How much does it cost to have a loved one returned to the US if they pass away overseas?

Table of Contents

  1. Costs Related to Transporting Remains
    1. Average Cost of Transporting Remains
    2. Fees Related to Transporting Remains
  2. Process Related Transporting Remains
    1. Shipment of Your Loved One’s Remains
    2. Shipping Cremated Remains
  3. Veteran Information
    1. Costs for US Veterans
  4. What To Do If Your Loved One Passes Away Overseas
    1. What To Do When Notified of a Death
    2. Documents Required
    3. Shipment time
    4. Traveling with Cremated Remains
  5. Make Transporting Remains More Affordable With Preplanning
    1. Travel Insurance
    2. Travel Protection and Relocation Plan

In an increasingly mobile, transient world, more Americans are traveling frequently for both pleasure and work, and it’s not uncommon to settle away from home, even in a foreign country. Because of this, the possibility of having to transport the remains of a loved one is important to understand.

Average Cost of Transporting Remains

The costs can vary significantly, depending on travel distance, geographic location and available facilities, whether you wish to have the body cremated or not, and the legal requirements or regulations of the country from which you are shipping.

The cost to ship cremated remains internationally will be about $300, while the cost to ship a person’s body can be $10,000-$20,000, says International Insurance.

It’s important to note that all costs are the responsibility of the family. The State Department’s Overseas Citizen Services will assist you with transmitting funds, and the consulate in the country of origin will help disburse the funds. However, the U.S. government doesn’t pay for repatriation of a deceased U.S. citizen.

For help with matters related to a loved one’s death abroad, family members can contact the US Overseas Citizen Services, 24 hours a day, at 202-647-5225.

Transporting the deceased from overseas can be complex. As mentioned above, costs vary from country to country, and the process is much easier in a major city, while more difficult, and often costly, in a remote area. Cultural attitudes and laws related to death vary across the globe, and disposition of remains must be done in accordance with the country’s rules and customs.

If your loved one dies overseas, the U.S. consulate in that country will assist your family in making arrangements with local authorities, and will prepare a mortuary certificate in English, which includes the cause of death and other essential information, to ensure shipment and U.S. Customs clearance. There may be fees for embassy paperwork and documents.

Whether you are shipping cremated remains or not, if you haven’t made prearrangements it can be helpful to use the services of a professional funeral company in the country where the death occurred that specializes in international shipping.

If the death has taken place in a remote area, you may need to use an international assistance company, such as International SOS or First Assistance, to act as intermediary with an international funeral director.

Shipment of Your Loved One’s Remains

If you are shipping your loved one’s body, preparation of remains may include embalming, depending on the country. You will need a receiving funeral service provider in the US as well. The remains may need to be sheltered in refrigerated storage, and there will be a cost for a casket, or approved container for transportation.

There will also be an international ship-out fee, starting at $3,000-$4,000, according to US-Funerals.com. The airline’s international mortuary cargo fee is calculated according to the weight and the distance between the point of origin and the destination. Expect to pay between $2,000 and $6,000.

Most airline carriers have a weight limit of 500 pounds. If the deceased is heavier, there will be an additional cost.

Shipping Cremated Remains

Choosing to have your loved one cremated in the country where the death occurred is a far simpler option, and much more affordable. A basic direct cremation can usually be arranged for $500-$1,500, depending on the country.

The United States Postal Service, via Priority Mail Express, is the only legal method of shipping cremated remains either domestically or internationally. There are specific requirements for preparing, packaging, and shipping cremated remains. The cost will depend on the weight of the package and the distance. FedEx, UPS or other carriers do not ship cremated remains.

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has more details on the best ways to pack cremated remains for shipping.

Veteran Information

Costs for US Veterans

The US Department of Veterans Affairs does not pay to transport remains unless the death is service-related, but provides a burial allowance for every veteran.

What To Do If Your Loved One Passes Away Overseas

What To Do When Notified of a Death

If you have not made preplanning arrangements, contact the U.S. consulate in the country where the death occurred for assistance in finding an experienced funeral provider there. Using someone who specializes in international shipping will ensure they know the requirements for funeral cargo import in the US and will gather all the consulate documents. Transporting remains must meet the regulations of both the disembarking and receiving countries.

The funeral provider should:

  • Move the deceased to a funeral facility and supervise cremation or other disposition, according to the family’s wishes.
  • Ensure the correct preparation for transportation, including approved casket or shipping container.
  • Coordinate all local and receiving country consulate paperwork and handle the flight booking.
  • Ensure delivery of the remains onto the flight or other transport.
  • Coordinate with the US funeral provider to ensure a seamless transportation process.

Documents Required

The required documents will vary depending on the laws for each country. In general, these must accompany the deceased, and all documentation must be translated into English:

  • Death certificate
  • Embalming certificate or cremation certificate (in some countries)
  • Consulate documentation
  • Customs import/export documentation

If you have chosen not to cremate, and the remains are not embalmed, the consulate will alert US Customs and provide:

  • Consular mortuary certificate
  • Affidavit of foreign funeral director
  • Statement from foreign authorities on cause of death

If using ground transportation, transit permits are required.

Shipment time

Again, this would depend on a number of circumstances: how long it takes to determine the cause of death, travel distance, remoteness of location and available facilities, country regulations, and consulate approval and paperwork.

Traveling with Cremated Remains

If you are considering flying with the cremated remains, individual airline policies may vary; be sure to check with the airline on rules and whether there is a fee. Most airlines will allow you to transport cremated remains, either as air cargo, or as carry-on or checked luggage.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policy allows airline passengers to carry cremated remains, as long as they are in a container through which they can scan and determine the contents. The TSA recommends a container made of wood, plastic, cardboard, or any non-lead-based ceramic. TSA personnel are not permitted to open an urn to check the contents, so if they aren’t visible as they pass through the x-ray, they will not be allowed in a carry-on. Read more on TSA rules related to traveling with cremated remains.

Be sure to:

  • Carry the death certificate, certificate of cremation, and other appropriate documentation with you. You may want to attach copies to the container as well.
  • Check with a licensed funeral director both at the origin of travel and arrival point to make sure you are observing all laws.

Make Transporting Remains More Affordable With Preplanning

Travel Insurance

Most travel insurance and international private medical insurance policies, such as MASA Medical Transport Solutions, include death under a standard repatriation clause or as an optional extra. It’s worth considering a repatriation policy if you or your family members live or travel overseas regularly. “Repatriation of remains” coverage, in which a person’s remains are transported home from overseas, typically include:

  • Coordinating with local authorities on the post-mortem exam.
  • Removal and transportation of the body to medical facilities, coroner, and airport.
  • A coffin or appropriate container for transport.
  • Coordination with government authorities in arranging for services, authorizations, and approvals for transport.
  • Air and ground shipping expenses.

Travel Protection and Relocation Plan

At Neptune Society, we recommend preparing for every possibility, those you may anticipate and those you don’t. For that reason, we offer a travel protection and relocation plan, which can provide assurance that your wishes are respected in any situation. It’s a smart investment to make.

The costs and paperwork associated with having a loved one’s remains returned from overseas can make a time of grief even more stressful, and preplanning can alleviate some of that stress in a difficult time.

For more information about preplanning a cremation with travel protection and relocation, download our free guide today.


Published | Category: Resources.