Because of lingering fears about vacationing in so-called "unsafe" countries, many people are heading for friendlier climates such as the Caribbean and Mexico. But the fact that terrorists as we know them aren't ordinarily associated with these places does not mean you can be cavalier.

A case in point is Denise Boyd, a 25-year-old Washington resident who saved up enough money last summer for a trip to Nassau in the Bahamas. While on a beach one afternoon, Boyd was slain.

While death in the family is hard to take wherever it occurs, the aftermath can often be as humiliating as saddening when it happens abroad.

For one thing, the United States provides no money to bring the body of the deceased back home. And in criminal cases, the deceased's family members must pay for whatever legal representation they require as well as their own expenses back and forth to the trial.

If they are lucky, they might be reimbursed for travel expenses by the "hosting" government.

Each year, between 5,000 and 6,000 Americans die overseas, either due to accidents, illness or criminal attack, according to Jim Callahan, information officer for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

"We have quite a few criminal homicides of Americans in Mexico, mainly because we have 4 million Americans living there," Callahan said. "It's unusual to see a homicide in the Bahamas or other traditional tourist spots."

But they do happen.

On June 24, 1985, Boyd's body was found on a beach at Paradise Island. An autopsy concluded she died of "asphyxia as a result of drowning," but also said "her body showed numerous injuries such as bruises to the back, forehead, mouth, nose and inside elbow."

A Bahamian man, who police said knew Boyd briefly, was charged with murder, which gave the Boyd family some comfort.

After that, however, it became clear that the judicial system in the United States, for all of it faults, beats many others hands down. Not only did the Boyd family have difficulty getting information from the Bahamian government about the case, there were times when they were not even notified about court appearances.

"We had to do all the leg work, pay all of the expenses," said Theartice Boyd, the slain woman's brother.

"I found out about the preliminary inquiry just three days before they held it," Boyd said. "No one contacted the family. If I hadn't called a friend there, we never would have known."

Next, he called the Bahamian police, who confirmed the date, Boyd said, and told him that he and his family would be reimbursed for expenses if they came to Nassau for the hearing. It took months for them to get the reimbursement for the first trip, and other reimbursements are still in dispute.

"It's a small thing compared to my sister's death, but it's the principle and their attitude about this whole ordeal," Boyd said.

The bottom-line principle and attitude would not be known, however, until the trial, which was held two weeks ago. When the assailant was convicted, the Boyd family left Bahamas in fairly good spirits. They had been told that the man could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

But they did not know that the charges had been reduced from murder to manslaughter. The man was sentenced to a year and two days in jail, with the year he had already spent waiting trial included. Two days was all the time he had to serve.

Protests from the Boyd family fell on deaf ears. There was nothing the United States government could do, they were told. The message was clear, if infuriating: For all practical purposes, your life is in your hands when you leave these shores. Please be careful.