November 30, 2021

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Colombia: bereavement pack – GOV.UK

This information is not meant to be definitive, nor is it to be taken as a substitute for independent legal advice. Neither Her Majesty’s Government nor its staff take any responsibility for the accuracy of the information, nor accept liability for any loss, costs, damage or expense that you might suffer as a result of relying on the information. Some of the information may not be relevant to your circumstances. The language used is intended to be general and factual and is not meant to cause offence.

Colombia bereavement information

Introduction

When a relative or friend dies abroad, the different procedures, laws or language can cause additional distress. You may be uncertain about what to do or who to contact.

This country specific information is designed to help you through some of the practical arrangements you may need to make. It supplements the general information on death abroad produced by Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, which applies to all countries.

Please note, as each country has its own laws and customs when a death occurs, it may not be possible to make the arrangements that you prefer, or at the time you would like.

How to contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

There is a lot of information below, but you may have questions. You can speak to someone by phone 24/7, any day of the year by contacting the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in London on 0207 008 5000

If you are not in the UK, you can find the contact details of the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate online

The priority of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is to provide assistance to British nationals overseas who need the most help. The level and type of assistance they can offer is tailored to the individual circumstances of each case.

Essential information

Next of kin

The next of kin of the person who died will usually need to make decisions and practical arrangements. The next of kin can sometimes appoint another person to act on their behalf.

If you are not the next of kin, they will need to be informed. If required, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office can help you do this.

There is no legal definition of next of kin in the UK. Please note that if there is a disagreement over who is the next of kin, or the person who died did not choose a next of kin, this can cause additional complications.

In Colombia, the next of kin is automatically notified of a death under local procedures.

The next of kin can be any relative of the person who died (legal partner, parent, children, and other relatives) or a formally appointed representative. Same sex partners or spouses are recognised under local law.

Next of kin should be aware that Colombian procedures differ significantly to those in the United Kingdom and that, while we understand your need for arrangements to be made quickly, this is not always possible.

Steps for the next of kin

Please note that, for historical reasons related to the country’s conflict, procedures related a repatriation or death can appear long and bureaucratic compared to the UK.

As the next of kin, you must ensure that you have all the necessary paperwork before you arrange a burial, cremation or repatriation.

Following the death of a British national in Colombia, their next of kin, or a formally appointed representative, must:

  • comply with the local authority’s process to formally identify the deceased. In Colombia, all deaths require a formal identification. This means that the next of kin will need to supply evidence to confirm identity. This can be done by supplying one or all of the following: the fingerprint records of the deceased, a complete dental record and/or DNA samples from a close relative (usually the mother or father, or child of the person who died). The identification process can take several weeks if there is insufficient evidence to confirm identity. It is not possible to start the repatriation without formal identification

  • decide whether to repatriate the deceased to the UK, or carry out a local burial or cremation. Consular Staff in London will pass on to the Embassy in Colombia the wishes of the next of kin about repatriation or local burial, and details of who is taking responsibility for the costs involved. We will do our best to ensure these wishes are carried out

  • check if the deceased was covered by travel insurance, it is important for the next of kin to contact the insurance company without delay. If there is no insurance cover, the cost of repatriation or burial will need to be met by the family. Neither the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office nor our Embassy in Colombia have the budget to meet these costs

  • designate a local undertaker in Colombia and a funeral home in the UK. The local undertaker will make arrangements on your behalf and they will be in charge of obtaining all the required paperwork based on your instructions. If there is an insurance policy in place, the UK insurance company and designated UK funeral home will instruct the local undertaker and will co-ordinate the relevant payment. If there is not an insurance payment, we recommend that you discuss payment method and deadline as soon as possible, to avoid unnecessary delays.

Release of information to next of kin

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office will try to obtain as much information as possible after your relative or friend has died abroad. Some of this may be only available to next of kin. Consular officers may be able to obtain this themselves, or they may put you in touch directly with the authorities overseas. They may be able to provide you with details of others who can advocate on your behalf such as lawyers, charities, or other organisations.

The release of any information in Colombia can take weeks or months, the documents will be in Spanish and they will only be available to the family or a formally appointed representative.

Insurance

It is very important to check if the person who died had insurance. If they had insurance, contact the insurance company as soon as possible. They may have a list of approved funeral directors to help you make arrangements, or be able to cover some of the costs.

If the person who died did not have insurance, the next of kin will usually have to appoint a funeral director and will usually be responsible for all costs. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office cannot help with these costs.

Appointing a funeral director

If you decide to bring the deceased to the UK for the funeral or cremation, you may only need to appoint an international funeral director. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office produces a list of international funeral directors based in the UK

If you decide to hold a funeral or cremation in Colombia, you can find a list of funeral directors here

The most commonly used undertaker in Colombia is Funeraria Gaviria. Funeraria Gaviria is a well equipped company, used to working with foreigners, and has at least one English-speaking staff member. Funeraria Gaviria can repatriate the deceased back to the UK on your behalf and will liaise with foreign insurance companies. If a death occurs in any city outside Bogota, Funeraria Gaviria (which is based in Bogota) will liaise with other undertakers in Colombia.

