Death of a U.S. Citizen Abroad
When an American dies abroad, the Bureau of Consular Affairs must locate and inform the next-of-kin. Sometimes discovering the next-of-kin is difficult. If the American’s name is known, the Bureau’s Office of Passport Services will search for his or her passport application.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs provides guidance to grieving family members on how to make arrangements for local burial or return of the remains to the U.S. The disposition of remains is affected by local laws, customs, and facilities, which are often vastly different from those in the U.S. The Bureau of Consular Affairs relays the family’s instructions and necessary private funds to cover the costs involved to the embassy or consulate. The Department of State has no funds to assist in the return of remains or ashes of American citizens who die abroad. Upon completion of all formalities, the consular officer abroad prepares an official Foreign Service Report of Death, based upon the local death certificate, and sends it to the next-of-kin or legal representative for use in U.S. courts to settle estate matters.
A U.S. consular officer overseas has statutory responsibility for the personal estate of an American who dies abroad if the deceased has no legal representative in the country where the death occurred. The consular officer takes possession of personal effects, such as:
The officer prepares an inventory and then carries out instructions from members of the deceased’s family concerning the effects. In Washington, the Bureau of Consular Affairs gives next-of-kin guidance on procedures to follow in preparing Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration, and Affidavits of Next-of-Kin as acceptable evidence of legal claim of an estate.
SUMMARY: One of the most essential tasks of the Department of State and of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is to provide assistance to families of U.S. citizens who die abroad. The U.S. consular officer in the foreign country will assist the family in making arrangements with local authorities for preparation and disposition of the remains, following the family’s instructions in accordance with local law. The authority and responsibilities of a U.S. consular officer concerning return of remains of a deceased U.S. citizen abroad are based on U.S. laws (22 U.S.C. 4196; 22 CFR 72.1), treaties and international practice. Options available to a family depend upon local law and practice in the foreign country. Certain documents are required by U.S. and foreign law before remains can be sent from one country to another. These requirements may vary depending on the circumstances of the death.
CONSULAR MORTUARY CERTIFICATE: A U.S. consular mortuary certificate is required to ensure orderly shipment of remains and to facilitate U.S. Customs clearance. The certificate is in English and confirms essential information concerning the cause of death. The U.S. consular officer will prepare the certificate and ensure that the foreign death certificate (if available), affidavit of the foreign funeral director, and transit permit, together with the consular mortuary certificate accompany the remains to the United States.
AFFIDAVIT OF FOREIGN FUNERAL DIRECTOR AND TRANSIT PERMIT: The U.S. consular officer will ensure that the required affidavit is executed by the local (foreign) funeral director. This affidavit attests to the fact that the casket contains only the remains of the deceased and the necessary clothing and packing materials. The affidavit may also state that the remains have been embalmed or otherwise prepared. In addition, the U.S. consular officer ensures that a transit permit accompanies the remains. The transit permit is issued by local health authorities at the port of embarkation.
U.S. ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR QUARANTINE AND CUSTOMS: In general, if remains have been embalmed, the documentation which accompanies the consular mortuary certificate will satisfy U.S. public health requirements. If the foreign death certificate is not available at the time the remains are returned, the consular mortuary certificate will include reference to the fact that the deceased did not die from a quarantineable disease and that the remains have been embalmed. The affidavit of the funeral director which is attached to the consular mortuary certificate complies with the U.S. Customs requirement that the casket and the packing container for the casket contain only the remains. If the remains are not accompanied by a passenger, a bill of lading must be issued by the airline carrier company to cover the transport. The customs house permit for entry to the United States is obtained by the airline carrier at the point of departure.
SHIPMENT OF UNEMBALMED REMAINS: If the remains are not embalmed, the U.S. consular officer should alert U.S. Customs and the U.S. Public Health Service at point of entry in advance, faxing copies of the consular mortuary certificate, local death certificate (if available), affidavit of foreign funeral director, and a formal statement from competent foreign authorities stating that the individual did not die from a communicable disease. This statement generally is required even if the exact cause of death is unknown in order for unembalmed remains to enter the United States.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: For additional information concerning return of remains of a diseased U.S. citizen, contact the appropriate geographic division of the Office of American Citizens Services, Department of State, Room 4817 N.S., 2201 C. Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20520, tel: (202) 647-5225 or (202) 647-5226 or the consular officer in the American Citizens Services Section of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the foreign country where the death occurred. http://www.usembassy.gov/
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