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How to Transport Human Remains Internationally

All the steps you'll need to transport human remains back to the U.S. from abroad.


Published on August 23rd, 2023 in Travel Assistance, Travel Tips

In the tragic event of a death of a friend or family member while abroad, there are several steps to ensuring the safe and secure return of their remains to the U.S.

While there are plenty of general tips as well, this article is focused on the repatriation of human remains to the United States from an international destination.

Transporting human remains internationally can be a complex process that requires careful planning and adherence to legal and regulatory requirements.

Each situation is unique, however this guide will give you a general overview as well as some actionable steps to help you complete your arrangements with confidence and compassion.

With that said, let’s dive into this topic by listing the chronological steps you’ll need to complete in order to transport human remains internationally back to the U.S.

The process for transporting human remains internationally

Step 1: Contact the authorities

Your first step is to notify the local authorities. This is typically the embassy or consulate of the country where the deceased person is located, as well as the United States embassy or consulate. They will provide guidance on the specific procedures and requirements for transporting human remains from their country.

Step 2: Obtain the required documentation

Obtain a death certificate and any other required documents, such as a burial or cremation permit, embalming certificate, or a no objection certificate from the local authorities. If the documents are in a foreign language, they will also need to be translated into English or legalized with an apostille, depending on the requirements.

Here are some examples of documents you will likely need:

  • Death certificate
  • Permit letter of non-contagious disease
  • Embalmers affidavit
  • Passport of deceased (if obtainable)
  • Letter from funeral home stating that only human remains are inside the casket/urn; the flight itinerary; consignee’s name, address, and telephone number

Step 3: Choose a funeral home or repatriation service

Contact a funeral home experienced in handling international transportation of human remains. They will assist you in coordinating the logistics, including embalming or cremation, securing the necessary permits, arranging transportation, and ensuring compliance with local and international regulations.

The remains will need to be placed in a suitable container that meets the requirements of the airline or postal service.

You have a couple options for this step:

Casket or coffin

Shipping human remains in a traditional or ornate casket will likely be the most costly option. This is a matter of preference for the family. You should have your casket sealed inside an international casket shipping box to ensure safe handling.

Urn

When shipping cremated remains, an urn will be needed for safe transport. Funeral homes ensure the remains are secure within the urn and safe for air travel. When flying with cremated remains, a passenger should verify the rules with the funeral home or with the individual airline before their flight.

Note: If you’re shipping from or within the U.S., you can opt to have it shipped via USPS. This is the only package-handling service that is able to ship human remains. If you choose to ship your remains via USPS, you’ll need to follow its directions, including using a Label 139 on your package. More details here.

Step 4: Make cargo arrangements

Next you’ll need to coordinate with the airline or shipping company to make arrangements for transporting the remains. Note that the funeral home should take the lead on this.

Airlines require funeral homes to be a “known shipper,” which is a designation given by the TSA to a shipper who has been vetted by an air carrier or freight forwarder.

Step 5: Receive the remains at home

Lastly, you’ll need to coordinate with a funeral home or representative in the U.S. to receive the remains and handle the customs and immigration procedures at home. The funeral home in the U.S. will assist in completing the necessary paperwork and arranging for transportation from the airport to the final destination.

It’s crucial to note that the specific requirements and procedures for transporting human remains can vary significantly depending upon the countries involved. We highly recommend you to consult with professionals experienced in international repatriation to ensure compliance with all regulatory and legal requirements.

An alternate approach to transporting human remains

Travel assistance companies like Emergency Assistance Plus can help you with transporting the remains of an EA+ member back home if they pass away while traveling on a trip. During the difficult time in the passing of a loved one, it can be a great benefit to have a team of experts to take care of all the logistics and the costs of getting them back home.

For more information on this service, please contact us or see membership details on our website.

FAQs for transporting human remains internationally

How much does it cost to transport human remains internationally?

The costs vary dramatically depending on how you intend to ship the remains and where you’re shipping them from. Cremated remains can be shipped for as low as $300 in some circumstances. Shipping a casket to the U.S., however, can cost anywhere from $3,000 – $20,000+.

Can you ship human remains with FedEx?

No, you cannot use courier services like FedEx or UPS to ship human remains.

Can you bring a casket or urn on a commercial airplane?

Yes, and this is a relatively common scenario when transporting human remains back home. Each airline has different rules, regulations, and costs associated with this service and you will need to work directly with them or your funeral home to make arrangements.

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