Other undertaking companies exist in Colombia and can be used, however, the types of services and standards that these companies may vary. Please refer to the list of funeral directors given above with a short list of other locally well recognised companies.

Registering the death and obtaining a death certificate

You will need to register the death with the local authorities in Colombia, where a funeral director can do this for you. You will usually need documents about you and the person who has died, which include information such as full name, date of birth and passport number.

The local authorities will need to be told if the person suffered from an infectious condition such as covid-19, hepatitis or HIV so they can take precautions against infection.

In Colombia, you must first obtain a “positive death certificate” (certificado de defunción positivo), issued by a doctor, in order to officially register a death at the Registry Office (in Spanish).

The death certificate will be valid only after it is registered.

The next of kin, any friend, relative or the funeral director can request the death certificate. It is important to complete this process within 2 days after the death.

This certificate is free of charge and it usually takes around 2 days to obtain. It will be issued in Spanish and these certificates no longer include de cause of death.

We recommend that the death certificate is also legalised (apostilled) in Colombia, so it can be valid internationally. This can be done by the local undertaker or by any person in Colombia, using the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia’s website. Having this apostille is usually a requirement in the case of a repatriation.

You do not need to register the death with the UK authorities. The local death certificate can usually be used in the UK for most purposes, including probate. If it is not in English, you will need to obtain and pay for an official translation. However, there are advantages to having a British form of death certificate.

Register a death in the UK.

Post mortem examinations (autopsies)

Under Colombian law, an autopsy is mandatory in the event of a violent death or a death where the cause is still to be established. In these cases a post-mortem examination must be carried out.

It is not normal for human organs and tissue to be removed, but there is a ruling for the donation of organs and tissues for teaching and research purposes (according to current national legislation, Law 9 of 1979, Law 73 of 1988, Decree 786 of 1990 and Resolution 002640 of 2005 from the Ministry of Social Protection). In practice though, the Colombian authorities will not apply this ruling to foreign nationals, without consent.

The results of the Post-mortem examination should be issued within 45 working days of the death. However, in our experience, it can take longer.

All the documents will be in Spanish and they will be available to the family. In some cases, copies are sent to the British Embassy for our records.

Given that the death certificate does not contain information on the cause of death, the results of the autopsy will not alter the death certificate.

Mortuary facilities

Cold storage facilities are available in the main cities of Colombia. However, in remote areas of the country, this is not always the case.

In the rare occasion that such facilities are not available, it is paramount that the next of kin proceeds quickly with the formal identification of the deceased, as well as with the appointment of a local funeral home, who can transfer the remains to Bogota as soon as possible.

Burial, cremation, repatriation

The next of kin of the person who has died will usually need to decide between a local burial, cremation or bringing the person home, which is known as repatriation. Your funeral director will usually be able to explain the options available, the costs, and help you make arrangements.

If next of kin choose to proceed with a local burial, cremation, repatriation and embalming they will need to instruct a local funeral director for local burial cremation or repatriation. If the person died of natural causes, the undertakers in Colombia will arrange for all the paperwork and the process.

And if is not a natural death the Judicial police pathologists and the appointed forensic doctor must undertake an autopsy in order to establish the cause of death, and are also responsible for carrying out preservation work.

For all the above local arrangements, the designated local undertaker will be in charge of gathering all the documents.

Please note if a local burial or cremation takes place, then an inquest in the UK will not be possible. For more information on inquests, see the information on UK coroners and inquests.

Please note that local burials or cremations procedures and requirements vary depending on the current circumstances in the country or the world (i.e. a pandemic or civil unrests). Please consult all details with local funeral director for further details.

Repatriation and burial of ashes/ remains

If the deceased was covered by travel insurance, the insurance company will normally have a standing agreement with an international funeral director in Britain to arrange repatriations. If the deceased was not covered by insurance, next of kin will need to appoint an undertaker in Colombia or an International funeral director themselves.

If the next of kin decides to repatriate the remains, they will have to send written consent to repatriate or release the individual to the local undertaker.

It will only be possible to choose cremation, if the cause of death is deemed to be a natural death. Please note that repatriation of ashes is done only if the person died of a natural cause.

The Colombian authorities have strict procedures regarding the identification of bodies. The law requires bodies be identified via fingerprints, dental records or DNA tests. Please note that if these are not available, repatriation of ashes/remains will take longer.

Return of personal belongings

An inventory of personal belongings is sent to the Next of Kin, family and/or relatives. Funeral directors ask them to confirm how to proceed. If Next of Kin, family and/or relatives want the personal belongings returned, they would usually need to pay to an international courier company.

Alternatively, if the funeral directors are repatriating, they will repatriate the personal effects at an extra cost. They will not take back mobile phones.

Please note, the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate cannot take responsibility for the personal belongings of the person who died.

