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Your Ultimate Guide to Eloping Abroad & in the UK

What is eloping? How do you elope in the UK? Where can you elope abroad? We answer all of your eloping questions and share tips on how to nail an elopement

a groom holding a bride's hand as they walk down the stairs after eloping abroad

Wedding planning starts with two things - deciding your wedding budget and dreaming up the look and feel of your wedding, and for some couples, deciding to elope feels like the dreamiest option.

Many of us have heard the term elopement and have a vague understanding of what it means to elope, but what is eloping and how do you elope in the UK and abroad?

If you've found yourselves curious about the idea of eloping and want to know more, you've certainly come to the right place.

What is Eloping & How to Elope in the UK?

In this guide, we dive into the elope meaning and give expert tips and insight into how to elope in the UK, what you need to consider when eloping abroad and the legalities of this very romantic and intimate wedding style.

We also offer advice on telling people, namely close friends and family, that you have eloped, and outline a few key considerations for any couples considering the idea of elopement. 

What Does Elope Mean? 

If you're sitting there wondering about the elope meaning and want to know more, you've come to the right place. 

Gretna Green's Michelle Hall explains that the eloping meaning, for them, is: "running away in a truly romantic way." She continues to explain that an elopement wedding is "a marriage which is just about the couple. One that is secret, intimate and romantic."

Back in the day, most people believed that an elopement meant the two of you running away to get married in complete secret, or pulling a Ross and Rachel and tying the knot drunk in Vegas. Don't get us wrong, we're here for either of those options if they sound like a bit of you, but the idea of eloping has very much evolved in recent years. 

The new understanding of elopement is more accurately a couple travelling somewhere to legally get married, without inviting any/many of their friends and family. It’s quicker, more informal and definitely romantic. 

And when it comes to options, the way you elope is completely up to you. Eloping means you get to throw out the rule book and design a day suited entirely to your preferences.

You can do it locally or abroad, and invite no one or bring a handful of family members and friends to witness a private elopement ceremony - the options are endless, and we're about to give you a complete guide on how to do it. 

How to Elope in the UK

two grooms walking down the stairs of a venue in brown suits holding hands after eloping

The assumption with eloping is that it's care-free and last-minute, just tying the knot and that's it, but the reality is that if you want to elope in the UK (or anywhere, for that matter), there are a few things you need to organise first.

If you want to elope somewhere in the UK, these are the things you need to consider. 

1. Legally Giving Notice

We hate to break it to you but you can’t elope quite as spontaneously as you might think. Regardless of which part of the UK you are marrying, if you're planning to legally marry, you must give notice to marry at your local registry office at least 29 days before.

When giving notice, you have to include details of your venue, meaning you will have to have booked it by this point. This means you'll need to know where you intend to marry already, find you venue and officiant in advance (this could be a registry office, licensed wedding venue, celebrant on the beach etc) and get them booked in.

For those who want a church elopement, in the Church of England, the equivalent of giving notice is having the ‘banns of marriage’ read on three Sundays at any point during the three months before your marriage. Once you’ve given notice you most hold your ceremony within 12 months, but you cannot marry with less than 29 days’ notice. 

You can give notice outside the UK to marry in the UK if the country is part of the British Subjects Facilities Act (find a full list of countries here) and your partner is a UK citizen.

In the past, eloping was associated with young couples running away to Scotland to marry without their parents' permission. However, over time laws have changed and you must be over 18 to marry in England and Wales - it is illegal to marry below that age. 

Different rules apply in Scotland as you can marry from 16 without parental consent, and Northern Ireland, so make sure you read the laws carefully.

Non-religious elopements officiated by a humanist celebrant are only legally binding in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Wales and England, you will still need to marry at a registry office, which can be done before or after the wedding and won’t take more than ten minutes.

2. Must-Have Witnesses

Now that your notice, registry and venue are sorted, you will need to find two witnesses. It's important to remember that your witnesses can be complete strangers, because there are no rules when it comes to elopement, remember? 

