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What to do when a foreigner dies in Spain

What to do when a foreigner dies in Spain
The total cost to expect for funeral services in Spain is between €2500 and €4500. Photo: Eli Solitas
Navigating Spanish bureaucracy is never simple, and this is also true in difficult moments like the death of a loved one. Here are the steps to take if you need to deal with the death of a family member in Spain.

Call the emergency services

If your family member of loved one has died of natural causes in their home you should call the emergency services. In Spain you can call 112, which will put you in touch with the SUMMA or SAMUR emergency services.

If it was not a natural death, you should call the police (emergency number 092) and they in turn will call a doctor to establish the cause of death.

Contact the travel insurance company

If the person who died had insurance, the first thing to do is contact their insurance company, which may be able to cover the cost of repatriation. They may also help with the medical, legal, interpretation and translation fees.

If the person who died has insurance, the insurance company will appoint a funeral director both locally and in their country of origin.

Check with their bank, credit card company or employer for other insurances.

Register the death

The death must be registered in the country where the person died. In Spain, the funeral director will arrange for the registration of the death with the local Spanish civil registry, who will issue a death certificate.

The registration includes the date, time and location of the death. Normally the death certificate will be handed to you by the funeral director five or six days after the death.

The death needs to be registered within 24 hours usually at the local civil register office which is often situated at the local town hall our court.

Local death certificated will be in Spanish and do not show the cause of death. If you need an English translation you need to pay for it.

You can also apply for multiple copies of the standard death certificate and an international multilingual version through your funeral director. Alternatively you can request additional Spanish death certificates by accessing the Spanish Ministry of Justice website.

You need to tell the local authorities if the deceased suffered from an infectious disease, such as hepatitis or HIV, so they can take precautions against infection.

Contact the funeral services (funeraria)

Funeral services will be contacted (by the doctor, the police or yourself) to remove the body (identification must accompany the body in order for it to be removed). The funeral company will take over and help you from this moment on.

If you choose to do a local burial or cremation, a relative or a formally appointed representative need to appoint a local funeral director. You can find a list of English-speaking local funeral directors here.

Burial or cremation

It’s important to take into account that in Spain ‘burial’ often means an aboveground nice. Rights to this are normally held for only five years, unless otherwise agreed.

In some rural areas, coffin bearers are not included in the service of funeral directors. When making arrangements, be sure to specify that these are required.

Burial or cremation should take place within 24 to 48 hours (although this can be extended on arrangement with the morgue).

Burial or internment are more common in Spain. If the deceased or next of kin request a cremation, the doctor in charge of certifying the death must be informed, as it will be noted on the certificate.

Burial in Spain happens faster than in other countries like the UK.

Embalmed bodies must be buried within 96 hours, and when a temporary preservation method is used, bodies must be buried within 72 hours.

Unembalmend bodies must be buried within 48 hours, but not before the lapse of 24 hours.

Scattering ashes

In Spain the scattering of ashes in public spaces, including the sea, is not allowed.

Repatriation

First, get in touch with the deceased person’s closes embassy or consulate in Spain.

If the person who died had insurance, find out if the insurance provider can help with the cost of repatriation. If so, they will make all the necessary arrangements.

If the person who died is not covered by insurance, you will need to appoint an international funeral director yourself.

The repatriation process usually takes 7 to 10 days.

Bringing the ashes home

If you choose local cremation and wish to take the ashes back to the UK, this is also possible. Check with the airline about specific restrictions or requirements, such as whether you can carry the ashes as hand luggage. When leaving Spain with human ashes you will need to:

  • show the certificate of cremation
  • fill in a standard customs form when you arrive home
  • follow local rules about departing with human ashes

Retrieve belongings

Personal belongings found on the person who died at the time of death are handed to the police if the family is not present.

If you choose to repatriate, ask the local funeral director to collect all personal belongings from the police or court and ship them together with the person who died.

If there is an investigation into the death, clothing may be retained as evidence and will not be returned until the court case is finished.

Find a translator

If you need a translator to help you understand the information from local authorities and get documents translated, you can find a list of official English translators here.

Cancel a passport

To avoid identity fraud, the passport of the person who died should be cancelled. To do this, you will have to consult with the appropriate consulate or embassy.

Bear in mind that if you plan to repatriate the person who died to your home country, you may still need their passport to do this. 

Who pays for the funeral services in Spain?

These are either paid for by the family, by the person who died if they had a funeral plan or an insurance company, or the estate can pay using funds in the account of the deceased.

How much does a funeral cost in Spain?

The total cost to expect for the funeral services is between €2500 and €4500.


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