It is an unfortunate subject to have to discuss, but whether we like it or not, every year about 1,000 Australians die while in another country, either through accident or illness. Having a death in the family is already distressing, but even more difficult if it happens while overseas. Repatriation of a family member’s body from overseas may prove complicated, but the Australian government assists in the best way it possibly can.
Consular services are offered by the various Australian embassies, consulates and high commissions situated abroad. Information about the local government where the family member died is also provided by these bodies. However, the administrative and legal processes applicable in the foreign country concerned should be followed.
Normally, a family receives notification about their relative or loved one dying overseas from the local police. The first thing that you can do is find a funeral director who can assist you with the repatriation of the body, and all the processes that go along with it. The Australian agencies in the foreign country provide a list of funeral directors. Beside the funeral director, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia will also be able to help.
A wide array of documents are needed to repatriate a body back to Australia. These are the DFAT clearance, a certified copy of the death certificate, embalming certificates, apostille stamps, Health Department letters, consular approvals, medical documents, documents required by customs, notary of documentations, airline confirmations, and any other documents that may be required by the authorities in the foreign country in which the death occurred, depending on the circumstances. This paperwork is vital, and its absence will render any action futile. Provision of these documents may take a considerable amount of time. Note that most documents need to be translated into English – especially the death certificate, the coroner’s report and the infectious diseases statement, and often also the embalming certificate. Specialised translation firms in Australia, such as The Migration Translators, can translate these documents within three to six hours, so that no time is wasted in this time of crisis.
The Australian embassies or consular offices in the country where the death occurred can help liaise with the funeral director, mainly to make them aware of the quarantine regulations of Australia. They can also advise you on how to get translations if the funeral service company is not English-speaking. Other assistance may be provided depending on the situation, such as help in identifying the body, advice on the estimated costs of repatriation, instructions on how funds can be transferred from Australia to pay for the costs, help in acquiring quarantine clearance (if needed), and advice on handling media inquiries, if applicable.
Clearly, repatriation of a body back to Australia is no easy feat. However, assistance is available and readily provided by the different Australian agencies worldwide. They can help minimise the stress and anxiety that comes with having a death in the family overseas.