Planning for the worst-case scenario in a foreign country

  • birds in the valley
Published 2019-09-17 11:00

Many expatriates neglect proper planning for the event of passing away in their new country of residence. Some do not at all contemplate, neither plan for such an event. Even if there are a lot more exciting things to plan for when deciding to settle abroad, expats would avoid unimaginable problems and misery for their next of kin, friends, or embassies and consuls that have to deal with their passing away in their host country if they planned for the worst case scenario when going abroad.

The challenges of passing away in a foreign country

Different countries have different religions, laws, procedures, cultures, and legal parameters that govern funerals and/or repatriation of bodies. For example, in France, a body must get a police tag and even mayoral approval before being moved at all while it must further be embalmed and placed in a wooden coffin after 24 hours. The worldwide Airline Trade Association (ATA) complicates the matter by insisting that an embalming certificate accompanies a body repatriated.

Further to the above, there are huge costs involved in the repatriation of bodies to countries of origin. For example, repatriating a body from the USA to Kenya could cost anything between USD 6000-10 000. Moving a body from Australia to the UK could cost between USD 13 000 and USD 17 000. These costs exclude funeral or cremation costs. Actual costs are further determined by bureaucratic red tape/paperwork, mortuary charges, autopsy fees, embalming, weight of a body, transport of the body - by air it is regarded as international freight, and so on. The bottom line is that someone will have to pay when you pass away and most of the time the fees really add up. 

How to be prepared for unforeseen deaths abroad

You will do yourself and your next of kin, family, and friends a huge favour while saving them money, time, and lots of stress by taking precautionary measures in case you pass away in your new country. Not all have the resources or money to plan for the most grandiose solution e.g. funeral and/or repatriation of your body but all and sunder could at least do something to lessen the stress related to dealing with the aftermath. 

  1. Draw up or update your will and choose an executor

For a start, before you even leave for your destination, draw up or update your will (also known as a testament). This will allow you to choose an executor for your will. The executor is the person or persons that will see to it that your will is implemented to the letter. 

  1. Include details about your property, assets, investments, and finances

Because you will move to a foreign country, your testament will need to include many details about your estate that includes movable and immovable assets, investments, financial situation, and relevant account numbers from which transactions will have to be done after you passed away. In addition to drawing up or updating a testament, you also have to discuss it in detail with the executors and in lesser detail with your identified beneficiaries in your testament. Your testament should include the contact numbers of your executor/s. It is advisable that you provide a certified copy of your will to your executor/s, your spouse, or another family member and your bank for safekeeping. Without a proper will many things can go awry if you suddenly pass away in a foreign country. There are numerous examples of assets, finances, wealth, homes, and other valuables abroad becoming inaccessible to family and potential beneficiaries because of the absence of any will accompanied by neglect of any precautionary measures. 

  1. Do research about your host country’s laws around funerals and death practices

Another must-do even before departing for your new foreign destination is to do proper research about the religions, cultures, laws, procedures, and protocols governing the handling of funerals, exhumation, and/or repatriation of expatriates. You should ensure that you have an insurance that could provide for the most basic of solutions in the case where you do not want to, neither can afford to financially burden those who will have to deal with your passing away in a foreign country. Most travel agencies include a travel insurance that also covers repatriation of bodies. 

  1. Visit your embassy or consulate

If you do not have sufficient financial resources to get expert legal advice about your will and applicability of travel insurance, one of the very first things you need to do on arrival in your new country is to visit your embassy or consulate. They can provide good advice about your testament and many other issues of relevance and interest. They also become involved in repatriation of bodies and it is, therefore, a good idea to provide them with a sealed copy of your will and travel insurance, contact details of your family abroad, your executor/s and other relevant contacts. If your embassy or consulate is not in close proximity, the mentioned documents and details should be provided to your employer, preferably your immediate supervisor.

  1. Have appropriate documentation ready at all times

If you pass away in a foreign country, your spouse or a trusted family member or friend in the host country will have to make some arrangements for your funeral or repatriation. They too will have to be empowered with the necessary documents and details to deal with such an event. They will need a copy of your passport and/or resident permit that includes your full names, date of birth, address, and so on. They also need the contact particulars of your embassy or consulate as the latter will be instrumental in assisting with and/or facilitating contact with the necessary authorities and institutions for registering a death, issuing a death certificate, securing permission to deport a body or embalming it, checking for repatriation travel insurance and in many cases in foreign countries, translating all of the mentioned documents. Of course, this will also have a cost implication. 

Therefore, do the right thing by doing at least something to prepare for any unforeseen events, rather than leaving it to chance.