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What Happens When a Body is Repatriated

Repatriation is the process involved in getting the body of a deceased person transferred from an overseas destination to their native land. This kind of situation can often be highly stressful as besides having to deal with the death of a loved one, the family or friends have to navigate what can sometimes be complicated legal systems across different countries. Here are the steps you can expect to have to go through in this process.

Getting the body home

When a loved one dies overseas, you will need to liaise with a funeral director from that foreign country. The Australian Consulate should be able to assist you with a list of reputable funeral companies from that country that you can connect with to begin making arrangements. You will also need to choose a funeral director in Australia who will work with their overseas counterpart on the logistics and other aspects of the transfer.

The foreign funeral director will require certain details and documentation to register the death officially in that country and facilitate the repatriation of the body. Some of the details and documents that may be requested include:

  • The deceased person’s name
  • A copy of the deceased person’s passport, or its main details
  • Location of the body
  • Contact details of the family member or other next of kin that will be responsible for this repatriation. If the person will travel to the country to accompany the body back, the foreign funeral director will also need their flight information to arrange for transfer on the same return flight.
  • Contact details of the local funeral director that will be liaised with for the transfer
  • Travel insurance details if applicable

Documents required locally when repatriating a body

Just as the foreign funeral director will have to organise certain documentation, permits and licenses, so too will the local funeral director. When bringing in a body from overseas, the Australian government will require documentation such as:

  • A copy of the death certificate issued in the foreign country
  • Medical letters
  • Health department letters
  • Consular approvals
  • Government Foreign Affairs and trade clearance
  • Embalming certificates
  • Airline confirmation
  • Notary of documents

The international repatriation process

Once you have selected a foreign funeral director that will be handling the arrangements for transfer and the body, they will request you for whatever set of documents and information they need. This will help in acquiring whatever licenses and other documentation that will be required by law.

They will also transfer the body from wherever it is to their funeral home to prepare it for the journey home. The body will need to be embalmed before transfer.

The foreign funeral director will also get in touch with the local funeral director to ensure the arrangements made and the documents prepared are also in compliance with local laws to avoid any hitches once the body arrives in the home country. The local funeral director will also need to be advised on travel arrangements so they can be prepared to receive the body and transfer it to their funeral home on arrival.

Shipping the body by air

One of the key reasons you need to work with a foreign funeral director is so you can arrange to have the body embalmed. As said, airlines require that human remains be embalmed to be transported in their cargo holds. Most airlines will also decline to work directly with next of kin when handling such matters.

They only work with known shippers. This refers to funeral homes that have been vetted and approved by the airlines. Known shippers work with airlines to have the body placed in a special container that will be delivered to the cargo hold. The local funeral director then takes custody of the body on arrival and arranges for the transfer of the special container to their funeral home.

How much does repatriation cost?

There are multiple moving parts when it comes to repatriating a body from overseas. It will certainly be expensive, but if there is travel insurance that includes repatriation cover, it may allow for some financial relief.

Some of the costs you can expect to have to cover will include the funeral directors’ services on both ends, the cost of acquiring permits and licenses, and flight costs. If you are financially constrained, you may want to make some consultations and consider having the body cremated by the overseas funeral director. The cost of transferring cremated remains should be considerably lower than a body.

If you do opt for cremation, ensure that you make adequate consultations to ensure this process is permitted from the foreign country and what guidelines the Australian Consulate and even the airline might have regarding transporting human ashes into the country.

Another way to reduce the cost of this endeavour may be to forego accompanying the body back home. The foreign funeral director should be able to make suitable arrangements to get the body back home without you needing to oversee the process. They can coordinate with the local funeral director, the airline and the Australian Consulate to ensure all requirements are met and allow you to avoid transport and accommodation costs associated with having to accompany the body back home.

Organising the funeral once the body is repatriated

Once the body has been delivered into the hands of the local funeral director, you can work with them to make the funeral arrangements you want, including deciding if you will have a religious service, burial or cremation. The funeral director will be able to advise you as to the costs and procedures that will need to be fulfilled.