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Can you scatter ashes anywhere in France and its overseas territories?

We look at the rules governing where people are permitted to disperse the ashes of a loved one

We look at the rules on scattering ashes in France and its overseas territories Pic: VDB Photos / Shutterstock

Reader Question: Is it possible to take and scatter my deceased father's ashes in La  Réunion where he was born? He left the island in the 1950s and never returned. He became an American citizen and passed away in Texas. We're planning to go to La Réunion in the near future and were wondering if it could be done.

La Réunion is an overseas department of France, meaning that French law applies there in the same way as it does on the mainland unless there is a particular reason for an adaption.

In this case, the rules on scattering ashes (la dispersion des cendres) that are in place in France are also in place in La Réunion. 

These rules are enshrined in a 2008 law and dictate that ashes can be: 

  • Scattered in a cemetery or crematorium site

  • Scattered in nature

  • Buried under private land

  • Buried in a cemetery

If you choose to scatter the ashes in nature and your father was still a French citizen, the French government website states that you should let the mairie of his place of birth know where the ashes are to be scattered.   

You are allowed to scatter the ashes at sea – as long as you are at least 300 metres away from the shore (you can leave the urn in the water if it is made from biodegradable materials). You should, however, inform the local mairie of your plan before you go out to sea.

It is often forbidden to disperse ashes in inland waterways, but you can ask the local mairie for more information on this. 

In general, scattering ashes in wide open, natural spaces that are freely accessible to the public such as fields, mountains, or forests, is permitted. 

This applies even if these spaces are privately owned if you have the owner’s consent. 

You cannot, however, scatter ashes on a street or in a square, stadium, housing development, park or other setting which is maintained for public use in this way.

If you choose to scatter the ashes in a cemetery, the act should generally be carried out in an area dedicated to this purpose, which will normally be a remembrance garden (jardin du souvenir). 

For this, you would need to ask permission from the cemetery staff, who will often help to carry out the scattering.

Although you can bury urns under privately-owned property with prefectural permission, the law forbids people from dispersing the ashes on private property such as gardens.

It is possible to disperse ashes from the sky, as long as you are flying over the countryside and not a built-up area.

France allows the loved ones of a deceased person to transport their ashes by plane, although they should be treated with “respect, dignity and decency” at all times. 

Related articles 

Drone firm can scatter ashes in French countryside while family watch

Death of a family member in France: Steps to take in days after

Can I donate my body to science once I die in France?

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