If something happens to a relative or partner
This section explains what support we aim to offer the partners or relatives of a British national who dies or suffers some other serious misfortune abroad. There may be a different level of support if the person affected has been caught up in a major catastrophe.
Deaths abroad from natural causes
- If the person who died was travelling with a tour company, the company will often contact the next of kin themselves. If the death of a British national abroad is reported to us, and their next of kin is not present, we will ask the UK police to tell the next of kin as soon as possible. If the next of kin is not in the UK, we will ask our consular staff in the country where they are to do this. We will do everything we can to make sure that, as next of kin, you do not hear about the death first from the media, although we cannot always influence this. In exceptional circumstances, to act quickly this may mean having to tell you about the death over the phone. We do not release the name of someone who has died to the media before we have told the next of kin.
- Consular staff in London can pass on to our staff overseas the next of kin’s wishes about dealing with the body. We will do our best to make sure that these wishes are carried out. However, post-mortems may be carried out by the local authorities without the permission of the next of kin. You should also be aware that, in some countries, organs may be removed and kept during these procedures without the next of kin being informed or consulted.
- If you want us to, we can tell you the cost of local burial and local cremation (where local authorities allow these for foreigners) or of transporting the body and personal belongings back to the UK. You should be aware that, in some countries, a lack of suitable storage may make it impossible to get the necessary international certificates to transport the body. While we cannot pay any burial, cremation or repatriation expenses ourselves or settle any debts, we can help transfer money from friends and relatives in the UK to pay any necessary costs. If you want us to, we can provide lists of local and international funeral directors. If an English-speaking firm is not available, our staff can help you with the arrangements.
- All deaths must be registered in the country where the person died. We can advise you how to do this. You will need documents about you and the person who has died, including for example, the full name, date of birth and passport number of the person who has died. The local authorities will need to be told if the person suffered from an infectious condition (such as hepatitis or HIV) so they can take precautions against infection.
- You do not have to register a death at the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate, but by doing so, you can get a UK death certificate and a permanent copy of it will always be available in English in the UK. In certain countries, British Embassies, High Commissions or Consulates cannot issue death certificates and the local ones are suitable for British purposes. These countries are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
- In the UK there are a number of organisations which can support and help bereaved families and friends to understand their grief and come to terms with their loss. Useful websites include www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk and www.samaritans.org.
- We have a leaflet called ‘Death overseas’, which you can find on Our Publications page.
Death of a British national abroad in suspicious circumstances
- As well as the support which we can offer if someone dies from natural causes, where there is evidence of suspicious circumstances we can suggest the best way to raise concerns with the local authorities.
- We can also offer basic information about the local police system and legal system, including any legal aid that is available. We can provide lists of local lawyers and local interpreters (although we do not pay for either) and, where possible, details of support groups. In all cases where you, as next of kin, have concerns about the circumstances surrounding the death, we suggest you get professional legal advice.
- We cannot investigate deaths ourselves and, in many countries, investigating authorities and the courts will refuse to answer enquiries, including from British consular staff. In these circumstances, it is very important to consider appointing a local lawyer who can look after your interests in court and follow any trial for you.
- We will consider making appropriate representations to the local authorities if there are concerns that the investigation is not being carried out in line with local procedures or if there are justified complaints about discrimination against the person who has died or their family. You should be aware that the standard of investigative procedures and expertise varies greatly across the world.
- Consular staff in London are available to meet family representatives. They will contact the next of kin if the investigating authorities tell us about any new developments. Where possible, if the next of kin visits the country where the person died during the early stages of the investigation and initial court hearings, our staff there may be able to meet them.
- As mentioned above, there are a number of organisations in the UK that can help bereaved families and friends come to terms with their loss, whether the death was natural or otherwise. Some, such as 'Support after murder and manslaughter', can help you face the problems and difficulties that arise from death overseas under suspicious circumstances.
- We also have a leaflet called ‘Victims of crime abroad’ which you may also find helpful. You can find details on Our Publications page.
Next of kin and representatives
- When we are told about an incident involving a British national abroad, we will try to contact the next of kin as soon as possible.
- However, we cannot pass on information to relatives if the person involved asks us not to – for example, if they have been arrested but do not want their family to know about this.
- To help us provide information as efficiently and securely as possible, families should appoint a single family representative (usually the next of kin) who we can deal with as the case continues. As far as possible, we will make sure that this person has a single point of contact with a member of our staff.
- In cases of death abroad, we will deal only with the next of kin or the person the next of kin has asked to act on their behalf in relation to the funeral or dealing with the belongings of the person who has died.
- If there is an ongoing investigation overseas, the Police Adviser to Consular Directorate will also decide whether to ask a local UK police force to use a Family Liaison Officer (FLO) to advise and help the family in dealing with the investigation. The relevant UK police force will make the final decision as to whether an FLO is appointed.