Guide to Planning a Destination Wedding

destination wedding in Santorini

Planning a wedding away from home can seem pretty daunting but there is no reason to sweat it. A brief guide and checklist for planning a destination wedding can help you figure out the best way to go about it so that you can relax and enjoy your big day no matter where you are getting married.

Free Printable Destination Wedding Checklist

This quick checklist will help you stay organized when it comes to the work of planning a destination wedding. Print it with Adobe and follow some helpful advice to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

printable checklist

Begin With Big Decisions

The best way to start planning any wedding is to have a common ground from where to set off. As soon as you get engaged discuss with each other and agree on the things you would for any wedding, such as budget, "must-haves", formality, and roles and responsibilities for both of you. Additionally, a destination wedding will need further discussion regarding some specifics.

Unless you are eloping, give yourselves about a year to get everything ready. Start right away by making these destination-related decisions:

  • Location and date - This will enable you to start making the necessary enquiries and to begin preparations with plenty of time. With a destination in mind, decide the size of the wedding as well - for example, a small immediate family-only wedding or a traditional large wedding.
  • Legal matters - If traveling abroad, do you want or need to get legally married there? If staying within the country things are much simpler, but this is still an important matter to discuss as soon as possible.
  • Religious decisions - Do you want a church wedding and need to find a place of worship at your planning destination? Will you have your priest, rabbi, minister, or religious leader travel with you?
  • Guest list - Setting a guest number limit and create a rough draft of your ideal guest list. Make sure it's finalized before sharing your travel plans for nuptials to avoid miscommunication.
  • Bridal party - Choosing a bridal party if you are having one and determining what portion of travel and expenses, if any, you will pay for from your wedding budget.

Share Travel Intentions Early

save the date

The more people you want to have join your destination wedding the sooner they must be told about your plans.

  • Family, close friends, and wedding party should be told as soon as you know the location and potential date.
  • Prepare a wedding website and/or app; it will help enormously during your planning process.
  • Save the dates should be sent at least 9 months in advance; include wedding website and/or app and as much information as possible.
  • Invitations should be sent earlier than usual and with a minimum RSVP time period of one month.

If you let guests know with sufficient time, there's a better chance they will be attend.

Accommodation and Venue Tips

The wedding venue you choose will greatly determine how much time and effort you will have to invest in all other four categories. As soon as you set the date and location immediately start searching for a wedding venue. Narrow it down to three to five options and if possible, make a scouting trip. If you can't travel, the internet is filled with forums, reviews, and plenty of information about almost any venue in the world.

Resorts and dedicated wedding venues offer all kinds of packages and services that can be personalized to your taste and needs. Cost of lodging, wedding related services, activities, legalities, and religious regulations all should be considered when finalizing venue choice.

  • All inclusive resorts - Staying at a resort can simplify most of the planning from the whole scope of the celebration to guest lodging, activities and more. The downfall might be the limitations that usually come with being in an all inclusive. The benefit is the ease of planning a wedding.
  • Luxury or boutique resorts - Boutique resorts and other high end accommodations may still offer packages but the level of personalization will be higher as well as the general prices!
  • Independent accommodations - Independent lodgings, such as villas and clubs, may not necessarily include packages but you will have the freedom (and responsibility) to hire a wedding planner and all wedding vendors individually. You might save or spend twice as much; it will depend on how hands on you really want to be.

Vendors and Services

island wedding

The wedding venue you choose will dictate how much more planning you need to do in terms of hiring services for your wedding. When choosing a venue keep this in mind. Services you'll need to negotiate, either through your venue, a planner, or independently, are the traditional ones from music to catering to photography.

It may be especially beneficial to hire a wedding planner who either specializes in destination weddings or is a local wedding planner at your destination of choice. This helps ease the burden of obtaining vendor quotes and securing quality and reliable local services. Remember each place has regulations and requirements for bringing in services, so consult with your wedding venue before hiring independent vendors if you decide to forgo a planner.

