Wedding travel is travelling to get married. Destination weddings are an entire section of the travel and wedding industry, and you’ll find accommodation, planners and agents that specialise in arranging the perfect celebration at many destinations worldwide. Alternatively, a couple can plan their own travel, for any reason they choose, and on any scale. However, as marriage is usually a legal construct, and often involves catering for guests, there are additional complications over an average holiday to ensure that everything runs to plan.
There can be many reasons why couples travel in order to marry: They may be wanting to find share their travel adventure to get closer to their friends and family; They may be trying to have a smaller wedding, or even an elopement, and avoid the encumbrances of a large social function; They may be travelling back to a place of their heritage – with ancestral or religious value; They may be trying to avoid local laws limiting whom or how they can marry; Or they simply have found a beautiful or special place they want to get married.
The destination might have more liberal laws for same-sex marriage or marriage across ethnic or religious groups. An international marriage is still recognised at home in some cases where a local marriage would not be possible.
Recent immigrants or mixed-nationality couples may choose to have a ceremony in “the old country”, in a location relatively easy for guests to reach; or where they get more for their money. Legal requirements for marriage may also be a lot less onerous in some third country.
Eloping to a tropical beach may merely be a way to escape the winter cold. Elopements may be spurred by reasons ranging from a dislike of being the center of attention, to keeping the costs down, to avoiding all of the fuss and bother and work of planning a large social event. They are also chosen by people who want to avoid unpleasant scenes with a difficult family member, such as when the parents’ marriage ended in an acrimonious divorce or key loved ones are not on speaking terms.
The requirements to be wed (as foreigners) vary between countries, and can be also vary between visitors and residents. Make sure you can be wed there – and that the marriage will be recognized – and that all needed paperwork is ready in time.
Some countries or religious institutions may restrict the ability to marry someone of another religion, limit the ability of divorcé(e)s to remarry, or impose a waiting period before widow(er)s and divorcé(e)s can wed another. In some countries, laws vary between provinces or federal states.
In many countries marriage usually includes both a religious procedure and a civil one, while in others the religious procedure is recognized by the civil authorities and an alternative to civil marriage (or the only procedure recognized). Where civil marriage is enshrined in law (such as the Netherlands) there is often a mandate or very strong social tradition that the civil marriage be done first and religious institutions may refuse to schedule a religious wedding before the civil wedding. Also where clergy have the mandate to wed, clergy of minority denominations may not have it – recognition of religious officiants from non-mainstream denominations varies widely. In some countries the church will wed only members, or only heterosexual couples, while still offering a similar procedure to bless a civil marriage between persons they would not or did not wed. Know what procedures you want and what the possibly differing requirements are.
Most countries require an application or license be obtained a specified amount of time in advance, which in turn requires documentation of identity, that the partners are not close relatives and that neither partner is already married. Some may require your documents be translated into the local language. Local laws vary in the amount of time required between the license and the ceremony; while some allow the license to be obtained a few days in advance or even same-day, lodging a Notice of Intended Marriage in Australia incurs a one month minimum notice period.
The English traditional practice of reading the banns of marriage in a house of worship (“if anyone dost know any reason why these two should not be joined together in holy matrimony, thou art to declare it…”) is now superseded by the required periods of notice.
Residencies and visas
Research your chosen country’s laws carefully. Some countries (such as France) impose a minimum residency requirement for couples before marriage. In Kenya, the minimum age to get married is 21. Mexico requires a tourist permit to get married, with only a civil marriage recognized as legal. Especially when both partners are from different countries, a marriage in a third country – sometimes not even the country of residence of the couple – may be a lot easier and less bureaucratic hassle. Marriage law in different countries (even if otherwise similar), or even different states in federal countries, may differ significantly on such points, so research ahead carefully.
In some countries a marriage may require you to convince the authorities about it being sincere, not a way to get residence permits or other advantages. The procedure to verify this is usually based upon your match arising suspicion and can be anything from a cursory glance to lengthy interviews (sometimes of both partners separately) about even intimate questions, and you might need to get additional documentation.
Changing family name
A wedding can include changed family name. You should ensure at all times that the name in your passport matches your name on your travel documentation exactly. The safest option may be to do all the name updates when you return home – and before setting out on your next travel adventure.
At least if you are under the age of 21, then you should check the minimum age to marry with or without parental or judicial consent. This varies between jurisdictions (countries, and sometimes states).
After you’ve fulfilled all the requirements to be married abroad, you should then carefully check that your marriage is recognized in your home. It may require extra steps, such as registering your marriage locally.
Countries which do not allow same-sex marriage, usually do not recognize them when performed abroad. Homosexuality laws are under review in many countries; contact relevant government agencies for current status.
Italy is one of the most popular destinations to get married in, especially the historic and beautiful Florence, situated in Tuscany.
Cyprus is popular for travellers from a few Middle Eastern countries which forbid interfaith marriage at home.
Scotland was a popular place to elope in an era when English law forbade anyone under 21 to wed without parental consent; Gretna Green was a first easily-accessible point across the Scottish border.
Amsterdam was one of the early adopters of legal same-sex marriage (in 2001); see LGBT travel#Same-sex marriage for other popular destinations.
Las Vegas is known for weddings on short notice (no waiting period, no blood test) and novelty weddings (including Elvis impersonators for officiants). Nevada was also one of the first US states to liberalise divorce law; a Reno divorce is available to any couple, providing that at least one of the partners has lived in Nevada for six weeks.
Niagara Falls is known primarily for honeymoon travel, but also offers destination weddings.
Bermuda and Malta are among the few countries which allow masters of ships registered under their flags to conduct weddings at sea. Another option is a wedding on a cruise ship in port, with a local officiant from that port.
Denmark is much easier for non-Germans to get married in than Germany and is thus a popular destination for civil marriages of couples resident in Germany that include at least one non-German spouse.
Marriage at sea
While marriage aboard a ship at sea has long been romanticized in fiction, only a small handful of tiny countries grant ship’s captains ex officio rights to perform a wedding. Fortunately, some of the largest cruise liners and companies are registered in these countries – such as Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises register their ships in Malta and Princess Cruises and Cunard, with ships in Bermuda. Accordingly if you choose your cruise line carefully – they can plan and officiate your wedding. However, checking that it can be recognized in your home country is still critical.
If you choose to get married in a foreign port while on your journey, then you may be at the mercy of the weather if the cruise needs to skip a port, or there are delays in disembarking. This may throw your entire plans into disarray.
Of course, you can always choose to complete the legal parts of the wedding before leaving your home port.
Cost of guests
Imposing travel costs on guests is one of the more controversial parts of wedding travel. Although there may be many people who want to share your special day – imposing a significant cost burden that travel can require is not something that should be taken without consideration.
Unless you intend to pay for the transport costs of all attendees, which may be impractical, there are some things that can be done to assist in their planning. The wedding accommodation may provide a group discount to guests, and you can provide them with this pricing. You may also like to consider providing access to cheaper accommodation nearby.
A couple with friends or family living far from the wedding place, can choose to celebrate with them at another occasion. This can be a bachelor or bachelorette party, at a honeymoon trip just after the wedding, or a “second wedding” (which could be at an anniversary).