How to plan a wedding abroad: Advice from expats and travel bloggers

Andi (My Beautiful Adventures)

(Warning: This is a long post.) 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Seeing as my fiancé lives 6000 miles away, I don’t have much planned for today besides my usual Thursday night after-work drinks. So instead, to celebrate, I’ve asked travel bloggers and expats to dish out advice on planning a wedding abroad, or marrying someone from another country (or in many cases, both).

Destination weddings are becoming more and more popular, but — as I’ve learned firsthand trying to plan a wedding to a Brit who lives in Singapore while I’m in Paris — the logistics can be daunting. Thankfully, these eleven bloggers have kindly agreed to share their experiences and advice.

I’ve had to condense the answers a bit, but a full copy of all the responses can be found at the end of Part II of this post, as well as a list of all the bloggers who participated.

Ready? Cleared your schedule for the next half hour? Good. Here we go:

Andrea and John (Inspiring Travellers)

1. How did you decide on a location (where you currently live, your partner’s hometown, your hometown, a neutral fourth location)? 

Alyson: We were living in London when we decided to get married. We had not long returned from a Round the World trip and were getting back into the daily grind of earning more money to pay for the next adventure. We.are both passionate about travel, we met through travel, so it seemed appropriate to use the wedding as an excuse for another trip. Neither of us wanted a big wedding, we were perfectly happy for it to be just the two of us, so the location wasn’t chosen with guests in mind. We just thought Sri Lanka would be a good place to get married, I’d been before but my husband hadn’t, he wanted to go and I was very happy to revisit with him.

Andi: Buenos Aires, Argentina is the city that we met and fell in love in, so it was the natural choice for us. Plus, it would have been very difficult and expensive for my husband’s family and friends to get visas to travel to the USA and I wanted my family and friends to finally see my husband’s hometown.

Andrea: We wanted somewhere that would be a desirable location for our families and friends to travel to, but also somewhere that wasn’t so far away that it would make it stressful for us to plan. The Whitsunday Islands are an amazing Australian destination and somewhere that we felt people would want to see at some point in their lives. Of all the islands, Hamilton has the widest variety of accommodation choices and we felt that it would be the easiest for everyone to get to because there is an airport there.

Elizabeth: We got married legally in Thailand because of the visa situation and then decided to have a small ceremony in Thailand to celebrate because we wanted something small and weren’t sure when we would be able to have a big wedding back in our home country.

Emily: We live in Santiago, and we decided to have the wedding here primarily because it seemed like the easiest option in terms of planning. Santiago is also the city where we met and built our relationship, so it’s important to both of us. Plus we had to consider travel arrangements – my friends and family could easily come to Chile with passports they already had, whereas Chileans need visas to visit the US. Added bonus: Santiago is MUCH cheaper than San Francisco.

Kaley: We chose my husband’s hometown because we planned on living in Spain, and we thought it better to do the wedding in Spain in that case. We chose his hometown of Zamora because it’s small, beautiful, and easy to do all the paperwork. Also, all his family lives nearby. It just made sense to us.

Laurel: We made a deal, I moved to Germany, but we would get married in Canada where I’m from. My family is also much larger than his so it made sense logistically as well.

Lindsey: The decision was obvious for us – life was (and is) in Paris and it was certainly a more alluring backdrop for our nuptials than my hometown. Organizing a wedding from afar while I was in graduate school wasn’t a feasible option so that also contributed to our decision.

Michi: Though we married in California, we decided to live in Spain because I thought it would be easier for me to adapt and start over there since I already knew the language, had already lived in Spain, and had good job prospects there.

Sam: We originally wanted to do a destination wedding, but in the end, I felt too guilty about having friends and family pay so much money to attend our wedding that we decided to have it in Paris (where we live).

Satu: We wanted to get married in a “neutral” location to which everyone would have to travel. We also wanted to celebrate the big day in a place where there were plenty of activities to do from the outdoor adventures to city life.

Kaley (Y Mucho Mas)

2. How did you ask your friends and family to give up their vacation time and money to attend your wedding abroad, and what were the implications of that decision? 

