Death of a U.S. Citizen

Each year, over 6,000 Americans die abroad. Most of them are Americans who live overseas, but, each year, a few thousand Americans die while on short trips abroad. One of the most important tasks a U.S. consular officer has is to provide assistance to the families of U.S. citizens who have died abroad.

When an American citizen dies abroad a consular officer will:

  • confirm the death, identity and U.S. citizenship of the deceased
  • notify the next-of-kin if they do not already know about the death
  • provide information concerning the disposition of the remains and personal effects of the deceased, and guidance on forwarding funds to cover costs
  • serve as the provisional conservator of the estate until a legal in-country representative is appointed
  • prepare documents for the disposition of the remains in accordance with the wishes of the next-of-kin or legal representative, and oversee the performance of the disposition of the remains and of the personal effects of the deceased
  • send signed copies of the Consular Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad to the next-of-kin or legal representative, for use in settling estate matters in the U.S.

In the event of an American citizen’s death in Cambodia, the ACS section of the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh will provide assistance to the deceased’s family and friends. A consular officer will contact the next-of-kin and provide guidance concerning the local disposition of remains or repatriation of remains to the U.S. The disposition of remains is subject to local laws, customs, and facilities, which are often vastly different from those in the US. For detailed information please click here.

The cost of preparing and returning a citizen’s remains to the U.S. is high and must be paid by the family. The Department of State has no funds to assist in the return of remains. Upon completion of all formalities, the assigned consular officer will prepare an official consular Report of Death Abroad, based upon the Cambodian death certificate, and send it to the next-of-kin or legal representative for use in U.S. courts to settle estate matters.

A U.S. consular officer overseas has statutory responsibility for the personal estate of an American who dies abroad, if the deceased has no legal representative in the country where the death occurred. In this case, the consular officer will take possession of the deceased’s personal effects, prepare an inventory of all items, and carry out any instructions given by members of the deceased’s family concerning the effects.

If you are in the U.S. at the time of notification regarding an American’s death, it is suggested that you contact the Citizens Emergency Center at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. for assistance, telephone: (202) 647-5225.

Consular Report of Death

The consular “Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad” is a report that provides the essential facts concerning the death, disposition of remains, and custody of the personal effects of a deceased U.S. citizen. This form is generally used in legal proceedings in the United States in lieu of the foreign death certificate. The Report of Death is based on the foreign death certificate and cannot be completed until the foreign death certificate has been issued. This can sometimes take four to six weeks, or longer, depending on how long it takes local authorities to complete the local form. U.S. Embassies and Consulates work with local authorities to see that this time is as short as possible.

When the initial report is issued, the U.S. consular officer will send the deceased’s family up to 10 certified copies of the Report of Death. These are provided free of charge. Additional copies can be obtained by contacting the Department of State, Passport Services, Correspondence Branch, 1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 510, Washington, DC 20522-1705, tel (202) 955-0307. Submit a signed, written request including all pertinent facts along with requester’s return address and telephone number. Effective June 1, 2002, there is a $30 fee for a certified copy of a Report of Death, and a $20 fee for each additional copy provided at the same time. See Federal Register, May 16, 2002, Volume 67, Number 95, Rules and Regulations, Page 34831-34838; 22 CFR 22.1, Item 43 (a) and 43(f). Fees are payable to the Department of State