What You Need to Know About Shipping A Body Home

Coping with the death of a loved one can be especially overwhelming if the death happens abroad. Before a funeral or memorial service can be arranged, the bereaved family must first determine how to ship their loved one’s remains home. This repatriation process can be complicated (and expensive) depending on the circumstances involved. Here’s what you need to know about how to ship a body home from another country.

What to Expect When Shipping a Body

When someone dies in another country, shipping the remains back home or to the place of burial is known as repatriation. However, repatriation of remains is usually the last step in the process and a number of things need to happen before repatriation can occur. It’s important to note that the local laws of the country where the death occurred apply, which means the local authorities are responsible for investigating the cause of death e.g., a motor vehicle accident. In some cases, the investigation may take a long time to resolve thus delaying release of the foreign death certificate and the repatriation process.

Family members are also expected to comply with the country’s rules regarding funeral or cremation procedures. For example, some countries do not allow cremation of human remains which can add emotional and financial stress to an already difficult situation. The family often has to pay the funeral home costs and body preparation expenses upfront in order for the remains to be transported out of the foreign country. 

Who Can Help With Repatriation?

When a US citizen dies abroad, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is available to assist the bereaved family with the repatriation process. Consulate officials help the next of kin navigate the foreign country’s laws, obtain their loved one’s remains, and manage the paperwork requirements. The diplomatic guidance of consular officers familiar with local funeral regulations can be invaluable to grieving family and friends, so always think ahead if you are traveling overseas and write down the contact information for the respective US embassy, consulate and/or diplomatic mission for all the places you plan to visit. 

What if your loved one dies on a cruise ship? When a passenger dies at sea or at a foreign port of entry, most cruise lines assign a dedicated “care team” to help the family figure out what to do next. The care team helps the family organize the logistical arrangements for returning the deceased person home, including working with local authorities to obtain a death certificate and handling the remains if necessary. 

Many funeral homes also help their families understand the requirements involved with shipping a body. Your local funeral director has likely guided other clients through the process and thus has the practical knowledge necessary to organize the logistics and support family members as needed.

How Much Does Shipping a Body Cost?

The costs to ship a body home from a foreign country depend on a variety of factors, including distance, weight, and available transport providers. In general, it can be fairly expensive to ship a body home in a casket (approximately $3,000 – $20,000) vs. shipping cremated remains in a cremation urn. Most airlines that transport human remains are designated “known shippers” approved by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and usually provide a quote on how much it will cost to transport a loved one’s remains to the burial location. Many funeral homes are also known shippers and include this service in the funeral arrangements as agreed upon by the family.

Keep in mind that the Dept. of State does not provide any financial assistance to return the deceased’s remains to the United States (and neither do cruise lines if the death occurs at sea). To avoid the financial burden of paying a large sum of money to ship a body home, people traveling overseas should always consider buying a travel insurance policy that includes repatriation insurance. Repatriation insurance usually covers the necessary costs of embalming, buying a shipping casket, and the transportation costs to ship the body home.

However, in most cases repatriation benefits do not cover the costs of the actual funeral service or cremation. To learn more, check out our helpful guides on funeral costs and/or cremation expenses

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