What to do when a loved one dies away from home



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This article aims to assist you with understanding some things you will need to consider if you wish to arrange funeral shipping for a deceased relative.  We have outlined some of the legal issues you will face, provided a rough guide to what costs to expect and tried to de-mystify the process of what happens when a person dies and the body needs to be transported to another state or country.  If you need assistance with repatriation, please call the phone number above or fill out the form.

Domestic and International Funeral Shipping

These days we are more of a society ‘on the move’, a global community, and many, many people move away from their state, or country, of origin, be it for work, for love, for recreation, or to serve for our country.  In the main, there is little thought given to what happens in the event of death, and what this means in terms of bringing a loved one back home following their death.

Whether you need to arrange to move a deceased family member across the United States, or return a loved one back to their country of origin to their final resting place; the issue of transporting a body is an added dilemma to making funeral arrangements.

Not only does the U.S. have a large immigrant population, many of which choose repatriation to their country of origin upon death; we also have a growing transient senior population.  More and more Americans are choosing to retire to warmer climates in Florida, California, Hawaii or even as far as Mexico and the Caribbean.  What does this mean for family when a death occurs?  Those left behind are faced with the issue of bringing Mom or Dad back to their hometown to be laid to rest in their designated cemetery plot.

Funeral shipping advice for consumers

Funerals themselves are no simple affair these days, with legislation governing many aspects of the process.  When it comes to needing to transport human remains internationally or nationally, we can be overwhelmed with the ‘red tape’.  Grieving family often do not even know where to start, and can make the mistake of just relying upon their local funeral home, who may not be versant with the complexities of mortuary shipping.  The result can be an unnecessary and overly expensive additional cost.  The more you can understand about the protocols and terminology of funeral shipping, the better informed you are and the more you can stay in control of the process. 

Domestic shipping (i.e. internally within the U.S.) can often be arranged at a reasonable cost if only a ‘minimum ship-out service’ is contracted for the dispatching funeral home.  International funeral shipping can work out more costly as additional paperwork, translations and different air-tray shipping unit requirements, can all add to the cost. 

International or domestic mortuary shipping services

Choose a Funeral Home experienced in funeral shipping.

There are a number of funeral homes across the United States that have specialized in International Funeral Shipping, and offer a full ‘wrap-around’ service.  They will coordinate everything on your behalf, and with their knowledge, contacts and expertise, can guarantee you the safe and dignified transportation of your loved one at a fair price.  The standard fee for funeral shipping services includes the collection and removal of the deceased, embalming, filing of documents, a combination-shipping unit and delivery to the departure airport.  You also need the services of a funeral home at the destination airport that can handle the collection of the deceased, the import protocol, as well as to manage the ongoing funeral arrangements.  If you opt to work with a funeral home that is already well established and has expertise in International mortuary shipping, he/she will already have strategic funeral contacts across the globe.

How much does it cost to transport human remains?

Prices will vary considerably dependent upon your choice of transportation.  Funeral shipping companies will offer air transportation of human remains and land transportation, dependent of national or international repatriation.  There is also a huge difference depending on whether you choose to ship non-cremated human remains, or cremated remains.

This is where using an organization specialized in funeral shipping is important. It can cost up to $10,000 to internationally ship human remains, and this can be a huge unexpected and unplanned for expense on top of a funeral.  Some of the Funeral Homes who specialize in human remains transportation can offer you a service that will cost between $3800 -$5500 depending on the country they are going to, (excluding the actual airline shipping fee which can range from $1200 to Mexico, up to $4,500 to Greece or India), so a total cost is likely to be more in the region of $5,000 - $8500.

Flying a dead body is an expensive cost, so the other alternative is to ship cremated remains.  Many of the funeral providers who specialize in funeral shipping will also be able to assist you with the option of arranging a direct cremation at the place of death, and then transportation of the ashes back to the family. 

What does an International Funeral Shipping Provider Do?

