If your loved one dies outside of their country of residence, it can be a confusing and complicated situation. We'll explain everything you need to know about body repatriation and how the process works, both to and from the UK.
This guide will cover:
- What is body repatriation?
- Repatriation of deceased into the UK
- Transporting ashes overseas
- Repatriation of deceased from the UK
Body repatriation is the term used when transferring a person who has passed to their country of origin or citizenship. If a loved one has passed away abroad, or in the UK but the funeral is to be conducted abroad, our team of repatriation specialists are available to help.
As a collection of the UK’s finest funeral directors, our repatriation services provide support to you and your family, whilst liaising with the country’s embassy, airlines, and coroner’s officers on your behalf.
If your loved one died abroad and you would like their burial or cremation service in the UK, you will need to arrange repatriation of mortal remains.
If your loved one passed whilst they were on holiday when they passed away, you’ll need to check to see if they had travel insurance, and whether their policy covers the costs of repatriation.
How to repatriate a body from abroad
There are several steps involved in the process of body repatriation from abroad. These can vary slightly depending on the country where the person dies; however, it is important you follow the steps correctly to make sure that the process is as smooth as possible.
If you have questions about the process and what to do, the British embassy, your tour provider (if you were on holiday), or the local authorities may be able to help. Alternatively, contact your local Dignity Funeral Director, who will be able to facilitate the process on your behalf.
- 1. Notify the authorities
The first step of body repatriation from abroad is to contact the local authorities in the country where the person has died, so you can register the death. The British embassy should also be able to help you in the process of registering the death abroad. In some cases, you can also register the death with the UK authorities at the same time.
- 2. Arrange the correct documents
You’ll need to have all the right paperwork before you can repatriate your loved one home from abroad. If you are repatriating a body to the UK for burial or cremation, the documents you will need include:
- Death Certificate – registered in the country where the person died
- English translation of the Death Certificate – this needs to be a certified copy
- Permission to transport the body back to the UK – supplied by the coroner in the country of death
- Notification to UK coroner – this is needed if the death was sudden, unexpected, accidental or violent, so that the coroner can decide if an inquest needs to be carried out
- Passport of the deceased – this will be needed upon arrival into the UK, as proof of identity
- 3. Transport the deceased to the UK
When arranging repatriation of mortal remains, the deceased is usually transported by air – although it is also possible in some instances for the body to travel by road or sea. It is sometimes possible for the family to fly on the same flight as the deceased if this is their wish.
- 4. Arrange transport from the airport
Before the deceased lands back into the UK, you will need to make arrangements to collect your loved one from the airport. Dignity can help by providing private ambulance, or in some instances, a hearse.
You will be given an Air Waybill number; this is a number given to all air cargo items and is the only accepted means of identification recognised by airlines. Your appointed funeral director will then be able to bring your loved one into their care. They should also pay Customs Clearance and Airline Handling Charges on your behalf.
Upon receipt of your loved one and accompanying documents, they will check to see if the documents are translated into English. If they are not, your funeral director will organise for them to be translated and arrange for all relevant documentation to be given to the local coroner.
- 5. A coroner will decide if an inquest or post-mortem is needed
Once repatriation has taken place and the body of the deceased is back in the UK, the coroner (or Procurator Fiscal in Scotland) will review the documents supplied and decide if an inquest is needed. If an inquest is to take place, this will be arranged before the body can be released for cremation or burial.
If an inquest isn’t needed, the next step is to obtain a Certificate of No Liability from the Registrar of the sub-district where the funeral will take place. Your chosen funeral director should be able to attend the registry office and arrange this certificate on your behalf.
- 6. Arrange the funeral in the UK
You can start making funeral arrangements before the repatriation process begins. You may have already chosen a local funeral director to help you with repatriation, so they’ll be able to give you guidance and advice on how to arrange a funeral.
You might choose to have a funeral and cremate the deceased abroad but bring their ashes back to the UK to be scattered, or kept in an urn as a memorial.
If the repatriation of mortal remains is something you and your family decide to do for your loved one, there are several considerations to plan for. You’ll need to show the Death Certificate and Certificate of Cremation to the British embassy or High Commission, and they will help you understand the regulations relevant to the country you’re in.
Make sure you check with the airline you’re flying with to find out if you can bring the ashes on board as hand luggage, or whether you need to check them in as hold luggage. Lots of airlines prefer you to bring the ashes in a non-metal container so they can be scanned before you board the flight.
Once you arrive back in the UK, you’ll need to fill out a customs form to declare the ashes.
How long does it take to repatriate a body?
