If you dream about saying ‘I do’ on a white sand beach, in your favourite foreign city or somewhere totally tropical, then getting married abroad could be right for you.
Destination weddings are increasing in popularity, but the logistics can be pretty tricky - not least how do you get your wedding dress there in one piece! Here’s the essentials you need to know about getting married abroad.
Image: +39 Lux
How Much Do Weddings Abroad Cost?
According to travel specialists Kuoni, the average spend on a destination wedding is now £7,500. Compare this to the £27,161 price tag for a wedding in the UK and getting married abroad can work out much cheaper.
The average number of guests to a destination wedding is between 10 and 15 so that cost could skyrocket depending on how many people you want to bring, and be much lower if your party size is smaller.
Image: Katie Hamilton Photography
Getting married abroad on an even smaller budget is possible if you are smart with your destination. Choose a place with lots of all-inclusive resorts like the Dominican Republic or Mexico where hotels are fighting over each other to offer affordable package deals.
You can also choose a less well-known city in a popular country. In Italy, you could avoid the tourist price tag in cities like Venice, Florence and around Lake Como and opt for enchanting smaller towns in Tuscany like Pitigliano or Montemerano which are equally as beautiful but have much less demand.
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Costs you’ll always need to budget for on top of the ceremony and reception costs include legal fees, translation costs, accommodation costs for the minimum residency period (see below) and wedding insurance.
How Do I Choose My Destination Wedding Location?
A wedding destination should suit your personalities. Write a list of your key requirements (countryside, views, beach, etc) to build a picture of your ideal location and then narrow down the destinations by your budget and the budget of your guests (a key consideration!).
Once you've shortlisted a country, you can narrow down venues by your needs. Find out if guest rooms must be booked for a minimum number of nights and check there are no curfews on when and where the party is allowed to continue. Some venues have preferred suppliers, so make sure you are happy with those.
Do I Need To Use A Wedding Planner?
Image: Italy in Love
It’s quite possible to organise a wedding abroad yourself, but you may find it much easier and more relaxing through a travel company or specialised destination wedding planner. They have years of experience and you can hire them just to do a venue search for a relatively small fee which will save you considerable amounts of time.
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You’ll normally get a wedding team in the UK who’ll sort out all the details, help you get the right documentation and answer all your questions before you go, plus a local co-ordinator on the ground when you arrive.
If you don’t use a wedding planner, you’ll need to ensure you have all the right legal documentation in order for your wedding to be legal.
How Far In Advance Do I Need To Book When Getting Married Abroad?
Most couples book their wedding one year in advance, say Kuoni.
Don’t expect to just turn up and tie the knot — paperwork can take months to complete.
“A symbolic ceremony can be held pretty much anywhere, but if you want a legal ceremony abroad, the red tape differs from country to country,” says Geraldine Sweetland, director of weddings at European wedding planners Love and Lord.
How Many Times Should We Visit The Location Before The Wedding?
Image: Damion Mower Photography
You should visit at least twice: first to choose a venue and again once your plans are in place. Ideally, you should taste the menu, meet suppliers and have a hair and make-up trial.
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To organise the wedding yourself without visiting the venue is a huge leap of faith and could make you even more stressed or nervous.
What Are The Legal Requirements For Getting Married Abroad?
Paperwork is the last thing you want to be doing during wedding planning, but you’ll be devastated if there’s one missing document that means you can’t get a marriage licence. You can use the British Government’s online tool to find out exactly what paperwork is required in each country or on the embassy’s website.
The full legal requirements vary by country, but every destination will need the bride and groom to have these documents in their original form (not photocopied) or a certified copy.
- Valid 10-year passport with at least six months remaining on it
- Full birth certificates
- Deed poll proof of any name change
- Decree absolute, if married
- Marriage and death certificates of deceased spouse, if widowed
- Adoption certificate, if adopted
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If you’re marrying in a non-English speaking country your paperwork may have to be translated and given an apostille (additional certification of authenticity) to validate the document abroad. This can be done by the Foreign Office in the UK.
