Your guide to getting married abroad

With destination weddings on the rise, we explain all you need to know about getting married abroad

Getting married abroad Santorini wedding
© Nathan Wyatt Photography

Dreaming of saying ‘I do’ on a clifftop overlooking the ocean, or making your way down the aisle through vineyards bathed in sunlight? Well, join the club. Statistics currently show that one in four couples is planning to take their big day overseas. ‘Inspirational pictures on Instagram have completely changed the wedding market’, says international wedding planner Louise Perry. But how do you go about getting married abroad? We are here to help…

Destination wedding locations

Once your heart is set on getting married abroad, one of the first things to think about is the place you want to head to for your dream day. We suggest seeking inspiration from the hotspots. Italy and Santorini have been sitting in the top slot for years, but a recent survey by Catherine Luther Wedding Films shows that Bali is the most popular destination for elopements. 

‘Tuscany is popular and the market there is huge,’ says Louise Perry. ‘Parts of France as well and the Caribbean.’ Mauritius has also seen a big increase recently, while Malta has now become a favourite, especially because it allows same-sex weddings. 

‘Ibiza has become popular over the past few years, particularly because it has such a bohemian vibe. You only have to take a look at Pinterest to realise that everyone is lusting over the boho look. Similarly, weddings in French chateâux are on the rise, with the fairytale theme dominating social media.’

‘Believe it or not, places such as Iceland and Austria, for winter weddings in the mountains, are really up and coming,’ says Louise. ‘It’s something different, magical and perfect for smaller weddings.’ And with people more in touch with nature, another big trend for 2020 will see whole rooms being moved outside, furniture and all, so a wedding in a destination guaranteed to have better weather makes this less risky. 

Elopements are on the rise, too, with more people craving that romantic sense of escaping. ‘If you’re a couple looking to elope, why not just jump on a plane and go somewhere gorgeous and then have a honeymoon right there and then?’ says Kelly Mortimer, a destination wedding specialist.

The perks of getting married abroad

For us rained-in Brits, the promise of better weather is one of the big attractions of hopping on that plane. And as you sit dreaming about your far-flung escape, you might be pleased to hear that while an average wedding in the UK costs around £27,000, a wedding abroad is more like £6,500. ‘The sort of event that you could do in London, if you held it in, say, the Dominican Republic, it would cost you half as much,’ says Kelly, ‘Labour is much cheaper, so you get more for your money.’

And cost is not the only plus. Many people find a destination wedding a much less stressful way to celebrate their special day. ‘Planning a destination wedding is often less time consuming, because of the way venues package it all together, and the planners in the resorts are used to not meeting their couples before the big day,’ says Kelly. ‘The end result is more enjoyable, without you having to sweat all the small stuff.’

Being far away from the venue throughout the planning process could be thought of as a pitfall. ‘But today, with zoom calls, people can even see different parts of the venue without being there,’ says Kelly. ‘The world is a smaller place now and, with the internet, you can research everything, see everything and plan everything. You don’t have to sit and speak to a planner actually at a venue.’

When it comes to a destination wedding, you do have your guests to think about. It can be a bit of a mission for your loved ones travel and afford a wedding abroad. But, once guests do buy into the idea of a destination wedding, though, it often means more quality time to spend with the wedding party as a whole and the bride and groom in particular. And you get to spend more time with your family instead of cramming it into one day – it turns into a whole weekend (or more) of celebrations.

Far flung vows Menorca
© Sara Lobla

The legalities of weddings abroad

When it comes to getting married abroad, you need to be mindful of the law. Each country has its own rules when it comes to the legalities of getting married, so it’s important to find out all the details as soon as you start researching destinations. For example, did you know that blood tests are needed if you’re tying the knot in Mexico, or that you have to declare your intent to marry in a local newspaper before a Greek wedding? 

Some countries will also request that you’re in the country for a certain number of days before you get married. In France, you have to be a resident for 40 days before you can marry. In Italy, they have civil weddings like we do here, but there’s a lot more paperwork to be done for a destination wedding there.

If that sounds too complicated, you could opt for a symbolic wedding abroad, having already had a quiet legal ceremony at home in a register office. The wedding abroad looks and feels like the ‘official’ wedding and guests will be none the wiser! 

Far flung vows Iceland
Vestrahorn, Iceland

Destination wedding dressing

So you’ve decided on your romantic, sun-drenched venue, but what are you going to wear? After all, the dress you had in mind might not be suitable for hot weather. ‘I would wear natural fibres as much as possible, so linens and cotton for the men,’ says Louise. ‘For the bride, if you’re getting married somewhere very hot, you don’t want a great big dress or long veil – you’ll be really uncomfortable.’ Think light fabrics and pale colours for the whole bridal party, with bridesmaids’ dresses in pretty pastel shades.

Take inspiration from your venue, too. If the dress code is beach formal, your groom can happily wear a traditional suit and tie, especially if the reception is being held in a beach restaurant or on a yacht. While you can go for something slinky in lightweight silk, chiffon or lace. And if you’re actually getting married on the beach, really embrace the bohemian vibe – just about anything goes, including being barefoot.

Far flung vows Santorini
© Nathan Wyatt Photography

The brides who got married abroad

‘Our friends and family thanked us for giving them an excuse to come to such an amazing country! It was lovely to see other people appreciating Iceland as much as we do.’ Gemma Davenhill-Lyon, Vestrahorn, Iceland

‘Because we were marrying abroad, we had an amazing planner which meant the stress element was completely eliminated. Everyone was relaxed and in holiday mode, which made the whole experience so enjoyable.’ Lucy Coles, Le Ciel in Imerovigli, Santorini

‘I can’t recommend a destination wedding enough – there’s something so magical about being somewhere unique for your special day.’ Sammie Cane, Thermes Luxury Villas, Santorini

‘I don’t think you can really beat the experience of having all your favourite people at your wedding on one big holiday!’ Victoria Kinsley, Bodegas Binifadet, Menorca

Far flung vows luxury villas Santorini
© Stacey Clarke Photography

Dream elopement destinations

Catherine Luther Weddings analysed over 100,000 photos on Instagram with the hashtag #Elopement – these were the top 10 destinations for weddings:

  1. Bali
  2. New York
  3. Paris
  4. Las Vegas
  5. Yosemite National Park
  6. San Francisco
  7. Reykjavik
  8. Istanbul
  9. Seattle
  10. San Diego