When a U.S. citizen dies abroad, the U.S. Embassy assists the family and friends during this difficult time. The American Citizens Services unit locates and informs the next-of-kin of the U.S. citizen’s death and provides information on how to make arrangements for local burial or return of the remains to the United States. The disposition of remains is subject to U.S. law, local laws of the country where the individual died, U.S. and foreign customs requirements, and the foreign country facilities, which are often vastly different from those in the United States. The following information is offered as a general reference:
Embalming and Cremation
It is against Islamic customs and law to embalm or cremate remains; these services are not available in Kuwait. Although remains are refrigerated, significant deterioration should be expected. The ACS unit encourages the legal representative to make the arrangements and obtain the necessary documents as quickly as possible if the remains are being shipped elsewhere for burial. If the deceased will be buried in Kuwait, it is the practice to bury the subject within 24 hours.
When the Death Occurs Outside a Hospital
When a death occurs outside a hospital, the police should be immediately notified at the Ministry of Interior emergency number 112. Along with police officers, forensic medicine personal will respond to the scene to transfer the remains to the Forensic Medicine Department (Tel: 2434-5322) in Farwaniya.
In most cases, an autopsy will be completed by forensic examiners to determine the cause of death. At the same time, the Investigation Office at the police station with jurisdiction over the location of the death will open a case file. It is important to note that while forensic examiners use standard protocols, the autopsy procedures do not match those in the United States.
If the cause of the sudden death is determined to be of natural causes, the Investigation Office’s jurisdiction ceases and there is no requirement for further inquiry. The investigator will issue the burial permit after the legal representative delivers the Embassy’s request letter.
If the autopsy results indicate the person died from an act of criminal violence, accident, suicide, or any other unusual manner, a formal investigation will be conducted through the Ministry of Justice under the supervision of the district attorney or through the Ministry of Interior by the General Department of Criminal Investigation. While the inquest may take several weeks or months, the Investigation Office will still issue the necessary burial permit to allow funeral arrangements or the repatriation of remains. A preliminary death certificate will be issued and state that the cause of death is “under investigation” (not confirmed).
Death in a Hospital
If a physician can make a final determination of the cause of the death, the hospital will provide the legal representative with the report of death (known as a pink sheet) for the Office of Vital Records in the Ministry of Health to issue the official Kuwaiti death certificate.
In order is issue the report of death, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health requires an authorization letter from the Embassy. This letter is issued by the Embassy to the legal representative.
Remains Transfer Procedures
After obtaining the necessary burial permit, the Forensic Medicine Department (for deaths outside of a hospital) or Kuwaiti Ministry of Health (for deaths inside a hospital) will issue a report of death. This report is known as a pink sheet. Based on the report of death, the Office of Vital Records at the Ministry of Health will issue the official Kuwaiti death certificate. At the Office of Vital Records, the legal representative is required to submit the letter from the embassy and the original Kuwaiti Civil ID card of the deceased. In the event the decedent was present in Kuwait on a visit visa, his/her canceled U.S. passport will suffice.
Generally, each Governorate has an Office of Vital Records. The Office of Vital Records office in Salmiya covers the Hawalli Governorate. The Office of Vital Records in Fahaheel area covers the Ahmadi Governorate.
Document Translations and Certification by Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Once the official Kuwaiti death certificate is obtained, it must be translated into English. The legal representative may select any translation office to complete this service. A list of translators may be found here. The translation itself does not need to be authenticated. However, the official Arabic death certificate MUST be authenticated by the Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The main office of the Consular Department is located in the Shuwaikh area next to Kuwait News Agency building. They provide services from 0800 to 1330 from Sunday to Thursday. The Consular Department also has a desk that operates in the afternoon from 1600 to 2000 at the Government Mall which is close to Liberation Tower in Kuwait City.
Shipment of Remains
The Embassy cannot provide individual recommendations for shipping companies. However, the companies below have been used by other families of U.S. citizens and their representatives. Costs for shipment of remains start at approximately 1,200 Kuwaiti dinar, or $4,000 USD.
Radiance International Company W.L.L.
Mohammed Nasir Shaikh, Sr. Coordinator – Mobile: +965 9600 8985, +965 5533 0439
Noor Ahmed Abdul Rahman, Operations Supervisor – Mobile: +965 6063 3542, +965 5533 0429
If the remains are being shipped to the United States, the legal representative should communicate the arranged shipping date to the ACS section as soon as possible to plan for the casket sealing. In general, the sealing should take place during ACS business hours (Sunday-Thursday 0800-1630) to ensure the availability of the required personnel. This service is provided by the Embassy at no cost.
If the remains are being shipped to another country for burial, the legal representative must contact the Embassy of that country to confirm the procedures for shipping and confirm the availability of their consular staff.
It is the responsibility of the legal representative to select the appropriate carrier for the shipment of remains to the United States. The issuance of an airway bill requires coordination with the U.S. funeral home that will receive the remains.
