When my husband finally popped the question in 2015, we got down to planning the wedding pretty quickly. After 7 years together I had already got some fairly clear ideas about the wedding…that ‘one day’ Pinterest board had been getting some serious attention from about three years in. But, whilst I knew the guest list, dress designer, style of cake and theme the venue proved much trickier to pin down. Like many other brides, I was stuck with the little sister conundrum. My older sister had a beautiful wedding at the best hotel in our home town. Despite her flawless wedding, I knew I wanted mine to be different. It wasn’t until my husband and I starting seriously thinking about our plans that the idea of tying the knot abroad started to take hold. It was, without doubt, the best decision we made. So, if you are planning your dream wedding abroad, I hope these top tips will help with some of those all-important decisions.
- Is it legal?
Naturally, we assume that when we get married it’s legal, right? Wrong! You should ensure that your marriage in one country will be legally recognised in your country of residence. Every country will have different rules, and it might be difficult to have a legally binding ceremony if you are not living in that country. There are, sadly still some countries who do not permit same-sex marriage.
We opted for the island of Tenerife for our big day, but we had to complete a legal ceremony here in the UK first. We decided to make a thing of our legal ceremony, and it proved to be a lovely opportunity to share with our close family. The ceremony was no longer than 40 minutes and was held at the registry office of my home town. Our parents, siblings and family who could not attend the main event in Tenerife were present.
Having completed our legal marriage in the UK we were free to have a civil ceremony in Tenerife. Make sure you check the local laws in your chosen destination; you don’t want to be caught out!
2. Choose the right time of the year
Many couples tend to plan their big day to coincide with warm sunny days. But just because July and August tend to be some of the finest months weather-wise here in the UK, that may not be in the case in your chosen destination. If you’ve got your heart set on a Caribbean wedding you might want to skip July and August as that’s hurricane season or New Zealand where our British summer is their winter.
I would also consider checking out the top temperatures of your chosen destination. Whilst a tropical downpour or frigid temperatures may put a dampener on your big day, swelteringly heat may be just as much of an issue, particularly if you are inviting older guests.
Whilst you can never predict the weather, it is always best to be prepared. Despite choosing the island of Tenerife in October, where the average temperature is comfortably in the mid-20s degrees and they only see a maximum of 2 days rain during the month…of course, it rained on my wedding day! But a few showers and some excellent work by the wedding team meant that our day was still absolutely perfect.
3. Choose the right destination for you
It sounds obvious, but it’s important to pick the right destination for both you and your fiancé. If you hate sand but think the pictures of your beach wedding will be magnificent, don’t do it. Whilst the pictures may be beautiful, do you want to spend the day being uncomfortable with sand in places that only a good shower can sort out? If you have, a gorgeous English rose complexion, is the Middle East in July a good idea? As hard as it is, try not to get caught up in beautiful pictures of other people’s weddings. Yes, they are good for inspiration, but your day has to be personal and right for you.
4. Visit your venue
As soon as our mind turned to a wedding abroad there was only one contender for our big day. The Abama hotel on the island of Tenerife. This hotel has been a family stable for many years. It was where my husband and I had our first holiday together and it is somewhere we both feel so relaxed. Despite having stayed at the Abama more than seven times in as many years I had never stayed intending to scope it out as a wedding venue. So, nine months before the wedding my mum and I booked a week at the venue. The trip aimed to finalise some decisions, meet face to face with the wedding planner and her team and to sample some of the dishes we had decided on. This trip was enormously important to clarify some of the questions I had. Although I had eaten in the restaurant and admired the view from the terrace, I still needed a walk through with the wedding planner to visualise what it would be like on the day.
If you have selected a location but not a venue then a recce trip is essential. With the help of your wedding planner, you should have a shortlist of possible venues which will need a personal visit. Only by standing in the place and visualising your plans can you truly get a feel for a place to see if this is right for you.
5. Check your flight times and book a transfer
Make sure you consider when you want to arrive at your destination and when your guests will be arriving. If you are jetting off across the world, you’ll want to make sure that you and your guests aren’t struggling with jet lag. I would recommend arriving a few days before the wedding. This will give you and your fiancé time to meet with the wedding planner and go over any last-minute details. Arriving in advance will also allow you some much-needed downtime before the big day.
