Tag Archives: funerals in mexico

Death in Rural Mexico — el Acta de Defunción

When someone dies, the surviving relatives must have the all-important acta de defunción (death certificate). Without it, you won’t be able to change the name on properties, sell vehicles, or access bank accounts. 

You’ll also want to check to see if any places have life insurance policies. For example, Elecktra has an optional insurance policy through Banco Azteca you can get when you buy something on credit. It stipulates that in the event of death of the credit holder, all outstanding transactions are paid in full. But you won’t be able to clear up any of these without the death certificate.

The funeraria can help you obtain some of these documents, although some you’ll need to go in person to retrieve or make the application. 

To get this vitally important document you’ll need to go to the local Registro Civil and present:

  • Certificado de defunción expedido por el médico certificante en original (the original death certificate signed by medical personnel)
  • Identificación oficial vigente con fotografía, de un declarante, que en todo caso será un familiar del difunto, quien deberá comparecer al levantamiento del acta de defunción (Photo ID of the family member who has come to make the request for the death certificate. You may need to provide proof of family relationship with a marriage certificate in case of a spouse or birth certificate if you are the child of the deceased.) 
  • Acta de Nacimiento del finado (Birth certificate of the deceased) 

If the body is of a fetus, you obviously won’t have a birth certificate. Therefore you’ll need to only present the medical examiner’s certificate. Without the death certificate, the baby’s body can not be released for burial.

If the deceased is not Mexican by birth you may be asked to present Carta de naturalización mexicana (Naturalized citizen letter) or proof of permanent residency. Be prepared to also present the original birth certificate of the deceased along with the apostille and the translations done by el perito traductor (official translator). Since there is such a short window of time from death to burial, it’s better to have these documents in order before they are needed in the event of a death.

For bodies that are to be cremated: 

  • Permiso para cremación del Sector Salud, sólo en caso de que el cadáver vaya a ser cremado, original (If the body is to be cremated, you’ll need the cremation permit from the Health Department.)

If the person died under suspicious or criminal circumstances, you must provide:

  • Oficio original del Ministerio Público que autorice la inhumación o cremación del cadáver en caso de muerte violenta u ocurrida en la vía pública. (In the event of a violent death, or death in a public area, you’ll need the authorization for burial from the Public Ministry. This is to ensure that the body is no longer needed for any criminal investigation.)

If the person died in a municipality or state other than where he/she is to be buried you’ll also need: 

  • Permiso de traslado del sector salud y el del municipio que autoriza el traslado del finado, cuando vaya a ser inhumado o cremado en Municipio o Estado distinto de donde ocurrió el deceso, original. (If the deceased is to be buried in a municipality or state that is not the same as where he/she died, then you’ll need a permit to transport the body.)
  • Certificación del acta de defunción levantada por el Registro civil del lugar donde ocurrió la muerte o bien el tanto de interesado del acta de defunción, cuando el finado proceda de otro Municipio o Estado al de donde se va inhumar o cremar, original y copia. (If the person died in another state or municipality, you’ll need the death certificate issued by the corresponding municipality or state.)

If the person died in a country other than Mexico you’ll also need: 

  • Acta de Defunción apostillada o legalizada del país donde ocurrió el deceso, por el traslado del cadáver, con traducción al español si esta en otro idioma, por perito autorizado por Registro Civil o por Cónsul mexicano, original y copia. (The original death certificate from the issuing country with an apostille seal, translated by an authorized translator)
  • Permiso de traslado validado por el consulado mexicano, en su caso, cuando se trate de cadáveres procedentes del extranjero, original y copia. (Original and a copy of the permit to transport the body from the Mexican consulate in the country of death.)

Delays in burial might occur if the deceased is an organ donor. If the body is rapidly deteriorating, it may need to be buried before the 12-hour minimum. If the body is cremated or buried fewer than 12 hours or more than 48 hours after death, you must provide:

  • una autorización del Sector Salud o del Ministerio Público (Authorization from the Health Department or Public Ministry)

There is no cost for el acta de defunción. However, certified copies of the document do have a fee. It’s better to get a copy or two in case something happens to the original. This document can even be requested online in some states. For example, you can go to this site for documents issued by the state of Guanajuato. 

If the deceased is a citizen of another country, you will need to contact the appropriate consulate and report the death. They can help you complete the necessary paperwork. You’ll need to provide proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or passport and the original Mexican death certificate. 

For U.S. citizens, you can find more information here.

For Candadian citizens, you can find more information here.

If you wish to have the body sent back to your home country for burial, the funeraria can help you get the appropriate permits. Some funerarias even provide body transport as part of their service at no additional cost. 

If the deceased worked at least 10 years with a valid social security number in the United States, the family may be entitled to some benefits after his/her death including a lump sum payment of $255 USD. You can find out more information about reporting a death to Social Security here

If you are a permanent or temporary resident in Mexico and you become a widow or widower, you need to report that change in status to immigration. You’ll need to take a letter detailing the change in status, your ID and the death certificate to the immigration office to register the change. 


