There are a significant number of United States citizens now living permanently or semi-permanently in Mexico. According to the last Mexican census in 2010, more than 738,000 people born in the US now reside in Mexico, and this is still an approximate figure, as it may not include many ex-pats who remain in Mexico without the proper paperwork. A closer estimation of the number of American ex-pats living in Mexico is believed to be nearer to 2 million.
If a family member passes away in Mexico and the family wishes to bring the body back to the US for burial, it can be very distressing to have to deal with the Mexican authorities and the red-tape that can surround moving the deceased back from Mexico to the United States.
Although none of us really want to think about it, it really is something you should familiarize yourself with if you are an American living in Mexico, especially if you are a retiree, suffering ill-health or a medical tourist. It is always advisable to ensure you have repatriation insurance cover and to check what deductibles there are.
Funeral shipping for a body back to the United States can be expensive, international shipping usually costs around $3,000 – $4,000 USD and that does not include the airline shipping fee. This is the average professional fee for a funeral home to collect the body, prepare it for shipping, complete all the necessary consular documentation and escort the body to the airline. Airlines fees can vary significantly, but to ship a body can often cost more than a flight ticket, and you can expect a fee of between $800 – $1,200! So, your total costs for getting the body back to the US could amount to $5,000 – $6,000 USD. Once your loved one arrives back in the US, you then have all the expenses of the funeral.
If you have resided in Mexico for some time, and/or if you speak fluent Spanish, you may have no concerns about approaching funeral homes and the Mexican authorities to co-ordinate arrangements. However, if your Spanish is not up to scratch, it can be extremely daunting to have to suddenly deal with this task.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico and how they can help
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City will assist families of Americans who die within its Consular District. This includes the Mexican states of Chiapas, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Estado de Mexico, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Queretaro, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, and the city of Tampico, Tamaulipas.
For all other states in Mexico, you would need to contact your nearest Consular Agency. A list of all Consular agencies is available at the bottom of this page.
Firstly, it is important to highlight here that the U.S. Embassy cannot arrange funeral services or shipping for you. What they can do is help you locate a funeral home to handle arrangements for you.
The next-of-kin is responsible for all financial costs related to a funeral in Mexico, or funeral shipping the body back to the United States. The U.S. Embassy may help you with understanding the legalities of conducting a funeral service in Mexico.
The Embassy may also help with notifying the next-of-kin of the death within the family, advising on claiming the deceased’s remains and the collecting of personal effects.
Legal Requirements for claiming a loved one’s body in Mexico
Mexican authorities often request identification documents not only for the deceased but also for the next-of-kin who is collecting the body. Be prepared to provide passports, birth certificates or marriage certificates.
When a U.S. citizen dies in Mexico the U.S. Embassy or Consular Agent has to prepare a Report of Death from the local Mexican death certificate. This is required so that you can legally certify a death overseas and undertake any legal proceedings for estate or insurance back in the U.S.
The issuing of the death certificate
Similar to the United States, once someone has passed away, a physician must certify the death, identify the cause of the death and issue the preliminary death record, which is called a ‘Certificado de Defuncion’.
A local Civil Registry judge will use the certificado de defuncion to issue the official death certificate, known as the ‘Acta de Defuncion’. Once this is issued the funeral home can go ahead with a burial, cremation or arrange funeral shipping.
Time spans for arranging a burial, cremation or ship a body back to the U.S.
In accordance with Mexican health authorities, a body should be buried, cremated or embalmed within 48 hours after the death. If you wish to bury or cremate your loved one either within 12 hours after death or after 48 hours following death, then you will require a permit from the Mexican health authorities.
Arranging a Burial in Mexico
If you decide to inter your loved one in a grave in Mexico, be aware that the remains will only remain interred indefinitely if the gravesite has a perpetual deed. If you do not have this, remains are kept interred in the gravesite for a minimum of 6 years.
Arranging a Cremation in Mexico
Cremation is becoming increasingly popular in Mexico. If you wish to arrange a cremation in Mexico from the U.S., you can provide a power of attorney that allows the funeral home to complete the cremation permit on your behalf. This means that you can arrange the disposition of the remains whilst still in the United States, and then arrange for the ashes to be collected at a later date or sent home.
If the deceased is to be transported between states in Mexico for cremation, the body must be embalmed. If the body is to be transported over 100 km then a special transit permit is also required.
Is embalming required by law in Mexico?
Not if the body is to be buried or cremated within 48 hours. However, due to the high temperatures and often lack of adequate refrigeration, many opt to go ahead with embalming anyway. If you plan to transport the deceased back to the U.S. he/she must be embalmed.
What documentation do I need to repatriate the deceased to the U.S.?
To export human remains from Mexico to the U.S. you will require the death certificate, the embalming certificate, details of the shipper and details of the final destination of the remains. The U.S. Embassy will issue a ‘Consular Mortuary Certificate’, which allows the remains to enter the United States.
Similarly, if you wish to export the deceased’s ashes, you will need the death certificate, the cremation permit and the cremation certificate from the crematorium or funeral home. Some airports may request the Consular Mortuary Certificate, and ashes can be transported in your hand luggage with most airlines.
Repatriation of Remains Insurance Plan
As we mentioned earlier in this article, if you are planning on traveling extensively in, or retiring to, Mexico or are visiting Mexico for some medical treatment, you would be well advised to ensure you do have the security and peace of mind of having an adequate repatriation insurance plan. This is a wise thing to have if you are residing temporarily in Mexico, and you can have a plan that can facilitate repatriation in the event of illness or accident, and repatriation of remains that facilitates the repatriation of your body in the event that you die in Mexico. A robust insurance plan will have a return of mortal remains benefit in addition to many other medical treatment benefits such as hospital room and board, out-patient care, maternity coverage, and emergency room illness and accident coverage. Carefully go through any policy and ensure you are adequately covered.
Further Resources to assist you to arrange a funeral or cremation in Mexico
Further information from the U.S. Department of State Travel website can be found here. US Department of State – Getting Emergency help
A directory of all Consulates and Consulate Agencies in Mexico can be found here:
U.S. Embassies and Consulates in Mexico
A directory of English-speaking funeral homes in Mexico can
be found here:
Funerals homes cover the following states and main cities in Mexico:
Aguascalientes, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Los Cabos, La Paz, Loreto, Campeche, Campeche, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, Manzanillo, Distrito Federal, Durango, Estado de México (Mexico State), Guanajuato, Leon, San Miguel de Allende, Guerrero, Acapulco, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Michoacán, Morelia, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Huatulco, Oaxaca City, Puerto Escondido, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Yucatán, Merida, Zacatecas