How to plan the perfect destination wedding

July 15, 2011

Wedding gowns that cost more than a new car. Cheesy 1980s cover bands. Bland catered chicken dinners. Snarling mother-in-laws demanding you invite all 50 of her third cousins.

The so-called Wedding-Industrial Complex - in which even the simplest wedding plan is magically morphed into a bank-breaking, tacky tulle extravaganza - is enough to make anyone run from the bridal boutique screaming “I’m eloping to Jamaica!”

Well, why not? Seriously.

In recent years destination weddings have become a major trend. For globe-trotter types, getting married in an exotic locale makes an already fabulous event even more fabulous. Imagine saying your ‘I dos’ on a pink sand beach in the Bahamas, locking lips on an antique rice barge floating down Thailand’s Chao Phraya river, partying till dawn in a Venetian palazzo.

But before you book your tickets and Skype the caterers, there are a few logistical concerns to consider:

1. Residency requirements

Many countries have lengthy residency requirements for couples who want to marry on their soil. European countries are notoriously tricky for this, while many Caribbean and Southeast Asian nations, which trade on their reputations as romantic vacation destinations, are more lenient. Always check with the embassy or tourism bureau of your chosen country beforehand. A simple way to get around these laws can be to have the symbolic wedding ceremony in the country of your choice, while having the civil ceremony at a courthouse or registrar’s office back home.

2. Documentation

You’ve packed the gown, the tux, the print-outs of your vows. But...you’ve neglected to bring your birth certificate! Some - though not all - countries require special documentation like original birth certificates, documentation of previous divorce, etc. Sometimes those documents need to be certified by your embassy, sometimes they need to be translated into the country’s own language. Again, check with your embassy or with the local tourism bureau, and plan accordingly - those wishing to marry in Thailand, for example, should budget for a week in-country before the wedding.

3. Wedding Planners

Planning a wedding is difficult enough in your hometown. Trying to do so via email and Skype across thousands of miles and a language barrier is a train wreck waiting to happen. That’s why almost all experts recommend hiring a local wedding planner to navigate the murky seas of florists, caterers, officiants, etc. Plan to dedicate about 10 percent of your total budget for hiring a planner.

4. Etiquette


Meghan Conklin and Thomas McCabe held hands after their wedding at The Inn at Little Washington in Washington,Va. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Unfortunately, destination weddings all too often create financial tension for friends and family. While you might not mind plunking down a year’s salary for one magical day, your future in-laws and potential bridesmaids and groomsmen may not be in a position to splash out thousands on plane tickets and hotel rooms. But they’ll no doubt be hurt if not invited.

What to do? Well, you could elope, of course. (Just kidding...sort of.) Seriously, there’s no universal solution to this one other than a) announce your plans well in advance so guests have time to save and plan, b) pay for hotel rooms and other expenses for members of the wedding party, and c) consider having a very small wedding, followed by an at-home reception for your larger circle.

Congratulations (¡Felicitaciones! Congratulazioni! Gongxi! Selamat!) - you’re now ready to begin planning your destination wedding!

Originally published as “How to plan the perfect destination wedding” © 2011 Lonely Planet.  All rights reserved.

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