As a destination wedding planner for North Americans wanting to get married in Ireland, I know that planning from abroad can be a daunting task. Which is why I thought it was a good idea to record my experiences, advice, and tips to help all those looking to plan a destination wedding from afar, not just for the benefit of my clients.
Don’t let my tiny list below discourage you. Use the 14 pieces of advice below for a much smoother time planning your own destination wedding!
Each particular destination comes with its own challenges, which we will examine in this article. A few off the top of my head include:
- Filling out legal paper work
- Cultural difference
- Language barriers
- Packing woes (wrinkled dresses)
- Time zone headaches and body aches
- Money transfer issues
Key Tip: if your budget allows, find a good wedding planner on the ground in the country you plan to host your wedding — you’ll be well on your way to planning the most memorable trip of a lifetime!
Let’s dive into our 14 tips for how to plan a destination wedding when you are located abroad.
Marriage laws differ in many countries. Requirements are usually straight forward, whereas some countries have a few hoops to jump through. Before any planning commences make sure that it is legal to get married in your chosen destination and that the marriage will be valid/recognized in your own country.
For example, residency requirements in France dictate that one of the parties to be married must have been resident in France for a minimum of 40 days continuously immediately before the wedding ceremony.
A tres bien!
Forty days in romantic Paree – I’ll be right over to complete my required time!
Unfortunately, laws for same-sex marriages vary by country, so make sure to check upfront.
If you plan to have a religious ceremony, be sure to check the exact requirements ,for that specific religion. For example, to prove the couple is eligible to marry in a Catholic church in Ireland, the couple must have completed the required pre-marital course. Some priests may not even allow you to marry in their church if you are not a local.
Too much paperwork
Have your heart set on a certain destination to host your wedding, but too many legal complexities?
I suggest getting married at your local registry office or town hall, and then hold a symbolic ceremony abroad. In my opinion this is a perfectly acceptable option in order to avoid the legal hassles.
2. Peak Travel Times and Holidays
No scheduled holidays in your neck of the woods? Just because it’s not a holiday in your home country, it may be peak travel time at your chosen wedding destination.
Do your homework and research national holidays or festivals that could fall within the time frame of your chosen wedding date. Special events and holidays can automatically drive up prices of flights, accommodation, car rentals and all the other extra expenses that come with going away during peak travel time.
Try to choose a date that falls outside of the busy travel season. Also, consider marrying on a weekday so that you will have more choices when it comes to planning your wedding. Whatsmore, you may get upgrade perks at an otherwise mid-week empty hotel.
Keep in mind that local attractions, restaurants, and other hotels won’t be as busy either.
3. Weather Check
You love the early fall season around mid-September for a destination wedding. Although Italy may be have stunning vineyard views at this time of year, over in some parts of the Caribbean there could be a full-on hurricane!
If your dream is to have a sun-kissed outdoor wedding on the beach, be sure to check your chosen destination’s seasonal weather patterns to avoid any natural disasters.
And no matter where you host your wedding, ALWAYS make sure to have a back up Rain-Plan that you are happy with … just in case.
4. Cookie-Cutter or Custom Wedding
You’ve chosen a destination, next you’ll have to decide on either a cookie-cutter hotel package or to plan a unique wedding from afar (on your own or with the help of an independent wedding planner).
Hotel Wedding Planner
Many hotels, cruise ships, and travel companies offer menu style wedding ceremony packages with fixed prices. There is often little to no customization with this option, but many do include a staff wedding planner to help you through the wedding planning process. The hotel staff planner is usually well acquainted with their venue, and will supply you with everything you need for a perfectly planned wedding abroad.
Specialized Wedding Planner
For a more personalized and hands-on approach, you can consider hiring a local wedding planner.
Be sure to do your research on local planners, and contact them directly to find out what they have to offer. Many can offer a free skype or phone consultation. Read online reviews from past brides and ask to see a portfolio of past weddings they have planned before signing on the dotted line.
As an expat living in Ireland, part of Love & Lavender’s business is planning Irish destination weddings for North Americans. That being said, you can always DIY a destination wedding without a planner.
I am not going to lie, when you plan a wedding in different country it can be hard and extremely frustrating. If you are up for the challenge then by all means go for it. However, be aware of the real challenges and commitments that you will face and weigh whether or not your time (and money) are worth the extra assistance.
5. Flying Fatigue
For those traveling across different time zones, travel fatigue or jetlag can play a factor in your wedding plans. In addition to wedding jitters and last minute arrangements, I recommend giving yourself a minimum of 48 hours between landing in your destination and your big day.
If you can afford a few more days – even better!
Even if there is no legal waiting period for getting married in your chosen location, give yourself that buffer to relax and prepare any last minute details. It is always a good idea to allow yourself to decompress and acclimatize before all the wedding day excitement begins.
6. Wedding Dress and Baggage Fees
Most airline will allow brides to bring their wedding gowns on the aircraft as hand luggage for an extra fee.
If you are lucky to encounter a lovely flight attendant, ask nicely and they might allow you to hang it up in the first class closet.
Contact your airline ahead of time to clarify their procedures.
Other helpful travel tips include:
- Get a good garment bag or travel box to transport your attire
- Mark your name and destination on a luggage tag
- Consider adding the word fragile on the front
If taking a short haul flight, you may even want to book the seat next to you so that you can keep your dress laid out. Ultimately, this should ensure a less wrinkled dress at the other end of your flight.
7. Wedding Vendors Work Weekends
Wedding vendors are busy folks, especially during key wedding season months. Many work on-site at a wedding venue during Friday and Saturday, and then take Sunday/Monday off.
