Death during Travel
Obtaining US Department of State Assistance
When a US citizen dies outside the United States, the deceased person’s family members, domestic partner, or legal representative should notify US consular officials at the Department of State. Consular personnel are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide assistance to US citizens for overseas emergencies.
- If a family member, domestic partner, or legal representative is in the foreign country with the deceased US citizen, he or she should contact the nearest US embassy or consulate for assistance. Contact information for US embassies, consulates, and consular agencies overseas may be found at the Department of State website (www.usembassy.gov).
- If a family member, domestic partner, or legal representative is located in the United States or Canada, he or she should call the Department of State’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, DC, from 8 am to 8 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, at 888-407-4747 (toll-free) or 202-501-4444. For emergency assistance after working hours or on weekends and holidays, call the Department of State switchboard at 202-647-4000 and ask to speak with the Overseas Citizens Services duty officer. In addition, the US embassy closest to or in the country where the US citizen died can provide assistance (www.usembassy.gov).
Emergency services provided by US consular officials can include advising the family, domestic partner, or legal representative about disposing of the remains and personal effects of the deceased. Preparing and returning human remains to the United States can be an expensive and lengthy process. The Department of State does not pay for these expenses; they are the responsibility of the deceased person’s family, domestic partner, or legal representative. Consular officials may also serve as provisional conservators of the deceased person’s estate, if no other legal representative is present in the foreign country where the death occurred.
Importation of Human Remains for Interment or Cremation
Except for cremated remains, human remains intended for interment (placement in a grave or tomb) or cremation after entry into the United States must be accompanied by a death certificate stating the cause of death. A death certificate is an official document signed by a coroner, health care provider, or other official authorized to make a declaration of cause of death. Death certificates written in a language other than English must be accompanied by an English translation. Any requirements of the country of origin, air carrier, US Customs and Border Protection, and the Transportation Security Administration must also be met.
Remains of a Person Known or Suspected to Have Died from a Quarantinable Communicable Disease
Federal quarantine regulations (42 CFR Part 71.55) state that the remains of a person who is known or suspected to have died from a quarantinable communicable disease may not be brought into the United States unless the remains are cremated, properly embalmed and placed in a hermetically sealed casket, or accompanied by a CDC permit to allow importation of human remains, issued by the CDC director.
Information about communicable diseases for which federal isolation and quarantine are authorized is available at www.cdc.gov/quarantine/aboutlawsregulationsquarantineisolation.html. A hermetically sealed casket is one that is airtight and secured against the escape of microorganisms. It should be accompanied by valid documentation certifying that it is hermetically sealed.
If a CDC permit is obtained to allow importation of human remains, CDC may impose additional conditions for importation. Permits for the importation of human remains of a person known or suspected to have died from a quarantinable communicable disease may be obtained from CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine by calling the CDC Emergency Operations Center at 770-488-7100. A copy of the CDC permit must accompany the human remains at all times during shipment.
Remains of a Person Who Died of Any Cause Other than a Quarantinable Communicable Disease
When the cause of death is anything other than a quarantinable communicable disease, the remains may be cleared, released, and authorized for entry into the United States if 1 of the following conditions is met:
- The remains meet the standards for importation found in 42 CFR 71.55: the remains are cremated or properly embalmed and placed in a hermetically sealed casket or are accompanied by a permit issued by the CDC director.
- The remains are shipped in a leakproof container. A leakproof container is one that is puncture resistant and sealed so that there is no leakage of fluids outside the container during handling, storage, transport, or shipping.
CDC may also require additional measures, including detention, disinfection, disinfestation, fumigation, or other related measures, if there is evidence that the human remains are or may be infected or contaminated with a communicable disease and that such measures are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases into the United States.
Exportation of Human Remains
CDC does not regulate the exportation of human remains outside the United States, although other state and local regulations may apply. Exporters of human remains and travelers taking human remains out of the United States should be aware that the importation requirements of the destination country and the air carrier must be met. Information regarding these requirements may be obtained from the appropriate foreign embassy or consulate (www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls) and the air carrier.
- Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. State Department. Death abroad. Washington, DC: US Department of State; 2014 [cited 2016 Apr. 11]; Available from: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/abroad/events-and-records/de....
- Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. State Department. Return of remains of deceased US citizens. Washington, DC: US Department of State; 2014 [cited 2016 Apr. 11]; Available from: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/abroad/events-and-record....
- CDC. Quarantine station contact list, map, and fact sheets. Atlanta: CDC; 2013 [cited 2016 Apr. 11]; Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/quarantinestationcontactlistfull.html.
- CDC. Guidance for importation of human remains into the United States for interment or subsequent cremation. Atlanta: CDC; 2014 [cited 2016 Apr. 11]; Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/human-remains.html.
- CDC. Specific laws and regulations governing the control of communicable diseases. Atlanta: CDC; 2014 [cited 2016 Apr. 11]; Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/SpecificLawsRegulations.html.
- National Funeral Directors Association. Shipping remains from the United States to a foreign country. Brookfield, WI: National Funeral Directors Association; c2014 [cited 2016 Apr. 11]; Available from: http://nfda.org/additional-tools-shipping/2257-shipping-remains-from-the%2....
- US Customs and Border Protection. Requirements for importing bodies in coffins/ashes in urns. Washington, DC: US Department of Homeland Security; 2015 [cited 2016 Apr. 11]; Available from: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/237/kw/importation%20of%20hum....
Nicole J. Cohen, Megan R. Reynolds, G. Gale Galland