Coping with death abroad

Close-up of white lilies. © Hoi Fung Tsoi/Getty ImagesThis page has key information and advice on how we can help you if a friend or relative dies whilst abroad.  There is also advice on what to do if death occurs in suspicious circumstances.

If you are living in the UK and a relative or friend dies when abroad, then you should contact us on 020 7008 1500. If you are abroad, you should contact the relevant embassy, high commission or consulate.  You'll find a link to our 'Find an embassy' page to the right.

What you need to do

It is essential that the death is registered in the country where the person died. We can advise you how to do this.

You will need to provide documents from yourself and the person who died, which show your names, dates of birth and passport details.

You will also have to inform the local authorities if the person suffered from an infectious condition such as hepatitis or HIV, so they are prepared when dealing with the body.

You don’t have to register the death with the British Embassy but if you do, you will get a UK death certificate. In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa and Zimbabwe local death certificates are suitable for British purposes.

What we can do to help:

  • our staff in London can pass on your wishes about how to deal with the body to the relevant embassy
  • unfortunately, in some countries it is possible that a post mortem may be carried out without your permission
  • organs may be removed and kept during this procedure without your prior knowledge or consent
  • we can tell you about the cost of local burial or cremation
  • we can advise you about bringing the body and personal belongings back to the UK
  • we can provide details of local and international funeral directors. And if an English speaking firm is not available our staff at the embassy can help you with arrangements.

Please be aware that in some countries inadequate storage makes it impossible to get the certificates necessary for transporting a body from one county to another.  

We will do everything we can to ensure that you do not hear about the death of close relative through the media.

On rare occasions, where we have to act quickly, we may have to inform you about the death over the phone. We never release the name of someone who has died to the media before we have told the next of kin.

If the person who has died was travelling with a tour company, the company will usually contact their next of kin themselves.

If the death of a British national abroad is reported to us we will ask the UK police to inform the next of kin as soon as possible. Alternatively we will ask our staff in the relevant country to do this if the next of kin are abroad themselves.

What we can’t do:

  • we cannot pay burial, cremation or repatriation costs, but we can help to transfer money from friends or relatives in the UK

Death abroad in suspicious circumstances

In addition to the above support, where there is evidence of suspicious circumstances we can:
offer some basic information on the local police and legal systems.

  • provide lists of local interpreters, lawyers and local support groups where possible- these lists are usually on the local embassy’s website

In many countries the authorities and courts will refuse to answer questions from British consular staff so we highly recommend you appoint a local lawyer to help you. Please note that we cannot :

  • investigate deaths ourselves
  • offer financial assistance with legal costs.

Please also be aware that the standard of investigative procedures and police expertise varies greatly around the world. We will however consider making an appropriate representation to the local authorities if there are concerns that they are not carrying out the investigation in line with local procedures.

You should appoint one family member to liaise with us as the case continues.  Your local police force may decide to appoint a Family Liaison Officer to help you if the investigation is ongoing.

You'll find some links the websites of helpful support groups in the box to the right.

Useful Contacts

Consular Assistance:
020 7008 1500

Birth Deaths and Marriages or our Overseas Document Search Service
Telephone: 020 7008 0186 (Mon-Thurs: 1000-1200)

See Also

Registering a death overseas

Useful Links Dying Abroad: specific support for people who have suffered a bereavement abroad

Cruse Bereavement Care: offers general support to those coping with bereavement

Support After Murder and Manslaughter: support for relatives and friends of murder and manslaughter victims

The Samaritans: offers confidential support to people in distress

Related Documents

Find an Embassy

Wherever you are in the world