Advice on actions you may need to take and the support available from the FCDO and others when a British person dies abroad.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) can give you immediate support and information on the telephone at any time. Call 020 7008 5000
The death of a family member or friend is always distressing, especially if it happens abroad. The things you need to do after the death will depend on the laws and customs of the country where the person died, and the circumstances of their death. If the death occurred through murder, manslaughter or other suspicious circumstances you should read the specific advice and actions you may need to take.
Our staff aim to be empathetic, patient, sensitive and non-judgmental. We can give you country-specific information and help you contact other organisations such as funeral directors, lawyers, translators or interpreters and charities.
This guidance covers issues that may affect you, depending on your circumstances, including:
repatriating the person who died to the UK (bringing their body home) for a funeral or cremation
coroners and inquests and inquiries in the UK
police and court proceedings
The step-by-step guide for when someone dies provides information on what to do after a death.
After someone has died, they are usually taken to a mortuary, where they will need to be formally identified. In some countries, if the person who died was travelling with a relative or friend, they may be asked to visually identify them. Otherwise, the local authorities will do it. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to decide whether to travel to the country or the place where the person died.
If we are informed of the death of a British national abroad first:
- if you are in the UK, we will ask your local police force to tell you as soon as possible
- if you are abroad and we have your contact details, we will endeavour to ask our consular staff in the country where you are to tell you
What you should consider when a British person dies abroad
Provide us with a single point of contact
We understand there are sometimes a number of family members or friends who want to know what happened. A single point of contact helps us to ensure information is shared quickly and accurately. This would normally be the next of kin, but they can nominate someone else to be the main point of contact.
Check if the person who died had travel insurance and contact the insurance company as soon as possible. Travel insurance may cover costs such as medical, repatriation, legal, interpretation and translation fees, or have a list of approved funeral directors. If you are not sure whether the person had insurance, you could check with their bank, credit card company, or their employer if they were travelling for work. If they did not have insurance, you will usually need to appoint your own funeral director for a cremation or burial abroad, or repatriation company to bring the person’s body home.
Identifying the person who died
There are times when the police cannot positively identify the person who died, for example because of their injuries. In these cases, they may try to identify the person by other methods such as comparing against dental records, fingerprints from places where the person is known to have been or DNA from property such as a hairbrush or toothbrush. Sometimes, identification might have to come from DNA samples from close relatives.
Your Police Family Liaison Officer (FLO), if you have one, can explain the reasons for these and how they are used to identify the victim.
Inform local authorities of infections conditions
You should tell the authorities if the person who died had an infectious condition such as hepatitis or HIV, so they can take precautions against infection.
The police or a hospital abroad will often look after the personal possessions of the person who died. You may want to arrange for these possessions to be returned to the UK. If the person’s property is to be used as evidence in a police investigation, it can take a long time before the items are released. The rules will vary from country to country.
Personal items, especially for people travelling alone, can be difficult to locate. Contact could be made with the relevant hospital or police force overseas. If you need information on how to do this, ask your funeral director or the FCDO. If the items have been stolen, you may need to contact the police or seek legal advice.
Post mortem examination
A post mortem, sometimes known as an autopsy, is an internal medical examination of the person who died. It helps establish the cause of death and, in cases of suspicious deaths, helps to gather forensic evidence.
When someone dies abroad, the authorities in that country may carry out a post mortem. In many countries, a post mortem is carried out after all deaths. In some countries, a post mortem may take place immediately after the death, without the permission of the next of kin. In some countries, there are no post mortem facilities.
If you decide to repatriate the person’s body to the UK, there may be a post-mortem in the UK even if there has already been one abroad. The coroner or other local authorities will decide this. Note that the embalming required for repatriation can affect the post mortem, including any toxicology tests (fluid samples such as blood and urine to identify drugs, alcohol or other harmful chemicals in the body).
The post mortem report
A post mortem report gives details of the examination of the body and usually states the cause of death. It may include details of any laboratory tests that were carried out. A post mortem report is a medical one, so it uses clinical terms which can be confusing or distressing.
The standard of post mortem reports, and the time that it takes to obtain one, can vary significantly by country. In some countries, it can take months or sometimes even years for the report, and the final document may not go into detail.
A post mortem report will usually be in the official language of the country. If this is not English, you may need to have it translated and pay for this.
Post mortem reports are official documents issued by the relevant authority in a country. FCDO staff are not legally or medically trained and cannot offer specific advice on them. If you do not agree with the contents of a post mortem report, including the cause of death, you should seek independent legal advice.
In some countries, foreign authorities may not share official reports with the FCDO as a third party. If that happens, the FCDO can help you to contact the relevant authority directly, or provide you with a list of local lawyers who can act on your behalf.
Post mortem examinations may involve the taking of small tissue samples which are an essential tool for investigating the cause of death. Sometimes organs may need to be removed and retained for a period of time, for investigating the cause of death.