Alyson: We didn’t really expect anybody to come to the wedding, we made it clear that people were welcome to do so if they wished, but it was their choice. There were no bridesmaid or best man involved, no invitations. In the end my Mum and Dad came along with my Godmother and another Aunt. My little group was still very happy to come, despite the expense, I think it was all very exciting for them. None of my husband’s family came.

Andi: My husband and I drove ourselves crazy at first trying to accommodate everyone’s budget and schedule. Then we decided that we were going to do what was best for the two of us and if our family and friends could come that would mean the world to us, but if they could not then they would be there in spirit. Deciding to have a destination wedding means accepting the fact that not everyone that you love will be able to attend your special day. 

Andrea: We pretty much just told everyone about our decision to get married in Hamilton Island and hoped that they would decide to join us. Obviously we spoke with our parents about it first because there was no way we would be getting married without them coming. Some people weren’t happy that they would have to travel and thus decided not to attend. We knew we couldn’t make everyone happy so we just had to do what we felt was the right thing for ourselves. But our guests who did make the trip ended up saying how much they enjoyed it and many thanked us for having the wedding there, giving them a good excuse to take a once-in-a-lifetime holiday with their families.

Elizabeth: It would have been a big burden to ask our family to come over to Thailand for our wedding so we had a private ceremony with just us two. From air plane tickets to hotels and the actual wedding, it would have cost so much money for everyone to come over, we were happy to spend only a little and get exactly what we wanted.

Emily: I am lucky to have friends and family who travel internationally relatively frequently, so I knew that they would probably make the trip down to Chile. I did make sure to check the date with my international guests before booking anything, and my bridesmaids all stayed in our apartment to cut down on their costs.

Kaley: I could only really ask my parents, which they did happily. They even paid for my brother and (then) future sister-in-law to attend the wedding as well, a trip they could not have permitted if they had had to pay for it themselves. They had a great time! My in-laws got them an apartment to stay in for free, where they could eat breakfast, sleep, watch television, and just relax away from all the madness.

Laurel: We sent out “save the date” cards to our German guests eight months in advance (Germans are planners). We had 16 guests from Germany who attended and they turned their trip into a vacation. Fortunately we got married in the Canadian Rockies so it was easy to motivate people to come to such a beautiful place.  Not everyone was able to come of course but that will always be the case when having a wedding abroad.

Lindsey: It wasn’t so much a question as an alert — we’re getting married in six months (long story!) and we’d love for you to make it but understand if it’s too short notice. In the end, the guest list was predominantly composed of my husband’s family and friends and the final count was between 55-60 people, a perfectly intimate group. I would have loved for mom and sister to have been there but we knew that this choice would have its disadvantages.

Michi: David and I planned our wedding in seven weeks, so you can imagine the scramble his family went through to buy plane tickets and ask for time off. Thankfully, Spain’s more flexible about such things, so we’re happy to say that everyone made it to the wedding! 

Sam: Most of my family had just done a big European vacation right before our wedding and had used up their vacation days, so I didn’t feel comfortable asking them to take unpaid vacation and come back so soon afterward.  Plus my husband’s family is gigantic, and we were trying to keep costs down, so we ended up deciding to invite immediate family only so no one felt pressured (and nor did our budget). I know some family members were probably slightly offended, but we couldn’t just invite one or two people and not the rest.

Satu: We were quite relaxed about it and made it clear that it was OK if it was not possible for someone to travel to the wedding. In the end of the day no matter where we got married, someone would’ve had to travel anyway, and everyone was very understanding about this.

Emily (Emily in Chile)

3. Did you hire someone to plan your wedding for you, did you hire vendors yourself, or did you do a total DIY wedding? If so, what was it like to have a DIY wedding abroad? Was it difficult to source materials? Was it a cost savings?  

Alyson: We booked the entire wedding and honeymoon through a well known luxury travel company in the UK. The wedding was arranged by the hotel. There was a member of staff in charge of organising weddings, the hotel was a popular wedding destination, we thought we would be in very safe hands with such a reputable company.

