What if a Loved One Dies Abroad?

The loss of a loved one is a difficult moment as such, that implies many actions and procedures for the relatives. And when the person dies abroad, the situation becomes even more complex. Indeed, how to obtain a declaration of death? Who should be notified, in Belgium and in the foreign country? How to have the body repatriated? A good knowledge of the various procedures will allow you to fully discharge of administrative burdens in order to have the time to grieve.

How to obtain a declaration of death?

Just like when a person dies in his country of residency, the first thing to do is to get a declaration of death. Depending on the circumstances of the death, the procedures may differ. 


If the person dies in hospital

If the person dies at the hospital, the declaration of death will be issued directly. It will be sent to the municipality where the decease occurred and to the Belgian municipality where the person lived. You will perhaps have to make sure that the declaration is correctly translated and legalised. 


If the person does not die in hospital

In such a case, you will have to call a local doctor to issue the declaration of death. Then, the municipality where the death occurred should be notified. Also make sure that the declaration has been transferred to Belgian authorities. 


If the death is not due to natural causes

If the death is accidental or not due to natural causes, the procedures become a little more complex. Indeed, in such a scenario, a doctor and the police should be notified. They will check the identity of the deceased person, will probably perform an autopsy and there might be an investigation. Therefore, the return of the body and its repatriation might take longer. 


Who should be notified in the foreign country and in Belgium?

Apart from the doctor that issues the declaration of death, you will need to contact various entities to make sure that you rightly follow the procedures. Do not forget to get in touch with:

  • Local authorities, to comply with existing procedures in the country;
  • The Belgian embassy or consulate in the foreign country, which will be able to provide you with advice and to help you with the various procedures. It will also inform you of the current status of the procedures and the time horizon;
  • A funeral home in Belgium (or abroad if you wish to organise the funeral in the foreign country) that will start organising the ceremony with you;
  • Your insurance company (or the company of the deceased person) to, one the one hand, make sure that it is notified of the decease and, on the other hand, check which insurance policies had been purchased and if they cover repatriation costs. 

Of course, this is not a comprehensive list: these are the bodies that you really should contact. Then, when you feel ready, you may also contact the friends and relatives of the deceased to inform them. 


How to organise the repatriation?

Once the identity of the deceased has been checked and the declaration of death has been issues, the body may be returned to the family in order to be repatriated (if the family wishes so). A specialised company will take care of the repatriation, by plane or car. 


How does repatriation work?

Before the repatriation, the deceased’s body will be taken care of by a local company, which will perform the embalming or washing, according to the wishes of the deceased and his family. As for the transport, the body will be placed in a specific coffin, made of zinc and hermetically sealed, as it is the mandatory procedure. Once the body has arrived to the repatriation centre in Belgium, the family will be able to organise a funeral. 


How much does repatriation cost?

If the deceased was not covered by a specific insurance policy, the family and relatives will have to pay for the repatriation costs. They vary according to the company, means of transport and destinations, but on average, repatriation from a European country to Belgium amounts to € 4,000. 


Is it possible to organise a funeral in the foreign country?

You may also decide to organise the funeral on the foreign country, which is totally possible. To do so, you simply need to seek the help of a local funeral home (the Belgian embassy will probably be able to help you) in order to organise a ceremony. Please note that you may also organise a cremation in the foreign country and then have the funeral urn repatriated in Belgium.

As soon as you are surrounded by the right persons and entities, you will be able to easily and quite rapidly manage all the procedures linked with the deceased. Please keep all the documents that you may receive in the foreign country. Once you are done with the “administrative part”, do not forget to take some time for yourself to mourn with your relatives.