Dealing with a Death in Turkey

Dealing with the death of a loved one is always distressing. It can also be stressful, time consuming and expensive. The stress, time factor, and expense are often worsened by distance, language, and differences in procedure.

Repatriation of the body from Turkey

Many foreigners living in Turkey will say to their friends and relatives and/or put in their Will that they would like their body to be ‘taken home’.

This can be done, but it is usually both complicated and expensive. As I said earlier, I suspect that if the person realised how complicated and expensive it was going to become, they would express their preference to be buried in Turkey.

Even if the person does say in their Will that they wish to be taken home, it is only an expression of their wish and not legally binding; so the heirs could decide to proceed by way of a burial in Turkey in any event. Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable about ignoring the deceased’s wishes in this way.

If you wish to repatriate the body, you will need to tell the specialist funeral service that you are using.

It is necessary to involve the consulate of the country of which the deceased was a national, as they will have to produce some paperwork.

The formal part of the process starts with making an application to the Municipal Funeral Department. This must be accompanied by an official request by the consulate to remove the body from Turkey.

Before you can make this application, the body must be ready to travel. There are detailed national and international requirements as to the nature of the coffin used and various other technical issues. The coffin itself has to be of a special type and completely sealed. Unless it meets the specification, the customs officer will not grant the export certificate and the airline will not allow the coffin to go into its hold.

For example, Turkish Airlines carries bodies only as cargo (not as part of the baggage of an accompanying passenger). For international flights, human remains transported inside a coffin must be enclosed in a sackcloth or canvas winding sheet, and a zinc or lead coffin or a sealed solid wooden coffin must be used. For domestic flights, human remains must be transported inside an impermeable solid wooden coffin, with a secured cover and without any cracks or breaks.

The Municipal Funeral Department will then issue a licence permitting the body to travel and, at the same time, a burial licence.

The coffin is then sealed.

The municipal doctor then issues yet another piece of paper: an export permit.

An officer from the Customs Department must then examine the sealed coffin in the presence of the municipal doctor and issue a customs clearance permitting the coffin to pass through customs and the body to be sent home.

Once you arrive back in your own country, you will of course have to go through the relevant formalities to import the body into that country and then deal with it by way of cremation or burial. In order to do that, you will, at the very least, need to have a certified copy of the original Turkish death certificate translated into your own language.

You are likely also to have to register the death with the authorities where the body is to be buried. In order to obtain the death certificate in your own country, it may well be necessary for the coroner or other official to issue a clearance certificate. Sometimes, depending upon the circumstances surrounding the death, the coroner might want to hold an enquiry (inquest) before consenting to the burial or cremation.

As already mentioned, doing all this is expensive. The cost of transportation of the body is likely to be at least US$3,000/€2,500/£2,000 and can be well in excess of that amount. The cost of the funeral service companies in the two countries can easily be twice that amount.

Repatriation of the deceased’s ashes from Turkey

This is a cheaper and less complicated process, if you have access to a crematorium in Turkey.

Some airlines give passengers the option of checking cremated remains as carry-on luggage or as checked baggage (just like a suitcase). If carrying the ashes onto the plane, they are subject to screening and must pass through the X-ray machine.

Other airlines require cremated ashes to be sent only via cargo. Contacting the airline will help ensure that you are not held up for unnecessary and preventable reasons.

You may also be able to send them by a courier company. Usually the smaller ones are the most flexible. DHL, UPS & Fedex do NOT accept ashes. You must declare what is in the package. The courier cost will be decided by the size of the box that you send the ashes with. A small size box will cost likely US$300/€250/£200.

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