Andi: My best friend happened to be living in Buenos Aires at the time of our wedding and I hired her to be my planner. I planned for an entire year with her via Skype. She would meet with the different vendors and hire them on my behalf, however I also ordered a lot of things on Etsy and brought them with me in suitcases. There is no way I could have had the wedding of my dreams without her.

Andrea: Hamilton Island has a weddings department and you are assigned a person to look after your wedding. From there you can choose the level of service that you want from them. We ended up using quite a few of the island’s services, but also sourced some vendors on our own. I joined an online forum where most of the Hamilton Island brides get together and share their experiences. This was SO valuable for me and I highly recommend that you find an online group of other brides to chat with who are getting married in the same destination as you are.

Elizabeth: I did everything myself. I contacted the hotel and set up the ceremony directly, bought the dress, and special decorations at markets and shops in Bangkok before heading down to the beach and getting the flowers and my hair set up the day before in a local town. It would have been very difficult and expensive to have any other kind of wedding than we had. Ours was pretty budget but was also very simple and easy. I personally couldn’t have done it any other way!

Kaley: No, we didn’t hire anyone, since Mario was living in Zamora the whole time. Mario did a lot of the work, actually. In Spain, though, you usually pay for the location to do most of the work. You don’t really decorate the church or the reception (although you could if you wanted). They usually do it for you. We chose the florist along with the other couple getting married there the same day (a great cost saver that is quite common in Spain!), and he went there and decorated it before our wedding.

Laurel: I did most of it myself, but hired a decorator for the day of the event, so that I could just enjoy the day with my friends and family. All of our guests were staying in a hotel, so I didn’t want to impose on anyone by asking them to help decorate. It was money well spent and much cheaper than hiring a wedding planner.  It was surprisingly easy to source materials online. I had them shipped to my mom’s address in Canada, which cost the same as it would have had I planned the wedding from Canada.

Lindsey: We did everything ourselves! My in-laws came with us to visit a few venues but ultimately my husband and I took on the bulk of the work. We opted to work with a company that owns two very large apartments in the 9th, a stone’s throw from Galeries Lafayette, that they rent out for events. The upstairs room was over 100m², suffused with stunning natural light and just a few permanent features like a bar and some couches but the rest we needed to rent. This was all relatively easy to handle because we were living in Paris and not trying to plan an event from abroad.

Sam: Because we were trying to keep costs down, we did a total DIY wedding. The only things we outsourced was the cake and the flowers. We also booked the downstairs of our favorite restaurant and negotiated a special rate for a three course meal. I enlisted the help of a few friends to decorate the day of, and one went hiked across town to get the cake with my FIL, but otherwise we did most of the set-up ourselves. It took a ton of time and a gigantic spreadsheet to sort everything out though (plus a few gray hairs I’m sure), so if you’re extremely busy or not very detail-orientated, hiring a wedding planner would probably be money well-spent.

Satu: We had spent a lot of time in the location in the previous years, hence we knew the owners of the restaurant who did the catering very well. They helped in organizing the main components like the marquee and food. The rest, we did on our own but it felt pretty low stress, as there was only so much you can do when you are not in the location.

Laurel (Monkeys and Mountains)

4. How did your wedding costs compare to a typical wedding in your hometown/country, or to other destination weddings? 

Alyson: Our wedding would have been significantly cheaper than a traditional wedding in the UK. We probably spent slightly more than most people spend on their honeymoon for the whole thing. After all, there were no fancy dinners or receptions to book, no wedding dress, I wore trousers from Karen Millen, and no bridesmaid’s dresses.

Andi: I think we probably saved around $10,000 having the wedding in Argentina versus the USA. The food and beverage costs were much cheaper there.

Andrea: Our wedding was a lot more expensive than it would have been if we had it elsewhere. That is probably because of the destination itself  – being an Australian island, things come at a premium. However, due to the destination aspect, we probably still ended up paying less money than if we had a wedding in a place where our families live. We’re both European so those guest lists would have been enormous.

Elizabeth: Not even a comparison. My wedding was small and personal which is a great way to have a affordable destination wedding. I got to really enjoy the day and the beautiful surroundings of having a fairy tale wedding in Thailand, without all the stresses. Big weddings are so expensive, stressful and overrated in my opinion. While we did miss our family and friends, getting to celebrate with them now that we are home is much more fun with no expectations.

