Death of a U.S. Citizen

Notification and Report to the Embassy/Consulate General

The Embassy or Consulate General is usually notified of the death of a U.S. citizen by a relative, traveling companion, travel agency, the Public Security Bureau (PSB), or the Foreign Affairs Office (Waiban). The Embassy or Consulate General is responsible for providing the official notification to the next of kin and working with the next of kin on the disposition of the deceased U.S. citizen’s remains and property.

Even if no U.S. government assistance is required, relatives or friends should report the death of a U.S. citizen to the Embassy or Consulate General, regardless of whether s/he was a resident or tourist in China. The Embassy or Consulate General will issue several copies of an original Consular Report of Death Abroad (CRODA), a document which serves as the official U.S. government report of death for U.S. citizens who pass away overseas. The document is needed to settle legal estate matters in the United States.

The next of kin should present valid document(s) to prove the kinship with the deceased. Otherwise s/he should fill out and have notarized an “Affidavit for the Surviving Spouse or Next of Kin” (62KB) to allow him/her to make decisions on arrangements and disposition of the remains.

The 24 hour emergency telephone number of the Embassy is 010-8531-4000

Basic Steps for Dealing with the Death of an American Citizen

  1. If necessary, fill out and have notarized a Power of Attorney, granting someone in China the legal authority to take care of all arrangements.
  2. Obtain a death certificate/report from the hospital or from the police.
  3. Contact the local U.S. Embassy/ Consulate General to see if it is necessary to go to the Entry and Exit Bureau to cancel the deceased’s Chinese visa. In some cities, especially in Shanghai, the next of kin (or a legal representative via power of attorney) must also obtain the Report of the Death of a Foreigner from the Entry Exit Bureau before any other further steps can be taken.
  4. If documents of kinship, such as marriage certificate, cannot be presented, fill out and have notarized an “Affidavit for the Surviving Spouse or Next of Kin” (62KB)which can be done in the U.S. or at the closest U.S. Embassy/Consulate.
  5. Work with a local funeral home to make arrangements for the disposition of remains.
  6. Obtain a Consular Report of Death Abroad at the U.S. Embassy/ Consulate General. This can be done by the next of kin or their legal representative, including a funeral home

Checking Chinese Visa Requirements

Sometimes tour leaders arrange for visitors to have a group visa to enter China. If the deceased and the next of kin are with a tour group, the next of kin must arrange to have their visa changed to an individual visitor visa. Tour leaders should assist the next of kin to change their visas before the group moves on. Please make sure that the tour leader also leaves the passport of the deceased with the next of kin or an approved agent.

Information on Death Occurred Outside of the Hospital

If the death occurred outside of the hospital, the next of kin or their legal representative will need to obtain a local official death certificate from the hospital or local police. After the local death certificate is issued, the next of kin is required to bring the death certificate and the deceased’s passport to the local Entry and Exit Administration of Public Security Bureau (PSB) to cancel the Chinese visa.

Additionally, the police forensic authority should conduct a mandatory fundamental examination of the remains to rule out the possibility of criminal action. The examination normally takes at least 15 working days, but will vary depending on the circumstances of the case. The result of the examination report is general and vague. If the family needs a more detailed cause of death than that listed in this report, a written request should be submitted to the police authority for an autopsy for a fee. The autopsy processing time varies from several weeks to several months, depending on the number of items required. The cost of the autopsy also varies and more detailed information can be found by region below.

Information on Autopsy

A. Death Occurs outside the Hospital:
There are two options for this:

  1. Mandatory simple examination: When a death occurs outside a hospital, the police forensic authority will conduct a mandatory examination to determine if any criminal activity is involved. This examination will take approximately 2 weeks and is free of charge in Beijing and Shanghai area.
  2. Investigative autopsy: If a death occurs outside the hospital and the next of kin decides to have an investigative autopsy which is not mandatory, a written request should be submitted to the police and the forensic authority. This type of autopsy will take several weeks to months and the cost associated with the investigative autopsy depends on the individual circumstances of the case and the item of investigation requested.

B. If the death occurs in the hospital, the next of kin/family should discuss with the attending physician for the guidance and information on the procedure and the cost.

