While death is something none of us can avoid, we would all like to think that we can enjoy traveling without having to worry about end-of-life issues. Sometimes, however, tragedy strikes. Knowing what to do if your travel companion dies during your vacation can help you cope if you ever find yourself in that stressful situation.
Things to Know About Death Abroad
If you die far from home, your family is responsible for paying the cost of sending your remains home.
Your embassy or consulate can notify family members and local authorities that a death has occurred, provide information about local funeral homes and repatriation of remains and help the next of kin by creating an official report of the death.
Your embassy or consulate cannot pay for funeral costs or repatriation of remains.
Some countries do not allow cremations. Others require an autopsy, regardless of the cause of death.
Before Your Trip
Many travel insurance policies offer coverage for repatriation (sending home) of remains. As you and your travel companion consider other travel insurance needs, think about the expense of flying your remains home and look into purchasing a travel insurance policy that covers this situation.
Make copies of your passport before you travel abroad. Leave a copy with a friend or family member at home and bring a copy with you. Ask your travel companion to do the same. If your travel companion dies, having his or her passport information at hand will help local authorities and your country's diplomatic agents work with you and with the next of kin.
You should update your will before you leave home for an extended period of time. Leave a copy of your will with a family member, trusted friend or attorney.
If you have chronic health issues, consult with your doctor before you travel. With your doctor, decide which activities will be best for you and which you should avoid. Make a list of your health concerns and the medications you take and carry the list with you. If the worst should happen, your travel companion may need to give this list to local authorities.
During Your Trip
Contact Your Embassy or Consulate
If you are on a trip and your travel companion dies, contact your embassy or consulate. A consular officer can help you notify next of kin, document your companion's possessions and send those possessions to the heirs. Depending on the wishes of your companion's next of kin, the consular officer can also help make arrangements to send the remains home or have them buried locally.
Notify Next of Kin
While a consular officer will notify your companion's next of kin, consider making this telephone call yourself, particularly if you know the next of kin well. It's never easy to receive news of the death of a family member, but hearing the details from you rather than from a stranger might be a bit less difficult.
Contact Your Companion's Travel Insurance Provider
If your travel companion had a travel insurance policy, make this call as soon as you can. If the policy covered repatriation of remains, the travel insurance company can help you start this process. Even if the policy did not include repatriation of remains coverage, the travel insurance provider may offer other services, such as talking with local doctors, that can help you.
Obtain a Foreign Death Certificate
You will need to get a death certificate from local authorities before any funeral arrangements can be made. Try to get several copies. Once you have the death certificate, give a copy to the consular officer who is assisting you; he or she can then write an official report stating that your companion has died abroad. Your travel companion's heirs will need the death certificate and copies in order to settle the estate and repatriate the remains. If the death certificate is not written in your country's official language, you will need to pay a certified translator to translate it, particularly if you must bring your companion's remains home.
If your travel companion's remains are cremated and you want to carry them home, you must obtain an official cremation certificate, carry the remains in a security-friendly container, obtain permission from your airline and clear customs.
Work With Local Authorities and Your Consulate
Depending on where and how the death occurred, you may need to work with local authorities during an investigation or autopsy. Health authorities may need to certify that your companion did not die of a communicable disease before the remains can be sent home. A police report or autopsy may be required to confirm the cause of death. As you find out what steps must be taken, talk with your consular officer about best ways to proceed. Keep records of all conversations.
Notify Your Travel Providers
Call your airline, cruise line, tour operator, hotel and any other travel providers your travel companion planned to use during your trip. Any outstanding bills, such as hotel bills or cruise ship tabs, will still need to be paid. You may need to give the providers a copy of the death certificate.