How to Ship a Loved One's Body Home

How to Ship a Loved One's Body Home
Learn how to ship a loved one's body back to Canada or back to their province if they have died while away from home.
5 minute read

Learn how a deceased person's body can be transported from a foreign country to Canada and from province to province

When a person dies away from home, their family will need to transport their body back to their home country or province for a funeral. Repatriating a body can be an expensive and complicated process, so in this guide, we explain how to ship a loved one's body across international borders. We also explain how to transport their body across provincial borders if the death occurred in Canada but in a different province from where they were resident.

Repatriation Coverage
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Who is responsible for shipping a deceased person

The person responsible for coordinating the final arrangements of a deceased person is referred to as the next of kin, which is usually an immediate family relative such as a spouse, common-law partner, parent, adult child, or brother or sister. However, in the absence of immediate family, a more distance relative or willing friend can be designated. (See more info on who is the next of kin here).

A person may have also been designated by the deceased person in their will. In the absence of a will, a designated person will be assigned by law based on their relationship to the deceased person and their ability and willingness to handle final arrangements. That person will be responsible for funeral arrangements as well as coordinating the repatriation the body if the death has occurred in another country or province.

Getting started with shipping a body

When a person dies abroad or in a different part of Canada, the next of kin must ensure that the death has been reported to the appropriate authorities. This will likely have already been done in the locality where the person died. Depending on the country or province, the appropriate authority may include emergency services, a local coroner, an attending doctor, etc.

The next task is to contact a funeral home where the death took place, and their staff will facilitate the repatriation of the body from their location. This includes making transport arrangements and obtaining the necessary documentation.

Documentation can vary depending on the chosen body disposition (burial or cremation) and the circumstances of the death. First, however, the next of kin must obtain an official death certificate issued by the country or province where the person died.

The selected funeral home can help handle this and register the death according to local regulations. The next of kin should then request several copies of the death certificate from the funeral home and have it translated (if applicable) into English or French by a certified translation service for use in Canada.

Additional documents may be needed depending on the circumstances of the death, including:

  • Medical, police, or autopsy report.
  • Toxicology results.
  • Mortuary passport: This document allows the transportation of the remains to a facility for cremation if it is not offered in the area.
  • Cremation certificate:  A document needed if the ashes will be brought back to Canada.

Making arrangements

The next of kin must decide quickly how the body will be handled. Will it remain in the country where the death occurred and be cremated or buried there? Will the body or ashes be shipped home? Whatever the decision, the funeral home will assist with this process.

It is essential to remember that funeral customs and costs may differ in another country. Some faiths, such as Islam, do not allow cremation, so if the death occurred in a predominantly Muslim country, for example, it may be difficult to find a cremation facility, if that is the preferred option. One way around this is to have the body sent to a nearby country to be cremated. The local funeral service provider will be able to provide guidance on this task and coordinate it where possible.

Some countries or locations may not have the facilities for embalming or preparing the body for travel, complicating the repatriation of remains. Canadians may be able to get additional assistance by contacting the Canadian consulate that serves the area. Consular staff will be able to provide guidance on local procedures as well as determining the location and circumstances of death, identifying remains, authenticating the local death certificate, etc.

Shipping a dead body to Canada

Returning a dead body to Canada typically occurs within two to three weeks after death. The next decision that needs to be made is how the remains will be shipped.

The most common option is to transport the body in the cargo in a casket in the hold of an airplane, but it is also the most expensive method. If available, a body can be shipped via train (for example, from the U.S. to Canada). This can be more cost-effective than air transport but may require intervention from funeral providers at various parts of the journey.

Repatriation of remains to Canada can be a lengthy and complicated process that can incur significant expense. Body preparation rules and procedures for transport will vary from country to country. It's also not something that can be handled without professional help from a funeral provider.

Returning a body to Canada requires the involvement of at least two qualified funeral homes – one in the country of death and one in Canada. In some cases, the body must also be cleared on exit from the foreign country and entry by Canadian customs. This can result in delays due to schedule changes, documentation reviews, and cross-border administration procedures. The body may also need to travel large distances, which will add to the overall cost and complexity.

In addition to travel costs, the next of kin must pay for goods and services such as body preparation, casket purchase, transportation, staff fees from both countries, etc. The process can cost $15,000 to $20,000 on average for international shipment.

Shipping a dead body within Canada

Shipping a dead body within Canada can also be time-consuming but will likely cost less than shipping a deceased person from a foreign country. Within Canada, local rules and regulations must be considered and followed, and these may be different from those in the province of residence. However, arranging transportation is the primary task for the next of kin when returning a body domestically.

Multiple funeral homes may be needed to coordinate the return of the remains and will include flight or train transport fees. Segments of transportation can be done by hearse or other motor vehicles. And for those that need to save costs, transportation may be handled privately where legal. For example, it is legal to transport a deceased person in a private vehicle in Ontario.

If a loved one dies within driving distance from their home, a family member may be able to pick up the remains and bring them home. This can significantly reduce travel costs but may not be a preference for some. That said, it may not be possible in some jurisdictions. For example, private transportation of a dead body is not legal in Nova Scotia, so a transfer service would be required to handle this task.

Although the overall price is likely to be more affordable when compared to international shipping, the return of the remains within Canada costs $5,000 to $6,000 on average.

Shipping cremated remains

To minimize transport costs, one option is to have the body cremated at the place of death, if possible, and return the cremated remains to Canada or the deceased person's home province.

Cremation is more affordable than burial. It removes much of the time constraints and needs for preservation techniques (e.g., embalming) required for the transport of a body. Cremated remains weigh in the 4 to 9 lb (2 to 5 kg) range and will be more affordable and less complicated to transport than the shipment of a body.

Ashes can be placed in luggage or a carry-on bag or shipped via local and international postal or courier services. Learn more about travelling with cremated remains in this article: Can I Fly with Cremated Remains?

Questions?

If you have any questions about returning the remains of a loved one to Canada and need the assistance of our team at Eirene, you can contact us via email at support@eirene.ca or via our contact page. To make arrangements, click here.