Does death become you as an expat?

     “None of us are getting out of here alive.” ~R. Alan Woods


It never ceases to amaze me. In preparation for retirement abroad, we organize our finances, research our retirement options, join expat forums, read expat blogs, and ask numerous questions about health care, cost of living, crime rate, among other things. Yet little forethought is ever given to what happens when expats die abroad.

As the U.S. Embassy warden representative for Ometepe Island, I am the first person called when an expat death occurs on the island. My responsibility is to call the embassy with as much information as I can dig up…no pun intended. Yet, my duties extend beyond a mere telephone call. I’ve measured a body for a coffin, dressed and washed the deceased, helped to plan a vela, and contacted known relatives and friends, mainly through Facebook.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am a compassionate, caring person. But, when an expat death occurs and there are no living relatives or no information about the deceased, what should we do?

Two days ago, an expat died on Ometepe Island. I was called to report the death, only because his body was lying in the Moyogalpa hospital and they wanted to know who was responsible for buying the coffin. Yesterday, I received another call. His body was in Managua. His sister said he wanted to be buried on Ometepe Island. Could I go to Managua, retrieve the coffin, transport it to Ometepe Island, and bury him in our local cemetery? What? I’m in the United States for my mother’s birthday.

What will happen to our poor island expat? Death does not become him. As older expats move to Nicaragua in the later stages of their retirement, these situations will become increasingly common. Below is a list of things to consider for expats living and possibly dying in Nicaragua.

Does Death Become You as an Expat?

1. Register with your homeland embassy. If you are a U.S. citizen, register here: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program  By enrolling, the embassy can contact your family and friends in an emergency.
2. Make a will and last testament for Nicaragua. It is easy and cheap. Give copies to your family and friends.
3. Make copies of your passport, cedula, and other important information and make your close friends aware of where this information is stored.
4. Make a folder in your email account that includes all your contact information, pictures of important documents, passwords for important accounts, etc. Then, give your email password to a trusted family member or friend. This way, all of your financial and other important information is easy to access.
5. One thing I would like to see happen is a center for palliative care in Nicaragua. I know of only one program available called Hospice without Borders, and it is located in Africa. Maybe we can put our heads together and develop a palliative care center in a centrally located area. Death with dignity and compassion in Nicaragua is desperately needed.

Let’s work together to dignify death in Nicaragua. I hope this information is valuable. Please feel free to add to my ‘to do’ list in the comment section.

Here’s a good article about Dying Abroad.

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