Other Common Documents
- Certificate of No Impediment (CNI) – Each party will need one to prove there’s no reason they cannot marry and they can be obtained from a local registry office or your embassy. They can take around a month to issue and last for six months from the date of issue. These are required in Cyprus, Greece and Italy, for example.
- Single Status Statutory Declaration – Similar to the certificate, this is for people who’ve never been married to prove they are free to marry. They need to be stamped and certified by a solicitor in the UK. Countries requiring this include Seychelles, Kenya and the Bahamas.
- Medical test – This is not always required but you need a medical/blood test to marry in the United States, Mexico and Turkey, for example.
Remember to factor the cost of obtaining these into your wedding budget. If you are using a wedding planner, then the cost of these should be included in their quote – watch out if you start getting lots of hidden costs.
Many countries have a minimum residency period before you can obtain a marriage licence there. For example, in parts of Italy it varies between four and seven days, but in France, at least one of the parties will need to prove they’ve lived in the country for a minimum of 30 days prior to the application for a marriage licence.
Start your research early if you want a legal marriage in a different country. In Spain, you can only marry if you’ve been a resident for the last two years, or, if you live in the UK, for either party to be a Spanish national. Unless you want to move to Spain for two years, a British couple living in the UK can’t have a legal wedding in Spain.
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Many countries have specific other requirements to obtain a marriage licence that you must be aware of.
You need a blood test at a Mexican hospital and a minimum of four witnesses to marry in Mexico for example, whereas just two witnesses and valid return tickets are needed in Barbados. In Antigua, weddings must take place between 8am-6pm, while in Kenya written parental consent is needed for anyone under 21 to marry. Again, you can find these requirements on the British Government website.
Will My Marriage Be Legal in the UK if I Get Married Abroad?
This is important to check as the vast majority of weddings or civil partnerships that take place abroad are valid in the UK but some may not be. If you have followed all legal requirements for the country you are marrying in, your marriage should be valid in the UK and does not need to be registered. Check will the local authority in the country you’re marrying that all bases have been covered before you leave.
However, if for some reason it does not meet the criteria e.g. it was performed by someone without the right accreditation or the right documentation was not signed, then it will be invalid. Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall found out the hard way that their Hindu wedding ceremony in Bali wasn’t recognised under Indonesian or English law when they divorced due to incomplete legal documents.
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You must also be of the legal minimum age to marry in the UK (16 in Scotland and with parental consent in the rest of the UK, 18 without) even if that’s higher than the country you marry in.
Having a foreign wedding certificate is not a problem in a court of law if these criteria are met. However, if there is some doubt on the validity of your marriage, it can have a serious impact on divorces, tax, wills, inheritance etc, so make sure you’re certain every box is ticked.
If you have any worries, you can always complete the legal part of your wedding in the UK and hold a blessing ceremony abroad.
Can I Have an LGBT Wedding Abroad?
There are many amazing options when you’re getting married abroad as a same-sex couple, however, you will need to bear in mind there are countries where gay marriage and civil partnerships are not recognised, including European countries like Russia, Turkey and Poland and almost all Asian countries.
You may be surprised to find that same-sex marriage is unlawful in countries like Italy, Greece, Northern Ireland and Croatia, although civil partnerships are allowed.
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Don’t be disheartened as there are still lots of amazing destinations to choose from, like America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Malta and all Scandinavian countries.
You can use the British Government tool to see if same-sex marriage is possible in your chosen country and if your marriage will be valid in the UK. Remember the same rules apply with making sure you have all the documentation and you check residency rules.
If you have your heart set on a country where same-sex marriage and/or civil partnerships aren’t allowed, then you can still hold a symbolic blessing ceremony.
Do I Need Insurance for My Wedding Abroad?
Absolutely! “Wedding insurance is imperative. No discussion,” says Geraldine, “Do get comprehensive travel insurance too.”
A standard policy won’t be enough to cover you for the sheer cost of a wedding abroad and the potential problems that can arise. Specialist overseas wedding insurance policies will cover standard things like venue cancellations or a supplier failing to turn up but also public liability, loss or damage to your outfit, rings and gifts, and cancellation if a member of the wedding party falls ill (you’re on holiday; food poisoning sometimes happens!).
