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Taking Ashes Abroad

Taking Ashes on a Plane

It’s unfortunate that we have to write about this, and our heartfelt sympathies go out to anyone needing our advice. After the demise of a loved one, all we can do is offer the perfect resting place. A loved one may have expressed a wish to be buried in another country; or maybe, a non-UK citizen passes away in the UK and the family wishes to take them back home. Also, a lot of people are embracing the idea of scattering ashes in a meaningful location abroad. Whatever the case, taking ashes abroad can be a challenge on a completely different level; especially given the unfamiliar procedures you’ll have to follow and the possibility of a language barrier and cultural differences. We apologise for using words like remains, body, deceased, and so on, in this text. They are in no way meant to offend or frighten you or even disrespect your loved one who’s passed away. Before you begin your trip, it’s important to understand a few general rules for taking cremated remains on a plane. This text will help you through the practical steps when taking ashes abroad.

What Paperwork Do I Need?

When leaving the country with cremated ashes, you will need:

  • The death certificate
  • Cremation certificate
  • Certificate of sealing (though not necessary, it may avoid problems
  • Attestation from the crematorium, stating that cremation has taken place and that the specified container contains only the ashes of the deceased.
  • It’s also best to have proof of your relationship with the deceased
    These documents will come in handy when you are questioned by airline employees or airport security screeners. With the increased level of terror attacks, airlines have understandably become exceedingly strict on air security. So, avoid postponements or having your loved one’s ashes detained by adhering to these rules and regulations.

Urns for Travelling Abroad

When taking ashes abroad on a plane, you need a special kind of cremation urn to store the ashes safely and travel without any problem. Keep in mind that no one is allowed to open the container holding the ashes out of respect for the deceased.
The process can be simple if you follow a few guidelines, which include:

  • The urn should be made of non-metallic, scannable material that can easily be X-rayed during security checks. Some of the recommended materials include wood, non-lead lined ceramics, plastic, biodegradable material like paper, and glass. Even with the right documentation, the urn won’t be allowed on the plane if it doesn’t pass through security.
  • The urn must be securely closed and sealed to avoid spillage
  • Always carry the ashes as hand luggage, never stored in a suitcase. Most airlines do not allow ashes to be transported in suitcases and this will also avoid any potential damage.
  • Consider choosing a temporary urn for transportation. Urns can be used for a number of things, including providing a final resting place for a loved one. When travelling such long distances, there’s a chance your urn could get damaged. Therefore, use a simple, inexpensive temporary urn for transportation and transfer the ashes once you get home.
  • Add a tag to the urn. Cremated remains are finely ground material and without proper identification, they can be mistaken for anything. A loved one’s remains are very special, and even the thought of losing them is devastating.

Who To Inform / Who To Ask

Each country has its own set of rules and regulations regarding the repatriation of ashes. The good news is, you can find all the information you need from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Consulates, Embassies, local authorities, funeral homes/crematoriums, international repatriation agents, local funeral directors, just to mention a few.

Since UK laws are different from other countries, it’s always best to work with a local undertaker or funeral director in your destination country. These individuals are licensed to manage funeral arrangements, including the necessary paperwork, cremation, and repatriation, and will be able to assist with most of the procedures. You should also contact a funeral home/crematorium back home beforehand to receive the ashes, especially in countries like Germany where private individuals are not allowed to handle cremated ashes.

Contact the embassy or consulate of your destination country so as to know what happens at their end.

You should also inform the airline beforehand of your plans to bring ashes on-board. Different airlines have different policies regarding the transportation of ashes. The earlier you know about them, the faster you can get in line with them and ensure a stress-free journey. It’s always a good idea to inform airport officers about the contents of your luggage so they can handle it with respect. Try to get to the airport earlier so as to have ample time for security screening.

Policy By Country

Taking ashes abroad requires a bit more planning and research. As we’ve seen, every country has its own laws about travelling with cremated remains. Your first action should be to contact the Embassy or Consulate of the country you’re travelling to so as to know about their specific legal requirements. If making these arrangements feels overwhelming, the funeral home/crematorium can do it on your behalf. Here are some of the important policies required by different countries:

Taking Ashes to France

Repatriating ashes in France can be quite simple if you follow the right procedures. Local undertakers can be very helpful, especially with repatriation, but they come at a price. You can work with the nearest French Consulate in the UK and the British Consulate in France to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. In order to return cremated remains to France, you must have the following documentation:

  • A certified copy of the UK death certificate
  • Certificate of cremation
  • Certificate of sealing
  • Attestation from the crematorium, stating that cremation has taken place and that the specified container contains only the ashes of the deceased.
  • A duly signed authorisation from the person legally appointed to request the repatriation of the deceased’s remains.
  • A certified French-translation of the death and cremation certificate

There are several airlines that you can use to transport ashes to France, but Air France–KLM is the most popular.
Air France–KLM allows you to transport cremation ashes in the cabin or hold them onboard. You’ll be required to have the necessary documentation mentioned above. And, don’t forget your travel documents as well, including your passport, visa, and identity card.

