Managing arrangements for a deceased loved one is never easy, but having to transport the body from another country or across state lines poses additional challenges. Airlines have differing rules regarding transporting human remains, as do the customs authorities in various countries. Regulations also differ depending on whether you're transporting a body in a casket or the cremated remains. Working with U.S. consular officials can ease the challenges of handling an overseas death, while your funeral home may be able to help you sort out the requirements for the transportation process for stateside deaths.
Speak with the Consular Affairs section of the United States embassy in the country where the deceased body is located. The U.S. consular officer will work with the deceased's family and local officials to facilitate all necessary legal and mortuary procedures to prepare the body for return to the U.S. The consular official will obtain the local death certificate, prepare a Consular Mortuary Certificate and obtain a transit permit from local health authorities. He will also obtain an affidavit from the foreign funeral director stating that only the deceased's remains and necessary packing materials are in the casket, and how the body has been prepared.
Contact the airline on which the deceased will be flown from the foreign country to make necessary arrangements for ticketing, cargo fees, loading and unloading. You may be required to work with a local funeral home to have the body prepared for the flight: U.S. consular officials or local police can help you find the appropriate funeral home to assist you. The funeral home should also be able to arrange for transportation of the body to the airport. Get a bill of lading from the airline to accompany the body, if no one is traveling with the casket.
Ensure you have someone working on your behalf to manage the hand-off of documentation, such as ticket and death certificate, to airline representatives. This person might be a consular official, local funeral home employee or an officer of the deceased's employing company. If required to fly to the foreign country to bring the body home yourself, you will be personally responsible for handling all the documentation, and possibly the deceased's personal effects. The airline can help you obtain the necessary customs documentation for entry into the U.S. This is in addition to the documents already obtained through the U.S. Consular Affairs section.
Obtain a certified death certificate from the issuing official at the place where the death occurred. To facilitate transportation, ensure you also obtain documentation stating that the deceased did not die from a communicable disease. You likely also will need an out-of-state disposition permit, which can be obtained from the local Vital Records office.
Obtain from local or state officials a release for transit. The rules for this release vary among states: For example, Texas issues a "burial transport permit" that allows designated personnel -- family members or a funeral home -- to take the body out of the state for burial.
Contact an authorized transporter, if desired. National companies perform a range of services, such as embalming, providing ground transportation and flying the remains to the desired location. Funeral homes in some places also have authorized transporters to make these arrangements. Companies such as MortuaryShipping.com offer databases of funeral facilities throughout the country that are licensed to arrange and implement the transport of both bodies and cremated remains.
Contact the air carrier you plan to use to ascertain its requirements for transporting deceased remains. Either the family's designated representative or an authorized funeral home can do this. Determine what documents are required by the airline you choose and gather these documents. Arrange for the bill of lading with the airline; this authorizes and pays the airline to transport the casket containing the deceased.
Arrange with the local funeral home you are using to pick up the casket upon arrival at the local airport.
Transporting cremated remains -- "cremains" -- is simpler and can be done relatively easily on commercial air carriers. Cremains can be shipped as cargo or carry-on, as long as they are securely packed and in a container that allows TSA security screening equipment to clearly view the contents. Documentation, such as death certificate, certificate of cremation and transit permits, is required.
Not all countries automatically embalm bodies before burial. Additional documentation and health/safety procedures are typically required for transporting an unembalmed body into the country from overseas.