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 visits abroad. One of the most important tasks of U.S. consular officers abroad is to provide assistance to the families of U.S. citizens who die abroad.

When an American citizen dies abroad, consular officers:

  • confirm the death, identity and U.S. citizenship of the deceased make notification to the next-of-kin if they do not already know about the death, providing information about disposition of the remains and the effects of the deceased, and provides guidance on forwarding funds to cover costs
  • serve as provisional conservator of the estate, absent a legal representative in country
  • prepare documents for disposition of the remains in accordance with instructions from the next-of-kin or legal representative, and oversee the performance of disposition of the remains and of the 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.

The ACS section at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh can assist family and friends if an American citizen dies in Cambodia. A consular officer will contact the next-of-kin and provide information about the disposition of remains locally or the return of the remains to the U.S. The disposition of remains is affected by local laws, customs, and facilities, which are often vastly different from those in the U.S.

The cost of preparing and returning the 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 or ashes of American citizens who die abroad. Upon completion of all formalities, the consular officer abroad prepares an official consular Report of Death Abroad, based upon the Cambodian death certificate, and sends 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. The consular officer takes possession of personal effects, such as personal documents and papers, apparel, jewelry and convertible assets. The officer prepares an inventory and then carries out instructions from members of the deceased’s family concerning the effects.

If you are in the U.S. at the time of notification of 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 of a U.S. citizen, disposition of remains, and custody of the personal effects of a deceased 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 from four to six weeks or longer after the date of the death, 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.

The U.S. consular officer will send the family up to 10 certified copies of the Report of Death at the time the initial report is issued. These are provided at no fee. Additional copies can be obtained subsequently 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 Reports 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.