The death of a friend or relative can be a traumatic and distressing experience and if it occurs while they are living in or visiting a foreign country, unfamiliarity with proceedings is very likely to add to an already difficult situation for you.
For help and support, start with your country’s embassy or consulate in France, they should be able to help you with practical arrangements.
For British citizens the Consular Division of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and consulates in France say that they will help in any way they can. They advise that French procedures “differ significantly to those in the United Kingdom and, while we understand your need for arrangements to be made quickly, this is not always possible”.
The following advice has been provided by the UK Government in France website, see their site for more details:
Repatriation and burial
A relative or a formally appointed representative must instruct a funeral director (Pompes Funèbres) in France or the UK for a body to be repatriated to the UK or buried or cremated in France.
If the deceased was insured you should contact the insurance company so that they can make the necessary arrangements. If there is no insurance cover, funds for repatriation or burial will need to be met by the family. Neither the Foreign and Commonwealth Office nor consulates in France can meet these costs.
A medical certificate certifying the death is issued by the local doctor and serves as a burial permit. A death is registered at the mairie (Town Hall) in the locality in which it occurred. A relative or their formally appointed representative usually registers the death. This, however, can also be carried out by a local firm of undertakers.
A certified copy of the entry is usually issued immediately if all necessary details are available. No fee is charged for the medical certificate or for the registration. French death certificates, however, do not show the cause of death. In France there is no central registry corresponding to the General Registry Office in the United Kingdom.
When a body is repatriated to England or Wales from France, a Coroner will only hold an inquest if the death was violent or unnatural or sudden and the cause unknown. As the cause of death is not given on the French registration certificate, the Coroner may order a post mortem as part of the inquest (even if a post mortem has already been carried out in France).
The Coroner does not have access to the French judicial file. He may however request a copy of the French police and post mortem reports through Consular Division. However these reports will only be provided once the judicial process, if any, has been completed and the death is no longer subjudice. In some cases this can take several months.
If there is no requirement for a Coroner to become involved and a cremation is to be carried out, a cremation order will need to be obtained from the Home Office. An application for the order is usually made by the local undertaker. There is no equivalent order required for burials.
Coroners in Northern Ireland are not obliged to hold an inquest into the cause of death, but next of kin can apply for a judicial review if an inquest has been decided against.
Under the Cremation (Scotland) Regulations 1935 and 1952, a permit for cremation must be obtained from the Scottish Office in Edinburgh. Coroners do not exist in Scotland and there are no special formalities for a burial there.
Police and judicial inquiries
Inquiries are not held when the doctor who certifies a death is satisfied that no suspicious circumstances exist and the death was due to natural causes. However, an inquiry is held when the death occurs in a public place, for example in the street or at a hotel, or when foul play is suspected. In such cases the responsibility for issuing the burial permit lies with the Public Prosecutor (Procureur de la République) at the local high court (Tribunal de grande instance).