The death of a relative or friend is always distressing, but if it happens abroad the distress can be made worse by practical problems. After the death abroad you are likely to have countless questions. What should I do now? How can I communicate with people in a foreign language? Who can I turn to for help?
You should be aware that Thai procedures differ from those in the other countries and that while we understand you may want to make arrangements quickly, this is not always possible. We will explain what practical support we can offer you and what you need to do yourself.
If a relative or friend dies while you are abroad with them. All deaths must be registered in the country where the death occurs. Your tour guide, the local police or the Embassy can advise you on how to go about this. Make sure you have as much documentation as possible about the person who has died and yourself. This should include:
· full name of deceased
· date of birth of deceased
· date and time of death
· passport number or social security number of deceased and may be yourself too
· the name of the next of kin of the person who has died
· deceased’s residence – address/ city/ town/ village
· current location of the deceased
· doctor name and telephone
· your name
· your current residence
· telephone number
· relationship with the deceased
If the person suffered from an infectious condition, for example Tuberculosis, Hepatitis or HIV viruses, it is essential that the authorities are told so that they can take necessary precaution, prevention and control procedures to minimise the risk of transmission of the diseases.
You can also apply to register the death with the destination authorities, fees may apply and vary for each country. If you do decide to register the death with the destination authorities, you will need to provide the local death certificate (with an official translation if necessary) and evidence of the deceased’s usually a copy of passport, or a birth/naturalisation certificate (if no passport is available)
Following the death of your friend or family in Thailand, the next of kin, or their formally appointed representative, must decide whether to:
Shipping cremated remains is less complicated and cost more effective than shipping a dead body.
If the deceased had taken out travel insurance, it is important that next of kin contact the insurance company without delay. If the insurance company grants cover, you should check with them what funeral arrangements they will cover. If the deceased was covered by travel insurance, the insurance company will normally have a standing agreement with an International Funeral Director and will arrange repatriation on your behalf. International Funeral Directors can organise repatriations to most countries in the world.
If insurance cover is not in place, then the Thai authorities will expect that the cost of repatriation or cremation will be met by the family. Friend and family should be aware that all hospital bills must be paid in full before the body can be released.
A local civil registry death certificate, a certificate of embalming, and a certificate permitting transfer are required. Your chosen funeral director can arrange this for you. Local formalities for repatriation normally take eight to ten working days to complete. Embalming is required for repatriation. Sometimes local embalming methods mean that the full range of tests cannot be done if a second post mortem is requested. Embalming procedures may have an impact on the efficacy of any subsequent post mortems. There are many special requirements for transporting human remains by air, so you cannot arrange air transportation of human remains directly with an airline. In fact, not all airlines will accept this type of cargo.
To bring the body home you must:
Once the body is home, take the death certificate to the register office in the area where the funeral is taking place. As the death has already been registered abroad, the registrar will give you a certificate of no liability to register. Give this to the funeral director so the funeral can go ahead.
To bring the ashes home:
When leaving a country with human ashes you will normally need to show:
Contact the airline to find out whether you can carry the ashes as hand luggage or as checked in luggage. They may ask you to put the ashes in a non-metallic container so that they can be x-rayed. It is important that you check ahead of time, particularly if you are transporting ashes overseas. Your funeral home or crematory can provide you with paperwork such as an Affidavit of Non-contraband that may be required. All of documentation should be kept with the container of cremated remains.
Each country has its own rules about departing with human ashes and there may be additional requirements. You’ll need to fill a standard customs form when you arrive home.
Ask for more advice from the embassy or high commission in the country where the person died.
Autopsies (Post Mortems)
If the Royal Thai Police are not satisfied after a preliminary examination of the facts surrounding a death, they can request an autopsy. Further investigations and interviews with witnesses may also be called for before a decision is made as to cause of death. The autopsy report is usually available three months after a death has occurred. You will need to organise and pay for the translation of the report into English, if you need one. You should be aware that an autopsy report is a factual, clinical document and as such you may find the contents graphic and distressing.
In cases of sudden or unexpected death, for example by accident or misadventure or where a person dies unattended, the police will prepare an initial report of their findings - a copy of which will be sent to the Embassy. However, if death was caused by a criminal act the police will be ordered to conduct a full investigation. The State Prosecutor will then decide whether to prosecute. This can delay the release of the body.
During an autopsy, samples of organs can be removed for testing, including toxicological studies, at the discretion of the doctor without consent of next of kin. Next of kin are not informed about the removal of these samples or their retention by the Thai authorities. The Embassy has no authority to intervene in this procedure, or to stop it taking place.
Once the Thai authorities are content that no further examinations need to be made, the deceased’s body can be cremated in Thailand or returned to the country before tests on removed organ samples are completed. Any samples removed are retained for the duration of the tests and are then put in storage for 30 days before being destroyed. Samples of organs or the organs themselves cannot be removed for any purpose other than testing without prior consent of the deceased (for research or transplants) or next of kin (transplants only).
Timeframes for police investigations vary although if a suspect is arrested an investigation is usually completed within six months. However, investigations can continue for up to 20 years if no suspect is found. If no one is found guilty but you feel the circumstances around the death are suspicious, there is little you can do unless new evidence comes to light.
Access to information concerning a death, other than post-mortem and police reports can be difficult. The police usually share their case report with consular officials once the case has concluded. The Thai authorities will not provide information on their investigations directly to you or the next of kin. Requests for this information should be made through a legal representative or the British Embassy may be able to make a request on your behalf. The release of any information can take many months and will usually only be released once a case has completed, and the documents will be in Thai.
When a foreigner dies in Thailand, personal effects will be kept by the police case officer. You or your appointed funeral director can ask for them to be returned but you should be aware that if personal effects are being used as evidence in an investigation and court case, they will not be released to family members until proceedings, including any appeals have finished. In those cases where personal belongings are retained by the Thai authorities, the Embassy can request their return once legal proceedings have concluded.
As Thailand is a Buddhist country, burials are rare – and normally only for foreigners. As a result, they can be very expensive and difficult to organise. We advise that if the next of kin wish to have the deceased buried that they consider having the body repatriated and arranging for the funeral take place in their country.
Letter of Release
Thai local authorities generally require written authorisation from the Embassy for the next of kin, undertaker or other authorised representative before they release a body for cremation or repatriation. The Embassy will need written confirmation from the next of kin informing the Embassy who they have requested to organise the funeral or repatriation before the Letter of Release can be issued.
Furthermore, if the case of a major catastrophe or terrorist attack, local practices may change, and there may be delays with bodies being returned to the country due to identification procedures.
What kind of help we can provide when someone has died abroad.
The emotions you may experience after a major personal crisis such as the death of a relative or friend can be traumatic. It is important to remember that help is available. Some people will not want or feel the need to talk to anyone outside their family and friends, but for others it may be essential. There is nothing wrong with knowing that you need help.