Filed under Death and all its trappings

The Additional Cost of a Catholic Death in Rural Mexico

More than 83% of Mexicans are Catholic. Catholic mourning customs will add to the expense of the funeral whether you have a casket or an urn as your final resting place. If el difunto (dead person) isn’t Catholic, but the family is, expect a Catholic funeral. 

As the host or hostess, you’ll need to provide refreshment for the attending mourners as the familiar representative of the deceased, both during el velorio and the subsequent novena. The most common food is pan (sweetbread) served with cafe de olla (coffee made in a large pot) or tequila for the male attendees. Usually, mourners that have come to pay their respects bring sugar or styrofoam cups or even alcohol along with their condolences and floral arrangements to help offset the cost. Nonetheless, there is a cost and depending on what you serve and the number of attendees, it could be a nice chunk of cash.

La novena (9-day prayer session) is usually not as well attended. The family often divides up the host responsibilities to provide some sort of nourishment for those that attend. The woman who is in charge of the prayers during the novena, and it is always a woman, must also be taken care of. She may refuse money but a gift of some sort is appropriate.

After el velorio, the body is often taken to church for the misa (mass). Although Pope Francis exhorted the Catholic priests to not charge for the requiem for the dead, it isn’t a free service here in Mexico. The la misa de difuntos for my brother-in-law costs $300 pesos and then whatever was collected when the collection baskets were passed among the funeral attendees. 

If the body will be on display during the mass, it is announced as la misa con cuerpo presente (mass with body present). This is the most common situation. If the person died en el norte (in the United States) then the body may not have arrived yet. Or if there were some unforeseen delays, the body may have already been buried before the mass. 

For instance, if the church was unavailable for the funeral because of a prior booking, then other arrangements may need to be made. The misa for my brother-in-law couldn’t be held in a timely manner because the festivities of Revolution Day were taking place. His misa and burial were able to take place just before the mandatory 48 hours. Mama Vira’s funeral service was moved from the church in front of her house to the church in the center of town for similar reasons, overbooking and all. 

There are different levels of service provided by the church, but I don’t have a price list since it often varies from church to church. My mother-in-law was provided the basic service, which was, well basic. However, when my teacher friend Rene died, being a pillar of the community and all, his many relatives and friends paid for a more lavish funeral service. The entire church was redecorated just for the funeral, like they do for weddings. There was music. The service was about 40 minutes long, praising his virtues. Of course, the service was standing room only in the church and the crowd spilled out and filled la plaza, so there’s no surprise that the extra effort was taken.

The church isn’t done with you or your wallet yet. At the one month anniversary there is the misa del mes (one-month mass) which includes another service with a minimum “voluntary” donation of $300 pesos. 

Then at the one year anniversary there is the el primero luctuoso (first year of mourning) with another yet mass. In our area, it’s common to take out a half-page newspaper spread to announce the time and place of the celebration. After the mass, attendees receive a recuerdo (souvenir) which of course you pay for. Each subsequent year has another mass, el segundo luctuoso, el tercer luctuosos and so on, for perpetuity, or as long as someone is paying for it. 

If you happen to belong to a religion that makes up the other 17% of Mexico, there are still services to pay for, but it might not stretch out for years to come.

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Filed under Death and all its trappings

Funerals in Mexico–Test of Endurance

Sometimes I think that all I write about these days is Death. We’ve certainly experienced our fair share since moving to Mexico. In September, we experienced yet another tragedy.

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My husband’s nephew L made a series of poor decisions and was taken from his home in the middle of August. Several weeks later, his body was found in La Barranca, a small mountaintop community that is a municipality of Moroleon.

His body was taken to Celaya for autopsy and returned to his mother’s house in Moroleon at 3 am the next morning. She had cleared out her tortilleria to receive the body. However, the coroner’s report was not sent with the body. Without the coroner’s report, a death certificate could not be made nor a plot in the cemetery purchased. L’s body had already begun decomposing, so time was of the essence.

Therefore, L’s younger brother A went with the funeral home people back to Celaya to await a coroner’s report. My husband and I hoped to be able to speed the burial process along even without the documentation and went to the panteon (cemetery) to see if we could purchase the plot since it was Friday and the offices are closed over the weekend.

We arrived there to find that the girl who is in charge of the office wasn’t planning on coming in that day. We spoke to the caretaker. Several calls were made and finally, we were told that she would be in after all.

We headed back to my husband’s sister’s house to see what else could be done. The civil registry office closes early on Fridays. Brother A returned with the coroner’s report just in time to get the death certificate but the cemetery office was now closed again. The girl promised she would come in on Saturday at 8 am especially for us to purchase the plot, so the funeral was scheduled for 11 am the next day.