The timescale for the deceased to arrive in the UK from abroad very much depends on where they passed away. Time zones are a consideration, as are potentially delayed flights and cancellations.
We understand the frustration of waiting for your loved one’s body to arrive back home. If you need to talk to somebody about this process, your local Funeral Director can help.
This guide explains how to repatriate a body abroad if the person died in the UK, but you would like to bury or cremate them overseas. A funeral abroad might be something your loved one requested as part of their final wishes.
How to repatriate a body abroad
When repatriating a body out of the UK, it’s important to check the specific requirements for the country concerned, as some of the steps below can vary by location.
- 1. Notify the relevant authorities about the death
You will need to contact the UK authorities and the relevant embassy to tell them that the person has passed away. As part of this process, you should also notify the consulate of the country where your loved one is being repatriated to. They will be able to confirm what documents will be needed in order for body repatriation to take place. This step is important, as the documents needed can vary by country.
- 2. Inform the coroner that you'd like to repatriate the body overseas
This is done via a ‘Form of notice to a Coroner of intention to remove a body out of England or Wales’ or in Scotland the Procurator Fiscal will issue a ‘Furth of Scotland letter’. The prescribed period which must elapse after the receipt of the notice by the coroner is four clear days.
If the coroner states that they are satisfied and there is no requirement to make further enquiries concerning the death, the body may be removed at any time after the acknowledgement has been received by the person to whom it is addressed.
In the case of urgency, where the family would prefer not to wait the full period of four clear days, they may be able to proceed earlier if the coroner agrees. The form of notice to a coroner must be accompanied by a copy of the registrars ‘Certified Copy of an Entry of Death’.
The coroner acknowledges receipt of their formal notice by issuing Form 103 ‘Form of acknowledgement by the coroner.’
- 3. The coroner will issue 'Out of England' certificate
Once the decision is made to repatriate the body out of England and Wales, the local coroner should be approached for an ‘Out of England’ certificate. If the person died in Scotland, but you’d like to bury them overseas (which can include England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands), then you’ll need:
- Certificate of no Liability to Register – you can get this from the registrar at the place of burial in England or Wales
- Death Certificate, or letter from the Procurator Fiscal (coroner) in Scotland – provide this to the registrar and sign a declaration form at the office in England or Wales
Every country has different regulations, so it will depend on where you would like to bury the deceased. Some countries insist on investigating before the body can be repatriated from Scotland. If this is the case, the Procurator Fiscal will be involved to issue a Furth of Scotland letter to the person responsible for moving the body.
If you wish to arrange repatriation from Northern Ireland, you’ll need to follow the same procedure as you would in England or Wales.
- 4. Determine whether a post-mortem is needed
For transportation to some countries, this is an essential requirement. Depending on the results of the post-mortem, the coroner may decide to order an inquest to determine how the person died.
- 5. Arrange the relevant documents
To make sure you have everything you need, you should contact the consulate of the country where the deceased will be repatriated to. The documents you may need include:
- Acknowledgement from the coroner – Form 103, a ‘Certified Copy of an Entry’ from the Registrar
- ‘Freedom from Infection Certificate’ showing cause of death, and a declaration from the doctor stating that “as far as the sanitary regulations are concerned, there is nothing to prevent the body from being exported”
- Certificate of embalming (although this isn’t always required, most countries will require this as standard procedure)
- The deceased’s passport
Your local Funeral Director will provide help and support with this, should you need it.
- 6. Prepare the body for repatriation
Before repatriation can take place, the body will need to be prepared for transporting.
This will include:
- Embalming of the body – will delay changes to the deceased’s body and gives them a more restful appearance
- Provision of a zinc-lined coffin – this is often required for transporting a body overseas
- Correct size of coffin – the coffin or casket size must be checked to make sure that it is acceptable, particularly if there is to be onward transmission by a smaller aircraft later in the journey
- Suitable packing for coffin – this varies depending on the country to which the body is being transported, but can include requirements such as wrapping the coffin in hessian, or bubble-wrapping
How much does it cost to repatriate a body abroad?
The cost of repatriation depends on several factors. These include where the deceased is going, which coffin the family choose and whether the coffin must be hermetically sealed (airtight). It is difficult to advise on costs, however, these could range from £2,000 to £4,000.
How long does it take to repatriate a deceased person abroad?
The timescales for this are difficult to predict. Although all circumstances can differ, on average it approximately takes two weeks to organise for a body to be repatriated abroad.
Has someone died abroad?
If a loved one dies abroad and you would like to bring them back home for burial or cremation, we can help.
Dignity offers a full body repatriation service. Our local Funeral Directors will take care of all the details, supporting you throughout the entire process.