There’s nothing quite like a destination wedding; guaranteed good weather, a holiday with all your nearest and dearest and absolutely amazing wedding photos.
But before you get to the ‘I do’, there’s a lot of thought that needs to go into planning a destination wedding.
Whether you’re planning a sun-soaked destination wedding in Greece or dreaming of tying the knot in Italy, planning a wedding abroad tends to need more consideration that organising a wedding in the UK.
We spoke to Lisa Burton, founder of Luvana, a free-to-use online portal for couples planning an overseas wedding in Europe, for her advice on how to plan the perfect destination wedding.
Destination Wedding Budgets
As with planning a wedding, when you’re organising your wedding abroad, don’t make any decisions until you’ve decided your budget as this will dictate every aspect of your day, from your destination, to the size of your guest list.
“There are many reasons why couples choose to get married abroad; the location is special to them or great weather, but one of the big ones is budget,” says Lisa.
“Generally a wedding abroad is a lot more cost effective than a wedding at home, typically because destination weddings are generally smaller.”
“A £10k wedding in the UK may get you a nice day but abroad this budget in a location like Zakynthos or Rhodes in Greece could give you all the bells and whistles. Savings can be made with guest numbers alone. A larger wedding abroad is considered 50 people or more, whereas a wedding at home would be considered small with this number of guests, so your budget automatically goes further.”
“To keep within your budget, try to keep the guest numbers small and go local wherever you can with suppliers. Imports always cost more, be that imported flowers or imported drinks.”
Finding a Venue for Destination Weddings
Just as with a wedding in the UK, visiting venues is really important; it’s one thing to look at photographs, but another to see a space in person and get a feel for the vibe of a place.
We advise doing your research and creating a shortlist of three or four venues in the area you want to get married, then arranging a scouting trip to go and see them in person.
If you feel daunted by the task of finding a venue for your destination wedding and don’t know where to start, consider hiring a destination wedding planner.
They’ll be able to conduct a venue search and shortlist those suited to your requirements – all that’s left for you to do is book your flights, pack your suitcase and find the venue of your dreams.
It’s important to note that some hotels prefer not to take wedding bookings in
peak season, as they’re busy with regular tourists.
Alternatively, you might be required to do a seven-day buyout of the venue during the busiest months, so keep this in mind when budgeting.
Guest List for Destination Weddings
Lots of couples feel pressured to invite their extended family to their wedding resulting in a ridiculously long guest list of people they’re not close to, but this is eradicated with a destination wedding, creating an intimate wedding with just the people you love most.
“The average acceptance rate to a destination wedding is lower than a stay at home wedding, so typically the people who are willing to travel to your wedding will be your closest relatives and friends,” says Lisa.
“A wedding abroad is a big commitment, beside the cost implications, guests may not be able to get time off work. If this is a concern, introduce the idea casually to your dearest family and friends to gauge their reaction before you commit to a wedding abroad.”
“Who should foot the bill of the guest accommodation is a hot topic when it comes to destination weddings,” warns Lisa.
“Unless you’re feeling very flush, there’s no need to offer to pay for your guests’ accommodation and flights, and guests are often more than happy to pay for their travel costs.
“Flights are best left to guests to organise but it’s good etiquette to pay for transfers to and from the venue on the wedding day; this also ensures guests arrive on time and don’t get lost.”
With destination weddings, save the dates are more important than ever. Try to send them at least a year in advance so your guests can book time off work and check the date doesn’t clash with other trips they may have planned.
It also gives them the chance to save up and research the best deals on flights and hotels.
It’s a nice idea to create a dedicated wedding websites for your guests, containing travel info, hotel suggestions, things to do in the area, and an itinerary.
If building a website doesn’t appeal to you, a booklet to send with the save the date is equally useful.
Destination Wedding Dresses
Luckily for you, we compiled an edit of the best dresses for beach weddings which are perfect for destination weddings, however Lisa also has some words of wisdom when it comes to choosing a destination wedding dress.
“When shopping for the dream dress, there’s a number of factors to be consider for an overseas affair. Not only is it important to consider the heat (nobody wants to be a hot, sweaty bride!), but the dress also needs to be easily transported.”
“Will it fit into your regular luggage or be couriered over to your destination? There is likely to be some creasing so consider whether you’ll need a specialist shop to steam your dress.”
“Access to the venue itself is also a crucial consideration. Are you likely to encounter water or sand or a narrow, rickety bridge? If the answer is yes, your dress will need to be easily maneuverable and not too weighty. There may also be restrictions to the type of dress. For example, churches abroad can be very strict when it comes to dress code and may stipulate that your legs and shoulders are covered.”
“Don’t forget about your accessories too. Ensure your shoes are comfortable and remember that heels sink into sand or soft grass, or pack multiple pairs.”
Finding Suppliers for Destination Weddings
Unless you’ve got your heart absolutely set on UK suppliers, we’d advise using suppliers that are local to your venue. Not only will it save you money and hassle, they will know the area.
“Use local entertainment and suppliers where you can, this will save thousands on flying in suppliers from other countries,” Lisa confirms. “Don’t think of it as compromising on quality but rather, as adding a traditional flavour.”
Aside from your initial scouting trip, you’re likely to do most of your supplier research online with communication via email, phone or Skype.
“It’s important to do your research and use your instinct when sourcing suppliers,” advises Lisa.
“Scour suppliers’ social media accounts for verified reviews, recent examples of work and testimonials. Ask for a brochure and a copy of the contract to be sent before you pay a deposit and request receipts for any deposits paid. If you’re still unsure, trust your instinct and look elsewhere.”
“Before you book a supplier be confident that the communication between you is good enough. If the supplier wants to work with you they need to understand your desires, your wants and be able to answer your questions and concerns confidently, otherwise you’re opening yourself up to potential problems down the line.”
The only exception we’d advise is your wedding photographer.
Many couples have a photographer in mind to capture their wedding, and if they’re UK based, you’ll need to negotiate with them how they work with shooting destination weddings.
Most likely you’ll need to pay for their flights, hold luggage, hire car or transfers, accommodation, airport parking, and so on, so it can end up being quite costly.
Some photographers charge a flat fee on top of their usual rate for a wedding
abroad, while others just add expenses.
Fly them in at least the day before, with time to allow for delays or cancellations. It’d be a nightmare for them to not be there on time due to budget airline delays – we all know they happen!
If your budget doesn’t stretch this far, there are benefits to wedding photographers who are local to your area – they’ll know their way around, and how best to work with the light.
Legalities of Getting Married Abroad
“First and foremost you’ll need to check you can legally marry in your destination; providing your wedding is legal in that country then it will be recognised in the UK,” explains Lisa.
A search online will let know if you can legally marry in your chosen destination, plus the government has a handy tool to help keep things clear.
“If a legal wedding is not possible, an alternative option is a blessing with a legal ceremony at home,” suggests Lisa. “Your guests needn’t know; a symbolic ceremony often looks exactly the same to the untrained eye.”
“Religious weddings are usually only legal if it falls under the state religion. In Italy and Spain Catholic weddings are legal, while in France religious weddings are not recognised by the state. In Greece you can host a Greek Orthodox wedding if you would like a legal religious wedding, but any other type of religious wedding will require a civil wedding to make it legal,” explains Lisa.
“With most religious weddings you’ll need to be baptised in the church and be a practising member of the church, and your legal paperwork will typically be administered through the church. If in doubt, speak to your church before you consider destinations as they may offer advice on possible destinations.
Paperwork for civil weddings can take anything from two weeks to six months depending on the location, while religious weddings typically take six to eight months to complete all paperwork.”