At the End of Your Bucket List

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Written by  July 31, 2017

What happens if you meet your untimely end while abroad? Here’s what you need to know.

Nobody plans to die on holiday. It’s a pretty good policy—but sometimes it simply can’t be avoided. Whether it’s a traffic accident or a natural disaster, the reality is that the grim reaper is, like you, an avid globetrotter.

Clearly, planning for your own untimely death is considerably less life affirming than booking your plane tickets, but it’s no less important. So on the off-chance that you reach the end of your bucket list prematurely, here’s what you need to know:

Travel insurance isn’t just for the living

The biggest bummer for your family—next to the fact that they'll no longer be getting your stream of selfies on Instagram—will be dealing with a foreign bureaucracy on your behalf.

Make no mistake: you'll be generating a lot of paperwork. Even with your country’s embassy involved, the handling of your death is subject to the laws of the country in which you died. The cause of death will have to be investigated; it will need to be registered with any local authorities; and a death certificate will need to be issued and translated. (The Government of Canada has produced a helpful, if slightly depressing, factsheet titled “Death Abroad," which gives a general overview of the process.)

Ultimately, there’s only one thing that will make the process go more smoothly—money. Since your embassy isn’t going to chip in and you don’t want to stick your family with the bill, this is where a good travel insurance policy comes in. However, make sure to read the fine print to ensure the policy will cover the full costs of your repatriation and funeral. Note that if you’re going to be parachuting out of planes, climbing down into the mouths of volcanoes, or participating in any activities that may increase the likelihood of your death, you might have to take out a special policy.

Leave only footprints

Next, there’s the issue of your worldly remains—which at this point, includes you. While you might think asking your travel buddies to recreate a scene from Weekend at Bernie’s is hilarious (and they might even manage to score an extra packet of peanuts on the flight), it probably isn’t the best strategy.

In reality, getting your body to its final resting place is a complicated process. Your insurer will act as an intermediary between your family and the international funeral home—but you’ll need to make your final wishes clear before you, um, depart.

Let your loved ones know where you’d like your resting place to be, as well as what you’d like done with your remains. Transportation costs and regulations will vary widely based on your location, but may also affect these plans. For example, if you were hoping to have an eco-friendly burial, you may be out of luck—international airlines require that bodies be shipped with an embalming certificate.

Similarly, some countries don’t allow cremation. For those that do, moving ashes across borders is typically easier than transporting an entire coffin. However, strict guidelines even exist around how an urn is sealed and packed—and if someone is transporting it back to your home country, they’ll need to have paperwork in place—lest they’re accused of smuggling drugs.

Create less paperwork by making sure you have paperwork

You’ve been told this before and we’ll tell you again: Make sure that someone back home, as well as your travel mates, has a copy of your travel documents, including your passport number and insurance policy. It may also be helpful to carry the contact information of your next of kin, as well as details for your doctor and dentist, in case there is an investigation.

Leave on a positive note

If you’ve read through this article and now have to have a slightly awkward conversation with your family, we suggest that you come to the table armed with some comforting statistics. These should do the trick: According to the Canadian government, only about five Canadians out of a million is killed in a foreign country. Similarly, in the last 13 years, 827 American travellers have died of unnatural causes. In 2014 alone, 68 million Americans made trips abroad.

Bottom line? Have a safe trip.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Verge. 

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Published in Travel Health
Jessica Lockhart

Contributing Editor

Although Jessica has travelled to more than 30 countries, her favorite place to throw down her bag is still her hometown of Cold Lake, Alberta. A freelance journalist, Jess has worked for international development organizations and tour operators. She’s conducted workshops in Vanuatu, perfected the use of a satellite phone in the jungles of Guyana and supervised teenage pool parties in the Dominican Republic. Although she's based in Toronto, Jess works remotely from all around the world.

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