Taking Ashes to Spain

There are no restrictions on transporting ashes within the EU, and you can do so with minimal bureaucracy. However, you still need to present the following documents when transporting ashes to Spain:

  • The UK death certificate
  • Cremation certificate
  • A certified Spanish-translation of the death and cremation certificate
  • The deceased’s ID (if available)
  • A sealing certificate from the funeral home or the crematorium stating that cremation took place and the contents of the container/urn only belong to the deceased

It would also be helpful to contact the British Consulate in Spain to avoid any surprises there. There are several airlines you can use to transport ashes to Spain, including British Airways. This airline allows cremation urns containing ashes either as a hand or checked luggage. You’ll need to carry the documents mentioned above and also ensure the ashes are packed in a sealed outer case or box.

Taking Ashes to Ireland

Repatriation of ashes is quite common between Ireland and the UK. And, although there aren’t many restrictions when transporting ashes to Ireland, it’s still advisable to contact the British Embassy in Ireland to know what happens on the other side. You should also declare the nature of the package to the UK and Irish customs. You’ll need the following documentation to transport ashes to Ireland:

  • The UK death certificate
  • Cremation certificate
  • Though not compulsory, an “Out-of-State Order” from the Coroner is also advisable

There are different ways to transport cremated ashes. If you choose to fly them, you can use the Aer Lingus Airline. They allow you to carry an urn containing cremated remains as either checked or cabin luggage. To avoid unnecessary distress while you are grieving, the airline recommends letting funeral directors make arrangements for the transportation of ashes. You must be in possession of the documents above to be allowed to carry ashes on-board.

Taking Ashes to Germany

Repatriating ashes in Germany can be quite hectic. Their tendency to regulate every aspect of life carries over into the afterlife. In fact, laws and practices can differ throughout the country. It would be best to work with the German Consulate in the UK and the British Consulate General Dusseldorf to know what happens on both ends. Unlike transporting a body, a funeral home doesn’t have to be involved in the repatriation of ashes. If you are bringing your loved one’s ashes back to Germany, you can simply ship them through a parcel service. You can also choose to fly with them. If so, note that German law forbids the handling of cremated ashes, or any remains for that matter, by private individuals. This means that whether you fly with them in the same aircraft or not, you have to make arrangements with a crematory or a funeral home. The recipient in Germany must be either a burial site manager or a funeral home. This means that they have to be informed beforehand about the arrival of the ashes. The following documents (original or certified copies) have to be submitted before returning ashes to Germany:

  • Official UK death certificate
  • Certificate of cremation
  • A certified German-translation of the death and cremation certificate
  • Copy of the deceased’s passport (if available)
  • A confirmation letter from the funeral home or the crematorium that the specified container contains only ashes of the deceased

There are several airlines that allow transportation of cremated ashes to Germany, but the most popular one is the Lufthansa Airline. A Lufthansa flight allows you to carry the cremated remains as carry-on luggage or checked luggage. You’ll need to present the above documentation to prove that what you’re carrying isn’t dangerous. Be sure to contact the airline beforehand to know of any other regulations they may have relating to transporting ashes.

Taking Ashes to Portugal

In Portugal, there isn’t a specified timescale for repatriation of ashes. This can offer ample time for family members to raise enough money, seeing how costly the repatriation of human remains can be. You need to contact both the Portuguese Consulate in the UK and the British Embassy in Portugal to get information on what happens on both sides. Although there are no restrictions when it comes to transporting cremated ashes within the EU, you’ll still need to provide the following:

  • The official UK death certificate
  • Cremation certificate
  • A certified Portuguese-translation of the death and cremation certificate

With so many airlines allowing the transportation of cremated ashes to Portugal, the most popular one is the EasyJet airline. You can carry ashes with you or in the cabin so long as you have the above documentation and the ashes are securely packaged in the right container. If you cannot physically travel with them you can use their courier/repatriation service.

Taking Ashes to Greece

Repatriation of human remains must comply with both local rules where the death occurred and the local requirements of the destination country. Seeing how Greece has some reservations about cremation, its best to contact the British Embassy Athens to get advice and the formalities required for repatriation in Greece. The following documents are required in order to transport cremated remains to Greece:

  • 2 copies of the UK death certificate
  • Cremation certificate
  • 2 copies of the out-of-state transit permit
  • Document with the flight number and details

All the above documents must be translated to Greek, and the authenticity of the translator’s signature certified by the Consular Office. You’ll also need to get an Apostille on all the documents.

