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What happens if you die abroad

Location independent individuals tend to be an optimistic bunch and the possibility of dying abroad is not something most think about. It is, however, a possibility and being well prepared is very important. You want to make things as easy as possible for your family in case the worst was to happen. In this article, I explain how.

Some context

Thousands of travellers die outside of their home countries every year. Statistically, around 60% of those deaths have natural causes. Accidents, crimes and suicides make up the rest. While dying is always a complicated business, dying abroad is a bureaucratic nightmare due to the multitude of jurisdictions involved and a lack of familiarity with local customs. It can also (in most cases actually) result in a hefty bill for your loved ones (or travel insurance company). The importance of preparedness is crucial and this leads us to the next point, how to prepare.

How to prepare

First of all, you need travel insurance (or expat health insurance). I cannot stress this enough. You also need to make sure that your policy covers the repatriation of mortal remains. I have written an health insurance guide, you can read it here. Without insurance and depending on the circumstances of your death, the cost of “processing” your mortal remains and repatriating your body home may easily go into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of EUR / USD. A bill like that is not the legacy most people want to leave to their loved ones.

Secondly, you need to write down the details of your insurance policy and give them to your loved ones. Being insured will be worth squat if you die and no one knows who your insurer is / what your policy number is. This could also be useful in case you are incapacitated (for example, if you lose your memory or are in a coma). You should also give your loved ones a scan of the information page of your passport, a list of the banks you have accounts with and if applicable, the contact details of your local friends (in the country where you are traveling).

Thirdly, you should familiarize yourself and your loved ones with the bureaucratic process of dying abroad. While I will not go into details as the process differs from country to country, it usually works like this: when you die someone will report your death to the local authorities (for example, the hotel manager). The local authorities will then contact your embassy and report your death. The embassy will contact the police department in your hometown who will then contact and inform your loved ones of your passing. It will be the responsibility of your loved ones to contact your travel insurance company and arrange for the payment of all medical / repatriation bills. They will also be responsible for settling any outstanding charges you may have with the hotel you were staying at, car rental company etc. While some insurance companies handle everything, most do not. This means that your loved ones will have to contact the police department where your death was recorded and arrange everything themselves. This can be a major pain in the ass so having some form of SOP in place can definitely help.

Lastly, you should ensure that you have a will / testament and that it is up to date. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can write a legal will online in just a few minutes. Learn more: US citizensCanadian citizensUK citizenscitizens of other countries. You should also ensure that you have properly structured your bank accounts and other assets for succession. This is especially important if you have assets in multiple countries.

Global life insurance

Global life insurance should not be confused with regular life insurance. The main reason is that while a regular life insurance policy will pay out the death benefit wherever the death occurs (in most cases), it is usually impossible to purchase such coverage as a non-resident. In some cases, insurers may even restrict movement within the first few years of coverage. Global life insurance, on the other hand, truly is global. Coverage can usually be purchased regardless of where you live, movement is not restricted and premiums can be paid in multiple currencies. If you already have a life insurance policy, I strongly recommend having a lawyer review it to ensure that your beneficiaries will receive the death benefit regardless of where you live / travel. If you do not have a life insurance policy and you think you need coverage, I recommend requesting quotes from the following insurers: ClementsHSBCWilliam Russell and MetLife.

Government resources

AustraliaCanadaIrelandNew ZealandUnited KingdomUnited States.

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