Bear in mind that it will make it less stressful if you have your witnesses planned in advance rather than trying to find two people off the street. 

That said, having complete strangers as your witnesses can be a wonderful experience - you can read here what happened when the Hitched editorial team went to be witnesses at a couple's wedding

3. Make Supplier Decisions

a bride wearing a leather jacket holds a groom's hand after eloping outdoors

What you need to do next is decide what your ceremony will look like. Do you want to keep any traditions like exchanging rings? Do you want to hire a photographer to capture this special moment? Will you carry a bouquet? What will you wear? How you want to celebrate your elopement is your choice.

Diana Patient, an experienced fine art and wedding photographer, commented: “I have photographed elopements where there was a full hair and makeup team on site, and we even had an editorial style shoot surrounding the ceremony. I have also photographed elopements candidly in rock-and-roll, in-and-out-of-the-registry-office-in-ten-minutes style.”

Remember that it’s your chance to design your special day completely to your liking without anyone’s influence–literally no one is there to influence you. Make it count.

4. Plan the Rest of Your Day

After the elopement ceremony, you may want to continue your celebrations. This could be a fancy meal for just the two of you, a big reception with all your friends and family, or a small celebration with some of your closest loved ones. It's completely up to you and how secret you want to keep your wedding.

If it's just the two of you celebrating, you could head to a Michelin star restaurant, fly straight off on a weekend break or check into a posh hotel for a couples spa break. If you want to reveal to loved ones you just got married, how about inviting them for a special dinner under the guise of celebrating a birthday or promotion and then reveal you actually tied the knot? If you're not ready for celebrations just yet, throw a party on your one year anniversary.

5. Announce Your Elopement

Again, the way you tell people is up to you but you will need a reveal plan. We'd advise couples who are planning to elope in secret to inform any immediate family or close friends before announcing it to social media, as some people may be upset finding out through Instagram instead of from you.

Here's some ideas for announcing you eloped and got married:

  • Call your closest friends and family and tell them on the phone, then announce to everyone else on social media
  • Send an email with romantic photos from the day and explain why you chose to elope
  • Throw a party (it can be informal, like a summer BBQ in your garden) and reveal it to the group in person

What to Do When Eloping Abroad

a bride jumps into a groom's arms on a beach as they elope

When you are eloping abroad, the same general plan follows, but be aware that legal requirements can be vastly different abroad to the UK. for many couples, the idea of eloping comes alongside a vision of getting married abroad just the two of you - and we love that for you - but if you want to nail eloping abroad, there's a few additional considerations to be aware of. 

1. Research the Legalities

You need to check the legal requirements of the country where you want to elope. For example, if you’re a British citizen in France, you need to live in the country for 30 days before being able to legally elope. But not all countries are the same. Some other countries such as Italy, Gibraltar and Cyprus have no residency requirements..

Elopements abroad may also be subject to the laws of that country. You can use this tool to find out exactly what documents you’ll need, any legal and residency requirements, and if the marriage will be legal under UK law. Be aware that certain countries, like Mexico, and some US states even require blood tests.

2. Speak to the Professionals

Like with any destination wedding, we'd always recommend speaking to at least one professional in that location to get some advice, preferably an experienced wedding planner who is based in that country or has experience coordinating weddings there.

You don't necessarily need a wedding planner or coordinator to plan your abroad elopement for you, but many will offer a consultancy whereby you can get advice and a few local dos and don'ts before making any concrete decisions. 

3. Choose Your Location Wisely

a bride and groom eloped to italy and ride in a speed boat across lake como

Like with the legalities, it's important to choose a location that's going to work for your type of elopement. Consider factors such as weather, accommodation, travel restrictions, as well as keeping in mind local cultural implications, if any, that may impact your elopement. 

