The Complete Guide to Planning a Wedding Abroad

The Complete Guide to Planning a Wedding Abroad

With the notoriously unpredictable British weather, is it any wonder that one in four UK couples decide to have their wedding abroad?!

In all seriousness, a destination wedding is a popular option for more than the good weather. For many couples, the idea of getting married abroad on a sun-soaked Greek island or in a quaint Italian piazza feels a lot more romantic than saying your "I dos" at your local registry office or church.

Destination wedding ceremonies tend to be more intimate, which can add to the romance factor. Then there's the lure of enjoying your stag and hen parties, wedding, and honeymoon all in foreign climes. And, while you might expect a destination wedding to be more expensive than a UK wedding, it's often a cheaper alternative depending on the type and scale of wedding you want.

If all that has convinced you to get married abroad but you don't know where to start, we're here to help! Keep reading for the ultimate guide to planning a destination wedding!

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The Preliminary Stage

Long before you make any big decisions or book anything, spend time considering the key elements of your wedding. Many people rush through this preliminary stage and regret not weighing up their options more. By devoting more thought to this part of the process, you'll often find that everything falls into place a lot easier:

Envision the Big Day Together

Both partners should contribute by sharing their idea of a dream destination wedding. You might find that you have very different ideas of what's important and what's not. Or, you might find that you're both dreaming of the same white sandy beach wedding.

Either way, discussing how you envision your big day long before you make any concrete plans is the best way to ensure that both parties are happy with the final decision. And, if there are certain deal-breakers, there's usually a way to reach a compromise.

For example, one of you might feel that a unique, photogenic location is the most important element. But the other may be more concerned with choosing the right wedding band. In this case, you'd need to select a unique wedding location that's more accessible for UK bands, such as a rustic Ch√Ęteau in Northern France or a fairytale castle in Ireland.

When you set your priorities straight, you can start to work these into investigating possible destinations and planning other elements, such as the colours and design.

wedding in Tuscany, Italy

Decide on the Destination

From historical landmarks to lush jungle backdrops, the options for wedding destinations are endless. But regardless of the location you're both envisaging, make sure your decision is a true reflection of you as a couple.

If you enjoy long sunny days of relaxation, one of the Greek islands or somewhere in the Caribbean is likely the way to go for your wedding abroad. But if you're more into picturesque countryside settings, you should turn your attention to Provence in France or Tuscany in Italy. Don't overlook the appeal of a city wedding either. Vibrant, bustling locations such as Rome or Madrid might be where your heart lies.

That said, you'll also have to consider how easy it'll be for everyone to travel to your chosen destination. Many couples accept that a destination wedding guest list will usually be much shorter than a UK wedding guest list. But if the destination is too difficult for any key family members to access, you might have to rethink your plans.

There's also your destination wedding budget to consider. But don't always assume that further flung locations are more expensive.

Some Caribbean and North American resorts offer a free wedding ceremony if you bring a certain number of guests or stay for a certain number of nights. Popular tropical locations can even be easier to get to than certain places in Europe thanks to more direct flights and better availability of transfers.

signing registers abroad

Look Into the Legalities

Before you get your heart set on a certain destination, look into the laws governing weddings and marriages there.

Certain restrictions in some countries mean that you can't legally get married if you are both UK citizens. Other destinations will only grant marriages to those who can prove they are of a certain faith. It's also important to consider whether any cultural or political issues could make your proposed destination wedding unsafe.

For example, while there are 34 countries where same-sex marriage is legal, it is either banned or not recognised in many more countries. If you're a same-sex couple looking to get married abroad, you might consider having a legal ceremony in the UK and a celebratory ceremony elsewhere. That said, consensual same-sex sexual acts are still illegal in many popular wedding destinations, including Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Malaysia.

Set a Date

The local weather in your proposed location will be key when choosing a wedding date. An August wedding in the UK means that there's a good chance of sunshine. But an August wedding in Las Vegas means that there's a good chance of sunstroke.

Choosing anywhere with a tropical climate will mean ruling out certain months of the year due to monsoons, hurricanes, and excessive heat. And, while some resorts offer deals in the off-season, a smaller destination wedding budget shouldn't have to mean getting married in the pouring rain.

You'll also need to ask your close friends and family which dates work for them. Although you're unlikely to pick a date that works for everyone, asking in advance makes it easier to choose a date that suits the people you care about most.

The Planning Stage

This is the stage of the wedding planning process when you start making definite arrangements. As your wedding abroad begins to take shape, some elements of your initial plan may have to change. But that's all part of the fun of a destination wedding!

wedding planner

Hire a Wedding Planner Abroad

With the location decided and a potential date selected, it's time to hire a wedding planner who operates in your chosen destination.

