Death of a U.S. Citizen

The Bureau of Consular Affairs will locate and inform the next-of-kin of the U.S. citizen’s death and provides information on how to make arrangements for local burial or return of the remains to the United States. The disposition of remains is subject to U.S. law, local laws of the country where the individual died, U.S. and foreign customs requirements, and the foreign country facilities, which are often vastly different from those in the United States.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs assists the next-of-kin to convey instructions to the appropriate offices within the foreign country, and provides information to the family on how to transmit the necessary private funds to cover the costs overseas. The Department of State has no funds to assist in the return of remains or ashes of U.S. citizens who die abroad. Upon issuance of a local death certificate, the nearest embassy or consulate may prepare a Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad. Copies of that report are provided to the next-of-kin or legal representative and may be used in U.S. courts to settle estate matters.

A U.S. consular officer overseas has statutory responsibility for the personal estate of a U.S. citizen who dies abroad if the deceased has no legal representative or next-of-kin in the country where the death occurred, subject to local law.  In that situation the consular officer takes possession of personal effects, such as jewelry, personal documents and papers, and clothing.

The officer prepares an inventory of the personal effects and then carries out instructions from the legal representative or next-of-kin concerning the effects.  For more information on the Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad, and other services that a consular officer can help you with when a loved one passes away overseas, see the links below.

Additional Resources

  1. Consular Report of Death of a U.S. Citizen Abroad
  2. Return of Remains of Deceased U.S. Citizens
  3. Estates of Deceased U.S. Citizens
  4. Request a copy of a Consular Report of Death Abroad (CRDA)

 

When a U.S. citizen dies overseas, the experience can be difficult for friends and family.  The U.S. Embassy in Belize wants to assist as much as possible during such a difficult time and ensure that the next-of-kin understands the options and procedures for dealing with a death situation.

The U.S. Embassy can learn of the death of a U.S. citizen in many ways, ranging from a call from the local police in the case of an accident or crime to notification by a friend or spouse when a death occurs due to natural causes.  Those who learn of the death of a U.S. citizen are urged to call the American Citizen Services (ACS) office in the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy at 501-822-4011 during duty hours or 501-610-5030 outside normal working hours.

Ultimately, the ACS officer will issue 20 originals of the Report of Death of an American Citizen, which is usually sufficient in number to settle matters in the United States including life insurance, bank accounts, and other estate issues.  The 20 originals will be provided at no cost to the next-of-kin, though if at a later time more are needed, they must be requested through the Dept. of State (see travel.state.gov for more specific information) and an administrative cost will be required.  The U.S. Embassy has noted an increase in the number of requests for other, local documentation such as police reports and originals of the local death certificate.  Although by Dept. of State guidelines these should not be required to settle estates in the U.S., the consular section can assist to obtain them if the next-of-kin is unable to.

The following general information is provided to assist families in making initial decisions.  Indicated costs are estimates and should be considered as guides.  These estimates also relate only to costs incurred in Belize (inclusive of shipping); U.S. funeral home costs would be handled separately.



Burial is the norm in Belize, though cremation is frequently performed.  There are currently no traditional crematoriums in the country and an outdoor system is used, though a new crematorium should be available for use in 2014.  Cremains may be shipped back to the U.S. or carried by a loved one.  Caskets may also be shipped to the U.S.

(1) Maximum Period Before Burial

Belize law does not place a time limit within which burial or funeral arrangements must take place.  However, remains will be buried in a pauper’s burial within 8 days of arrival at a morgue unless arrangements are made to pay for longer-term maintenance and burial or cremation.

(2) Embalming

There is neither a time limit within which remains must be embalmed, nor a requirement for embalming of remains for export from Belize or import into the U.S.  Two funeral homes in Belize offer partial or full embalming, though the process is not the same as the U.S. and next-of-kin are encouraged to consult their receiving funeral home to resolve any doubts about embalming, particularly if relatives wish to view the remains.  Next-of-kin normally advise the funeral home if, for religious or other reasons, the body should not be embalmed.

(3) Cremation

There is no time limit within which remains must be cremated.

(4) Caskets and Containers

Coffins/caskets are available that are suitable for cremation, local burial or international shipment of remains.

(5) Exportation of Human Remains

Whole remains must be contained in a zinc-lined or hermetically sealed coffin/casket.  To facilitate the export of whole remains from Belize to the U.S., the Embassy prepares a Consular Mortuary Certificate to accompany the remains.  It provides the flight details and consignee and incorporates the following documents:

a) a certified copy of the local death certificate or the Coroner’s interim certificate when an inquest is pending

b) an affidavit from the funeral director stating that the remains have been properly prepared and packed for shipment

c) an embalming or sanitization certificate, if appropriate

d) certificate from the Belizean agricultural and health authorities permitting the removal of the remains from the Coroner’s jurisdiction.