4. Use Your Imagination

There's nothing wrong with a traditional elopement abroad, but the beauty of travelling outside of the UK really opens you up to so many opportunities and possibilities that you can't have in the UK. An example of a hot elopement spot where the possibilities are endless is in the Maldives.

Emilio Fortini, a general manager at Sheraton Maldives with over 35 years of experience looking after five star hotels in dream destinations across the world, shared, “The beauty of an elopement is that it can be whatever you want to be, so my only advice would be to go for it! Without the logistical stresses of traditional wedding planning, it’s just a matter of saying yes.” 

At Sheraton Maldives, couples can say I do in paradise with just 24 hours’ notice, for as little as £1,500. They don’t even need to wear traditional wedding attire. Instead, they can get married underwater in swimsuits and have their portraits taken among sea creatures by their dedicated photographer – what an epic ceremony!

Fortini added, “Using an elopement package like Elope & Escape at Sheraton Maldives eliminates the stress of decisions like choosing a venue, décor, music or food or worrying about who to invite - it’s all about you and your partner.” All you need to do is book and show up! 

Eloping in Las Vegas

Bride and groom standing next to a decorated wedding car at a las vegas elopement

Las Vegas offers a special blend of glamour, spontaneity, and a dash of the extraordinary, making it an ideal destination if you're looking for a unique elopement experience. Whether it's saying 'I do' in a romantic chapel or tying the knot in a helicopter overlooking the Las Vegas Strip, The Wedding Travel Company offers a myriad of options tailored to suit various styles and budgets. 

To make sure you enjoy an intimate experience in Las Vegas, The Wedding Travel Company offers packages crafted to provide privacy and exclusivity. The offerings range from simple yet elegant ceremonies to grand affairs, complete with limousine arrivals and post-ceremony photo sessions at iconic Las Vegas landmarks. 

With over 30 years of experience in destination weddings, The Wedding Travel Company has partnerships with the best local venues and wedding planners. They understand how many variables you have to juggle when planning a wedding, so they take care of the legal requirements and paperwork.

For extra peace of mind and added financial security, they are ABTA bonded. So, the only next step is to reach out to them and start planning your wedding or elopement in Las Vegas!

Reasons Why Couples May Elope

a wedding couple eloped abroad and hold hands running through a venue

It’s a big decision to ditch tradition and elope, but there are lots of really positive reasons couples are doing so. Read through these and see how they sit with you - for some people, they'll immediately know an elopement sounds right for them, but it's fine if you realise it isn't what your want.

1. You Want to Save Money

The average UK wedding now costs £18,400. If you’re saving for a house deposit, raising a family, don’t earn a lot or merely just don't want to spend much on your wedding, eloping with your partner may sound appealing. 

An elopement in the UK is can cost hundreds when done in a particular way, in fact, at Gretna Green, an elopement package and overnight stay for two starts from just £499.

2. You Want to Avoid Family Politics

This doesn’t mean you don’t get on with your family, but it could be that you and your partner can’t decide on whose family to marry near, one set of parents might live abroad and not be able to make the trip, or inviting certain members of the family might cause drama with others.

It could even be that you have lots of children in your family and would prefer a child-free celebration, but you're worried about upsetting others.

Whatever the reason, there's no denying that a wedding consisting of just two people can significantly reduce the number of opinions and the level of involvement from others, and for some couples that is a huge positive. 

3. A Traditional Wedding Doesn’t Make Sense to You

bride and groom elope in the uk and walk across a bridge holding hands as the sun shines

Some aspects of the traditional wedding ceremony, such as being given away, the white dress or even being the centre of attention for an entire day, just don’t work for some couples.

Don't get us wrong, there are no wedding traditions that you have to have at any wedding, elopement or not. But choosing to elope does mean you are able to be even more creative with making new traditions for yourself without the involvement of anyone else. 

4. You’re Not the Planning Types

For some, the idea of wedding planning can be daunting. Not everyone is a natural Monica with spreadsheets and lists-galore, and that's okay.

