How to die in Croatia: Part 1 (What happens right after death)

Cemetery in Groznjan, Croatian

PUBLISHED: 20.2.2022.

We speak to people every day who want to live in Croatia for the rest of their lives. If you live in Croatia for the rest of your life, then that means there is a good chance you will also die in Croatia.

If you’ve lived in Croatia your whole life and you have family here, then what happens when you die is a bit more straightforward. But, if you’re a foreigner, you most likely have no idea what to expect. What if you want your body sent back to your native country? What if you’re on your own? What if you want to be cremated? Is my foreign will valid?

These are questions that we get from our audience and it’s high time we got them answered. In researching this topic, we found a lot more information than we expected, as well as a lot more questions to ask. There is so much to cover, it can’t all be addressed in one post. Consider this the first of at least four covering exactly what happens when you die in Croatia, including how to plan, what to consider, what to expect as well as all the Croatian traditions that go along with someone passing.

Today, we start at the beginning – all the bureaucratic things that happen immediately after a person dies in Croatia.

View part 2 of this series on how to prepare for death here, part 3 on how to organize and attend a funeral here and part 4 on how to prepare a will here.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

How to die in Croatia: Part 1 (What happens right after death)

How to report a death in Croatia

The procedure for reporting a death in Croatia varies depending on whether a person dies inside or outside of a medical institution. Regardless of the circumstances, a deceased person cannot be buried or cremated until an examination is performed.

What to do when a person dies outside of a medical facility

If someone dies outside of a medical institution, the death should be reported as soon as possible, without unnecessary delays. This should be done by whomever found the person.

#1 Call emergency or police

If a person is in distress or dying, immediately call 112 for emergency assistance. If a person has already passed, then you can call either 194 or the police (MUP) directly at 192.

[Read: Emergency and helpful phone numbers for Croatia including ambulance and police]

They will contact the local coroner – a medical professional who performs the examination of the deceased. In Croatian, a coroner is called mrtvozornik. They will visit the place of death to officially call the death.

#2 Prepare the documentation

If the deceased suffered from conditions that may have been a factor in their death, gather their medical documentation. When the coroner arrives, provide them access to the deceased along with any necessary medical documentation and any personal data you have.

According to this data, the coroner will fill out a death report called prijava o smrti. They will give you the certificate of burial and transport for the deceased person.

If they determine that an autopsy is necessary, they will notify the responsible body who will transfer the deceased to the place of performing the autopsy.

#3 Call the funeral carrier

After the coroner is done with their part, you must contact an authorized funeral company (pogrebno poduzeće), a funeral carrier (pogrebni prijevoznik), or a funeral aid organization (posmrtna pripomoć). You must have one of the three. They will transport the deceased to the morgue called mrtvačnica, which is usually located near the cemetery. The body will remain there until the funeral.

If the deceased was a member of a funeral aid organization, provide their ID card to them. A funeral aid organization organizes funerals for its members without involving their family members. Membership covers basic funeral expenses including a coffin with accompanying furniture, tombstone, transport of the deceased, obituaries, and burial expenses.

If the funeral is going to be held outside of Croatia, a funeral carrier will transport the body to the location abroad.

#4 Visit the registrar

The final step is to report the death to the registrar’s office called matični ured. This must be done no later than 3 days from the day of death. Visit the registrar’s office closest to the place of death or the place where the deceased was found.

It should be noted that you only need to report the death if you are their family member or the closest person to them.

A list of all registrar’s offices in Croatia is available here.

Provide the registrar with all the documents you received from the coroner. The registrar will register the deceased in the matična knjiga umrlih, a register of the deceased.

What to do when a person dies in a medical facility

If a person dies in a hospital, medical institution, home for the elderly and infirm, or foster care, the facility will immediately notify you (if you are their emergency contact or next of kin). In this case, the procedure can differ.

#1 Visit the hospital

You will need to obtain documentation including otpusno pismo (discharge letter) and zahtjev za oslobođenje od obdukcije (request for exemption from autopsy).

