What to do when a colleague drops dead when you are working together

The repatriation of a corpse involves body preparation, paperwork, certificates and the  transportation of the coffin or ashes to the home country and its final destination. You might have to handle the while process. Here’s how…

If someone you work with dies suddenly or unexpectedly whilst you are abroad, you should know what to do. Many countries have different rules and regulations regarding the repatriation of a body. In France, for example, you cannot arrange to transport a body without a police tag and the approval of the local mayor. In Muslim countries, and among those of the Jewish faith, the deceased must be buried- not cremated- within 24 hours and preferably without an autopsy.


In  the United States, embalming is a common practice and is carried out by a qualified embalmer. But, in Spain and Portugal, only doctors can carry out this procedure.

If the deceased is Zimbabwean, a total of seven documents must be completed and sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Harare before the body can be moved. Given the speed of mail sent in Africa, you and your Zimbabwean corpse need to have the patience of Job.

6 rules for repatriating a body

  1. Inform the relevant embassy about the deceased and request the  assistance of a  Consular or Diplomatic representative.
  2. Embassies do not pay for the repatriation of mortal remains, so do not sign anything until the payment issue has been clarified.
  3. Make contact with the next- of- kin or the deceased’s employer. Ask about their wishes or company protocols.
  4. Say nothing to the media. Perhaps extend your sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased but do not disclose operational details surrounding their death.
  5. Arrange to have a formal identification of the deceased. Some countries allow a colleague to make this formal identification but  other countries require a family member to do so.
  6. A death generates a lot of paperwork. You may be involved with collecting a letter from the police, burial or cremation permission, embalming certificate, list of belongings, original passport and postmortem certificate to name a few.

Learn how to repatriate the  body of a colleague from any African 

country by attending one of  our courses for corporate travellers.



H.E.A.T. tip:

Family and friends will want to know how and why the deceased died. Often, grief is manifested as aggression. Do not take this personally but answer their questions as best you can.