Although there are several carriers transporting cremated ashes to Greece, the most obvious choice would be Wizz Air. On this airline, cremated remains can only be carried as cabin luggage. If you are unable to accompany the ashes, you can use their courier/repatriation service.

Taking Ashes to the USA

The US Embassy or Consulate will work with any funeral home you select to ensure you get proper documentation for transporting your loved one’s ashes back to the US. Cremated remains can be transported to the US if they accompanied by:

  • A certified copy of the UK death certificate
  • Cremation certificate
  • A mortuary certificate, which is generally prepared by the US Consulate
  • A statement from the funeral home/crematorium confirming that the urn contains only the cremated remains of the deceased

Even though you have all the paperwork, you should still contact one of the many British Consulates in the US just to know of any additional requirements that may cause problems once you land there. Also, don’t forget to declare the nature of your package to the UK and US customs. The most popular airline used to transport ashes to the US is the Delta Airline. Your cremation urn can be accepted as either carry-on or checked baggage. If you won’t be accompanying them, then you can use their courier/repatriation service. All you need to bring are the documents mentioned above.

Taking Ashes to India

Indian procedures, with regard to the repatriation of ashes, differ significantly from those in the UK. That’s why it’s best to contact the British High Commission in India to prepare for any complications that may arise when you get there. To be able to transport cremated remains to India, you’ll need the No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Indian Embassy/Consulate in the UK. You must submit the following documents (original or notarised copies) to your consulate to get the NOC:

  • Certified copy of the UK death certificate
  • Current passport of the deceased
  • Certificate of Cremation –signed by the crematorium where the cremation took place.
  • Declaration of Contents from the crematorium

Be sure to carry the NOC, all the other documents returned to you by the Consulate/Embassy, not forgetting the Consular mortuary certificate as it may be required by airlines. The airline/consignee is required to notify the Health Officer of the Indian airport of the importation of cremated remains at least 48hours in advance.
There are several airlines that allow the transportation of ashes to India, but the most common one is the Emirates. This airline allows cremated ashes to be carried as a hand or checked baggage provided the passenger has all the necessary documentation, which we have mentioned above. These documents may have to be presented to authorities in the UK and in India, as well as any other intermediate station. The container holding the ashes must be strong, safe, and hermetically sealed (airtight). Be sure to contact the airline beforehand to know of any other policies they have about transporting cremated ashes.

Taking Ashes to Australia

Taking ashes to Australia could not be made simpler. Generally, there are no special rules for repatriating cremated ashes to Australia. Even so, it’s still best to contact the British Consulate in Australia to see if there’s likely to be any complications at that end. It’s also a good idea to carry the official documentation, including the official UK death certificate, cremation certificate, and an official register extract stating the cause of death. Remember to declare the cremated ashes to the Agriculture Biosecurity on arrival in Australia. There are, however, requirements in relation to the container holding the ashes:

  • Urns made from wood must be declared on arrival or before departure to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (Agriculture).
  • The urn should be free from contaminants like soil.

If cremated ashes are being imported for commercial purposes, they must be accompanied by an import declaration.
Keep in mind that you must adhere to the UK export requirements and the airlines’ own guidelines. With so many airlines taking cremated ashes to Australia, the most popular choice is Qantas Airways. This airline allows you to carry your loved one’s ashes as checked or carry-on baggage with no certificate requirements whatsoever. Ashes can also be carried as freight using the airline’s courier/repatriation service. One thing though, the container shouldn’t weigh more than 7kg and it must be sealed properly to avoid leakage.

Taking Ashes to Europe

Although different countries have different cultures and laws when it comes to cremation and repatriation of ashes, transporting cremated ashes within European countries is generally easy. Germany is probably the one with the strictest rules. Keep in mind that European countries also have different laws when it comes to scattering ashes; so, be sure to read about them first before embarking on your journey. There are several ways to transport cremated ashes across Europe, including mail and air transport. Some of the most common airlines include British Airways, Easyjet, Airfrance/KLM, Lufthansa, Emirates, and Virgin Atlantic, just to mention a few. For any advice or inquires about repatriation contact your home country’s Consulate, Embassy, or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Local authorities, friends, and family should also be able to help as well.

Conclusion

Transporting a loved one’s ashes abroad is not easy. The grieving process can be made worse by all the unfamiliar procedures in a foreign land. Plus, a number of factors can derail the process. Hopefully, these tips will prepare you for any unexpected surprises and make your trip easier. Once everything is done correctly, you should be able to take your loved one’s cremated remains back home and give them a befitting send-off. All the best, and again, our deepest sympathies go out to you and your family during this dart time.