When a U.S. citizen dies while in a foreign country, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will locate and inform the deceased’s next-of-kin and will provide information on how to make arrangements for local burial or return of the remains to the United States. The disposition of remains is subject to both U.S. law, and local laws of the country where the individual died. Foreign customs, legal requirements, and mortuary facilities, are often vastly different from those in the United States.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs assists the next-of-kin to convey instructions to the appropriate offices within the foreign country, and provides information to the family on how to transmit the necessary private funds to cover the costs overseas. The Department of State has no funds to assist in the return of remains or ashes of U.S. citizens who die abroad. Upon issuance of a local death certificate, the Embassy will prepare a Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad. Copies of that report are provided to the next-of-kin or legal representative and may be used in place of a death certificate in U.S. courts to settle estate matters.
Consular officers overseas have statutory responsibility for the personal estate of a U.S. citizen who dies abroad if the deceased has no legal representative or next-of-kin in the country where the death occurred, subject to local law. In that situation the Consular officer takes possession of the deceased’s personal effects, such as jewelry, personal documents and papers, and clothing.
The Consular officer prepares an inventory of the personal effects and then carries out instructions from the legal representative or next-of-kin concerning the effects. For more information on the Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad, and other services that a consular officer can help you with when a loved one passes away overseas, see the links below.