Getting Married Abroad
How to plan a wedding abroad
So you’ve decided to tie the knot overseas. Congratulations! Now comes the fun part. Where are you going? You may have your heart set on a favourite destination, or need inspiration and advice for somewhere new.
There are certain destinations where it’s much easier to get married than others. This is usually due to residency requirements. As a result, a well-established local industry has grown up around overseas couples coming to say ‘I do’.
Best destinations for getting married abroad
Easy destinations where the residency requirement is between 1 and 7 days are Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Southern Africa, Bali, Thailand, Caribbean, USA (New York, Las Vegas, Florida and Hawaii in particular), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands and Fiji.
That’s not to say you can’t get married in France, for example, but you will need to either be resident for 3 months or obtain special permission from the local church.
If you want to tie the knot on an exotic beach, I recommend Tropical Sky which has a specialist weddings team and has negotiated exclusive deals including free wedding packages and free accommodation for brides. It is particularly good if you’re looking at the Caribbean, the Far East, Africa and the Indian Ocean, but can also arrange weddings in the USA, Canada, Australia and the New Zealand.
The Maldives currently does not allow foreigners to wed there, but it’s on the cards that the law will change. Many couples opt to marry in Sri Lanka and honeymoon in the Maldives – a great twin-centre honeymoon.
Of course, the other option is to have a low-key, perhaps registry office wedding in the UK before you leave then have a wedding blessing overseas but treat it like the real deal. The Japanese have been doing this for years.
Long haul or short haul?
Deciding whether to go long haul or short haul has implications for the type of wedding you choose. If you want to invite family and friends, it’s best to choose somewhere accessible both in terms of distance and affordability.
If there’s a budget flight and perhaps a choice of regional departures to your chosen destination so much the better. You’ll have to check out accommodation options for your guests. It’s best to have a range of accommodation to suit all budgets.
If budgets are tight, some all-inclusives in the Caribbean throw in a complimentary wedding package when you take a certain number of guests or stay a certain number of nights. Check out the adults-only all-inclusive Sandals Barbados where you can get married for free.
Of course, the whole point of a wedding overseas may be to escape family and friends. In this case, heading off to Australia could be the kindest way of telling them you want to be alone.
Many couples head off to wed abroad then have a party back home with all their friends and family. You might like to theme it around your wedding destination.
However, if you do take lots of guests with you, it’s a good idea have an escape plan after the wedding so you don’t find yourself honeymooning with the in-laws. Book a second week in another resort or destination. How about Sri Lanka and the Maldives or New York and Bermuda? A safari or Cape Town wedding can be followed by a honeymoon in Mauritius or the Seychelles. See my selection of the best two-centre honeymoons.
Choosing a wedding venue
Decide whether you want to marry at a hotel or an outside venue. Hotels are obviously keen to keep you on property and tend to offer the best deals, but go to a tourist board and they will know lots of outside venues such as historic sites and gardens. Find my recommended wedding venues abroad and read my advice on beach weddings.
Some tour operators are particularly good at unusual venues such as Top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, or a 5th Avenue rooftop garden in New York.
If you do book with a hotel, look carefully at what the wedding packages include and how flexible they are on tailoring to your wishes.
Many hotels in popular wedding destinations including Mauritius and the Caribbean have dedicated wedding co-ordinators in house who you can liaise with direct before the wedding and who should meet you more or less on arrival to iron out the final planning such as a tour of the hotel grounds for you to choose your exact location for the ceremony, the colour of your flowers, any spa treatments that you’d like, your hair and makeup, manicures and so on.
After you’ve booked, there are legal documents that need to be supplied. A good tour operator will usually take care of all this for you and require you to supply all this 3 months before you travel so they can process your wedding licence.
The required paperwork usually includes:
• A 10 year passport (valid for at least 6 months).
• Birth certificates.
• If adopted, an adoption certificate.
• If widowed, a death certificate and previous marriage certificate.
• An affidavit signed by a solicitor stating no legal objection to the marriage.
• If your name has been changed by deed poll, proof stamped and signed by a solicitor.
Some countries have other requests. For example in Mauritius, if the bride-to-be has been divorced for less than 10 months at the time of the wedding she will be required to have a pregnancy test costing about £35. In Antigua, the bride and groom must obtain an affidavit on the island at a cost of approximately US$50 to confirm their single status.
If you are arranging everything yourself you will need to get accurate advice from the consulate or embassy of the country concerned.
A month before, check your vaccines are all up to date with your GP, and keep all your original documentation safe and ready to take with you. Ensure you have suitcases large enough for your wedding outfits and check the baggage allowance with your airline.
The fine details
Choose wedding outfits carefully. Obviously if it’s a hot location, you’ll need light, natural fabrics, though you might not want to go the Pamela Anderson route and get married in a white bikini!
Think carefully about your big day especially if it’s just the two of you. Overseas ceremonies tend to be quick, so you don’t want to feel like it was all over in a flash. Book something special to do afterwards such as a champagne sunset cruise before a special dinner on the sand. Many hotels also follow-up the next morning with a champagne breakfast in bed.
On your return home, you don’t need to register your marriage with the register office. You can use your foreign marriage certificate to change your name on your documents and with your bank. It’s a good idea to obtain several copies of your marriage certificate in case you lose the original, as it’s very difficult to get further copies at a later date.
Many of the tour operators featured on 101 Honeymoons offer weddings abroad and can give you invaluable advice from their special wedding teams.
And one final piece of advice. Don’t tan yourself to a crisp before the wedding. Your wedding photos are meant to be for life!
Last updated: 13 March 2017
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