Preparing for Your Death

Whether you plan to die in San Miguel or return to your home country for your final days, making preparations for this inevitable event will allow for greater peace of mind for you and those who will need to tend to your affairs when you are gone. The following are important steps you or those handling your affairs will need to know in preparation for death in a foreign country.

The 24-Hour Association assists members in the processing of these steps.


What are the first steps that need to be taken after the death of an American in Mexico? Why is having a primary care physician important?

The first step when an American citizen dies in Mexico is to obtain a Certificate of Death. An “Acto de Defunción” (Death Certificate) must be signed by a doctor, preferably the person’s Primary Care Physician. If the doctor doesn’t know the person’s diagnosis, disease or what illness the person had before the person died, most doctors in San Miguel will NOT sign the Mexican Certificate of Death as this may risk their reputation in the community. Therefore, maintaining a relationship with a primary care physician is important as important as informing friends and family of your primary care physician.

If you do not have a Primary Care Physician who is willing to sign the death certificate, who can help?

If you do not have a Primary Care Physician who is willing to sign the Death Certificate, a doctor can issue the Death Certificate with the assistance of a relative or a designated health representative of the deceased, who can provide information about the person’s medical history and what disease, if any, the person had.

What if there is no next of kin or designated health representative of the deceased?

If there is no next of kin or designated health representative of the deceased, the Ministerio Público will be called and they will call the morgue. The morgue will call the local U.S. Consular Agent (Ed Clancy) and the U.S. Consular Officer will try to find the next of kin. (From the24 Hour Association:  “Our information is that without a signed death certificate stating the cause of death, the deceased cannot be cremated or buried without a lot of red tape and could stay in the morgue for up to 3 months, before being buried in a common grave.”

Who will notify the next of kin?

The US Consular Officer will make every attempt to notify the next of kin, with priority given in this order: spouse, children, parents and the siblings. The Consular Officer will provide information on procedures, costs and funeral homes. The family must pay all costs, however, and these can be high. The cost of preparation and burial, or cremation and disposition of ashes, in Mexico ranges from approximately $900 to $2500 USD. The total cost for preparation and Air Shipment of remains, or cremation and shipment of ashes, to the US ranges from $900 to over $6000 USD. Preparation and air shipment are carried out in accordance with local laws and facilities available in Mexico.

What is the next step?

Once a doctor has issued the Mexican Death Certificate it is necessary that the relatives or the designated health representative of the deceased contact the services of a funeral home. The funeral home and the doctor work in conjunction to prepare all the paperwork: the Certificate of Death and if the body is going to be transported back to the US, a Certificate of Transport.

What decisions need to be made?

The next of kin or designated health representative of the deceased will decide if the body will be buried or cremated and if the remains will be shipped back to the US. If the body is to be shipped back to the US, the consulate will prepare a “Mortuary Certificate”.

What are the “Mortuary Certificate” and the “Report of the Death of an American Citizen” (RODAC)

The funeral home will use the “Mortuary Certificate” at the airport to arrange the shipment of remains back to the US. The Consular Officer will require information from the next of kin (or relative) or designated representative of the deceased to prepare the document called “Report of the Death of an American Citizen” (RODAC) which is anEnglish-language document that is based upon theMexican Death Certificate.  It can be offered as proof of death in most legal proceedings in the US (e.g., Probate Court, Insurance Companies).

Will it be different if the family decides to have the remains cremated? 

The process for Cremation is basically the same. The cost for the Shipment of Remains is different than the cost for cremation, which may vary from $1,000 to $5,000 pesos (fees usually include cremation, collection of ashes, certification, and documentation costs). The U.S. Customs Office does not require that a Mortuary Certificate be issued for the return of cremated remains to the United States, nor does the Mexican Customs Office. So, if the family decides to hand carry the ashes, they would only need to make sure that they have at hand the following Documents:

  • Official Mexican Death Certificate (issued by the Civil Registry Office)
  • Cremation Permit (issued by the Mexican authorities)
  • Cremation Certificate (issued by the funeral home)
  • If required, the RODAC

What will be the procedure if the deceased is unaccompanied?

Usually, in the case of the death of an American citizen traveling alone, the death is first reported to the localDistrict Attorney (Ministerio Público) who, by Mexican law, has to report the death to the U.S. Embassy. When the death occurs in a hotel or in a hospital, the death is reported to the Embassy and the Mexican authorities almost at the same time. When the cause of death is in question, the deceased’s remains are taken to the forensic service under the custody of the Ministerio Público, who opens a “Homicide” Investigation File (Averiguación Previa) of the case. The case will be considered a homicide until the investigation proves the contrary. The Minsterio Público will request that an autopsy be performed by a forensic doctor to determine the cause of the death.



24 HourAssociation 24 hour-need for dr0001.pdf

Consular Corner: US Embassy-Mexico City Vol 2, Issue3, August 2009

Consulate, San Miguel de Allende:  Edward Clancy, Consular Agent

Hospice of San Miguel