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Hong Kong - Death

There are several legal requirements (as well as practical ones) that are involved when someone passes away in Hong Kong. As an expat, talking to your consulate might be helpful. Although they can’t offer any financial assistance, your consulate should be able to walk you through some of the regulations if you need to transport a loved one back home.

At this difficult time there are a number of practical and legal requirements involved in processing a death in Hong Kong. Consulates are a useful source of information and assistance for expatriates, although they will not normally provide any financial assistance. You can also find out all of this information and more through the Immigration Department’s website.

A death must be registered within 24 hours of the event. When a death does occur, you are responsible for notifying the police if the person was not in a hospital or care facility. You should also notify any physician who was treating the deceased leading up to the time of death.

The physician must issue a Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death. Along with the basic details of the death, it will also contain information regarding the deceased’s identification. If the deceased passed away in a hospital then the hospital authorities will take care of this paperwork. The deceased will be taken to a public mortuary. If there are any questions regarding the cause of death then an autopsy will be performed. Autopsies are common in Hong Kong as a general rule to begin with. A coroner might need to become involved in the event that the cause of death is not readily determined.

If the coroner is not needed then a relative, or someone close to the deceased, must register the death with the Registry Office in the district where death happened. There are also facilities for registering deaths at some of the different police stations. If there is an emergency on a public holiday or Sunday then the Births and Deaths General Register Office can still be reached since the office is open in the morning.

When registering a death, you must have your own identification documents; the Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death signed by the physician; information regarding the deceased’s nationality and occupation; identification documents for the deceased including their Hong Kong ID and passport; and their marriage certificate if applicable. Fees are charged for the copies of the registration but not for the registration itself. As an expat, you should also register the death with the deceased’s consulate. The consulate’s office will have their own forms and paperwork which might vary from country to country.

Bodies can be cremated or buried. Much like in Western countries, there are establishments that will take care of all the aspects of the funeral service. This includes applying for the cemetery plot and doing the necessary paperwork. They should also be able to handle funeral services, regardless of religious preference. There are not any laws when it comes to time constraints for funerals and cremations. Some families in Hong Kong observe the traditional period of mourning which can be up to 10 days before having a funeral service.

While Western mourners might wear black to a funeral, in China white is the color of death. As a result, you might see some people wearing white with black ribbons at traditional Chinese funerals.

Burial is very important in Hong Kong, although it is not always permanent. Because land is so limited, sometimes bodies are buried for several years and then cremated. Bodies might also be delayed burial until the astrological atmosphere is right. Bodies can also be shipped to other destinations. This is the most expensive option for burial. Some people have the deceased cremated and then transport the ashes to other destinations.

Cremation is becoming very popular but there are not that many places in Hong Kong that offer the service so there can be up to a two week wait period. Ashes are most commonly placed in public columbaria. These are normally very well kept and respected places. Some people do keep the ashes at home while others scatter them in one of the government's Gardens of Remembrance.

If the deceased is going to be transported back to their native country then their consulate might need to issue a Consular Mortuary Certificate or something similar. You must also apply for a Permit for Removal of a Body From Hong Kong.

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