We understand that this is an added expense, but trying to organise everything from the UK will be next to impossible. There's often a lot more paperwork and red tape when getting married abroad. And that's before you consider any language barriers and unexpected local marriage requirements.

For example, some destinations insist that you have to be in the country a certain number of days before. A wedding planner from the area will be able to explain these rules to ensure that you don't make any incorrect reservations.

Start researching wedding planners as soon as possible to make sure you find one with a great portfolio and references. Ask them if they handle the legal elements for you too as not all will include this service. You may even find that the big resorts have an events coordinator or wedding manager who can help you so it's worth looking into this possibility too.

Using a local wedding planner also means benefitting from their relationships with local businesses. Thanks to their contacts, it's often cheaper and easier than going to suppliers directly. And they'll be able to explain what is and isn't possible, making the whole planning process a lot more seamless and fun.

destination wedding

Visit Your Destination

Another must is visiting your proposed destination. A limited destination wedding budget might mean that only one of you can go, but planning a wedding somewhere neither of you has been to is a recipe for disaster.

On your visit, you can meet your wedding planner in person and decide on the venues you're considering for the ceremony and reception. You'll also be able to talk to wedding suppliers such as florists, photographers, and caterers face to face. This will make it easier to find out more about what is possible with the timeframe and budget you have.

And, unless you plan on doing your own wedding makeup and hair, this is a good time to book hair and makeup trials with local businesses.

Send 'Save the Dates' Well in Advance

With a date and venue locked in place, it's time to let your wedding guest list know the good news. Most people send 'save the date' cards eight to 12 months before a UK wedding. But since getting to an overseas wedding will be more complicated and expensive for your guests, it's best to notify them of the date even earlier if possible.

Your wedding invitations will need to go out earlier than they would for a UK wedding too. To give people plenty of time to RSVP, we'd recommend sending them out around six to nine months before the big day.

Bride and groom on the Amalfi Coast

Book Flights and Accommodation Early

Booking your flights and accommodation as early as possible makes it easier to sync everything up and avoid disappointment. Prices often increase nearer the date so booking far in advance can save you money too.

If you or your partner are thinking of changing your surname, remember to book everything under your surnames as they appear on your passports. As eager as you might be to change your name, you won't be able to check in if your ticket and passport don't match.

Consider Guest Accommodation

While you wait to hear whether loved ones can attend, make it easier for them to do so by checking out nearby accommodation possibilities. A well-chosen destination should offer a range of options for all budgets and preferences. Or, if you're getting married in a specific resort, it's a good idea to book a block of rooms in advance to ensure that your guests can all stay on-site.

passport and visa

Gather Essential Documents

Allow plenty of time to organise the paperwork for your wedding as there's often a lot of it to gather. Depending on the country, it can take up to six months to get everything together.

Some documents that you will likely need to present originals and copies of include:

  • Valid passports
  • Full birth certificates showing both parents' names
  • Confirmation of single status
  • Decree absolute (if divorced)
  • Death certificate of previous spouse (if widowed)
  • Parental consent if you are under 18 (or 21 in some countries)
  • Certificate of no impediment to marriage

Some countries also require you to have visas, which are your responsibility to obtain. Certain countries, including Spain, call for a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage. And, if you're getting married in a non-English speaking country, you'll likely need to have all of your documents translated by an official translator and stamped with an apostille.

Verify Vaccination Requirements

Vaccinations won't be an issue if you're getting married close to home. But many popular options for wedding destinations - including South East Asia and the Caribbean - come with recommendations for various vaccinations. Depending on where you've travelled to recently, you may not even be able to enter the country unless you've had certain jabs.

For your safety and ease of entry, make sure to look into the requirements for your chosen country and get them as soon as you can if possible.

wedding gifts

Plan What You'll Send or Transport

It's easy to forget that a lot of items at your wedding will have to be sent in advance or transported there in your luggage.

Where possible, it's best to source as many details as possible from the local area. But if you have special or sentimental items you want included, such as pre-printed place cards or family decorations, it might be cheaper and easier to send them to the destination or your wedding planner than pack them in your luggage. This gives you one less thing to think about and avoids the risk of lost luggage spoiling your wedding plans.

There's also the issue of getting everything back after the wedding. If you're heading off on honeymoon, you might prefer to send wedding presents and other items back to the UK rather than carry them around with you. Although, it's best to keep any valuable items with you just in case.

Take Out Wedding Insurance

There's always an element of risk when planning a wedding. But there are so many more things that can go wrong when you get married abroad. Take out a specialist wedding insurance policy that covers your destination and eventualities such as poor weather, issues with suppliers, damaged items, and so on.