Provide the medical staff with all the personal data on the deceased. The hospital will contact the registrar’s office and report the death. This means that you don’t have to visit the registrar yourself.

#2 Bring clothes

Bring the clothes in which the deceased will be buried to the pathology department in the hospital. Take everything that you want. You can even bring jewelry.

#3 Call the funeral carrier

Contact an authorized funeral company (pogrebno poduzeće), a funeral carrier (pogrebni prijevoznik), or a funeral aid organization (posmrtna pripomoć) to arrange the transport and burial. They will transport the deceased to the mrtvačnica (morgue) or abroad if the funeral is going to be held outside of Croatia. The body will be kept at the morgue until the burial.

If the deceased was a member of funeral aid organization allowance, provide them with their ID card. A funeral aid organization organizes funerals for its members without involving their family members. Membership covers basic funeral expenses including a coffin with accompanying furniture, tombstone, transport of the deceased, obituaries, and burial expenses.

The body of the deceased must be transported from the hospital no later than 24 hours after the death. Otherwise, you will have to pay a fee to the hospital for each additional day.

If a person dies in a traffic accident

If a person passes away in a traffic accident in Croatia, emergency assistance must be called immediately at 194. The emergency aid will immediately arrive at the place of the accident and call the time of death.

They will issue a paper called popratnica. The body will be transported to forensic medicine and criminology for autopsy. The family will be notified and they will have to take over the body after the autopsy is done.

If the identity of the deceased is unknown

If a deceased person’s identity is unknown, the police must carry out an identification procedure.

The identification procedure includes:

  • Checking data on the civil status of the deceased
  • Photographing and comparing new photography with an existing one
  • Testimony of people who can identify the deceased whose identity is established in nature through photography, film, recognition of clothing, footwear, and other items that can be used to establish identity
  • Using a personal description
  • Determining the structure of the DNA profile
  • Other available methods
    • Superposition
    • Graphological expertise
    • Dental formula

When an autopsy is required

If necessary, an autopsy can be performed without the consent of the family of the deceased. It may take four days or more to receive the autopsy results. Depending on the result, the autopsy report is sent to the competent bodies who may order further investigation before a death certificate is issued.

A coroner must notify the police if they suspect suspicious circumstances of death or violent death related to a criminal offense. In addition to these situations, they must request an autopsy in case of sudden death when the cause is unknown.

An autopsy must be performed if:

  • There is a possibility that the death occurred as the result of a felony
  • A person dies in a hospital or medical facility
  • There is a necessity to protect human health due to epidemiological, sanitary, or other reasons
  • The family requests an autopsy

The family may ask for an autopsy exemption if the deceased died in a medical institution. For exemption, they must get approval from the director of the medical institution and pathologist.

It is not possible to get an exemption in the following cases:

  • Death is sudden or unnatural and the cause is unknown
  • Death occurs during a diagnostic or therapeutic procedure
  • Cause of death can’t be determined according to the medical documentation, but the deceased died within 24 hours after being accepted to the medical institution
  • Deceased participated in a clinical trial of a medicinal product or medical device, or other scientific trials in a medical institution
  • Deceased’s body parts may be taken for transplantation for the purpose of treatment in accordance with a special law

The autopsy is performed at the Zavod za sudsku medicinu. They will provide the family of the deceased with potvrda o smrti. The doctor who performed the autopsy must deliver a report on the autopsy to the state administration body authorized for the supervision of the coroner’s work.

How to transport the deceased person

The local or international transportation of the deceased person is done by the funeral company/carrier. International transportation of the deceased is done according to special laws and international agreements.

Before the body of the deceased can be transported, you must get authorization for transport. The paperwork can be handled by you or the funeral company.