Destination Wedding Insurance

Not every wedding needs to be insured, but if you are making a big investment on your wedding and it's not too clear as to whether your vendors have your back, then it might be a good idea. Wedding insurance can cost anywhere from $200 to $600 and can cover a myriad of wedding related mishaps, from damaged attires, to vendor and wedding venue fails, to postponements and relocations. If you think you'd be more at ease hiring insurance for your destination wedding, contact your insurance provider or seek a recommendation from other brides and/or wedding planners in your area. Make sure to hire wedding insurance that covers what you need and remember to read the fine print.

Ensure the Wedding Is Legal

Legalities are one of those aspects of a destination wedding that are in fact much more delicate than they tend to appear. The further away from home, the more care you should invest in this matter.

Domestic Destinations

If you have chosen a destination within your country, you will need to do the following:

  • Consult with the vital statistic department at your destination of choice to find out the requirements you need to fulfill in order to get legally married there. Vital statistics will not only inform you about paperwork you will need to present, but also timeframe and general procedures to follow. They may also help you book a justice of peace or officiant for your wedding. In the U.S., the vital statistics department of each state has a website as well as contact data readily available. In most cases they even provide the information you need right there.
  • Consult with your local vital statistics department (start with city hall) to make sure you are aware of what paperwork will need to be done in order for your marriage to be legally registered at home. Sometimes it is done automatically between states, sometimes you have to present paperwork. While you are there, you can get whatever paperwork you need from them.
  • Make sure to take into account all issues regarding your and your fiance's legal status (such as whether you are single, divorced, widowed, a national or a foreigner, etc.) and to take note of all information received with care. You may need to provide additional documentation for certain statuses.

International Destinations

Getting legally married abroad should be done with care and attention. You'll need to contact both your home country's local embassies for your destination and your destination's government authorities.

  • Local embassy information - Start by contacting the nearest consulate/embassy in your home country for the destination regarding getting married as a foreigner. Request contact information for registrar offices at your destination. For example, if you are getting married in Santorini, Greece, ask for the contact information for Santorini. Find out the general requirements to marry legally and what paperwork should be brought back from the destination in order to register your marriage legally with them.
  • Destination government information - Using the contact information obtained from your local embassy for the destination, contact them to ask for requirements in terms of paperwork (documents, translations, legalizations), residence, timeframe and procedures. Be specific about your individual legal status and your status as a couple traveling from abroad to celebrate your destination wedding.

Note that many wedding venues and wedding planners offer services for getting legally married at the destination. They can be very helpful; however, it is always recommendable to consult with all corresponding authorities personally. Do not rely only on venue or your home country's embassy or consulate information - the final word is always with the local authorities.

Many couples find the whole legal process to be quite a hassle and opt for registering at city hall a week or two before their destination wedding and then celebrating a spiritual, religious, or non-denominational ceremony at the destination.

Ceremony Considerations

Your ceremony is often the most personalized option for the wedding. While the venue and vendors will take care of the reception, you'll need to put some extra thought into your destination ceremony.

Service Options

beach wedding

In many foreign destinations, religious authorities can not legally register a marriage. Additionally, there are also officiants with no religious affiliation nor any legal power to register a marriage. This means you may have at least three ceremony options:

  1. Get legally married by a registrar official as per the legal requirements and procedures of the destination.
  2. Get married in a church or temple of your choice. Most likely by presenting some kind of paperwork and preparing in your church / temple back home and also doing some steps at the destination.
  3. Get married with a symbolic, often customized, ceremony that is usually performed by an officiant who may or may not have a denomination or affiliation. Think of Joey officiating the ceremony for Chandler and Monica's wedding in Friends.

Depending on your destination's laws and customs, you could do one, two, or even all three of them! However, the legal value of each type of ceremony will vary from place to place. When looking into the legalities, and perhaps pursuing a religious or traditional ceremony in your destination, enquire about this issue.

Personalize Your Ceremony With Traditions and Customs

Rich traditions and cultural additions can make a wedding celebration at a destination truly memorable. Feel free to ask your wedding coordinator at the venue, your wedding planner, and even your wedding vendors about local traditions and customs they would recommend for your wedding.

