Before You Go

Be prepared to spend more
“People are under the impression that destination weddings cost less,” Light says. “But per person, it’s almost always more expensive.” You may have to make two to three trips to the site before the wedding, and the travel adds up. On the flip side, your guest list will be a lot smaller.

Secure the hotel rooms right away
When it comes to blocking rooms, go for the maximum amount possible; determine the final release date for any unused rooms, and time this so it’s about 30 days before the event—after you’ve received your RSVPs. Keep in mind that you can often get a cheaper rate online than the group rate directly through the hotel. “Tell your guests that even when rooms are blocked off to always check online for better deals,” Gregoli says. “You never know what you can find on Expedia and other sites.”

Make sure it’s legal
“Generally, if it is legal for you to wed in another country, then the marriage will be recognized here,” Light says. Still, depending on your destination, making it legal can require legwork. France has possibly the most laborious rules, as well as requiring couples to establish 40 days’ residency before they can wed; other countries, like Italy and Spain, mandate that all U.S. paperwork (birth certificate, passport, an affidavit stating that both parties are free to marry, and, if applicable, a divorce decree) is translated into the local language and bears an apostille (a stamp of authenticity from the state where the document was issued). To find out what steps to take, contact the U.S. Embassy ( in the country where you’d like to wed, advises Gregoli. If you’re marrying at a resort, the venue coordinator should help facilitate any required paperwork.
Note: Same-sex couples looking for a wedding destination can marry legally in Canada, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, and the Netherlands, or opt for a civil union in the U.K., France, and Germany. The standard paperwork (mentioned above) is necessary, though some countries, especially the continental European ones, also have residency requirements.

Read the hotel’s contract again and again
“Make sure that the venue’s quote in the contract includes price, service, and tax,” Light says. “Taxes alone can be as high as 30 percent.” She recommends outlining everything you want—from food to drinks to equipment rental—then asking the hotel to generate an itemized contract. Many locations outside New York don’t have a standard open bar at weddings—negotiate this beforehand. (“It will be worth paying a bit more for an open bar,” Lee says.) Resorts tend to have a high rate of staff turnover, so getting everything in writing is a big headache preventer.

Don’t check the dress
On that, the experts agree: “Always, always, take your dress on the plane,” says Gregoli. “The flight attendant can hang it for you in the first-class closet.” But how else to get it there? “Unless your dress is truly a slip and can fit into a carry-on garment bag, ship it so that it arrives at least three days before your ceremony,” Lee says. “That way, if there are any delays, you have some breathing room.” Mark Ingram of Mark Ingram Bridal Atelier suggests a case-by-case plan of action. “For island destinations outside the U.S. territories, we recommend taking the dress with you, because shipping restrictions vary,” Ingram says. “For weddings in the U.S. and most European countries, shipping is a safe alternative. We mostly use FedEx overnight, with a signature required. We always insure the full value of the gown and any additional items, such as a veil or headpiece.” Your bridal salon can also recommend its preferred method of shipment.

Before You Go