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6 (practical) truths about destination weddings

A destination wedding can be a blast, but it’s not all white-sand beaches, Tuscan villas and cocktails in Mexico.
As well as the exciting parts  getting hitched, an amazing holiday with family and friends  there are some practical bits that shouldn't be forgotten. Most important are the legal requirements  the must-have declarations that mean your marriage will be lawfully recognised back home. Sometimes you'll need to have all of your (document) ducks in a row before you even touch down in your destination. The thing is, nobody ever mentions this paperwork on Pinterest! It's all floaty bridesmaids' dresses, lantern strings and heat-resistant hair inspo. So what else is being kept on the down-low about destination weddings? We wanted to find out, so we asked three expert wedding planners to help us to just that. Pens at the ready...

Prepare yourself for paperwork

How’s your signature? It will need to be in tip-top shape so you can sign on the dotted line of various official documents. For any marriage to be legally recognised in Australia, it must be validated under the law of the country where the marriage takes place and also comply with Australian law. Enter applications, papers, Embassy visits, translations and other red tape requirements. 

The best place to start? Google. Visit embassy and consulate websites, make phone calls and pull together as much information as you can. Every country is different, so doing your homework will help to avoid any unwelcome surprises down the track. For example, Australians wanting to
get married in Bali must be one of five religions recognised in Indonesia (Buddhism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam or Protestantism) and make an application at the consulate for a certificate of No Impediment to Marriage. In Italy, two main documents are required: the Atto Notorio and the Nulla Osta. The Atto Notorio has to be obtained before you leave for Italy; the Nulla Osta can be made at the Australian Embassy in Rome or the Australian Consulate-General in Milan. 

Don’t like paperwork? Hello, wedding planners. In countries that require a hefty amount of documentation and legal steps, a wedding coordinator can be your best friend. “We do find that many couples don’t realise the amount of paperwork required to have a legal wedding in certain countries,” explains Lauren Cacciola from Marry Me Abroad. “It’s not until we begin the process together that they understand and are incredibly thankful that they have someone who has done this many times before. Dealing with regional administrations, local mayors and consulate officials who are short on time and patience can be testing for couples trying to work through this on their own.”

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How much you spend is always up to you

The key word here is ‘always’, because if your heart is set on a super small wedding somewhere that’s easy to reach and has a great exchange rate, it certainly is possible to have destination wedding on a budget. On the flip side, destination weddings can cost just as much or even more than a celebration at home. As well as the up-front costs  venues, flights, accommodation, suppliers – there can be hidden expenses too. Factors like exchange rates and taxes not built in to the final cost can catch you by surprise.

Libby Doherty, a seasoned planner and stylist, recommends creating a detailed list of all spending. “Individually outline all items and all of your costs,” she explains. “Also be wary of package deals, because you need to know exactly what is included. When setting up, just ask your planner or whoever you’re communicating with for an itemised budget so you can see exactly what you’re getting.” What about the cost of hiring a wedding planner, we hear you ask. Sure, it might be an additional expense, but it’s often well worth it. “I don’t think it’s easy to plan a destination wedding, I don’t think it would be any fun planning on your own,” Libby shares. This may be especially true if you’re not keen on late-night Skype chats with your venue and suppliers, or are eager to have some of the responsibility lifted from your shoulders. 

Respecting your destination's culture and customs is a must

In fact it’s often non-negotiable. When you’re overseas, being mindful of the country’s traditions, culture and customs is important. Understanding what you can and can’t expect should be part of your early research, especially since this could influence what location you decide to tie the knot in. “Always ensure you are respectful of local culture and religion,” explains Lauren. “For example, consider if your wedding dress is appropriate for the ceremony venue. If you're having a Catholic ceremony in Italy, it will take place in the church and we encourage you not to opt for a strapless dress and not to have bare shoulders.” In Greece, some churches only allow couples who have been christened in the Greek Orthodox faith to have their ceremony in a church. You’ll also have to look into religious or national holidays. Nyepi, Bali’s Day of Silence, sees the island grind to a halt – no flights, closed shops, no traffic and minimal noise. During other times of the year, some provinces also restrict amplified music after midnight. 

Not everyone will make it

A destination wedding can be a huge commitment for your guests, in terms of both cost and time. A lot of your guests will likely jump at the chance to take an overseas holiday, but for others, getting away or taking time off work won’t be feasible. Letting your guests know in advance about your plans for a destination wedding isn’t just polite, it’s also practical. This gives your nearest and dearest plenty of time to get organised, whether that’s applying for annual leave, putting some money aside for flights or asking someone to pet-sit. You can help your guests by sending out travel information packs, with details on suggested flights, accommodation and insurance. You could also do your family and friends a solid by organising accommodation discounts or picking up the cost of things like transportation to and from the airport. 

Communication is key

How familiar are you with Skype and time zones? It’s time to brush up. “If you enquire directly to the resorts, you may be left with the challenges of communicating long distance,” says Mandi from World Wide Weddings. “Our job [as agents] is to take that anxiety away and provide one well-versed, prompt and understanding point of contact.” Communicating with venues or suppliers on the other side of the world means you can’t always expect immediate responses (especially with emails), so rather than sending off a dozen different emails it can help to compile all of your questions or queries into the one email. This will eliminate too much back and forth.

You’ll also need to be considerate of language barriers. Be specific in what you’re asking for and what you want, and make sure you know exactly what you’ll be getting on the big day. Some things can get lost in translation, and your idea of a small centrepiece may not be the same as your venue's idea of a small centrepiece. When you’re in doubt, refer to images – because we all know a picture is worth 1000 words!

It's easy to get caught up in the hype

Planning a holiday is exciting enough, so just imagine how much fun it is planning a holiday where you also happen to get hitched! It can be too easy to become swept up in the adventure and build-up of a destination wedding, but it’s important not to forget the practical bits. That could be organising a back-up location in case it rains on your outdoor beach ceremony, or managing your expectations about what flowers you can get in Fiji. “The biggest misconception we see is that people want the full white wedding, with all the trimmings, sash colours, specific flowers and certain foods, but on a tropical island,” shares Mandi. “We sometimes have to gently remind people to revise their expectations a little; that you’re not going to get a Sydney society wedding on an island, and to embrace the local tastes and styles!” A planner will also help with this kind of thing and make sure your focus never drifts too far.

Of course, once you’ve crossed your Ts and dotted your Is, it’s time to enter peak excitement mode. Other than on your actual wedding day, your excitement levels will likely be highest when your guests start touching down in your destination. A pre-wedding get together or dinner is the perfect way to bring your guests together, welcome them to the destination and tell them how much it means to you that they've travelled for your big day. 

Final tips, straight from the experts

An amazing wedding planner is worth their weight in gold. They are your point of contact for everything from navigating legal red tape to booking the best suppliers (they’ll also have the local hook-ups, so may be able to get you great deals!)

Keeping an open mind and being flexible can save your stress levels. Planning an overseas wedding might mean giving up total control over some things, and being able to roll with the punches will come in handy if any issues pop up unexpectedly.

Arrive at your destination a few days before the wedding. You might need to finalise documents or paperwork at local offices, and it will also give you time for last-minute prep and checks.

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