How to Plan a Destination Funeral
You can spend 99 years in Venice without ever having to deal with tourists.
Last year, Venetian mayor Luigi Brugnaro announced a radical plan to fund renovations of San Michele “cemetery island”: an auction of five abandoned private chapels.
With enough cash, lovers of Venice could make the city their eternal resting place. Prices for the plots started at around $300,000. But for that price, anybody could spend at least 99 years among the island’s famous underground residents, including Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, and Ezra Pound.
While the idea of decaying in the island city may seem unattainable, planning a destination funeral is simpler than it sounds. Much like planning a wedding, there are people and businesses who specialize in taking care of all of the details.
According to a survey from Co-operative Funeralcare, half of all American funeral directors have been asked to plan a destination funeral. About 10 percent have done so abroad.
As less people identify as religious, “we’re seeing a trend towards personalization in end-of-life events,” Walker Posey, a spokesperson for the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) told Travel + Leisure. For people whose lives centered on travel, “a destination memorial can help connect to a place someone loved when they were alive.”
The first step is procuring a cemetery plot abroad while you’re still alive. Highly coveted burial grounds often have stipulations: To get a spot in Paris’s famous Pere Lachaise cemetery, a person must have lived or died in the capital. Highgate Cemetery in London — the final resting place of Karl Marx and George Eliot — only sells about 30 plots a year and requires an imminent burial.
After you’ve successfully reserved a plot, choose a funeral provider in the U.S. who will make all necessary arrangements. The funeral home will work with a partner provider abroad, notify foreign consulates and complete all paperwork. “It’s not complicated it just takes time,” Posey said. A funeral home accredited with the NFDA will have access to partner homes all over the world who will understand local rules and regulations about importing bodies.
The cost of a burial abroad depends on the destination and the level of luxury desired. All funeral homes are legally required to provide a general price list, so families should know well in advance the cost of the event. The average price for a funeral in North America is between $7,000 and $10,000. A funeral in Tokyo can cost up to $80,000 while the average price of a funeral in the United Arab Emirates is about $2,300. Information about a specific country’s fees for burying a U.S. citizen can be found on embassy websites.
In terms of transportation, the cost of sending human remains on a plane is “typically a similar price to buying a seat in advance,” Posey said. Funeral providers may have partnerships with organizations like Delta Cares or American Airlines TLC to transport remains in cargo holds.
The more difficult arrangements are for living loved ones. Those planning on a destination funeral should make their last intentions clear before passing. Consider leaving a fund to pay for travel arrangements for funeral attendees.
At the end of it all, “the gathering together is what’s important,” Posey said. “Getting together family and friends and going to your loved one’s favorite place together and saying ‘their life was important.’ It’s a destination celebration of life.”