They arrange everything for you.  Time IS of the essence if a body needs to be transported nationally or internationally.  One call to an International Funeral Shipping Program Funeral Provider, and they will immediately set the ball rolling.  Arrangements are made to collect the deceased from the place of death and move them to a funeral facility.  They ensure the correct preparation for transportation, including a sealer casket, and “approved” receiving country shipping container.  They handle all the bureaucracy and coordinate all local, state, and “receiving country” consulate paperwork and handle the booking of all international flights.   As “Known Shippers” with major airlines, a Funeral Shipping Funeral Provider can usually confirm flight availability with ease and often have discounted programs.  An experienced funeral shipper will be versant with shipping windows and after hours release processes, ensuring they can transport your loved one home as speedily as possible.

The specialized team handling the funeral shipping will also liaise with the receiving country, or state, funeral provider to ensure a seamless transportation process. They also handle the delivery and supervision onto the deceased’s international or domestic flight.

The export/import of human remains has to meet the regulations of both the disembarking and receiving country. A certified English translation of the death certificate, written authorization from local authorities to remove the body, and a certificate of the embalming must accompany the body.

Arranging a direct cremation at the place of death and transporting cremated remains

If the costs for transporting the body of the deceased seem too expensive and you wish not to incur that level of expense to repatriate your loved one’s remains, you may wish to consider a cremation at the place of death.  The cremated remains can then be shipped back home at a reduced cost.   A basic direct cremation can usually be arranged for around $1,000 (depending on the state/country of death) and the shipping of cremated remains costs much less as it is a much smaller weight freight item. 

Cremated remains can be carried on as hand luggage on most airlines, although you do need to carefully ensure that you are compliant with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines.  Cremated remains MUST be transported in a temporary container that can pass through TSA x-ray machines.  This should be a container constructed of wood, plastic, cardboard or any non-lead based ceramic.  The TSA personnel are NOT permitted to open an urn to check the contents, therefore if a container does not pass through the x-ray, it will not be allowed as carry-on.  Most reputable funeral homes and cremation urn suppliers whoa re familiar with this legislation will be able to provide a known TSA complaint container for transportation.

Cremated remains can be transported by the U.S. Postal Service so long as they are correctly packaged.

Repatriation of Remains Insurance

Insurance is always a good thing to have for when the unexpected occurs. Many travel plans will include repatriation of remains in a comprehensive plan.  You do need to check this carefully though to ensure you are clear about exactly what is covered and any deductibles. 

Transporting the deceased between cities, or inter-state, by land.

If a funeral is to be conducted in a different city to the place of death, or even in another state, you may need to consider your options to transport the deceased.  In the case of short distances, your funeral provider will usually be able to offer their services, often charged at an additional mileage rate.  When the distance is beyond their travel range, the funeral service provider will hire a carrier that specializes in transporting human remains – a mortuary transport company.
If the deceased will be embalmed in the destination city, or will not be embalmed at all, an appropriate method of refrigeration will be necessary during transportation. The remains may be packed in ice or placed in a refrigerated container.  If the body has been embalmed prior to transportation, refrigeration should not be necessary.  State legislation governing funerals homes can vary state-to-state, so the need for embalming may depend upon where the deceased is being transported from and to.

If you need to transport your loved one many miles, you may also wish to consider the benefits of domestic air transportation of human remains.  This, again, is governed by airline regulations.

Airline Carriers that specialize in Mortuary Shipping Freight Services

American Airlines Jim Wilson Service: dedicated help desk for funeral homes, offering scheduled service to 250 cities in 40 countries, special ramps at larger AA Cargo facilities & shorter drop off times.

Delta Cargo ‘Delta Cares’ service & Fallen Soldier Program: also offer considerate rates for bereavement travel and allow the transportation of a casket spray at no extra charge.

Southwest Airlines Cargo:  Southwest Support provides mortuary shipping services across the Southwest network of destinations apart from Interline or Road Feeder destinations.

US Funerals Online is currently partnered with funeral shipping experts in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Houston, Rome, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Buenos Aires, Beijing, Tokyo, Warsaw, Madrid and Kiev.

Expert Author: Sara J. Marsden

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 5 years.

Related Articles:


DFS Memorials – low cost cremation network
Repatriation of Remains Insurance

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Last Revised: 07-20-2016

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