Returning the Body to NZ

Returning the Body to New Zealand

Repatriation is bringing home the body or remains of someone who has died in another country. If you’re travelling overseas with someone and they die, you’ll need to contact their next of kin as soon as possible so they can decide what they would like to do with the body of their loved one.

Decisions to make when someone dies overseas

Repatriation can be a complicated process as each country has its own regulations and procedures that must be followed when transporting human remains. Here are some of the decisions you will need to make:

  • Whether to hold the funeral overseas or in your home country
  • Whether to bury or cremate the body overseas
  • Whether to repatriate the body or ashes back to New Zealand

Help with repatriation of a body

If a New Zealand citizen dies overseas and is not accompanied by their next of kin or close family, the New Zealand Embassy, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can arrange for the New Zealand Police to make contact with them. The Ministry and embassies can help the family by:

  • Advising on what options are available locally, including whether burial or cremation are possible, and/or the repatriation of remains or ashes to New Zealand
  • Advising on approximate costs of the options available
  • Providing contact details for local funeral directors who can manage the funeral or repatriation arrangements in consultation with the family.

Paying for a body to be brought back to New Zealand

All costs associated with the death of a New Zealand citizen overseas, including funeral expenses or repatriation of remains to New Zealand and return of personal effects, are the responsibility of the family. If the deceased was travelling, it is a good idea to check if they had travel insurance as this may cover the repatriation costs.

Where a New Zealander dies overseas as a result of an injury, the family may be entitled to a grant or payment from ACC New Zealand to assist with costs. ACC cover extends to New Zealand residents taking short trips overseas. You can phone +64 7 848 7400 or if you are overseas contact the ACC claims team.

Air New Zealand offers compassionate fares on flights, if you need to travel for a bereavement.

Repatriation of ashes

Bringing cremated ashes into New Zealand in your luggage or carry-on is allowed by New Zealand law. Check with the departure country for their rules. Sending cremation ashes into New Zealand by freight or post will require a customs clearance to be filled out. The freight service may do this on your behalf but you can also contact customs directly.

Transporting a casket on a flight


For international flights, the body must be embalmed, sealed in a casket that meets international shipping regulations, and also accompanied by the correct documentation. The casket travels in the cargo hold of the aircraft. To book a casket on an Air New Zealand cargo flight, you must get in touch with their customer service staff before booking.

These documents are required:

  • Certificate of Death
  • Certificate of embalming or cremation
  • Certificate from mortician certifying that the inner container is hermetically sealed in accordance with the packaging instructions
  • Statement from a recognised health authority that there was no communicable or infectious disease present
  • Statement from the consigning funeral director or mortician (on letterhead) that the container contains only the body of the deceased person and necessary packaging
  • Clear copy of the deceased person’s passport, or government issued identification.


Air New Zealand will only accept bookings for caskets through a funeral director, Te Whatu Ora, or NZ Police. Embalming is not required, however the entire casket must be hermetically sealed and fully enclosed in a cardboard box. More information on shipping a casket on a domestic Air New Zealand flight.

What you need to know about shipping human remains

  • Cremated human remains must be shipped in funeral urns with cushioning materials in a sealed outer box. Bringing cremated ashes into New Zealand in your luggage or carry-on is allowed by New Zealand law. Check with the departure country for their rules.
  • Embalmed human remains must be shipped in a hermetically sealed inner container of lead, bronze, zinc or steel.
  • Caskets must have adequate packaging around them to prevent damage during handling or transportation.
  • The inner container must be enclosed in an outer wooden casket or crate suitably prepared for transportation. The latter may be packed in a case to be protected from damage and/or may be covered by canvas or a tarpaulin so that the nature of the contents is not obvious.

Funeral directors

When remains or ashes are being returned to New Zealand, the family will need to engage a funeral director in New Zealand and a funeral director in the country where the death has occurred, to meet New Zealand legal requirements.

Most airlines, including Air New Zealand, will only accept a casket if transport has been arranged through a funeral director.

Each country has its own regulations and procedures when it comes to people dying overseas and the transportation of bodies and ashes. The New Zealand Embassy or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be able to help.