In some countries local law permits removing and retaining organs without the permission, or prior knowledge, of the next of kin. As a result, the family or friends of the person who died may not know that organs have been removed, and that they have not been returned with the body to the UK. Sometimes the person who died may be buried locally, cremated or returned to the UK before tests on removed organs are completed. Specific practices vary from country to country. If you have any concerns about this, contact the FCDO.
Register the death and obtain a local death certificate
A death must be registered in the country where the person died. The hospital, local police, or a tour operator can usually explain how to register a death and obtain a death certificate. A funeral director may be able to help you do this. You will usually need:
- documents about yourself
- documents about the person who died which confirm their full name, date of birth, passport number, where and when the passport was issued
- details of the next of kin
Most countries, but not all, issue a death certificate for all deaths in their jurisdiction, including foreign nationals. Depending on the country, this may take longer than it would in the UK and be in a different format.
The death certificate should be certified by the authorities of that country; it will usually be in the local language. If it is not in English, you will need to obtain and pay for an official translation. Consider asking for extra copies of the death certificate where possible, as you might need them later to inform other organisations of the death.
You do not have to register the death with the UK authorities. The local death certificate can normally be used in the UK.
Depending on the country, you can sometimes choose to apply for a consular death registration. This records the death with the General Register Office in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the National Records Office in Scotland. It is not mandatory and cannot be used instead of a death certificate from the country where the person died. It is only available in some countries and is not normally available in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland and South Africa. To register a death abroad, you will need a copy of the local death certificate and an official translation.
Death certificates are official documents issued by the relevant authority in a country. FCDO staff are not legally or medically trained, and cannot offer specific advice on these documents. If you do not agree with the contents of a death certificate, including the cause of death, you should seek independent legal advice.
Inform government departments and other organisations about the death
If the person died in the Commonwealth, the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you may be able to use the UK Government’s Tell Us Once service. This lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go. If you cannot use this, there is a list of government departments to inform, and suggestions for other organisations.
Repatriating the body to the UK, or burial and cremation abroad
The next of kin of the person who has died will usually need to decide between a local burial, cremation or bringing the person home, which is known as repatriation. The options available will depend on the circumstances of the death and the laws and customs of the country where they died. A funeral director should be able to explain the options and the costs, and help you make arrangements.
Burial or cremation abroad
Burial or cremation facilities may be limited in some countries. A lack of storage facilities may make it impossible to get the necessary international certificates to repatriate the body of the person who died. If you choose a burial or cremation abroad, there will not be an inquest or inquiry held in the UK.
If you want to arrange a burial or cremation where the person died, you usually need to appoint a local funeral director. The FCDO also provides lists of funeral directors in other countries. Every country has its own laws, rituals and customs for funerals, see our country specific information on death abroad.
Repatriating the body to the UK
If you choose to repatriate the person who died, their body will usually need to be embalmed, which can affect any post mortem in the UK.
You will only be able to repatriate the person who died when the local processes of the other country are finished. This can include the post mortem and police and judicial inquiries, which can take time and will vary depending on the country.
To repatriate the person who died to the UK, you will need an international funeral director. See our list of international funeral directors in the UK.
HM Passport Office has information on what to do with a passport when the passport holder has died. If you repatriate the person who died to the UK, you may need their passport to do this. If so, you should cancel their passport after repatriation has taken place.
If you repatriate the person who died to the UK, there may be further procedures. These are different, depending on where in the UK you hold a funeral:
England and Wales
If you repatriate the body of the person who died to England and Wales, a coroner may be involved. A coroner is an independent judicial office holder that investigates deaths. They have a duty to investigate when they are made aware that there is a body within that coroners area and they have reason to suspect that:
- the death was violent or unnatural
- the cause of death is unknown, or
- the person died in custody such as in prison or police custody, or another type of state detention
Because they have judicial roles, coroners are independent. Their investigation may include requiring a post-mortem examination and/or an inquest, which is a type of court hearing.
The inquest determines who has died and how, when and where they died. The inquest cannot make a finding that someone is guilty of something or to blame for something.
Your local coroner will have a coroner’s officer who you can contact, details are on your local authority’s website. The Ministry of Justice has a guide to coroner services with more information. You may also wish to find out more about arranging a funeral in England and Wales.
In Scotland, the Lord Advocate, who is head of the system for investigating deaths in Scotland, decides whether a Fatal Accident Inquiry is needed. The Lord Advocate operates within a statutory framework set out in the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016.
For deaths abroad, a Fatal Accident Inquiry can be called for a person ordinarily resident in Scotland, if the Lord Advocate considers:
- the death as sudden, suspicious or unexplained, or occurred in circumstances giving rise to serious public concern
- that the circumstances of the death have not been sufficiently established in the course of an investigation in relation to the death
- that there is a real prospect that those circumstances would be sufficiently established in an inquiry
- and decides that it is in the public interest for an inquiry to be held into the circumstances of the death
To repatriate a body to Scotland, the next of kin must apply to Health Improvement Scotland’s Death Certification Review Service (DCRS). Find more death abroad information and application forms for Scotland. DCRS will review the paperwork and deal with the authorising of burial or cremation. Once authorised, normal Scottish burial or cremation application procedures apply, as set out in the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016.
