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Body repatriation is the process of bringing a person who has died back to their country of origin.

If a UK national dies abroad, repatriation means transporting their ashes or body to the UK. It works the other way around, too – foreign nationals who die in the UK are often flown back to their home country for cremation or burial.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • First steps to take if someone dies abroad or you want to send a person’s body overseas
  • How the repatriation process works
  • Why people choose repatriation
  • The cost of repatriation
  • Ways to reduce the cost

How do you repatriate a dead body?

If you need help repatriating a body to the UK

If a British person dies abroad, you’ll need to contact the British Consulate in the country where they died. They’ll help you get the paperwork you need and make arrangements to bring the person home. For step-by-step instructions, read our guide on what to do when someone dies abroad.

If someone dies in the UK and you want to transport them abroad

Do you need help sending a person’s body to another country? Start by contacting the consulate of their home country here in the UK. It’s also worth looking for a funeral director who specialises in body repatriation services. You might find one who has experience repatriating remains to the destination you have in mind.

How are bodies repatriated?

Different countries have different laws and requirements for the repatriation of remains. In some countries, for instance, there has to be a post-mortem before the body can be repatriated. This is a medical examination that tries to find out how a person died.

Some rules apply no matter where the person dies. For example, a person’s body has to be embalmed before it can be sent back home. The death must also be registered in the country where the person died.

Bodies are almost always repatriated by plane. This usually requires a special zinc-lined coffin.

For country-specific requirements, check the GOV.UK website.

Why do people choose repatriation?

Usually, it’s because the person’s family wants to hold their funeral in their home country. Or it might be because the person left instructions saying they want to be repatriated when they die.

Some people are repatriated for religious reasons. For instance, many Hindus choose to be repatriated to their spiritual home in India, where they can be cremated beside the sacred river Ganges.

How much does repatriation of a body cost?

Repatriation costs vary depending on where you want to transport the body from and to. As a rough guide, costs are typically around £4,000-£5,000. That’s before you factor in the cost of a funeral and send-off. In certain situations, you can expect to pay more. For example, repatriating a body to the UK from Brazil costs around £4,805 (Mears Repatriation).

Why is repatriation so expensive? For a start, it’s rarely as simple as putting the person’s body on a plane. The body needs to be stored, embalmed and transported to and from the airport – all of which cost money. Depending on where the person died, you might also have to pay for a special coffin or pay embassy fees.

You could save money by arranging everything yourself, but this is usually very difficult. Remains repatriation is a complex process that requires specialist legal knowledge and lots of paperwork and discussions with different authorities. Most people pay a specialist funeral director to help.

Are there ways to reduce the cost of repatriation?

Yes. If a person has died abroad and you want to bring them home, you have 2 options to help manage the cost. You can check if repatriation is covered by the person’s insurance or you can have their body cremated before it's flown home.

Option 1: check if repatriation is covered by the person’s insurance

Was the person on holiday abroad when they died? A good first step is to find out whether they had travel insurance. In most cases, travel insurance does cover the cost of transporting a body to the UK. This cover can be for as much as £10 million, which should be more than enough to pay for the repatriation.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) do not cover repatriation costs.

Option 2: have the person’s body cremated

If your faith allows cremation and you don’t mind it as an option, you could arrange for the person to be cremated before they’re repatriated. The repatriation of ashes is always simpler and more affordable than repatriating a body – especially if you choose a direct cremation with no service.

After the cremation, you can pay for a specialist courier to transport the ashes or do it yourself. You can fly with human remains as long as they’ve been cremated and you follow certain precautions. For more information, read our guide to taking human ashes abroad.

Funeral Choice offers a free funeral director search and comparison service, as well as helpful advice on arranging a funeral. Visit our funeral planning advice hub for more.

Photo by Nils Nedel on Unsplash.