Return of Remains of Deceased U.S. Citizens
An essential task of the Department of State and of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is to provide assistance to families of U.S. citizens who die abroad. The U.S. consular officer in the foreign country will assist the family in making arrangements with local authorities for preparation and disposition of the remains, following the family's instructions in accordance with local law. The authority and responsibilities of a U.S. consular officer concerning return of remains of a deceased U.S. citizen abroad are based on U.S. laws (22 U.S.C. 4196; 22 CFR 72.1), treaties, and international practice. Options available to a family depend upon local law and practice in the foreign country. Certain documents are required by U.S. and foreign law before remains can be sent from one country to another. These requirements may vary depending on the circumstances of the death.
Consular Mortuary Certificate
A U.S. consular mortuary certificate is required to ensure orderly shipment of remains and to facilitate U.S. Customs clearance. The certificate is in English and confirms essential information concerning the cause of death. The U.S. consular officer will prepare the certificate and ensure that the foreign death certificate (if available), affidavit of the foreign funeral director, and transit permit, together with the consular mortuary certificate, accompany the remains to the United States.
Affidavit of Foreign Funeral Director and Transit Permit
The U.S. consular officer will ensure that the required affidavit is executed by the local (foreign) funeral director. This affidavit attests 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, the U.S. consular officer ensures that a transit permit accompanies the remains. The transit permit is issued by local health authorities at the port of embarkation.
U.S. Entry Requirements for Quarantine and Customs
In general, if remains have been embalmed, the documentation that accompanies the consular mortuary certificate 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 include reference to the fact that the deceased did not die from a quarantineable disease and that the remains have been embalmed. The affidavit of the funeral director that is attached to the consular mortuary certificate complies with the U.S. Customs requirement that the casket and the packing container for the casket contain only the remains. If the remains are not accompanied by a passenger, a bill of lading must be issued by the airline carrier company to cover the transport. The customs house permit for entry to the United States is obtained by the airline carrier at the point of departure.
Shipment of Unembalmed Remains
If the remains are not embalmed, the U.S. consular officer should alert U.S. Customs and the U.S. Public Health Service at point of entry 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 appropriate geographic division of the Office of American Citizens Services, Department of State, 2201 C. Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20520, tel: (202) 647-5225 or the consular officer in the American Citizens Services Section of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the foreign country where the death occurred.
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Contact us in an emergency: Consular personnel at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad and in the U.S. are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens. Visit the websites of U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad for contact information, or search by country name on our Country Information page. You may also contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs for assistance with emergencies by calling 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. or Canada) or 202-501-4444 (from overseas).