What to Do if You or a Loved One Dies While on Vacation

A senior African-American woman in a bedroom looking somber.

It isn’t a topic we like to think about. But unfortunately, vacations aren’t always all fun and games. Out of Americans who travel internationally, statistics indicate that an average of 800 to 2,000 pass away each year on their trip (due to drowning, traffic, violence or another reason). 

Travel insurance can be expensive, and if you or a loved one passes away, the U.S. won’t provide financial assistance to help return the remains of the deceased back to the States. So what are you supposed to do? Here’s a helpful guide to read before you travel. 

Your Pre-travel Checklist

These are four smart steps to take before you travel anywhere but especially internationally.

1. Designate Emergency Contacts

Find a friend or family member back home who is willing to be listed as an emergency contact. If anything happens on your trip, local authorities or medical providers can reach out to them. This is especially important for solo travelers. Your smartphone also lets you set up emergency contacts within your Medical ID (found in the Health app on an iPhone). Make sure your emergency contact is accessible even when your phone is locked. Also, if you have any chronic illness, health condition or life-threatening allergy, it might be a good idea to wear a medic alert ID.

2. Consider Having Life Insurance

Life insurance provides for your loved ones even after you’re gone by paying them a sum of money upon your death. If you don’t have a life insurance policy, consider purchasing one before your next international vacation or trip. 

3. Choose Beneficiaries

A beneficiary is a person or entity whom you have designated to receive the proceeds of a life insurance policy, property, or other investment after you pass away. You should choose a beneficiary for all of your important assets.

4. Wills and Estate Plans

Writing a will allows you to choose who will receive your money, assets and other items from your estate. You can find free templates online to help you legally write your own will. An overall estate plan (which might include additional documents such as a trust or power of attorney) also helps provide for your loved ones and minimize financial expenses.

If a Death Occurs…3 Steps to Take

If someone you love unfortunately passes away while traveling abroad, these are the steps you’ll need to take. 

1. Contact Your Consulate or Embassy

While the Department of State won’t pay to return the remains of the deceased, they can help you with the process. Contact the U.S. consulate or embassy in the place where the person died and let them know about the U.S. citizen’s death. The consulate can help you complete tasks such as:

  • Understanding local laws and communicating with local authorities 
  • Obtaining your loved one’s belongings
  • Helping return remains to the U.S., or burying them locally
  • Filling out any required death forms (such as the Consular Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad)

2. Make Necessary Travel Arrangements

In some cases, it may be helpful to travel to the country yourself if you are able to do so. Some countries have laws about who can claim a deceased person or make decisions about transporting them. You may need to sign paperwork or communicate with local officials, which can often be easier and faster to do in person. Get a translator if needed to help you through the process.

3. Transporting Remains Home

Treat remains according to your loved one’s end-of-life wishes. Transporting cremated remains internationally costs about $300. Shipping a person’s body can cost $10,000-$20,000. 

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What About Travel Insurance?

You don’t necessarily need travel insurance for every trip you take. Travel insurance covers emergency medical expenses, evacuation costs, lost money from canceled trips or lost baggage and provides 24/7 assistance. If someone who has travel insurance passes away during their trip, death and dismemberment coverage might give a payout to a beneficiary (and if the individual has life insurance, this will kick in, too).

Here are some instances where travel insurance might be worth considering:

  • Your health insurance plan doesn’t offer global coverage. Check with your insurance plan to see if it offers global coverage. Even those that do often have high out-of-network deductibles for services received outside the U.S. 
  • You’ll be in a remote area. Research the area where you’ll be traveling to get a sense of what medical care is available and how far you’d have to travel to a good hospital. If you won’t be close to any major facilities, travel insurance may be worth it.
  • You might have to cancel your trip. If you end up needing to cancel your vacation before you leave (for example, because a loved one passes away), travel insurance can reimburse you. 

Alternatively, travel insurance may not be necessary if you’re traveling in the U.S. (your health insurance plan has you covered) or you can afford to lose money if needed. 

You can purchase travel insurance online, or through a travel agent. The cost of travel insurance (which is based on the age of the travelers and the overall trip cost) typically lands around 6% of your total trip cost. A family of four can expect to pay approximately $3,600 for a three-day vacation in 2023. 6% of that number is $216.


Want more? Check out our blog, 8 Tips For Talking About Final Wishes with Your Loved Ones

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