Emily: We easily would have spent 3-4 times as much in San Francisco for the same style of wedding.

Michi: My weddings costs were probably a fourth of what most typical weddings cost in California, or in Spain for that matter.

Sam: Because we kept things simple – a champagne reception in the park after the wedding, dinner at a local restaurant and then cake and more champagne for our larger circle of friends at our home at the end of the night, our total cost ended up being way less than your typical American wedding.

5. In these days of Facebook baby photo blockers and Tumblrs devoted to obnoxious brides, how do you keep family and friends involved in the wedding process from afar without inundating your social media streams with unwanted wedding stuff? 

Alyson: This was a long time pre-Facebook, in the days when people used telephones.

Andrea: We made a dedicated wedding website and sent the URL to our guests with the invitations. Then they didn’t hear from us until probably a month out when we sent everyone some last-minute updates with more details. I don’t even think I mentioned our wedding once on Facebook. When not everyone is invited or attending, I think it’s poor manners to bombard people with wedding information. Plus, if you share everything in advance, what surprises are there for people to look forward to on the day? 

Emily: Other than trip planning and dress emails to my bridesmaids, I didn’t really make a point to keep people updated. It’s your wedding – no one else cares as much as you do.

Michi: Using e-mail, only e-mail, and I was short and to the point. I kept friends and family updated with the date and location until the official invitations were sent out; organized carpools for guests who were coming from similar locations; and recommended lodging and hair stylists in the area for those who were coming from faraway.

Satu: We set up a password protected website for the wedding and kept all the information and updates strictly there.

Alyson (World Travel Family)

6. How do you deal with well-intentioned people who want to throw you parties, showers, etc., in your hometown or another location that’s not in your upcoming travel plans?

Andi: I simply had the Bachelorette party two days before the wedding in Buenos Aires and asked my girlfriends to make sure that they arrived in time for it.

Michi: As it was all a whirlwind, the only thing organized was a bachelor/bachelorette party in Vegas a couple of weeks before the wedding (that I was luckily able to get time off for). I sent out an email inviting close friends and family, and those who could make it, did!

The morning of my wedding, my best friend from university did take a moment to present me with a few special gifts and the meaning behind each of them. It really was incredibly thoughtful and touching.

Sam: This one was a little tough — a friend of mine wanted to do a girl’s weekend in the UK, and I was hesitating again for budgetary reasons. In the end, she talked me into it and I am so glad I went — we ended up having a blast and it was a nice break from all of the stress of the wedding planning!

Still reading? Part II continues here.

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Comments

  1. Jess C. says:

    Thank you for doing this post! So lovely to hear other women’s (level-headed) perspectives and advice.

  2. Jay says:

    This was a really interesting read even though I’m already married. We were married in Gabon very last minute thus it was just the 2 of us and then we planned a Canadian wedding from Gabon. I like hearing other unique stories & situations!

  3. What a great post idea. Such a lot of advice and so many great bloggers! How is your own wedding planning coming along?

  4. Thanks for including me! I enjoyed the post.

  5. Kaitlin says:

    What a great post Edna!

  6. Laurel says:

    So interesting to hear how other expats and travel bloggers planned their weddings from abroad. Thanks for the opportunity to participate.

  7. Michi says:

    Inspiring to see that there’s quite a bunch of us!!! :D

  8. Andi says:

    This post is really going to help a lot of people!!! I love that you took the time to do this! Thanks so much for including us. :) Happy wedding planning!

  9. erica says:

    This is amazing, for so many reasons. Some of which include: I’m totally picturing you pull out a notebook to frantically jot all this down, it a 2-parter on Valentines day ;)

    Happy day of hearts!

  10. This is helpful :) Very cute as well. Love the wedding photos!

  11. I enjoyed this post! Such a good read! This will definitely help a lot of people. Now, I want to have a destination wedding!

  12. Jessica Hill says:

    Such a cool idea for a post! I’m sure you got some useful tips for your own wedding as well ;-)

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