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Repatriation to and from the UK

When someone has died abroad, they can be repatriated and brought back to their home country to be buried or cremated.

James L Wallace can offer practical help and support in repatriating people from the UK to their homeland, and also bringing UK citizens back who have died abroad. Drawing on our depth of experience, we have prepared a bespoke guide for Consuls and officials involved in the repatriation of their citizens home.

First steps for UK residents

In the event a death occurs overseas, the deceased’s travel insurance provider should appoint a local funeral director. It is the local funeral director’s role to arrange transport of your loved one and necessary documentation back to the UK.

Step 1

Registering the death

When someone dies abroad, the death must be registered in the country where the person died. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, British Embassy, High Commission or British Consulate can all advise on how to do this.

In the absence of valid travel insurance, you will need to instruct a local funeral director to arrange care before returning to the UK and cover the costs of repatriation.

Once the death has been registered, the local funeral director in association with the local authority in that country will arrange for the necessary documentation to proceed with repatriation. The deceased’s passport is essential to this process. Timescales vary slightly but, unfortunately, it’s not unusual to face significant delays.

Step 2

Obtaining a death certificate

Death certificates will be issued in the language of the country of death. If need be, we can arrange for these to be translated into any language.

Step 3

Making funeral arrangements

Whether we have been instructed to repatriate to or from the UK, before funeral arrangements can be finalised, authorisation will be required from the local authorities in the destination country. Also, whilst every care is taken, repatriation services employ third parties including airlines, ferries, and trains whose timetables and schedules can be subject to last minute changes. We therefore recommend that no funeral arrangements are finalised or announced until the deceased – and the paperwork – has arrived in the destination country and all necessary permissions obtained.

Step 4

Returning ashes to the UK

Returning to the UK with human ashes will require a death certificate and a certificate of cremation from the country where death occurred. Each country has its own rules about departing with human ashes and there may be additional requirements. On arrival to the UK, expect to complete a standard customs form. It is also worth checking with your transport provider to find out how you can safely carry the ashes securely.

Step 5

Notifying the authorities

The ‘Tell Us Once’ service can be used if the person died in a Commonwealth country, a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland. Using the deceased’s National Insurance number, central and local Government agencies are informed of the death and centrally update records relating to: council tax, passport, state pension, benefits, disability blue badge, and driving licences.

Non-UK Citizens

Across our company, we have particular expertise in repatriation having worked with many embassies and consulates based in the UK.   We are well placed to advise and to organise practically, so repatriation is completed smoothly. Invariably, there is a high degree of paperwork and consultation required and we are familiar with the various requirements of countries around the world, some of which can result in time delays in excess of two weeks. During this period, the deceased will remain in our care. Once the deceased has been returned to your chosen destination, funeral arrangements can be finalised in the normal manner.


Leaving the UK with ashes

The best way to repatriate ashes is to take them personally. If that is not practical, they may need to be sent by air as cargo. Currently, courier and postal services no longer repatriate ashes.

Each country has its own rules for repatriating ashes from the UK. The best thing to do is determine the specific requirements with the consulate of the country to which they are being repatriated. We can assist with all necessary documentation and practical arrangements. You will always require at least a death certificate, a certificate of cremation and a customs disclaimer.

On arrival at the destination country, expect to complete a standard customs form. It is also worth checking with your transport provider to find out how you can safely carry the ashes securely.