Returning Dead Bodies From Foreign Countries

These days, South Africans are living, working or holidaying in countries around the world. But if the worst should ever happen and a loved one passes away while in a foreign country, what happens to the remains? In the following article, we’ll try to give you some idea of the options available to you about returning dead bodies to South Africa.

Returning Dead Bodies to South Africa

Before doing anything else, check the deceased’s travel insurance (if any). There may well be provision for death abroad that will make your choices easier. There could also be a financial clause that will alleviate whatever expenses you may incur.

Also be aware that you will have to contact both the local South African Representative for assistance with documentation and one or other local undertaker.

returning dead bodies

Four Options

There are four options available to you if a friend or family member dies abroad. Let’s take a look at them and see what is involved in each case.

  • Returning dead bodies to South Africa
  • Cremate the body and return the ashes to South Africa
  • Bury the body locally
  • Pauper’s burial

 

 

 

Returning dead bodies to South Africa

This is probably the most common option, as most people will want to bring the remains back to hold a funeral. Remember that the preparation and transportation of the remains will probably make this an expensive option.

Strict conditions apply to the transportation of human remains into South Africa, particularly if the remains could be infectious. Grant permission after an Import Permit is obtained from the Department of Health and the local South African Representative will assist you in this regard.

Generally speaking, there are three conditions that must be met to bring the remains back home:

  • Embalm the body. Except where it is forbid for religious reasons, you will require an Embalming Certificate. You will have to make arrangements for this with a local undertaker.
  • Prepare the remains properly for transportation.You will have to make arrangements for this with a local undertaker, being sure to adhere to South African requirements.
  • Obtain an Import Permit. The local South African Representative will assist you with this.

In cases where the remains are infectious, additional requirements include:

  • Extra preparation for the body’s transportation.Seal the body more securely and have it accompanied by more documentation.
  • A written statement by a medical practitioner. This serves to confirm that the body does not pose a threat to public health. Also, that they will seal it in accordance with South African law.

The Department of Health will only issue an Import Permit once the South African Representative has provided certain information. Because this could cause some delays, it is advisable to get in touch with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation as early as possible.

Cremation

If required, cremate the body locally and return the ashes to South Africa. You do not need an Import Permit to return the ashes home. Although, a copy of the death and cremation certificates must accompany the ashes, together with a copy of the deceased person’s identification document. If required, you can ask the South African Representative to witness the cremation.

Local burial

Another option is to have the body buried locally. In this case, you will have to make an arrangement with a local undertaker or funeral service to ensure the ceremony is suitable. The South African Representative can be asked to attend the ceremony as a witness if required, and the location of the grave will be forwarded to the next-of-kin if nobody is present for the ceremony.

Pauper’s burial

This is perhaps the least attractive option but is sometimes necessary if you cannot find the next-of-kin of the deceased, or if financial considerations rule out any of the other alternatives. In this case, you can bury the body following local legislation, free of charge. The South African Representative can be asked to attend the ceremony as a witness if required and can forward the location of the grave to the next-of-kin.

Government assistance

The South African Representative will assist you as much as possible in returning your loved one home. Although they will not offer financial assistance, the Representative should be able to provide invaluable advice on local undertakers and funeral services, as well as organising the Import Permit from the Department of Health.

 

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