That night was the velorio (wake). I have to say I was disappointed in the behavior of the attendees. I arrived a little late and nearly everyone present was either high or drunk. I didn’t stay long. I wonder if it was perhaps the age of the mourners, most were just teenagers, and maybe it being their first death, they didn’t know how to act. When I presented my theory to my teenage son, he pointed out that this wasn’t his first funeral and that he certainly wasn’t carrying on like that. So I don’t know what to think about their behavior.

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The next morning, my son and I went to pick up some flowers before the funeral service at the church. Unbeknownst to me, my gas gauge was broken and we ran out of gas on the highway. We had to walk about 2 kilometers to the nearest gas station. Fortunately, the last 1/2 mile or so was mostly downhill and we coasted right up to the gas pump.

We missed the misa (mass) completely but still went to get those flowers and headed to the cemetery. L’s older brother who is working in the U.S. sent enough money to hire a banda (band) to play during the funeral procession from the house to the church to the cemetery, and then continue playing for an hour or so after the casket was covered. Relatives in el norte (U.S.) also sent enough to buy a ground tomb rather than a crypt. It’s twice as expensive to be buried underground.

I can’t say that the mourners’ behavior was any better at the interment than it was the night previously at the velorio. This isn’t my first funeral here, so I know that this was not the norm. There was such volumes of weeping and wailing and screaming that it really was fit for a telenovela (soap opera). The younger brother A. threw himself into the grave at one point and one guy, I’m not even sure who he was, danced on the tombs as the banda played on.

L’s mother was putting on quite a show, which would have been fine since everyone grieves in his or her own way and all that. However, it was now midday and the sun was blazing hot and no one thought to bring any umbrellas for shade. Well, there was one, but it was a child’s umbrella and it barely covered her head. So her younger sister, who was trying her darndest to be supportive and had stayed up since 3 am the previous day to help her sister through this most difficult time, was left without shade and finally fainted. Here’s where all the first aid training I had paid off.

There is one mesquite tree in the entire cemetery which provides only partial shade. Some of the menfolk moved the prostrate sister to said shade. Having just hiked 2 km myself, I still had 1/2 bottle of water I bought at the gas station. This was poured over her head and revived her some. She was still unable to focus or speak coherently. My son and I marched our fannies to the corner store and bought two bottles of suero (electrolytes). I forced her to drink the smaller of the two bottles immediately. She did and by the last drop, she said that the world had stopped spinning.

I decided that her supportive role in the ongoing drama, albeit commendable, was over for the day. The oldest sister supported my decision. So her father and my son half-carried the ailing sister to the entrance area where there was both shade and benches. I bullied her into drinking the second bottle of electrolytes until she was able to respond to questions without her eyes rolling back into her head. There was some talk of taking her to the hospital, which wouldn’t have been such a bad thing, but nothing came of it. She did go home and rest for a while.

ave maria.jpg

Eventually, someone talked the mother into going home and she was given a prescription for some tranquilizers so was able to mostly make it through the novena (9-day prayer session) without completely alienating the entire family.  I’m not sure that you ever recover from the loss of a child, no matter how it happens.


So about L, the autopsy report has not been released as it is part of an open murder investigation. I doubt it will ever be made available. L. had been in trouble before, and in fact, had been kidnapped and tortured and escaped. Despite this, he continued to antagonize the wrong people. He and another young man were taken by those that do the taking around here. No one saw anything. No one knew anything. Without the autopsy report, the family won’t know if he was tortured before he was killed or exactly how he died, which may be for the best, the not knowing part I mean. In having a body to bury, there is some closure. The other young man’s family is still waiting for any information.

The situation where we live has become intense. The cities listed with the highest number of homicides in the first 8 months of 2018 surround us. In August alone, there have been more than 3,000 homicides making a grand total of 22,000 homicides thus far this year. That number doesn’t include Desaparecidos (those that have disappeared). The state in which we live, Guanajuato, has been leading the body count with 1,671 homicide victims between January and August. There is currently a turf war going on between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Santa Rosa de Lima gang.

L was just one more casualty. No one expects the police to find the murderers. After all, the police are up to their eyeballs in this whole business. I’ve seen the impunity that exists before.

What surprised me most was the lack of judgment from the community. It might have been easy to dismiss what happened to L as no more than he deserved. That’s probably true. But what I’ve heard from those who reached out to help, those that attended the funeral service, those that are still trying to do what they can for L’s mother, those that have expressed their condolences, is that each and every one of them realized that it could have been their brother, their cousin, their nephew, or their son. Maybe this realization even inspired the devil-may-care attitude of some of the mourners. After all, they could be next.

So today, el Día de los Muertos we have gone to the cemetery yet again. The grief is still raw and ugly. But we’ve brought flowers for my mother-in-law, killed by a police officer 6 years ago in May. We’ve brought flowers for my brother-in-law, who lost his battle with alcohol last November. And we’ve brought flowers for L, who was once the little boy who called me Tia.





Filed under Death and all its trappings