(6) Exportation of Human Cremains/Ashes

Cremated remains may be exported if they are accompanied by a certified copy of the local death certificate, the cremation certificate and a statement from the funeral home confirming the urn contains only the ashes of the deceased.  Airline passengers have been able to carry cremated remains to the U.S.; we recommend passengers contact their airline for specific requirements.  Unaccompanied cremains must be sent by airfreight or parcel post; the local funeral homes understand the local requirements.

(7) Costs

Below listed are approximate costs for services provided in Belize.  Please note that the U.S. government cannot assume any responsibility for these costs; they will need to be paid by the next-of-kin or from the estate of the deceased.  Also, the U.S. Embassy Belmopan assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, the following persons or firms.  Names are listed alphabetically and the order in which they appear has no other significance.  Professional credentials and areas of expertise are provided directly by the funeral directors.

Coye Funeral Home

#74 Freetown Road

Belize City, Belize

Phone: +501-224-4430, +501-223-0274

Cell: +501-610-2170

After Hours Phone: +501-222-5218

Fax: +501-223-4548

E-mail: coyesfuneralhome@btl.net

Coye’s funeral home has been providing the full range of mortuary services to U.S. citizens for several years and often works with family members who are not present in Belize.  They accept payments via credit card or wire transfer and offer partial embalming via syringe.

Approximate Costs:

Local burial – Costs range from US$1200 to US$2500

Local cremation (remains not shipped to U.S.) – Costs range from US$1200 to US$1500

Local cremation (remains shipped to U.S.) – Costs range from US$1800 to US$2000

Export remains to U.S. – Costs range from US$2900 to US$5000

Lamb’s Funeral Home

231 Daisy Street

Lord’s Bank, Belize

Phone: +501-626-5732

E-mail: lambsfunerals@hotmail.com

Lamb’s funeral home provides the full range of mortuary services, having previously worked at a funeral home in the United States.  Lamb’s funeral home offers full intravenous embalming.

Approximate Costs:

Local Burial – Costs range from US$1100 to US$1500

Local cremation (remains not shipped to U.S.) – Costs range from US$1100 – US$1300.

Local cremation (remains shipped to U.S.) – Costs range from US$1600 – US$1800

Export remains to U.S. – Costs range from US$3000 to US$3500

(8) Exhumation

Exhumations can be accomplished at the request of the Belizean coroner if there are questions regarding the cause of death.  In addition, a next-of-kin can request exhumation from the funeral home, for instance if shipment to the U.S. is eventually desired.  Exhumed remains and their original casket/coffin must be contained in an outer casket/coffin for shipment.

(9) Autopsies

An autopsy is required by law in Belize when there is cause to suspect that the deceased died a violent or unnatural death or a sudden death of which the cause is unknown.  Autopsies normally occur within 1-3 days of death, and the Belizean authorities (normally the police) will transport the deceased to the location of the autopsy and are responsible for the costs of the procedure.

(10) Other considerations

– The ACS section of the U.S. Embassy makes every attempt to quickly reach the next-of-kin in the event of a death in Belize, and although never pleasant to contemplate citizens can assist if this becomes necessary by registering through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at travel.state.gov 

– By Dept. of State regulations, the next-of-kin of a deceased U.S. citizen would be the spouse, children, parents, siblings, and other relatives (in that order).  It is important to understand that spouses in the process of divorce are still considered married, and children who haven’t been heard from in 25 years are still considered next-of-kin.  U.S. citizens should keep these facts in mind as they attend to their personal affairs.

– The U.S. Embassy will notify the Social Security and Veterans’ Administrations upon the death of a U.S. citizen.  However, the next-of-kin will be responsible for notifying insurance companies, other pension funds, banks, etc.  For this reason it is a good idea for U.S. citizens to maintain a list of those contacts in order to ease the administrative burden on their next-of-kin.

– U.S. citizens in Belize (or any foreign country) can greatly assist their next-of-kin in the event the citizen dies abroad.  They should definitely have a will, particularly a Belizean will if they have property in Belize.  The U.S. Embassy can provide a list of attorneys who will work with U.S. citizens to prepare their estates.  Also, citizens should list their next-of-kin on property titles if they desire to ease the process of transferring property and accounts.  Finally, they should have a current list of bank accounts, property, life insurance, desires for burial/cremation, etc. that a next-of-kin or attorney can access, particularly a next-of-kin who is not in frequent contact and may not know the details of the deceased’s estate.