It is also worth considering the transfer times from the airport to your venue. I would make sure you have a transfer booked from the airport. You’re going to have some significant luggage and items to be handled with care. A properly organised transfer will not only give you peace of mind but also help set the tone for your wedding stay.
6. Think about your luggage
Normally when booking a flight, you automatically have one 23kg bag allocated to you. You’ll need to book another bag if not two. Be prepared to pay for these extra bags as it can come as a nasty hidden cost, but making sure everything gets to the venue safely is worth it.
In the month leading up to the wedding, I hadn’t quite appreciated how much extra stuff we were planning on taking with us. As more and more parcels starting arriving at my house it was clear a third checked bag was needed. We decided to take out our place settings, table plan, confetti, orders of ceremony and lots of other decorations. We were keen for everything to have a very personal touch, but we did need a clear plan on getting everything transported. We opted for carefully packing a heavy-duty plastic box and checking that into the hold, it worked perfectly and all of our hand-crafted efforts survived the journey.
Finally, my fiancé and groomsmen had the brilliant idea to play golf on the morning of the wedding. The hotel had a championship course, so it would have been rude not to. If you are planning on travelling with golf clubs, don’t forget these will also need booking onto the flight and will come at an additional cost.
7. Think carefully about your dress
For any bride, your dress is a big deal. If you’ve had your heart set on that big poufy princess ballgown with the sweetheart neckline since you were seven, you might want to give thought to how practical a dress of that size and weight will be to transport. A call to your airline will help you make the right choice for transportation. The last thing you want is a bag of crumpled dress with no hope of steaming it out before the wedding.
You should also consider if your dress will suit the climate of the country you are jetting off to. If you know the temperature is going to be thirty degrees plus do you really want to be wrapped up in a heavy tulle ballgown?
You might also want to think about where your ceremony is going to take place. If you’re tying the knot on the beach, make sure your dress choice is practical for being on the sand.
8. Consider accommodation options for you and your guests
Many venues will provide you with a room rate deal for your guests. They will likely ask upfront about how many rooms you want to reserve for your guest. At this point, it is worth having an idea about who will be staying at your venue and who will be staying elsewhere. You might even want guests to give you an indication of this on their RSVP.
One thing to consider is the cost of your venue compared to other local accommodation. If guests have paid for their flights it might be, they are looking to save on the accommodation so the venue may not always be their first choice. Make sure you provide guests with other reputable options near your venue.
Finally, you and your fiancé will want to decide if you want to stay at your venue or jet off into the night to a more intimate location. We opted to stay at our venue. Not only was our suite stunning, but there was something extremely special about being able to have breakfast and socialise with our family and friends who had stayed on after the wedding.
9. Use a wedding planner
The experience, local knowledge and not to mention the language of a wedding planner is invaluable. A good wedding planner will have contacts with local suppliers and in all the relevant trades needed for your wedding. It is also likely using a wedding planner might enable you to access discounts and deals which you might be unable to secure on your own
Many hotels will have a dedicated wedding planner if weddings are a big part of the hotels business. Make sure you can easily communicate with each other and that you are happy before forging ahead with the relationship.
10. Be adaptable
Yes, it’s hard when you have the perfect vision of your perfect day however for you to enjoy the process you will need to be adaptable. Booking a wedding abroad can throw up lots of different challenges which you might not consider, like the types of flowers or food available or the beach being closed due to strong winds or high tides. You can’t control everything. If you have an experienced wedding planner then let them take some of the slack, let other people help you and guide you to the best outcomes for your day. I had never envisaged rain or strong winds on my wedding day but rain it did right up until the time of the ceremony. With the ground wet and strong wind still in play, our wedding planner decided to move our wedding breakfast indoors. Best decision ever and I didn’t even make it. Whatever happens on your day go with the flow and don’t sweat the small stuff.
11. Book early & send save the date cards
If you want friends and family to be a part of your wedding then plan and book early. Guaranteeing your guest list can be a little trickier when marrying abroad. You are not only asking your guests to take several days off work but accommodation and travel expenses will be considerably more expensive than if you were celebrating in your home town. The more notice you can give your guests the better.
I would recommend having your save the date cards made/picked out or ready to go as soon as you confirm your venue. We booked our venue in October 2015 for an October 2016 wedding and had save the date cards sent to our guests by November 2015. Giving our guests a year to save and book proved helpful when finalising numbers.
