Destination weddings can be daunting. You won’t be able to control every single tiny detail for a start. You’ll need to get your head around complex logistics and legalities, a new culture and climate, and figure out how to get your wardrobe, favours and décor there as well as yourselves and your guests. But get it right and it can be fabulous.
“Couples should decide on the location in general first, then the hotel or venue specifically and the time of year,” suggests Charalambos Lardas of Louis Hotels, which manages venues across the Mediterranean. “We have a dedicated website where we list all our hotels that host weddings, as well as the names of the co-ordinators at each, so you can get in touch with any queries.”
Think about how much time to add on before and after the wedding day to make it worth your while travelling abroad. “Give some thought to the people you love,” points out Sharron Masoura, wedding manager at Exclusive Yacht Weddings. “You’ll need to let your guests know as early as possible so they can book time off work. And it’s crucial to check potential term-time clashes, as children cannot be taken out of school.” If your heart’s set on a beautiful beach wedding in Bali, accept from the start that not everyone you care about will be able to attend; time and money are luxuries that some simply cannot afford.
The next step is non-negotiable: find a dynamite wedding planner who knows the territory. Have a look online for a reputable planner. “An online search will normally give you good results,” assures Beth Stretton at Marry Me In France. “As this is not a particularly saturated industry, you tend to find that those who are listed first will be the most tried and tested.”
Experience is what matters, so research thoroughly and check out the testimonials. The same, of course, goes for suppliers, although these will often be recommended and managed by your chosen co-ordinator – yet another reason to hire an expert with plenty of connections in the area.
“Once you have your planner, work out how and when you can meet up,” advises Sharron. “How will you communicate? Email? Skype? Local phone number? Can you contact them whenever you need them, however big or small your problem? Is their English up to scratch? Things can sometimes get lost in translation.”
This is no ordinary planning journey. Dropping by the venue after work to check the size of the tables or scheduling a cake-tasting on a lunchbreak are not even in the realms of possibility. You’ll need to learn to communicate clearly and precisely with your planner and cram as much as possible into any pre-wedding venue visits your budget allows.
“I reckon you need to give your planner a two-hour face-to-face meeting at the start, then one hour during the planning period and a further two-hour meeting before the big day,” says Sharron. “When couples visit, we do hair and makeup trials, and food and wine tastings, and we meet the celebrant to go through the schedule,” reports Beth. “It’s an intense time, but it always works.”
Fail to do your law homework at your peril. Each country has vastly different rules, and the freedom we enjoy in Scotland to lawfully marry in humanist, civil and religious ceremonies definitely does not apply everywhere else. Often, couples have a quick legal service in a UK registry office beforehand and a secular or faith-based blessing as their ‘real’ wedding abroad. Read up on residency rules (i.e. how long you must be in the country ahead of the wedding to make your licence lawful) and any necessary paperwork.
“In the Bahamas, you have to satisfy a 24-hour residence requirement before you can apply for a marriage licence,” says Maria Grazia Marino of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. You’ll also need legal paperwork to prove you’re single or officially divorced. A better climate is, naturally, a mammoth advantage to tying the knot abroad, but even the Caribbean has its moments. It might sound pessimistic, but you’ll still need a wet-weather plan. “The first half of the year is best in the Bahamas,” Maria says. “The rest is prone to tropical storms.”
And, strange as it might sound, the sunshine you’ve been craving all year long can sometimes be too much. “Cyprus can be excessively hot in July and August, which is why we usually conduct weddings at 5pm onwards, when it is cooler,” says Sharron. “It helps having the ceremonies on board the yachts, as we have a lovely sea breeze.” Sounds heavenly!