Frazer Blog

What happens if you die abroad?

by | Aug 17, 2016 | For Families

A European car driving down a street

The world can be a dangerous place. As a traveler in an unfamiliar country abroad, that’s especially true.

The good news is that most Americans make it home safe. But what happens to those who don’t?

The U.S. State Department keeps records of all the non-natural causes that have killed American tourists. As it turns out, Americans are more likely to die abroad the same way they do here.

Causes of Death Abroad

When traveling abroad, remember to keep your eyes on the road. Traffic accidents are the number one cause of death when visiting a foreign country.

From 2002 to 2015, car accidents claimed more than 3,000 American lives abroad. The State Department points to unfamiliarity with traffic laws and foreign roads as the culprit for American tourists. But what other dangers are there?

  • Homicide is next on the list, with 2,000 deaths. Homicide is unusually high in certain vacation destinations, like Mexico and some Central American countries.
  • Suicide claimed just more than 1,400 lives. Mexico and Germany are the two countries in which suicide by American tourists has occurred most frequently.
  • Drowning is the fourth most common cause of death abroad with about 1,300 deaths, and it mainly occurs in coastal countries like Mexico and the Caribbean islands.

While Mexico seems to be where most deaths occur, it’s important to remember it’s also one of the most popular tourist destinations for Americans. The good news is that international travel is generally safe.

The total deaths recorded by the U.S. State Department is around 8,000 in a 10-year span. To put that in perspective, according to Bloomberg, 68 million Americans went on an international trip in 2014 alone. That means your chances of dying abroad are around one in 100,000.

A Death Abroad

But what happens in the unfortunate event that you or a loved one dies abroad? It’s not an easy process emotionally, but on top of that there will be lots of paperwork involved.

The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs will help American citizens, but the disposition of the body is subject to the laws and customs of the country in which the death occurred. For instance, embalming is not widely practiced in some countries, which means options for bringing a body home for burial are limited.

The Consular Officers work to identify the next of kin and explain the disposition laws, as well as collect and document the personal items of the deceased. They also are responsible for working with local authorities to obtain a death certificate. This process can sometimes take 4-6 weeks. Only when the death certificate is obtained can the rest of the paperwork begin, including the documents for transportation of cremated or embalmed remains.

The Consular Officers don’t directly arrange the funeral or transportation of the body — but they will help you find a foreign funeral service or domestic funeral home to work with. In some countries, the next of kin might be required to fly out to the foreign country to claim the remains and provide proper identification for both themselves and the deceased (passports, birth certificates, etc.).

The next of kin also are responsible for all the costs associated with travel. It helps if the deceased has repatriation of remains insurance, which covers the cost of transporting the body or cremated remains back home.

Are your families properly prepared when traveling abroad? Feel free to share this blog post with them! More information can be found at the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs website.


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