As soon as you can, send your guests as much information as possible about the venue, location and what I expect from being part of your wedding party. I was not particularly tech-savvy in 2015 so we went for a good old-fashioned guest brochure of information. If I were planning my wedding now, I would set up a wedding website where my guests could easily access everything they need. You want to make the whole process as easy for your guests as possible. If everything they need is in one place you will spend a lot less time fielding individual questions about the same issues; leaving you free to focus on the big stuff.
12. Pinterest, Pinterest, Pinterest
As I have previously mentioned I was a wedding Pinterest fiend even before getting engaged. However, my late-night swooning over naked cakes adorned by fresh flowers and the perfect table settings came in really handy when communicating with our wedding planner. Although our wedding planner had fantastic English, many of her suppliers had no English at all. Pictures are a brilliant way of showing exactly what you are looking for.
Your carefully crafted Pinterest mood boards will help the wedding planner and suppliers gauge your tastes and vision for the wedding. My flower board came into its own when I was told that due to the season in Tenerife and the types of flowers grown in that climate, I would need to reconsider my blousy peonies and tea roses. As heartbroken as I was the florist whipped some beautiful bouquets and buttonholes with local flowers based on the ideas from my Pinterest board. Never regret those late-night pins.
13. Carefully consider your guest list
Immediate family are likely to make the trip for your wedding however will work colleagues who you’ve only known for nine months do the same? An invitation to a wedding abroad can be a big ask financially and time-wise for many. You’ll want to streamline your list as much as possible before you send out your invitations. Never invite guests assuming they will say no anyway, you may be surprised who suddenly messages to say they have booked their flights.
14. Wedding insurance
Worldwide pandemics, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires…if we learn nothing else from 2020, we should expect the unexpected. Whilst the unpredictable can be stressful, taking out wedding insurance should help to alleviate some of the stresses around of the things which are totally out of your control. There are lots of insurers who offer wedding insurance, make sure you compare what each is offering to make sure it best suits your needs. We opted for John Lewis Wedding Insurance as it was the best deal at the time. For more detailed information on wedding insurance check out the link below https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/insurance/wedding-insurance/
15. Set aside some extra cash for additional costs and fees
In addition to shipping and luggage costs, you will also be paying deposits to the venue and potentially external suppliers. This means there will be bank transfer fees and exchange rates to contend with. To avoid any hidden charges, make sure you educate yourself on the exchange rate between your currency and that of your destination. It is also worth finding out from your bank what their fees with international transfers are. For more information on sending money abroad check out the link below.
Finally, weddings can be a bit of a bottomless pit when it comes to money. There will always be something you have forgotten or a small detail which needs correcting. Having a fund for these last-minute costs can be helpful and can ease your financial stress about the process.
16. Think about your honeymoon
So, you’ve chosen to get married abroad, but what about your honeymoon? Lots of couples will want to stay on at their venue or think about exploring more of the country you have chosen. This will not only save you money but will extend this precious time.
It might also be worth thinking about other countries you can easily access from your destination. With shorter flight times than you would get from the UK, it might be a good time to explore somewhere a little further afield.
Alternatively, you can drag that wedding vibe out for as long as you like. We decided to take ten days including the wedding in Tenerife but then chose to focus on travel for the first year of our marriage. Every month for one year we sought to jet off for a city break. These short frequent trips combined with an anniversary return to the Abama was perfect.
17. Think about planning time with your guests before and after the wedding
One of the best decisions we made was to stay on at the venue with our closest family after the wedding. This precious time was so chilled and a lovely way to come down from the big day. In truth, it felt like the whole ten days was our wedding. I can remember saying that I totally understood why brides got upset the moment the wedding was over. So, if you can stay on and drag it out I absolutely would.
Getting the chance to talk to everyone at the wedding can be a challenge on the day when you are being called for photos or dragged away for a myriad of other reasons. Two days after the wedding we were lucky, several family members and friends had stayed on at the hotel, so we decided to host a drinks party in our suite. It gave us another opportunity to properly speak with everyone for longer than a few minutes and was the perfect send-off for some of our guests.
18. Relax & enjoy your day
Without a doubt planning your wedding can be a stressful time, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Planning your time of celebration with your fiancée and family can be so rewarding so make sure you take step back and keep the process as fun as possible.
I would love to hear your destination wedding stories, so happy planning and good luck for your big day.