Of course, there is nothing like browsing the web. Seek out testimonials at the venue you chose of what other couples incorporated and peruse wedding planning websites geared towards destination weddings. Browse the the myriad of photos, stories, and musings of brides who have so generously shared all about their wedding experiences.

The travel and tourism department website for your destination may provide special hints, too. Searching traditions, history, and cultural aspects of your destinations is also a great idea. Don't hesitate to include those customs and traditions that touch your heart.

Ceremony Weather Considerations

Understand your destination's local weather and seasonal occurrences. Check out the Weather Channel's wedding weather expert suggestions or visit with the local vendors as you plan. You can also check local weather television stations and website. Googling the weather for the destination in your city and season can also yield results that will help you plan.

Guests and Destination Weddings

Mexico beach wedding

Having a destination wedding may help you reduce your guest list; after all, your third cousin's newest beau probably won't be crashing your wedding now. However, inviting friends and family to join you at a destination will now involve a little more dedication on your part.

Among the important things to consider for your guests are:

  • Airfare, lodgings, and transportation - You don't have to pay for it, but you may certainly facilitate it. Reserving blocks of rooms will help you and your guests secure better lodging rates and may even give you leverage in terms of negotiating other services. The same applies to airfare rates, transportation, and even activities. Think wholesale benefits!
  • Activities - Guests will be traveling with you, so make time to be with them. Host at least a couple of pre-wedding activities and at least one post-wedding activity. Remember these are on you, so consider this when drafting your guest list.
  • Wedding website and/or app - Help your guests get excited about the wedding with a useful and handy website. Include all the information your guests may need to prepare for your wedding from cultural highlights to activity polls to updates on airfare and lodging rates.
  • Timely information - Save the dates and invites must be sent sooner and timely RSVPs will be essential. You can facilitate this process by using complementary electronic invites or even an RSVP app.
  • Remember the small things - Welcome notes, bags, and activities program should be prepared in addition to the usual wedding programs and favors.

Destination Etiquette

Although the same etiquette rules for weddings at home still apply, a little extra finesse and thoughtfulness should go into your planning.

  • Consider your family's, friends', and wedding attendants' budgets when asking them to join your wedding. Let them know up front whether you will be footing all/some/none of the bills.
  • Finalize the guest list prior to sending save-the-dates. This way, you don't accidentally cut someone from the list who's expecting an invitation.
  • Don't make assumptions as to whether the invitee will attend or not. People you may not expect to might splurge.
  • Even though it's a destination wedding, you can still set up a gift registry - and a honeymoon registry is OK too!
  • Remember that you can also plan a reception at home and invite whoever you wish.
  • Pay for group activities you host for your guests and join in! They will want to spend time with you.

Be Prepared for Problems

Plan for the best - but also be prepared if things don't go as smoothly as planned. Examples of this include:

  • Family and friends who have not seen you in a while will want to spend time with you, so be ready to share your time.
  • A wedding attendant may not necessarily have the funds to join your wedding, so be ready to splurge if you really want him or her there.
  • You may need extra help in getting things done, so be ready to be generous with thank yous and humble with requests for help.
  • Sometimes hurricanes and unexpected weather happen, so be ready with a plan B such as an alternative location inside if the wedding is outdoors.
  • Sometimes suitcases get delivered late, so be ready to laugh it off or pick up a second outfit.

Follow Up and Follow Through

You will be doing most of the work in advance and there will be no last minute "go back to the house and get something," a way to "call for backup," or any other safety nets to help fix a ruined wedding. So follow up, follow through, and be thorough with everything. Using the checklist will help you stay on track and ensure you haven't missed a thing.

Plan an Exciting and Memorable Wedding

A destination wedding can be rich, exciting, and super memorable. If you are interested in planning your own, use our handy checklist to get things done on time and prepare to enjoy the destination wedding of your dreams relaxed and stress free!

Guide to Planning a Destination Wedding