The final exit requires some advanced planning

Expats do not always get what they want in Costa Rica. Even in death.

Many want to be cremated. It is the most practical solution because a normal body is reduced to about six pounds of granular material that can easily be shipped home or scattered.

Recently, an expat died here in a small beach town. His U.S. family jumped on a plane for Costa Rica to have him cremated. This was his wish. He wanted his ashes spread over the ocean close to the town.

His Costa Rican family would have nothing to do with cremation. They are evangelistic Christians. They wanted a funeral. Initially, this caused a standoff. The local family won. The man was buried in a typical way as per the customs of the people close to him in Costa Rica.

This scenario happens to many expats. They make a new life here through marriage, have new children and adopt.

His burial was very special. There was an all-night vigil over the body in his home. An assembly of his neighbors and friends accompanied him. In the morning, the community gathered and carried his body to the cemetery where it was laid to rest in a tomb they built.

The U.S. family went home extremely happy.  However, not all expats have such loving people close by and need to plan what happens to them when they die.

Cremation sometimes creates debate. It has had much attention over the ages. The Christian churches permit cremation but prefer burial. Most country folk in Costa Rica firmly believe they will never go to Heaven if they are cremated.

Even though Costa Ricans do not embrace cremation, many other countries do. Cremation has expanded rapidly worldwide. Since 1973, the number of cremations in North America has more than tripled. Countries such as Japan (97 percent), Great Britain (70 percent) and Scandinavia (over 65 percent) continue to show a high percentage of cremations. It is predicted that by the year 2015 cremations will surpass burials.

Jardines de Recuerdo pioneered cremation in Costa Rica with a regulation it sponsored, Reglamento de Cremación de Cadáveres y Restos Humanos, on Nov. 25, 1986. The funeral firm brought the first cremation to the country in 1985. Over the years, most of the cremations done by Jardines de Recuerdo have been preformed for foreigners. However, slowly the trend is catching on among Costa Ricans.

Nowadays most of the major funeral firms offer cremation as part of their service. Most companies offer transportation of the body, an autopsy, a health department permit, a casket, an urn and the cremation process as part of a complete package.

When shopping around, it is a great idea to lock in a price today by paying in advance or on a payment plan. One saves money and spares family from added grief.

An autopsy is required when cremating a body in Costa Rica because the law states that all bodies to be cremated need to undergo an autopsy and that health officials must issue a permit. Both procedures are now easily accomplished and done at the crematorium in most cases.

There is another option. Donating one’s body to science. The Reglamento para la inhumación y donación de cadáveres or the “regulation for burial and body donation” covers Costa Rica’s policy on the subject.  The Universidad de las Ciencias Médicas (UCIMED) has an active program. Information is available by calling 2549-0000.

Algordanza, a Swiss company, has introduced a new, fascinating approach to memorializing loved ones. They can create a man-made diamond out of human ashes. No funeral provider in Costa Rica offers this service yet.

It is a good idea to have a Costa Rican attorney prepare a legal brief and have it written in a notary book regarding wishes of cremation.

Even though it is not 100 percent necessary, the document can expedite the process if no other immediate family members can be located at the time of death. This also helps if there is a controversy between family as in the case of the expat who recently died without such a document.

Most attorneys in Costa Rica do not understand a will is just part of a good succession plan. Everyone should have a good plan to help the living. Deciding on a choice of burial or cremation is just one step.

Another aspect to consider is how property will be transferred or distributed among heirs. Probate in Costa Rica is a difficult and time consuming process, as it is in many countries of the world.

There are many things to consider creating a good succession plan before one dies, and today is a good day to reflect on all of them.

The providers

Pricing: $1,325 and up
Phone: +(506) 2233-1129
Web site:

Pricing: $1,415 and up
Phone: +(506) 2231-3121
Web site:

La Piedad
Pricing: $1,600 and up
Phone: +(506) 2259-5296
Web site:

Funerales Vida
Pricing: $2,383 and up
Phone: +(506) 2521-6999
Web  site:

Pricing: $2,650 and up
Phone: +(506) 2222-9022
Web site:

La Auxiliadora
Pricing: $3,000 and up
Phone: +(506) 2222-0100
Web site:

Garland M. Baker, a certified international property specialist, is a 44-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica. His firm’s team provides multidisciplinary professional services to the country’s international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a free reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2014. Use without permission prohibited.Scattering Ashes

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