What to do when someone dies abroad – grief an expat view


Losing someone while you are living abroad

Grief is something that affects all of us at some time. While expat life is wonderful, there is a downside. Living apart from family when they become sick is a difficult situation to manage. Unfortunately, this was a situation I found myself dealing with as an expat in Dubai. Learning that my mother had cancer came out of the blue. It was clear she was on a long, painful journey, therefore, I was determined to be at her side as much as possible. A few years later the same happened again when I lost my father.

Grief and flying home every few weeks

Travelling home every month or two for a few weeks became a normal part of life. Luckily I was blessed with amazing understanding clients who patiently waited for my return. Most importantly, the support, and love that my daughter and husband gave was priceless. 

Times of grief and sadness

There are very few disadvantages of expat life, however, this is one of them. Consider the above scenario if you are thinking of making a move to a new country

Saying goodbye

Eventually, the much-dreaded call was received, as a result, I needed to head home immediately. Looking out of the window on the flight a huge rainbow appeared. As my mother took her last breath soon after I arrived, another rainbow appeared. Isn’t it strange what is remembered at difficult moments? Many expats find themselves in this situation, similarly, you pray like crazy to make it home in time.

A death in the country you are living

In the 28 years of being an expat, I saw many friends lose their partner or loved one while living abroad. Legalities and paperwork can be a long, tedious, drawn out, complicated process. Tackling red tape during an already difficult time adds another layer of heightened stress and sadness. Once again this is another aspect to consider in the decision of whether to move abroad. 


What to do

Firstly, contact The British Embassy, Consulate or High Commission. Secondly, check the legalities of registering a death abroad in the country you are living in. Check all information available on www.gov.uk for direction and assistance. You are going to need help and support with bringing the body home. Above all, reach out to friends, family and fellow expats at this time.

Make peace with being unable to make it home in time

Fortunately, I was able to make it home in time to be at my mother’s side when she passed away. Sadly this was not the case with my father. On this occasion, I received the news via a telephone call from my brother. My father had dropped dead with a huge heart attack. Emotions raged through me – guilt that I wasn’t there, deep pain because I hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye. Honestly, I was in torment for a long time. Flying home for his funeral gave me much time to reflect. I moved into a place of self-forgiveness. Making peace with not being able to make it home was necessary to start the healing process.

Other reasons for not making it home

Sometimes when news of death comes out of the blue, money is not available to get home in time. This is why it is a good idea to keep an emergency fund for unexpected circumstances because they can and do happen. Start to put a little away each month if you haven’t already.

How to deal with grief

Sadly, dealing with grief is not a topic taught in school. Instead we are taught to “get” things. Get an education, job, partner, house, car, children – the list goes on, consequently, we have no tools to deal with grief when it arrives. 

Grief arrives on everyone’s doorstep – no exception

We are all guaranteed to experience loss and bereavement, no exception. Although loss is commonly associated with death, it is also linked to other losses that cause emotional pain or sadness. Losses such as:

  • health,
  • youth (the aging process)
  • partner/friends/family
  • job or lifestyle
  • security
  • confidence or self-esteem
  • pets
  • independence
  • choices
  • a future you had planned
  • purpose in life
  • finances

According to the Grief Recovery Institute, 8 million people become new grievers each year. Divorce rates exceed 45% not including those who are not married. 

Grief behaviour

Grief is often pushed under the carpet or covered up with an “I am fine attitude”.  However, this is not useful or helpful because emotions will arise at some point in the future. Other people may say to you, “I know how you feel” but they don’t.  Your loss is unique and personal to you. The only person that really knows how you feel is you

Common things people say or do

Quite often people don’t know what to say or do. Our tears and emotions may cause discomfort because it may trigger their own. You may find people are reluctant to hear about your loss and will change the subject or compare it to their own.

A grieving person needs to be heard

In dealing with someone in grief it may be a good idea to keep it simple by saying “I am sorry, what happened?  Listen without interrupting, or offering advice. Avoid making comparisons to your own losses.

Give help and support in simple ways


Offer to babysit, do housework, cook dinner or shopping. Let a grieving person know you are there for them. Most importantly, don’t isolate or push them away.

Avoid saying

  • Don’t cry or feel bad
  • He or she is in a better place now
  • It’s okay, there are loads of other partners
  • You have to be strong for….
  • Keep yourself busy

Grief and its symptoms

A person in grief and sadness is likely to experience the following:

  • reduced concentration
  • feeling of numbness
  • emotional rollercoaster
  • eating habits may change to more or less
  • disrupted sleep

Seek out help and support if you are dealing with loss. The Grief Recovery Programme is excellent. If you have enjoyed reading this blog, feel free to read the expat and wellbeing blogs on the site.

In conclusion, much as we wish we could avoid grief and sadness, we can’t. After the loss of my parents, I went on to train as a Grief Recovery Specialist to help others. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you are struggling with this.


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