The death of a relative or friend can be a traumatic experience but it can be even more difficult to deal with in a foreign country. Here’s what you need to know about registering a death in France, organising a funeral or cremation, and repatriation.
What To Do In France If Somebody Dies
The correct procedure to follow when somebody dies in France depends on where the person dies.
Death at home
The first thing to do is contact your local doctor who will certify the death and issue a medical certificate/death certificate (certificat de décès or declaration de décès) to say that a death has occurred. The family or doctor will then contact a funeral home who will collect the deceased and take them to either the nearest hospital mortuary (chambre funéraire) or the funeral home’s own mortuary. Alternatively, you can call 112 or 15. See our guide to who to call in an emergency in France.
Death in a hospital or national institution
The doctor who treated that person prior to their death will sign the medical certificate. The deceased person will be taken to lay to rest in the hospital mortuary.
Suspicious deaths and/or accidents
If the death occurred under suspicious or violent (such as a road accident) circumstances, it should be reported to the police as soon as possible. An inquiry is held when the death occurs in a public place or when foul play is suspected. In such cases, the body will be taken to a special mortuary for post-mortem. The responsibility for issuing the death certificate and burial permit lies with the public prosecutor (Procureur de la République) at the local high court (Tribunal de Grande Instance).
Registering a Death in France
When somebody dies in France, an official declaration of death (déclaration de décès) should be made at the local mairie within 24 hours. This is usually done by a relative or formally appointed representative.
To register a death in France, you will need:
- Proof of identity of the person registering the death
- The medical certificate of death (certificat de décès or declaration de décès)
- Proof of the deceased’s identity, such as a birth or marriage certificate, passport, or identity card
Note that the death certificate (acte de décès) provides information on where and when death took place but does not indicate the cause of death. No fee is charged for the medical certificate issued by the doctor or for registering the death.
Registering the Death of a Foreign Citizen
If the deceased is a foreign citizen or holds dual nationality, you may also want to register the death in their country of origin. This is not always obligatory (it depends on the rules of the country), but it may be required if the individual holds overseas bank accounts, assets, or insurance policies.
For example, it is possible to register the death of a British national who has died in France at the British Consulate-General in Paris – find out more about that here.
Legal Procedures to Carry Out After a Death in France
Once the formalities of registering the death, have been taken care of, the next step is to organise the funeral or repatriation. You should contact the insurance company of the deceased, who will be able to assist you with this. If they were not insured, the family will need to meet the funeral and repatriation costs.
There are many other organisations that have to be notified of a death, including the deceased’s bank and place of work, for example. You may also need to contact a notaire to start the inheritance proceedings – in France, it is the notaire that
Making Funeral arrangements in France
The Mairie can put you in touch with local funeral director’s (pompes funèbres) to start the procedure, unless plans have already have been made by the deceased. As in other countries, there are two main options – a burial or cremation. A foreign citizen may also elect to be repatriated to their own country.
In France the family of the deceased person are legally obliged to follow their wishes. A funeral ceremony in France can be secular and conducted by a funeral director, or religious and take place at a place of worship. After a death, the family have up to six working days (not including weekends or public holidays) to decide whether the deceased should have a cremation or burial.
If the body is to be cremated, authorisation will need to be sought from the local mairie. It will usually take place at the local crematorium. Following the cremation, the urn is given to the family if requested, or the ashes can be scattered in the garden of remembrance (jardin de souvenirs). In France, it is legal to spread ashes on your own land, at sea or in a country environment such as woodlands or mountains, but it is not permitted to scatter ashes in a public places including rivers and paths. Cremations can still be a personal ceremony with speeches and music, etc.
A burial can be organised by a funeral parlour or the immediate family of the deceased. A request for burial should be made as soon as possible following the death certificate. Once the death is registered, the mairie will issue a burial permit (permis d’inhumer) indicating the time and date of death. Burial may not take place in the 24 hours following the death. The mairie authorises burial in the local cemetery and it is common to reserve a burial plot (une concession) – if there isn’t already a reservation you will need to purchase one. Alternatively, the deceased can be buried on their own land providing that certain criteria are met.
Repatriation of a Foreigner
If the body needs to be repatriated, you will need to contact the relevant consulate. For example, for repatriation of a deceased British citizen from France to the UK, you will need to contact the local British consulate for guidance on procedures – find out more here. A Consular Official will assist with the process, and a relative or formally appointed representative must instruct a funeral director in France or the UK to make the necessary arrangements.
The time taken for repatriation depends on whether the deceased died from natural causes or if the death was suspicious and is being investigated.
•With thanks to Angela Clohessy Dip FD MBIFD