For those who work a regular Monday to Friday work week, catching a meeting with a wedding vendor can prove to be some what of a challenge. In that case, the best time to get a hold of vendors is Tuesday through Thursday. Depending on where you wedding is taking place, you may be looking at using your quality lunch hour breaks at work to schedule wedding planning meetings.
8. Time Zone Trouble
For those North American couples wanting to marry in the Caribbean or Mexico, the time zone won’t be a big deal. If you are thinking about traveling a little further across the pond to Europe or Asia, be prepared for dealing with large time differences — a huge annoyance no doubt.
If you choose to plan the wedding yourself I have a few quick tips:
- Organization is critical for contacting vendors
- Patience is a virtue when waiting for a response from vendors. An 8 hour time zone difference will usually mean you won’t get an answer until the next day, even for a simple question.
- Be flexible to take a few early morning or late night phone calls
The bonus of having a wedding planner on the ground in your chosen location is that they can do all the leg work for you. That way, you need only scheduling your skype calls and emails with one professional instead of multiple people.
9. Get a Skype Account
One expense you’ll want to avoid is long distance phone call charges. They do add up.
Google hangouts, Whatsapp, or Facebook messenger are all feasible options to communicate over long distance. But most businesses prefer to arrange meetings through video conferencing software like Skype. Plus, it’s an easier way to build a bond with your wedding vendor when you can see them in-person.
If you need to touch base by calling from a land line, Skype also offers fantastic long distance plans. You can call a mobile or landline from your Skype account for a very reasonable monthly fee or by purchasing credits on your account.
10. How to Exchange Currency Like a Pro
… Because Every Penny Counts
One overlooked item that can add unnecessary expenses to your overall destination wedding budget is foreign exchange transfers to overseas wedding vendors.
Most of the time vendors will take a deposit up front to secure their services, and then you pay the remainder at various milestone dates. Ultimately, this could equate to more transactions and additional fees coming out of your pocket.
It’s a huge pain, not only because of fluctuating daily currency exchange rates, but also because transferring money across international borders can entail paper work or hefty bank fees.
Transferring money abroad is a complex subject that we could not hope to cover in depth in this article. In general, you have 3 primary options to make a payment overseas:
- Wire Payment: Go to your local bank branch and ask to conduct a wire payment. The fee is bank dependent, but expect to pay $50 PER TRANSACTION for this service. Speaking from experience I will forewarn you that wire payments can take time, plus EVERY piece of information must be correct or else the payment will be rejected.
- Credit Card payment
- Money Service Provider: Western Union comes to mind. They offer in person pickup of cash at the destination as well as online payments. In my experience, their fees and exchange rate tend not to be as good as our next option number 4 below.
- Peer-to-peer currency exchange: A simple solution that I stumbled across in the last couple years, and now cannot live without! I always suggest one of the two companies below to my destination wedding clients for making payment.
The two leaders in the peer-to-peer currency exchange market online are CurrencyFair and Transferwise. Both services offer unbeatable exchange rates, low fees, quick transaction times and no paperwork. Its quick, online, secure and will save you a lot in unnecessary bank fees.
11. Buy Wedding Insurance
Flooding and ash clouds – enough said!
No matter where your wedding is hosted there will be risks involved. However, wedding insurance can help alleviate some concerns. Each insurance policy is different, therefore your individual needs will dictate what you should choose.
Quick tips include:
- Review your insurance policy in depth before purchasing
- Make sure your insurer covers your destination country
- Double check on act of god type events and how they are covered
- Check how many days prior to the wedding you must be in the country for the insurance to be valid
12. Don’t Go Overboard With Decor
One of the wonderful things about a destination wedding is that you don’t really need much “wedding stuff” … I am talking decor!
Choose a location or venue that speaks for itself — a beautiful sandy beach, a stunning manor house, or cliffs that overlook the ocean. If there are a few must have decor items that you would like to bring, buy them ahead of time and get them shipped to either the venue or your wedding planner (if they allow it). That way you can avoid the hassle of packing extra things, excess baggage charges, and the worry that you might have forgotten something.
13. Legal Documents Checklist
Check your individual destination for what required documents you have to bring and whether they will need to be translated or notarized before you arrive. Then make a checklist of all the legal documentation that you need to bring. Unlike a wedding at home, you won’t be able to send the best man back to the house for a forgotten item.
S0me countries require extra documentation like birth certificates that has an apostile stamp, copies of your passport, or extra requirements if one of you have been previously divorced.
If you have been married before, you’ll need to provide proof that you are no longer married in the form of a divorce decree, death certificate, or other official documentation that proves your status.
Also make sure there are no visa requirements well in advance, and that you and all your guests’ passports will not expire within 6 months of travel.
14. Honeymoon Bonus
You have had a fantastic time with your family and friends, but now it is time to depart for the trip of a lifetime. Extend your travel after the big day, and make sure that you have some quality newlywed time alone. The honeymoon is about relaxing, reminiscing and spoil yourselves on excursions, hotel rooms, and experiences that you might not normally do on a vacation.
Look at your destination wedding as an extension of your honeymoon travels. You will get your money’s worth and it will be a trip you’ll remember forever.
I hope you found my 14 share-worthy pieces of advice for planning a destination wedding helpful!
When it comes to planning a destination wedding, the keys are to stay organized and don’t get overwhelmed when decisions from afar start to stress you out.
If you are thinking of a destination wedding over in Ireland and need a wedding planner, I would love to hear from you!