It should be noted that in accordance with Chinese law and regulations, the decision of whether an autopsy will be performed is left up to the next of kin. The report of the autopsy works as a form of the local death certificate.

Information on Cremation

Chinese law provides that all the remains of the deceased, local Chinese and aliens alike should be cremated unless there are eligible/religious reasons. Typically, Chinese law does not allow for foreigners to be buried in China. It is not necessary to have the remains embalmed if the next of kin does not plan to ship the remains to the United States or to any other third countries. The local government does not have any legal requirements on the maximum period before cremation/burial. However, the cost of the storage of the remains is calculated on a daily basis by the funeral homes. Caskets/containers of the cremated remains are available for different prices at each funeral home for the next of kin to select. A list of funeral homes by region can be found here. The cost of cremation can be found below by region.

If the next of kin is in China, they can take care of arrangements themselves. If not, they will need to give power of attorney to a relative, employer, co-worker, friend or a funeral home in China to take care of the funeral arrangements. The Embassy/Consulate General is unable to act as an agent for U.S. citizens in making funeral arrangements.

Typically, families or their representative will contact a funeral home to help them carry out their funeral arrangements. The Embassy or Consulate General can help provide a guide with more details on disposition of remains and associated costs.

Information on Returning Remains to the United States:

The next of kin or the family representative may contact the local funeral home directly for the arrangements of returning the remains to the United States. The Embassy/ Consulate may help make such contact under the written power of attorney in case the next of kin is not in China. Normally, the next of kin will identify a funeral home in the United States as the consignee and provides the Chinese funeral home with the contact information of the consignee for the shipping arrangements.

The cost of air shipment of the cremated remains to the United States varies from place to place in China, and this information can be found below by region. The costs for shipping remains to the United States are substantially greater due to the high cost of airfreight and preparation/embalmment. It should be noted that preparation and air shipment of remains is carried out in accordance with the laws of and facilities available in China, and in most cases, the services fall short of those expected in the United States. It is recommended that your hometown funeral director be requested to determine the advisability of viewing the remains.

Obtaining a Consular Report of Death Abroad

A Consular Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad (CRODA) is a document prepared by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate General in English, based on a death certificate issued by a competent authority in China. It can be used in U.S. courts and other institutions to settle estate matters. Individuals should apply for the report at the Embassy/Consulate General that has jurisdiction over the area in which the death occurred. In most cases, the following items will be required in order to issue the report of death:

  • The original death certificate from the local hospital, with cause of death listed. (Note: some funeral homes require the hospital death certificate to be notarized with a Chinese notary public before cremation, or before shipping remains back to the United States).
  • The cremation report/certificate from the funeral home (or other documentation relating to the disposition of remains if cremation is not applicable).
  • The American citizen’s U.S. passport.
  • The American citizen’s social security number.
  • The deceased’s last addresses in both China and the United States.
  • The names of any individuals who lived with or were traveling with the deceased at the time the death occurred.
  • An original ID of the next-of-kin or the POA.

The Embassy/Consulate General will provide the next of kin with up to 20 copies of the Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad free of charge.

Additional copies of CRODA can be obtained subsequently by submitting signed, written request including all pertinent facts along with requester’s return address and telephone number from the Department of State, Passport services, Correspondence Branch, 1111 19th Street, N.W., Suite 510, Washington, D.C. 20522-1705, Tel: (202) 955-0307. For the most up to date contact information, please visit the Family issues Section of the State Department’s Travel Website: http://travel.state.gov/.

Documentation Required to Ship Cremated Remains

A Consular Mortuary Certificate is not required for the shipment of ashes. For the shipment of ashes, the canceled passport, the Consular Report of Death Abroad, a translated Chinese death certificate, and a cremation certificate, which states that the body has been cremated in accordance with local law and that the urn contains only the remains of the deceased, must accompany the remains. The family is strongly recommended to confirm with their intended airline with regard to its requirements and procedures of shipping/bringing cremated human ashes in advance. U. S. Customs and Border Protection does not have special requirements for importation of cremated remains into the United States; however, if traveling on a connecting or domestic flight within the United States, the remains must be transported in a temporary container able to pass through TSA x-ray machines.