So if both you and your partner are just not the planning types, and would rather not have the job of planning a wedding for lots of guests to attend, and  you don't want to hire a wedding planner, the option of eloping will really appeal. 

6. You Can Make the Day More of an Event

You don’t necessarily have to save all the money from not having a huge party; that £18,400 could just as easily be spent on just the two of you!

Perhaps you want to combine your elopement with your honeymoon and splurge on fancy hotels, expensive meals, bucket-list experiences and a whole new honeymoon wardrobe. An elopement can still be extraordinary, and think how extravagant you can be splitting the wedding budget between two people instead of 100! 

Top Tips if You're Planning to Elope

a wedding couple kiss in front of a neutral background at an elopement

Wondering if eloping is for you? Michelle says, "Rather than couples choosing to elope, we say that often eloping chooses them. The decision to elope is often about circumstances, complicated situations and fear that their wedding maybe spoiled by the difficult circumstance - all of which can make a couple decide they definitely want an elopement."

Continuing, Michelle explains that elopements are often for couples who don't want or crave the bigger celebrations, so if that sounds like you, here are our top tips for eloping. 

1. Stay True to Yourselves

We'd advise this when planning any wedding, but keeping the plans for the day authentic and true to what you and your partner want and love is even more when deciding to elope."

Michelle's top tip for couples planning to elope is very much in line with this, she says, "Don't tell anyone! Keep it a secret, make it romantic, build your own vows and embrace the day just as the two of you. We believe couples should do it their own way and not be constrained by what friends and relatives would want."

And we couldn't agree more.  It may not be popular with everyone, and it may not be everyone else's dream, but if it's yours, go for it! 

2. Have a Reveal Plan

You’ll have to tell everyone you eloped at some point that you've decided to elope, so we recommend always having a plan for this, rather than just winging it. Announcement cards are a nice idea, as is a big party to celebrate with all your friends.

Just telling your nearest and dearest you eloped might be enough for you, but as we mentioned before, remember that your close family may want to hear the news in person.

3. Prepare Yourself for Reactions

two brides wearing nude outfits and kissing at an elopement wedding

As we've already stressed, this is about you not anyone else. You don’t need to justify your decision to elope to anyone – an elopement is about what’s right for you as a couple. However it's important that you do anticipate the fact that this may come as a big surprise to your family and friends, and some of them may be upset that they didn’t get to share in the day with you.

As mentioned above, don’t let your family find out through Facebook, and plan a little script about how you want to announce it to them.

4. Understand the Witnesses Requirements

Every ceremony will need two witnesses to sign the marriage register. If you arrange a wedding through an elopement planning service or a popular elopement destination like The Little White Chapel in Las Vegas, they can provide witnesses. If you’re going to a registry office, they won’t.

You can risk finding two people on the street who’ll be willing to spend the 20 minute ceremony with you, but better is to take two friends/family members, arrange for two strangers to attend (Facebook, Gumtree or even the Hitched forum can be great for this, but be aware you can’t necessarily rely on strangers!) or see if the venue offer a witness service.

5. Hire a Photographer

Though many wedding details aren't necessary for an elopement wedding, we strongly recommend still hiring a photographer to capture the 

The memories and photos will be all you have left of the wedding day, especially if you’re eloping. For any family or friends who are upset they couldn’t be part of the day, having photos to show might be really helpful in helping them still feel part of it.

6. Remember to Plan

You’ll still want to meet your suppliers beforehand; you’ll want to feel comfortable and familiar with the city/venue you’re in; you’ll still want the day to be special.

A little bit of planning ahead can change the whole experience. Think about personalised vows, splashing out on a dress or fancy hotel and dinner, or paying for a local photographer to do a once-in-a-lifetime shoot with you.

The idea of tying the knot got you excited for a trip away? If so, check out our guide to destination wedding locations and the best honeymoon destinations by month