When a U.S. citizen dies abroad, U.S. consular officers assist families in making arrangements with local authorities for preparation and disposition of the remains. Options available to a family depend upon local law and practice in the foreign country. U.S. and foreign law require the following documents before remains can be sent from one country to another: Consular mortuary certificate, affidavit of local funeral director, and transit permit. Additional documents may be required depending on the circumstances of the death. The consular officer will ensure that all required documents accompany the remains to the United States.
The consular officer prepares the consular mortuary certificate, which ensures orderly shipment of remains and facilitates U.S. Customs clearance. The certificate is in English and confirms essential information concerning the cause of death.
The local (foreign) funeral director executes an affidavit attesting 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, local health authorities at the port of embarkation will issue a transit permit, which will accompany the remains.
In general, if remains have been embalmed, the documents outlined above 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 reference the fact that the deceased did not die from a quarantineable disease and that the remains have been embalmed.
If a passenger does not accompany the remains, the airline carrier must issue a bill of lading to cover the transport.
At the point of departure, the airline carrier will obtain the customs house permit for entry to the United States.
If the remains are not embalmed, the consular officer will alert U.S. Customs and the U.S. Public Health Service 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.
For additional information concerning return of remains of a deceased U.S. citizen, contact the American Citizens Services Section of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the foreign country where the death occurred.