Part 1: Death Abroad – Preparing Ahead to Simplify an Already Stressful Process

NOTE: “PART 1: What to Do to Prepare for Travel in Case of a Death Abroad”  is information to simplify what might be a stressful, upsetting process for those who will be tasked with making arrangements during such a difficult time.

We work hard – and more and more these days we reward our families and ourselves with a much-deserved vacation. Sometimes it is a quick hop to Disneyland a state away and other times we pack up for an experience abroad that is usually much longer than a standard vacation.


Families are vacationing together more and more these days. Sometimes it is a trip a state over to Disneyland and other times it is a holiday abroad. Either way, the more prepared you are, the less your family will have to do if there is an accident or tragedy.

According to state department records, it’s very unexpected and maybe even unusual to have someone pass away on holiday. Generally, is attributed to something very common, such as a car accident or accidental drowning. “On average, over the last 13 years, only 827 Americans died of unnatural causes while abroad each year. When you consider the significant number of Americans who travel abroad, more than 68 million Americans in 2014, nearly all returned home,” writes Jane Boon in a Time.com post from March 2016.

With those statistics in mind, no one wants to plan what may be the best experience of his or her lives with the thought that it could potentially go wrong. BUT, there are some crucial steps you can take (even recommended by our federal government) to lessen the stress for heirs should the unexpected happen. Download the State Department Checklist.

Make sure your estate documents are up to date.  Having a set estate plan can be especially helpful when someone dies during travel. It greatly simplifies an already stressful, probably upsetting process for family or personal representatives who will be tasked with making arrangements during this extremely difficult time.

A couple of other points you may want to consider before you travel: 1) Have the person you travel with (if not your spouse) named your personal representative so he or she is able to make decisions and arrangements on your family’s behalf in case of an emergency.  2) For people who die while on vacation, cremation is a popular option, because often times their remains can be carried on a plane or even shipped back at much less of an expense. Considering this for your estate plan may lessen costs and stress for all involved.

Let folks know you are going and where you are visiting. Deb Smith says each time her retired folks travel abroad once a year, they leave her (the oldest of the siblings) with their itinerary as well as phone numbers of tour guides or hotels. This way, no matter who has an emergency, reaching out is the least of anyone’s concerns.



Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) Program. This takes Step #2 a bit further. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This way if there is an emergency, relatives or the government itself can reach you at all times and also help you in any kind of an emergency, especially if you are traveling without a companion.

Get additional insurance coverage. Consider supplemental insurance policies in case of illness or death. Most people are shocked to find out that their medical coverage does not extend to foreign soil. (Social Security and Medicare does not provide coverage outside of the United States.) Foreign hospitals and doctors often require payment in cash, and emergency medical evacuation can cost up to $100,000, according to the US State Department. “Make sure there are provisions for emergency assistance, return of remains and coverage for family members who will have to travel to wherever you die to claim your body.” writes MSNBC travel columnist Christopher Eliiott, who had a loved one pass away over seas. “The State Department can offer some assistance to your family but they’ll still pay $10,000 or more to get your remains back home if you don’t have insurance coverage.”

See PART 2: What to Do in the Event of the Unthinkable

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