Sometimes DCRS will refer the circumstances to the Procurator Fiscal, who reports to the Lord Advocate. An additional post mortem may be instructed by DCRS in non-referred deaths, or by the Procurator Fiscal if the case has been reported to them. You may also wish to refer to arranging a funeral in Scotland.
If the body has been cremated and it is only the ashes that are being returned to Scotland, you do not have to follow the repatriation procedure. You can find information about returning ashes to Scotland.
Isle of Man
On the Isle of Man, the Coroner for Inquests is not legally obliged to enquire into the circumstances of a death overseas, but they may decide to.
In the Channel Islands, officials are not legally obliged to enquire into the circumstances of a death overseas, but they may decide to. In Jersey, the Deputy Viscount performs the coroner’s role. In Guernsey, it is the Attorney General.
After a child has died abroad
If a child has died abroad and was usually living in the UK, the local area where they lived will hold a Child Death Review Meeting (CDRM). The CDRM information is submitted for a Child Death Overview Panel (CDOP) to evaluate and help decide what, if any, actions could be taken to prevent future deaths.
UK organisations can help or assist if you are affected by a child’s death abroad including supporting bereaved children.
Barnardos child bereavement service Belfast provides guides on how to explain death to children and young people, and how to help those bereaved by suicide.
Paying for a child’s funeral
If the person was under 18 when they died, and you repatriate them to England, the Children’s Funeral Fund (CFF) may be able to help pay for some of the costs of a funeral in England.
In Scotland, local authorities do not charge burial or cremation fees for anyone under 18 years of age. You do not need to apply separately for this.
In Wales, local authorities do not charge fees for the standard burial or cremation of a person under 18.
In Northern Ireland, the Child Funeral Fund provides a one-off lump sum payment to cover the expense of a funeral after the death of a child under the age of 18, or stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy.
The FCDO can advise you how to transfer money from friends and family in the UK, and provide information on financial assistance abroad. We cannot pay burial, cremation or repatriation expenses or pay any debts or expenses.
You should contact the insurers to cover the costs following a death abroad. If the person who died did not have insurance, the family will usually be expected to cover all the costs associated with repatriation and funeral. This can be expensive.
If you will find it difficult to pay for a funeral service in the UK, seek advice from your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau in the UK as soon as you can.
The Department of Work and Pensions provides Bereavement Support Payment. It is available to you if your husband, wife, or civil partner died and was under state pension age, and lived in the UK or a country that pays bereavement benefits. How you apply depends on where you live. If you live in England, Scotland or Wales you can find out more about your eligibility and apply online for Bereavement Support Benefit.
If you are bringing up a child whose parents have died, check if you can apply for the Guardian’s Allowance.
If you live in Scotland, Social Security Scotland provides the Funeral Support Payment to help eligible people who need help with the costs of arranging a funeral. It provides a contribution towards the funeral costs, and is available to the nearest relative or friend if they are receiving certain benefits and are responsible for organising a funeral. The person who has died must have been living in the UK, and the funeral must be held in either the UK, an EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. Funeral Support Payment will not usually cover the full cost of the funeral, but it can help pay for some costs. You can find out more and apply online for Funeral Support Payment.
NI Direct has more information on funeral payments in Northern Ireland.
The FCDO has lists of English speaking lawyers in other countries. However, the FCDO cannot recommend a specific lawyer to you or pay legal fees. The lawyer can explain local laws and procedures, and in some countries the authorities may recognise them as having a legal right to obtain information on your behalf.
Many law firms in the UK have links with law firms abroad. Although this may be more expensive, a UK-based firm may be better able to explain the issues than an overseas firm. Find out more from these law societies:
If the person did not die of natural causes overseas, you may wish to seek compensation for your loss. Whether or not you can make a claim will depend on the law of the country where the person died. The FCDO may be able to give you information on whether a compensation scheme exists in another country.
If the person died through murder, manslaughter or other suspicious circumstances, read the additional guidance on If a British person dies through murder or manslaughter.
If you are able to make a claim, you may need to appoint a lawyer to help you. A lawyer can advise you on the system and the likelihood of being able to claim compensation in that country. Families of UK residents who die as a result of a crime of violence in some other countries may be able to get help from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).
There may be media interest in what has happened. The FCDO can offer advice on handling attention from the media if you wish. This can be arranged through your consular caseworker. Other organisations may be able help, including:
- the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which regulates most of the UK’s newspapers and magazines. IPSO provides advice on media intrusion and harassment. Its website has a copy of the Editor’s Code and details of how to complain to IPSO
- Ofcom regulates TV and radio broadcasters in the UK, and provides advice for consumers and information on how to complain to Ofcom
There are many organisations that can give you specialised information and advice support; some are listed via UK organisations that can help.
We welcome your views on the support we provide, to help us to identify what we do well and what we could do better. Contact us using our feedback contact form.
Alternatively write to us:
Consular Feedback Team
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
Or telephone +44 (0)20 7008 5000
You can read the disclaimer relating to this guidance.