Planning a wedding, whether intimate or on a grand scale, can be daunting. Now throw in the element of going international and there can be a bit more complexity to the big day.
According to The Knot 2021 Real Wedding Study, 19% of couples opted to have destination weddings last year. This translates into nearly one in five couples saying “I do” in unique, sometimes far flung, destinations. While planning a wedding abroad can be a lot of fun, here are five tips to help smooth the process.
Just like taking the time to do research before planning an international vacation, the same holds true, if not more so, when planning a wedding abroad. Think basics. Most countries require that a U.S. passport be valid for six months after your return, so make sure yours is up to date. The U.S. Department of State recommends renewing passports no less than nine months before the expiration date.
It is an understatement to say that COVID-19 completely altered the way people travel and, while things are normalizing in most parts of the world, some places do still have strict travel requirements and COVID-related restrictions. The CDC is a resource for current information, including updates on testing and vaccination requirements, not only for COVID, but for other diseases such as Cholera, Yellow Fever and Zika virus.
While it may seem obvious that there might be a currency conversion rate when working with a different country, what isn’t obvious is how that continually fluxing rates might affect payments. This is important to keep in mind when managing, and trying to stay within, a budget. It’s also important to note that each country has its own tax, or VAT rate, with the average VAT in Europe being 21%. This should be taken into consideration and included in the overall budget as it might not always be included in proposals that vendors send.
Planning a wedding in a foreign country takes on a few additional complexities beyond language barriers and time zones. Working in a foreign country can also mean dealing with a different set of laws, regulations, customs and traditions, and knowing these ahead of time is key. For wedding planners, the first thing to know is whether a work permit or visa is required to execute the wedding onsite. Same holds true for any vendors who may be working the event. Some destinations might also require that the couple and planners hire and work only with local vendors. Needing a visa or work permit shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it is important to know ahead of time and plan for.
Depending on where the wedding is taking place, certain items may not be easy to obtain or may be most cost efficient to bring from the U.S. It’s critical to know how long shipping takes and what can and cannot be shipped in. In Mexico, for example, there are a wide range of items that are prohibited from being shipped, flip flops being one of them. It’s important to understand what documentation is needed and what must be submitted so that all items are there on time. Couples are advised to bring valuable wedding supplies with them in their personal luggage and always invest in wedding insurance.
Obtaining a Marriage License
Every country has its own set of rules and requirements for obtaining a marriage license and making a marriage legal in a foreign country isn’t quite as easy as hiring an officiant. Understand what the marriage requirements are in the country of choice. Some countries, such as Mexico, require blood tests, while others require the couple to establish “residency” for a set amount of time—this could be anywhere from a few days up to six months. Some wedding planners encourage couples to have their civil ceremony in their hometown and have their religious or symbolic ceremony in their country of choice.
Understand Local Culture
This can be one of the most important elements to be aware of. Whether you’re traveling to a bustling city like Rome or a to a remote village in Mexico, it’s critical to understand—and embrace—local culture, customs and traditions. It’s respectful to know simple facts about the country and how daily life is lived and it can also be extremely beneficial when engaging with local vendors. Knowing how people greet one another, whether it’s customary to tip, or whether shoes should be removed in homes, might seem inconsequential, but some cultures take their customs seriously. Wedding planners will often encourage couples to incorporate the local culture into their special day. Whether it’s serving up a local specialty, like paella in Spain, or including handicrafts from a local market in a welcome bag, it creates an immersive experience for guests and helps support the local community.
Expect the best, but plan for the worst. Take more time than you think you need, over prepare, and always have a Plan B, or C, just in case.