Death of a U.S. Citizen

Death is a difficult experience for one’s family and friends no matter where it takes place. When death occurs overseas the experience can be even harder, especially if the procedures involved are not clearly understood.

The U.S. Embassy in Tunisia’s American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit is ready to assist family and friends in the event of the death of an American Citizen in Tunisia.  Our services include:

  • Finding and notifying the Next-of-Kin of the deceased
  • Acting as a liaison with Tunisian police, hospital and mortuary authorities
  • Arranging for the disposition and repatriation of remains
  • Coordinating administrative and financial requirements
  • Assisting in the collection and return of personal effects to Next-of-Kin
  • Issuing a “Report of Death of American Citizen Abroad” which can be used to settle estates in the United States.

Tunisian authorities inform the Embassy upon the death of an American Citizen anywhere in Tunisia.  We then find the Next-of-Kin of the deceased and contact that person as soon as possible. There are several important things that the Next-of-Kin must do in conjunction with the ACS office. These include:

  • Returning a signed and notarized “Affidavit of Next-of-Kin”
  • Choosing a method of disposition of remains
  • Arranging payment of mortuary and related expenses in Tunisia
  • Arranging return of any personal possessions of the deceased

To act on the family’s behalf, the Embassy must have a signed, notarized copy of a document called an “Affidavit of Next-of-Kin.”  This form is critical because it shows us who is entitled to make the decisions regarding the deceased. Families should first fax or scan and email us a completed copy, and then mail the original.  Our fax number is +216-71-964-360, and our email address is TunisACS@state.gov.

Next-of-Kin are established in the following order:

  1. Spouse
  2. Children
  3. Parents
  4. Siblings
  5. Grandparents

Additionally, Next-of-Kin should fill out and sign a “Letter of Instruction” and fax +216-71-6-964-360 or scan and email us a copy.  This letter will tell us exactly how to handle the deceased’s body.

After an American Citizen dies in Tunisia, the Next-of-Kin must choose between several different options for the disposition of the remains:

  • Burial in Tunisia: This is the local custom, which occurs after the body is cleaned and prepared by a funeral home.  There is no maximum waiting period before the burial, although the local standard is typically twenty-four hours. The U.S. Embassy can provide you with a list of possible funeral homes and cemeteries, although cannot assume any responsibility or liability.  Note: There are only a limited number of funeral homes that meet international standards, the majority of which are located in the Tunis metropolitan area.
  • Embalming in Tunisia:  Embalming is not common to Tunisia, and thus generally requires flying in a specialist from France to Tunis (estimated cost: $2,600 USD).
  • Cremation: This service is not performed in Tunisia.
  • Shipment of Remains Overseas: After preparation of the remains, the body may be shipped abroad.  Air shipment of the coffin to the United States typically costs between $3900 to 4600 dollars.  There are no direct flights to the U.S., and thus transit through Europe is generally required.  Exportation requires a number of documents: a death certificate issued by the local municipality, a medical death certificate issued by a doctor, a medical certification that the body is free of contagious disease, a burial authorization from a local judge, authorization to transport the body from Tunisian authorities, and a U.S. Embassy-issued “Report of Death Abroad” and “Mortuary Certificate.”  Please note that if the body was found to be carrying an infectious disease at the time of death, the remains cannot be shipped abroad, and must be buried within twenty-four hours in Tunisia.

Coffins in Tunisia, often imported from France or Italy, generally meet international standards.

Autopsies are normally performed for deaths involving suspicious or accidental circumstances.  However, in practice, nearly all deaths involving a foreign national require an autopsy.  During the autopsy process, storage fees at a morgue can range from free to 40 USD per day.

Because of many factors, it is best not to make unchangeable plans and dates for funeral ceremonies in the United States until we can provide a firm timetable for return of remains. It takes time to perform an autopsy, to prepare remains for shipment, and to prepare all the necessary documents.  Normally, expect at least  4 to 8 days from the date of death to the arrival of remains in the United States.

The deceased’s family or legal representative must pay all funeral home expenses and shipping costs of the remains and any personal effects.  By law, the Department of State cannot carry out instructions on the disposition of the remains until we have received the required funds.  Families without a personal representative present in Tunisia normally set up what is called an Overseas Citizens Services Trust with the Department of State.  We use the money in this account to pay expenses on behalf of the deceased.  After all the mortuary and shipping expenses have been received and paid, we will conduct an itemized accounting of final costs and refund any balance in the trust by a United States Treasury check.  Finally, please note that actual prices may vary from the estimated prices quoted above.

The Embassy can, in most circumstances, take charge of personal effects and possessions of the deceased if instructed to do so by the Next-of-Kin. This may not be necessary if the deceased has a friend or family member present in Tunisia at the time of death.

We will conduct a thorough inventory of any personal effects and send a copy to the Next-of Kin. We can send the family any items they wish to have returned at their expense. Most families decide to donate items of little sentimental or monetary value (clothing, suitcases, kitchenware, etc.) to a local charity in order to avoid the large expense involved in returning these items to the United States. The Embassy will gladly arrange for this charitable donation on the family’s behalf.

In cases where the estate of the deceased exceeds $1,000 USD, the Embassy will require more detailed legal documents, such as Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration, prior to releasing money or effects to the Next-of-Kin.

The “Consular Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad” is an official report, in English, that provides the essential facts concerning the death of a U.S. Citizen. It functions in much the same way as a death certificate issued in the United States and can be used to settle bank accounts, insurance policies and other estate matters.

This report can be issued only after the Tunisian authorities complete their documentation of the death.  A minimum of 20 certified copies will be sent to the Next-of-Kin. Families may order additional certified copies from the Department of State for a fee.

Families will thus receive up to three sets of documents from the Embassy:

  • 20 copies of “Consular Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad” (free)
  • An original Tunisian Death Certificate with a translated English copy (at the family’s expense)
  • An original Autopsy Report with a translated English copy  (at the family’s expense)

For more information you may also refer to the Department of State website.