Death of a U.S. Citizen

Registration of Death Abroad

Updated: 06 November 2017

The death of a loved one is a time of crisis for one’s family and friends, regardless of where it takes place. If a death occurs overseas, the experience can be even more traumatic if the procedures involved are not clearly understood.
Providing support to the family of a deceased American citizen is one of the primary functions of the U.S. Embassy in Malta.  Even if no assistance is needed in making funeral arrangements, the death of an American citizen must be immediately reported to the Embassy regardless of whether he or she is a resident or tourist in Malta.  We issue a Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad for every civilian American who dies in Malta, which is necessary to settle legal and estate matters in the United States.  We provide 10 copies of the document free of charge.

We also provide guidance to grieving family members and friends when the death of an American citizen occurs in Malta. We can act as liaison in arranging the disposition of remains and help forward personal effects. The family or legal representative must pay all funeral home charges, shipping costs for the remains and personal effects (if applicable).  When there is no family member or close friend in Malta, we can maintain close communication with the funeral home selected by the family to ensure that the family’s wishes are carried out accordingly. We will also ensure the proper documentation for transportation of the remains to the United States or final destination.

Maximum Period Before Burial
There are many factors that affect how much time will be needed to prepare your loved one’s remains for return to the United States.

These factors are contingent upon the condition of the corpse at time of death, which is in turn dependent on the cause of death, any treatment or therapy that the body may have received prior to demise, the weight of the deceased, the temperature where the body is stored, etc.
Maltese law requires at least 24 hours between time of death and time of burial. The Health Authorities have the right to order the burial of a corpse should it feel that it may contain infectious diseases or if there is an advanced stage of decomposition.

Furthermore, Maltese Law prohibits disinterment for two years following burial.

The embalming process is much more effective in preserving the condition of the body if performed within minutes or a few hours after the cause of death is established. A proper full embalming can last for several days and even weeks if the remains are stored in a refrigerated environment. However, this is also dependent on the weight of the body, cause of death, whether a post mortem occurred, etc.
Although embalming can also be conducted days after demise, it would not be as effective. Once the body has reached an advanced stage of decomposition after an extended period of time, embalming may not be possible.
Embalming can be performed at either of the mortuaries found in all the main public and private hospitals on the island, as well as retirement homes that have a refrigerated mortuary or cold room. Although Mater Dei Hospital has its own morticians, the funeral company would need to send a mortician to other hospitals and homes.

A crematorium is not yet present on the island. At the moment, anyone wishing to be cremated is sent overseas, where a cremation service is carried out and the ashes are then sent back to the relatives or collected from the crematorium.

Caskets and Containers
A hermetically sealed zinc lined coffin is required in order to ship your loved one’s remains internationally. The zinc box is 2 mm thick and is made in the exact shape and size of the coffin. Once opened, the zinc would resemble a lining on the inner sides of the wooden panels.  The coffin lid is then screwed tight, and the entire coffin containing the zinc box and the body is sealed in an airtight canvas cover for protection. This procedure meets all local and international health and airline regulations for international transportation of human remains.

Exportation of Remains
The regulations require the following:

  • That the body has been duly embalmed by means of formalin and saline injected into the veins and arteries
  • That the coffin is hermetically sealed in a zinc box in the presence of Port Health Inspector
  • That the zinc box is placed inside a wooden box or coffin
  • That the coffin would be sealed in an airtight cover or a sealed wooden packing box
  • That the following documentation is attached to the coffin:
    • A certificate of death stating the cause thereof
    • A certificate of identity of the deceased stating that the contents of the coffin are the true remains of the deceased in question
    • A certificate of embalming stating the embalming process carried out
    • A certificate by the Public Health Authorities stating that the coffin has been hermetically sealed in the presence of a port health inspector and that the deceased is free of infectious diseases
    • A Burial Permit by the Police (this is also valid for international transportation or cremation)
      Depending on the destination of the coffin some other documentation may be required (eg. Translations, apostille, Permit from the embassy).

Approximate costs for repatriation of a deceased to the United States.

The above costs include the following:

  • The full embalming and preparation of the deceased for international travel
  • Supply of standard type wooden coffin with interior zinc lined box and canvas sealed cover conforming with international health and airline regulations
  • Registration of death, documentation handling, administration of all required permits, certificates etc.
  • Hearse service from the mortuary to the airport
  • Pallbearers services and transport
  • Port health authority tax for repatriation of a deceased
  • Office and administrative expenses
  • 18% VAT on applicable items
  • Other professional fees

These costs are based on the following assumptions:
The coffin including contents will not exceed 150kgs
The death occurs at Mater Dei Hospital or St James Capua Hospital

  • No medical or hospital bills are included
  • Fuel prices as at 17/1/2012
  • I.A.T.A. airfreight rates provided on 17/1/2012
  • A standard coffin conforming to airline and health requirements is used for the repatriation

Quote does not include:

  • Removal of the deceased from place of death to the mortuary
  • Flowers
  • Religious services
  • Medical fees
  • Coffin upgrade
  • Payment processing fees or bank charges
  • Any service provided for the clients
  • Any other service or extra not listed above
  • Cost for an average type local funeral and burial with the services listed below will amount to €2,000
  • Full embalming and preparation of the deceased
  • Quality, straight sided mahogany veneer coffin
  • Motor hearse transportation service from the hospital to church and the cemetery
  • Four Pallbearer services and transport
  • Two accompany black cars (one for priest, one for family)
  • A selection of two types of flower arrangements (cross, wreath, bouquet or standard type)
  • Administrative expenses, documentation handling and sundries
  • Professional funeral direction and handling fees & Value Added Tax (V.A.T.) @ 18%
  • Approximate church fees (if applicable and subject to choice of Parish) €100- €150.00
  • Gratuity to gravediggers €50-€150


For more information about autopsies, we recommend contacting the Head of the Pathology Department at Mater Dei Hospital.