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As with normal travel insurance, natural disaster cover is unlikely to be included. If you’re booking a cheaper wedding during hurricane season in the Caribbean, bear this in mind if you suddenly need to cancel.
Remember, this wedding insurance won’t cover your honeymoon so you’ll need a separate travel insurance policy for that. Make sure you budget for both.
How Will I Transport My Wedding Dress?
“Speak to the airline in advance,”says Geraldine. “It may be possible to take your dress as hand luggage and you can buy hand luggage-sized boxes for this purpose. Some airlines will let you hang the dress if you carry it in a folding dress cover.
“Discuss this with your dress designer too, as packing or folding may crease the dress depending on the size and fabric.”
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Traditional white wedding dresses might not be practical overseas anyway. Consider choosing a lighter, more beach-friendly wedding dress. Often these can be transported in your normal luggage and then ironed out on arrival.
For grooms, a morning suit in the hot sun is a recipe for passing out. Hire a lightweight suit instead and enquire about hanging it up.
How Do I Choose My Suppliers When Marrying Abroad?
Image: A Taste of Beauty - Weddings in Italy
Word of mouth is best; ask staff at the venue for recommendations or, if you're using a wedding planner, ask for testimonials and photos from other brides who've used those suppliers.
Things like a menu tasting and hair and make-up trial are ideal but may not be possible. Make sure you're in regular contact with suppliers so there's no surprises when you arrive. In case of language limitations, take along pictures of your ideal look — or enlist a local translator.
8 Things To Consider When Marrying Abroad You Might Not Have Thought Of
Get Everything in Writing
Hidden costs can creep up in you when you’re marrying abroad. Suddenly this needs to be notarised and that hotel fee needs to be paid. Get your quote from the wedding planner or tour company down in writing with everything that is included in it.
Prepare for the Unexpected
“A wedding on a beach is most unpredictable and vulnerable to the weather," says Tony Quinn, director of Brides & Beaches. “Even in the Caribbean in July and August, there could be a gale or sandstorm. And beach weddings aren’t necessarily private. In Europe, you cannot secure a private beach, so a group of lads could be playing football next to your nuptials.”
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Embrace the Culture
You’re getting married abroad for a reason – make the very most of your unusual destination and let it influence the whole ceremony. Choose a local craft for the favours and serve local food and wine. Play pétanque at your Provence wedding, hire a mariachi band in Mexico and toast with sangria in Spain. A destination wedding can turn out to be a fantastic holiday for your guests, particularly if you organise great activities like guided tours or wine tastings.
Don't Forget Your Guests' Needs
For the sake of your guests, check there are reasonably priced flight connections to the country you want to marry and how far it is from the airport once you arrive. You may want to reduce some of their costs by providing airport transfers and making sure their food and drink are taken care of. For ease, create a wedding website with links to accommodation, airlines and travel routes.
If not all your guests are on a UK passport, they may have different visa requirements to visit the country. Ensure all your guests will be able to come and give them enough time to apply for a visa.
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Plan as Far in Advance as You Can
Not only will you need time to complete the paperwork, but send ‘save the dates’ well in advance to give guests as much notice as possible. They may need to book time off work or save up for their flights.
Trust Your Wedding Planner
If you’re a bride who likes to control everything, you’ll need to loosen the reins for a destination wedding. “Planning a wedding abroad demands a degree of trust. You’re going to have lots of questions and concerns, but the biggest problem is if you doubt what your planner tells you,” says Tony. Even if you are enlisting the help of a wedding planner you trust, always check you have all the required documentation for yourself.
Get the Passport Names Right
Number one, don’t forget your passport! Two, check it doesn’t expire before the ceremony. Three, make sure your ticket is booked under your maiden name or whatever matches your passport. You might be caught up in the newlywed whirlwind but don’t put a return flight in your new married name if you haven’t changed it by deed poll.
Make Everything Later
If the destination is hot, make sure your guests have water and shade and hold the ceremony later than you would in the UK; in Europe, for example, the afternoons are a more comfortable temperature.
If you're considering a wedding in Italy (the most popualr destination for UK couples), then check out our area guides to Tuscany, Puglia, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast for enchanting towns that are off the beaten track.