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International Repatriation – Why it Matters


It’s not until you are planning a trip overseas that you realise how vulnerable you might be to a mishap while travelling or something going wrong at home while you’re away. You make sensible and important decisions like appointing a power of attorney to act in your absence and on your behalf. You review your will and appoint an executor if you haven’t already done so. You don’t really expect that anything unforeseen is going to happen but you make contingencies because you’ll be more able to enjoy yourself if you do.

One preparation for travelling that is rarely discussed, and therefore taken for granted, is what would happen if you or your travelling companion died overseas? As unpleasant as the topic might be, 1,300 Australians die from illness or accident abroad each year. Their loved ones, while coming to terms with such a shocking and unexpected loss, are left with the dilemma of how to get the body returned to Australia.

Repatriation of a body from a foreign country back to Sydney can be an expensive, frustrating and drawn out process. The rights you have for freedom of movement between countries ceases to exist after you have died. While there are companies that specialise in international repatriation services, it is not just a case of assigning them the task and having your loved one returned.

Depending on the jurisdiction, and it’s true that there is little cultural or legal consistency from nation to nation, the medical, mortuary, and embalming costs can run into the thousands of dollars. Add other bureaucracy and transport costs and it could be well in excess of $15,000 for your return from say Europe or the U.S to Australia. In other parts of the world the process could be more complicated, protracted and therefore expensive.

Depending on the type of death; police, coroners, magistrates and consulates could potentially be involved. If the cause of death is uncertain, suspicious or if there is a suggestion of negligence related to the death, then an autopsy will be required. In the event of an autopsy it could take twice as long, or more, before the body is released.

The truth is, that if you have issues with repatriation from an overseas country there’s a good chance that only money can speed up the process. The Australian consulate can help but they won’t be willing, or able, to bypass local regulations or expenses. Travel insurance or international private medical insurance (PMI) will have some standard repatriation coverage or offer repatriation cover as an added option, but depending on the policy, they tend to only cover reasonable costs.

And as older Australians are continuing to travel, insurers are adjusting their policies to protect themselves from travellers who are at a greater risk of dying overseas. There is cause to read the fine print on policies and to understand exactly what your insurer will and won’t cover.

Grief and sadness is compounded by protracted repatriation issues. For some, despite their desire to have their loved one returned to Sydney, the complexity and expense of repatriation leaves them no option but to arrange for a funeral or cremation service in a foreign country. Such arrangements often add to the heartbreak.

Nobody wants to consider their death while their planning one of life’s most pleasurable experiences. However, a little forward planning, education and additional coverage for all contingencies, even death, will give you greater peace of mind on your travels.

Southern Cross Funeral Directors are experienced in the process of repatriation. If you are travelling abroad and you would like to be suitably prepared for every possible circumstance, please contact us for an obligation free conversation.