Requesting the Transfer of Remains to the Al-Sabah Hospital Morgue
The Al-Sabah Hospital Morgue (Tel: 2483 2090) is the only medical facility in Kuwait where remains are prepared for shipment out of Kuwait. The day before the remains are shipped to the United States, the remains must be transferred from the Forensic Medicine Department to the Al-Sabah Hospital Morgue.
In order to complete this process, the legal representative must visit the Preventive Medicine Unit in the Al-Sabah medical area (Tel: 2483 2090) with each of the following three documents:
- Original Kuwaiti death certificate;
- Copy of a carrier final airway bill that indicates the shipment day; and
- Copy of the burial permit issued by the Investigation Department.
Accordingly, the Preventive Medicine Unit will issue:
- A Preventive Medicine letter clearing body shipment from Kuwait to the United States (this document is issued in multiple color copies. The legal representative must get it translated into English);
- An appointment sheet for the U.S. Embassy for casket sealing which will be based on information given on the airway bill; and
- A form of authorization requesting the Forensic Medicine Department to transfer the remains to Al-Sabah Hospital Morgue.
After receiving all above documents from the Preventive Medicine, the legal representative then visits the Forensic Medicine office and submits:
- A copy of the official Kuwaiti death certificate;
- The body transfer authorization from the Preventive Medicine Unit; and
- An Embassy letter to Forensic Medicine requesting the release of the remains and any personal items of the deceased to the legal representative.
During the transfer process, it is the responsibility of the legal representative to positively identify the remains of the deceased. The legal representative must also escort and witness the receipt of the remains by the Al-Sabah Hospital Morgue.
Arrangements for the Shipping Container
The remains must be shipped in a sealed shipping container. U.S. standard caskets are NOT available. The containers in Kuwait are very basic, generally consisting of a plastic-lined wooden box. The legal representative must purchase a container from a coffin maker. One such coffin maker is Emad Derusavi (Tel: 9962-2796). The legal representative needs to advise the coffin maker of the shipment day and he will deliver the selected coffin to the Morgue.
The approximate cost of the coffin/container is 170 KD.
On the day of the shipment, a consular officer will witness the preparation and placement of the remains into the casket and seal the coffin with red wax and the Seal of the United States. The name of the deceased will be written on the casket in both Arabic and English, airway bill stickers will be added to the exterior along with a copy of the Preventive Medicine clearance letter.
Upon the conclusion of this process, the legal representative must notify the information desk at Al-Sabah Hospital of the departure time and submit copies of the:
- Preventive Medicine clearance letter;
- Airway bill; and
- Kuwaiti official death certificate.
The legal representative must follow up with the information desk at Al-Sabah Hospital three hours prior to the flight take-off to ensure the remains are transferred to the airport.
Because there is no embalming and local mortuary standards do not match those in the United States, the Embassy strongly discourages families from being present at the airport and subsequently at the funeral home when the shipping container is opened. Prior to the shipment, consular staff will attempt to contact the U.S. funeral operator to describe the local coffin sealing procedures and accordingly recommend no family member presence when unsealing the coffin.
Kuwait Customs Clearance
As a final step, the shipping company must clear the remains and the transfer paperwork with Kuwaiti customs. After the sealing of the coffin, the legal representative must meet with the shipping company to deliver the originals of:
- U.S. Consular Mortuary Certificate;
- Kuwaiti official death certificate with English translation;
- Preventive Medicine clearance letter with English translation;
- Airway bill; and
- Canceled original U.S. passport.
During this clearance the Immigration Desk at the Airport will cancel the valid residency.
Remember to keep copies of every original document.
U.S. Customs Clearance
The remains will need to clear customs in the United States. The Embassy will issue multiple copies of the Consular Mortuary Certificate that will be attached with the:
- Original Consular Report of Death Abroad,
- Copy of Kuwaiti death certificate with the English translation,
- Copy of Preventive Medicine clearance letter with the English translation, and
- Copy of the shipping carrier’s airway bill.
Burial in Kuwait
Burials may take place in Kuwait but generally takes place within 24 hours. The legal representative is required to obtain a burial permit and an official report of death or official death certificate.
Cemeteries in Kuwait are segregated by religion. While there are no fees associated with the burial, there is an expectation to tip staff members who inter the remains. For Christian burials, the legal representative must make sure the coffin is delivered to the Christian cemetery.
Resources for Retired Members of the U.S. Armed Forces
If the deceased was a retired member of one of the U.S. Armed Services, you may wish to contact the relevant Service’s Office of Mortuary Affairs to discuss what, if any, military-provided assistance is available. The numbers listed below, except where noted otherwise, are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week:
- Army: U.S. Army Office of Mortuary Affairs, (800) 892-2490
- Navy/Marine Corps: U.S. Navy Office of Mortuary Affairs, (866) 787-2307, (901) 874-2307
- Air Force: U.S. Air Force Office of Mortuary Services (800) 531-5803
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: www.va.gov
Please keep the Embassy informed of any arrangements made through the military to avoid confusion, delays, or added expenses.