The Fine-Tuning Stage

Now that the planning is well underway, it's time to have fun fine-tuning your wedding into the day of your dreams. From the dress to the wedding music, the flowers to the colour scheme, this is when you make your destination wedding your own:

Select Appropriate Wedding Outfits

The climate and terrain of your wedding location will have a huge bearing on the style and fabric of your wedding outfits.

If your destination is hot and humid, for example, you'll want to avoid a heavy satin wedding dress. Instead, lightweight tulles and chiffons will keep you cool and ensure that you look amazing. And for the groom, a light-coloured linen suit will be much more comfortable than a thick weave dark suit.

If you plan on having a church ceremony abroad, you might have to choose a dress that covers your shoulders or has long sleeves. If you have your heart set on a different style, it's worth discussing the rules of the country with your wedding planner. In some cases, a bolero or cape could work for the ceremony instead.

Beach wedding attire

Something that many beach wedding brides overlook is how they'll likely wear flat sandals rather than heels. This means that you should go a little shorter on the hem to avoid tripping or stepping on it as you walk.

As for how you'll transport your outfits to the wedding, since checked luggage can go astray we'd avoid packing your outfits in there. Depending on your allowance, you may have to contact the airline to request extra hand luggage. But, rather than squashing everything in a suitcase, place your outfits in protective covers and carry them. Many non-budget airlines will even hang your outfits up during the flight to protect them from creasing.

It's also a good idea to pack any key wedding accessories such as shoes, jewellery, and especially your wedding rings in your hand luggage. After all, you wouldn't want that to get lost or delayed either!

Consider Artificial Flowers

Artificial flowers make sense for destination weddings since they're easier to send and transport. And, you can order them months in advance without worrying about them wilting.

Although they have a bad reputation, artificial flowers are much more realistic than they used to be. In particular, sola wood flowers are a convincing alternative to real flowers. They're also easy to reshape if they get squashed and you can keep them forever as a souvenir of your big day.

If you're set on having real flowers, choose blooms that are local to your destination. The flowers will be fresher and likely less expensive than imported flowers. As for the colours, if your destination is sun-soaked, fuchsia and orange flowers hold their own in bright conditions, while yellow blooms look great at the beach.

Choose the Right Music

The setting might be beautiful, but if you leave your wedding guests standing around with nothing to do, boredom can soon set in. Unique entertainment in the form of live bands and musicians is one of the best ways to avoid a boring wedding.

Depending on where you're getting married abroad, you might want to make the music fit the setting. For example, a live Ceilidh band would be perfect for those of you dreaming of a wedding in Ireland. Or for those of you getting married in Spain, a flamenco guitarist is ideal for creating the right mood.

For other couples, it feels more personal to incorporate something of themselves into the choice of wedding music. This is why many UK couples hire a UK-based wedding band abroad. There are various logistics to consider but choosing UK musicians often means you'll have more choices than going down the local route. A UK band are also more likely to know the songs you want and won't have any trouble keeping your guests dancing all night.

Wedding breakfast in Europe

Go Local for the Food

You'll have to consider the local climate again for your food and drink choices. Hot and humid climes call for light snacks rather than heavy, sit-down meals. You'll also want to keep your guests hydrated with plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.

As for the cake, make arrangements to keep it chilled for as long as possible to avoid it melting before you have a chance to cut it!

Many people decide to embrace the local delicacies when choosing their destination wedding menu. Local food will be more affordable and easier to come by than anything imported. Plus, it's a great way to offer your guests a more immersive experience.

Don't Forget the Little Extras

A destination wedding can feel like a holiday for all involved. But remember, everyone is there for you.

By all means, embrace everything the destination has to offer, but don't forget to reflect yourselves in the wedding too. Little touches, from quirky wedding ideas to personal details can make all the difference when you're getting married far from home.

Whether that means writing your own vows or including family traditions in the ceremony, these touches will make the event more meaningful for you and more unique for your guests.

wedding venue abroad

Your Complete Guide to Planning a Destination Wedding

Planning a wedding abroad is no mean feat. From extra paperwork to travel itineraries, bad weather to lost luggage, there are even more details to consider and eventualities to plan for than you might have realised. This is why getting married overseas has to be a decision you make together and with your whole heart.

If the only wedding you can envision is on an exotic beach or in a far-flung city, this is your chance to embrace your dreams. But remember, it's you rather than the destination that will make your wedding unique. From your choice of music to your wedding guest list, getting married abroad is your chance to make meaningful shared memories in your dream destination.

Ready to book your destination wedding band or musician? As with all the arrangements you'll make ahead of your wedding abroad, it's important to book as early as possible to avoid disappointment. Contact us here at Bands for Hire for more information or to start the booking process.