Transport of a deceased abroad from Croatia

To request authorization for the transport, the following must be provided:

  • Copy of potvrda o smrti (death certificate)
  • Copy of your ID card
  • Copy of traffic license of funeral vehicle
  • Data on the deceased person
    • Name, surname, date of birth, place of birth
    • Location of burial in Croatia OR border crossing for international transports from Croatia to abroad
    • Transportation vehicle and registration number

Transport of a deceased to Croatia from abroad

For international transport to Croatia from abroad, the Croatian embassy abroad must be provided with:

  • Application form for the issue of sprovodnica (Laissez-passer for a corpse) – This is a certificate of death issued by a sanitary inspector according to the place of death if a person died from a contagious disease and for international transport.
  • International excerpt from the register of deceased/death certificate
  • Medical certificate of death with information of the cause of death confirming there was no contagious disease
  • Proof of the citizenship of the deceased
  • Passport of the deceased
  • Approval for the transfer of the deceased person from a foreign state
  • Data on the funeral company/carrier
    • Personal data of the driver and passport number
    • Registration number of the transport vehicle
    • Personal data of the person who will accompany the driver if any (usually family of the deceased)
    • Data on the flight number, airline, landing airport, border crossings, and other transport companies for air transports
  • Written confirmation of the cemetery or parish with the place of burial if the deceased was a foreign citizen.

Sprovodnica is not required for the transport of urns with ashes of the deceased from abroad to Croatia. In this case, you must provide a certificate from the crematorium to the Croatian border crossing.

Administration costs

Funeral companies usually define the transport costs according to the distance in kilometers. The price may vary from approximately 66 cents to 2,60 euros per kilometer. In addition to the costs of transport, they separately charge for the clothing of the deceased, basic funeral equipment, and a tin-wooden coffin (~135 euros).

If the funeral company collects the documentation instead of you or does the whole process themselves, they may charge an additional cost or include the cost with transportation.

In Croatia, socially-endangered people have a right to compensation for the basic costs of the funeral including the price of the coffin, gravestone, and burial in a grave located on special plots located in the city cemeteries.

According to Article 47 of the Zakon o socijalnoj skrbi (Social Welfare Act), the right to this compensation belongs to natural or legal persons who paid funeral expenses or performed the funeral service of a deceased who:

  • Didn’t have a legal or contractual alimony payer OR
  • At the time of death was:
    • User of the right to a guaranteed minimum benefit OR a member of the household that is a beneficiary of the right to a guaranteed minimum benefit OR
    • User of the right of accommodation or organized housing service on the basis of a decision of the Zavod za socijalni rad (Institute for Social Work).

[Read: Difference between legal and natural persons in Croatia]

What if you want to donate an organ in Croatia

In Croatia, every deceased person is considered a possible organ donor, since Croatian laws don’t require permission from the family of the deceased. However, the family opinion is respected if expressed. If you are an organ donor and you have a donor card that clearly states your attitude about donation, inform your family of your decision on organ donation.

Croatian citizens and foreign nationals with permanent residence in Croatia can donate organs freely. Foreign citizens can donate their organs if they are being directed to a spouse, partner, or immediate family member with written consent.

[Read: How to be an organ donor in Croatia]

How to donate your body to science in Croatia

Some people want to donate their bodies to science to help future doctors and scientists improve their medical knowledge. In Croatia, adults can donate their bodies to the Zavod za anatomiju (Department of Anatomy) of the Medicinski fakultet (Faculty of Medicine) in Zagreb or Rijeka. Your family members must be informed about your decision.

To donate the body, you must submit the application form izjava o donaciji tijela (statement on body donation) before you die. An example of a form from the Faculty of Medicine in Rijeka is available here.

More information on body donation to the Medicinski fakultet in Zagreb is available here.

More information on body donation to the Medicinski fakultet in Rijeka is available here.

What do you want to know about dying in Croatia?

If you have questions you want answered during this series, let us know! You may contact us here with your questions and suggestions.

View part 2 of this series on how to prepare for death here and part 3 on how to organize and attend a funeral here.

View our other related posts

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Smrtni slučaj u inozemstvu
Pravilnik by Ministarstvo Zdravstva
Pravilnik o načinu postupanja policijskih službenika

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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