the UK clearly presents a number of issues to consider, but there is a range of help available in taking the important first steps in dealing with a death abroad.

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