When someone dies in Cuba
This guide gives advice about the death of a British person in Cuba, including information on burial, cremation and repatriation.
If you are dealing with the death of a child, multiple deaths, a suspicious death or a case of murder or manslaughter, call +537 214 2200.
Contacting the travel insurance company
All visitors to Cuba must have their own medical insurance. You should contact the insurance company of the person who died as soon as possible. Insurance providers may help to cover the cost of repatriation. Repatriation is the process of bringing the body home. Insurance providers may also help with medical, legal, interpretation and translation fees.
The insurance company will appoint a funeral director both locally and in the UK.
You can contact the official Cuban insurance agency Asistur if you need assistance.
What to do if the person who died didn’t have insurance
If you are not sure whether the person who died had insurance, check with their bank, credit card company or employer.
If the person who died did not have insurance, a relative or a formally appointed representative will usually have to appoint a funeral director and be responsible for all costs. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides a list of UK-based international funeral directors.
The FCDO cannot help with any costs. In some cases, funeral directors and lawyers may provide services on a pro bono basis. Pro bono work is done for free or for a reduced cost, depending on your circumstances. This is decided on a case by case basis.
Charities and organisations that offer support
Some UK-based charities and organisations may be able to provide help and information to people affected by a death abroad. The FCDO provides a list of UK-based charities and organisations.
Registering the death and obtain a death certificate
In Cuba, the local funeral director will register the death with the relevant state authorities on behalf of the next of kin.
The authorities will issue the following documents:
- death certificate
- embalming or cremation certificate
- burial licence
These documents are issued on the same day the post-mortem is carried out.
The death certificate includes the:
- full name of the person who died
- time, date and place of death
- cause of death
Certificates are issued in Spanish. You should ask an interpreter for a translation.
You should ask for copies of the death certificate when discussing repatriation arrangements with the international undertaker.
You do not need to register the death in the UK. The local death certificate can usually be used in the UK for most purposes, including probate.
If you wish, you can register the death with the Overseas Registration Unit (ORU). You can buy a UK-style death certificate, known as a Consular Death Registration certificate. The ORU will send a record to the General Register Office within 12 months.
If the person who died suffered from an infectious condition, such as hepatitis or HIV, you must tell the local authorities, so they can take precautions against infection.
Next of kin
In Cuba, there is no legal definition of the next of kin. In practice, it is usually the married partner or closest living blood relative of the person who died. The next of kin for the person who died usually needs to carry out these legal procedures.
If you are not the next of kin, you may need authorisation from that person to register the death and carry out other legal procedures.
Cold storage mortuary facilities are available in Cuba, but may not be of the same standard as in the UK. The bodies of all foreign nationals who died in Cuba are stored at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Havana until they can be repatriated.
You will need to pay a daily fee to store the body. Agree with the funeral director what the costs are as early as possible and ideally before the body goes into storage. The fees at the local mortuary are as follows:
- first 3 days, free of charge
- days 4 to 15, 1200 Cuban pesos (CUP) per day
- day 16 to 53, 600 CUP per day
- day 54 onwards, 480 CUP per day
Dealing with a local post-mortem
Post-mortems are usually performed when the cause of death is unknown, unnatural, sudden or violent. Post-mortems are carried out by forensic doctors appointed by the court. Cultural or religious sensitivities may not be taken into account. The FCDO cannot stop or interfere with the process.
All foreign nationals who die in Cuba are given a post-mortem.
Post-mortems are performed the day the body arrives at the Institute of Legal Medicine based in Havana, Cuba. The institute will issue the post-mortem report and other documents in Spanish. There is no fee for these documents. It can take up to 6 months to receive the documents.
During a post-mortem, small tissue samples and organs may be removed and retained for testing without the consent of the family. You will not automatically be told if this happens.
It is common practice in Cuba for human organs and tissues not to be replaced after a post-mortem. Contact the British Embassy in Havana if you want to request that the institute replaces any organs after the post-mortem.
You can ask for a copy of the report by contacting one of the following:
your local UK coroner if you bring the body back to the UK
the British Embassy in Havana
the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in the UK
If you bring the body back to the UK, the UK coroner will automatically assume responsibility and open an inquest. The coroner can investigate the cause of death, and help with translation and interpretation of any medical findings.
Bringing the body home
You should contact the insurance company of the person who died as soon as possible. Insurance providers may help to cover the cost of repatriation. Repatriation is the process of bringing the body home. If so, they will make all the necessary arrangements.
Finding an international funeral director
A relative or a formally appointed representative must appoint a UK-based international funeral director for the person who died to be repatriated to the UK. The FCDO provides a list of UK-based international funeral directors.
Local funeral directors will work with UK-based international funeral directors to meet all the necessary requirements both locally and in the UK. This includes providing documents such as a local civil registry death certificate, a certificate of embalming and a certificate giving permission to transfer the remains to the UK.
Advice and financial assistance for repatriation
There are UK organisations and charities that may be able to offer assistance with repatriation.
Requesting a post-mortem in the UK
If you want to have a post-mortem in the UK after the body has been repatriated, you can request one from a UK coroner. The coroner will then decide if a post-mortem is needed. If you want the person who died to be cremated, you need to apply for a certificate from the coroner (form ‘Cremation 6’).
Bringing the ashes home
You should not have the person cremated abroad if you want a UK coroner to conduct an inquest into their death.
If you choose local cremation and wish to take the ashes back to the UK yourself, you can usually do so. Check with your airline about specific restrictions or requirements, for example whether you can carry the ashes as hand luggage. To leave Cuba with human ashes you will need to:
- show the certificate of cremation
- fill in a standard customs form when you arrive in the UK
If it is not possible for you to transport the ashes yourself, a funeral director will be able to make the necessary arrangements. The FCDO provides a list of UK-based international funeral directors.
Burying or cremating the body locally
To have a local burial or cremation, a relative or a formally appointed representative needs to appoint a local funeral director.
The FCDO provides a list of English-speaking funeral directors in Cuba.
The funeral director will be able to explain the local process.
The next of kin or the insurers must give permission before a local cremation can take place. Your funeral director will liaise with the travel insurance company, Asistur or you can engage directly with the local funeral home in Cuba to make the arrangements.
If the person who died had COVID-19, you will only be allowed to bury the body in Cuba, or cremate the body and return it to the UK.
If a local burial or cremation takes place, there will not be a coroner’s inquest carried out in the UK.
Personal belongings found on the person who died at the time of death are given to the police if the family is not present.
If you choose to repatriate the body, instruct the local funeral director to collect all personal belongings from the police or court and ship them together with the body.
If there is an investigation into the death, clothing may be retained as evidence and will not be returned until the court case is finished.
Contact the tour operator, travel agency or travel insurance provider for assistance in returning personal belongings.
The FCDO cannot help with the cost of returning personal belongings to the family.
Finding a translator
You may need a translator to help understand information from local authorities or translate certain documents. The FCDO provides a list of English-speaking translators in Cuba.
Finding a lawyer
You can apply to appoint a lawyer in certain circumstances, such as a suspicious death. The FCDO provides a list of English-speaking lawyers in Cuba.
Cancelling a passport
You will need to take the passport of the person who died to the British Embassy in Havana. The embassy will return the passport to the UK on the repatriation flight.
Checking you have done everything you need to do in the UK
Check this step-by-step guide for when someone dies to make sure you have done everything you need to do in the UK. You can find information on:
- how to tell the government about the death
- UK pensions and benefits
- dealing with the estate of the person who died