We may have already touched on dying abroad, but sometimes people aren’t on holiday when they die – they are living there. This can also apply to people living in the UK who want to go back to their country of origin when they die.

Repatriation is defined as the returning of an asset, item of symbolic value or a person, to its owner or place of original citizenship. While repatriation of artefacts makes for exciting mid-90s movies, it isn’t what we’re talking about. In this context, it refers to the return of a person, a dead person, and it isn’t cheap. 

Repatriating a body

Once the death has occurred, a funeral director will be contacted, regardless of where they have died or will be buried. The funeral director will then liaise with a coroner who establishes the cause of death (depending on circumstance) They will provide a “free from infection” certificate, this means they are able to travel internationally without risk of spreading disease. As well as a certificate to state that the body has been embalmed – bodies must be embalmed in they are going to travel. This could well prevent the body from receiving a natural burial.

Then a passport must be provided; this is one of the rare circumstances when someone can travel with a photocopied passport. The undertakers will then weigh the body. Sometimes airlines offer a flat-fee for a body, sometimes it is costed on weight. The body is dressed in the appropriate attire, such as a white gown, or clothes provided by the family – there may not be another chance to dress the body in specific clothes, but this can depend.

The appropriate documentation is then obtained from the country the body is being sent to and the flight is booked. You will also need to book a ticket if you want to be on the same plane as the body. The body is placed in a coffin lined with zinc which creates a hermetic seal meaning cabin pressure won’t make the coffin (or body) explode.

When the coffin arrives at the airport its goes through a private entrance route and is taken on as priority shipment. Not to be confused with priority boarding. 

Like the rest of us, the deceased still needs to go through the same x-rays and security checks. The travel company will then pick up the body from a private part of the airport and load it on to the plane. It’s not clear who goes first if there is more than one coffin.

Once it lands, the coffin is picked up by a local ambulance and presented to the family, who can check if it’s the right person via small viewing window. On some occasions, the coffin may be able to have the zinc seal removed and other preparations made to the body.

Repatriating ashes

In the result of a cremation or a direct cremation in the country of death then ashes will need to be transported back to loved ones, often in the country of origin. In some cases, the deceased simply didn’t wish for their ashes to be scattered in that location.

Repatriating them can be a difficult problem, The issue being the paperwork – every country seems to have a different take on it – the Philippines, for example, treat the ashes the same as they would a body. It is important to find out what regulations are for each country before assuming anything. 

Generally speaking, a lot of airlines will let you take them on as hand luggage as long as all the correct paperwork is in order and provided they are sealed sufficiently. It is also an option to send ashes by post. Most courier companies offer transportations for human remains, but it is understandable if someone wouldn’t feel comfortable with leaving something so precious in the care of someone else.

Most travel insurance and international private medical insurance (PMI) policies include death under a standard repatriation clause or as an optional extra. The repatriation of mortal remains typically covers body preparation, paperwork, associated certificates, coffin and transportation of the body or ashes of the insured from the place of death to the home country, and thence to an agreed funeral home.

No matter where you die, make sure that those close to you know what your final wishes are.

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