Steps to take in the UK

You can find more information on the steps to take in the UK online. This includes information on arranging the funeral, telling the government about the death, UK pensions and benefits, and dealing with the estate of the person who died. There is a step-by-step guide when someone times

You can find information about UK pensions and the Department for Work and Pension contact details in the following links:

For any queries to the International Pension Service, please refer to:

British passport cancellation

In order to avoid identity fraud, the passport of the person who died should be cancelled with Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO). To do this, you will need to complete a “D1 form”.

The form, and instructions on where to send passports is available online

If you plan to repatriate the person who died to the UK, you may require their passport to do this. In these circumstances, you should cancel the passport after they have been repatriated.

Further information

Child deaths

There are no specific procedures for child deaths. Funeral directors will be able to provide all the information updated about these specific cases.

Child deaths are not investigated differently from adult deaths, except for such cases that include necropsy protocols, depending on the case and its circumstances, which are responsibility of the Colombian judicial system

There is no specific authorisation required for burial, cremation or repatriation of a child’s body if the family is in-country and can sign the temporary custody of the body at the cemetery. When the family is unable to complete the in person forms and/or claim the body, the child may be buried days later by the Funeral Home and in such cases, the social routes are activated.

If the case is a foetal deaths or unregistered new-borns, the medical death certificate is registered under the parents’ name (mother’s name predominately). The procedures for neonatal and stillbirths are to get the medical certificate of death or the death certificate in cases where the birth certificate has been registered and, the burial or cremation permit. In the case of cremation, the mother’s authorisation is required if the child was not registered or one of the parents authorisation, if the child was registered.

Surrogacy is still an unregulated matter in Colombia. All subjects related to these cases has been merely jurisprudential and there are still loopholes. Funeral Directors advice surrogate mothers to notify British parents to accompany the whole process after the death of a child.

Funeral Directors offer bereavement therapy as social support services to those who require it. They are usually part of a social support network with different governmental bodies that provide support for the provision of funeral services, for instance in cases where there are no financial resources, among others.

Deaths in road traffic accidents / deaths investigated as murder or manslaughter

In Colombia, if a death is considered suspicious or linked to a road traffic accident, the Prosecutor’s Office will request that the Legal Forensic Department analyse the cause of death. Once the cause of death has been established, the Prosecutor’s Office will decide if the legal process should be closed or remain open for further investigation.

If the police apprehend a suspect and the State decides to prosecute, the following is likely to happen:

  • arrest generally leads to detention in a police cell. In theory, individuals should be charged within 36 hours, although they may be held without charge for three or four days

  • Colombian law requires that individuals be charged in front of a criminal prosecutor within 36 hours of being detained

  • by law, the remand period should not exceed 6 months

  • at the first hearing before a prosecutor individuals should be notified of your rights. After the Prosecutor has reached a decision, he has between 18 to 24 months to resolve the case.

If the local police have confirmed that they are investigating the death as a murder or manslaughter, a dedicated team within the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office will be available to provide support, including by referring you to a specialised organisations. You can find more about helping British people abroad in cases of murder and manslaughter

You should note that if the deceased is repatriated to parts of the UK a coroner or procurator fiscal may decide to hold an inquest. See the section on UK Coroners and inquests below.

UK coroners and inquests

If you repatriate the person who died to England and Wales there may be an inquest. The decision on when to hold an inquest is made by Her Majesty’s Coroner. Please note, an inquest will usually only happen in certain situations, for example, when someone has died in suspicious, unnatural, and violent circumstances or whilst in detention. If the person who died is cremated and only their ashes are brought home, there will not be an inquest.

If you repatriate the person who died to Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal may decide to call for a Fatal Accidents or Injuries Inquiry.

If you repatriate the person who died to Northern Ireland, there will be no coronial inquest or further inquiry.

Please note, Procurators Fiscal and Coroners do not have jurisdiction in another country, nor do they seek to apportion blame to a named individual.

You can find more information on Coroners and the Procurator Fiscal in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office guide on death abroad

If the individual cannot afford a private lawyer, the prosecutor should appoint a public defender, but the quality varies and they usually only speak Spanish. There are some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Colombia with lawyers who are prepared to work for free.

We can give you the following list of local English-speaking lawyers available here.

You will want to consider the benefits of local legal representation and to discuss all the costs beforehand with the legal representative. In no circumstances can we pay your legal or interpretation costs.

Compensation

You can find information on UK compensation for victims of terrorism overseas online www.gov.uk/compensation-victim-terrorist-attack

Translation and interpretation

The official language in Colombia is Spanish, and sometimes it is hard to find English-speaking staff within local undertakers or public bodies. Please bear in mind that all official documents will be issued in Spanish.

Our Consular assistance team can provide you with a short list of local translation companies:

The following list of translatorsis provided by the British Embassy for your convenience, but neither Her Majesty’s Government, nor any official of the Consulate, take any responsibility for the competence or probity of any translator on the list or for the consequence of any legal action initiated or advice.

Additional support

Support organisations in the UK

In the UK, there are many organisations that can help bereaved families. Some of these are listed in the guide: oping with death abroad.

Support organisations in Colombia

Funeral directors are established organizations in Colombia that can guide bereaved families:

The list above is not limited or definitive neither a recommendation of their services. Please refer to the list of local funeral directors in Colombia