Getting married is stressful. On this we can all agree.
From managing a tricky guestlist ('But Aunt Helen's got to come!') to buying the right dress, sorting out the flowers and secretly worrying about being jilted, things can get a little tense. Which is why lots of couples decide to head abroad and marry on a sun-drenched beach with a handful of their nearest and dearest. However, this also presents a particular set of problems.
We've spoken to five brides and grooms about their experiences of getting married abroad - what went right, what could have gone better, and any advice they have for couples planning to jet off to say 'I do.'
Samara Roach from Harrow married her husband James in Mauritius in October 2012.
How long did it take you to plan your wedding? About a year and three months.
What were the pitfalls? Rain! It threatened to rain on the morning of the wedding, which caused me to have a full-blown Bridezilla moment with lots of tears. We hadn't paid the £750 to have a marquee; why would it rain in Mauritius? I kept thinking of all of our guests travelling for over 12 hours to get there, who had paid a fortune to attend, and ruefully thought of how we could have been in Hertfordshire or whatnot to get rain. As it happened, it didn't.
The actual planning was pretty straightforward; it was my first (and hopefully last!) wedding, but the hotel were experts. However, the Virgin staff we dealt with were a waste of time. They weren't clued up on the process, so I felt quite lost for a while. I sorted this by contacting the hotel directly using email and Skype. It was also scary because we'd never been to Mauritius! We didn't know what it was going to be like.
Planning the menu was tricky, and booze packages were expensive. None included wine, which we completely missed, and we ended up having seated wineless guests at dinner, much to my dad's horror. This was quickly resolved, but meant guests weren't sure what to do about drinks before we arrived.
What were the plusses? It only cost £10k, and we had our wedding and honeymoon all in one. All of our guests were on top form, relaxed, and ready to party. We managed to spend time with all the people that visited, and we enjoyed family dinners and a catamaran booze cruise. It made a special day all the more memorable.
What advice would you give couples planning weddings abroad? Plan, plan, plan. Apparently, the organisers had never met a bride-to-be like me. I had a suitcase of bits for decorations, table settings, chalk boards, and signs; I correctly didn't think that the hotel would be able to accommodate my style, so I took everything I needed with me, including a sweetie bar and 12 bottles of prosecco.
Ladies - don't get awkward tan lines if your dress is sleeveless, and don't get too tanned before the big day or your expensive cleverly-selected make up won't match!
Amy Smith from Norwich married her husband Neil in Mykonos in September 2014.
How long did it take you to plan your wedding? 12 months, but that was once I found which location to get married in. As soon as I got engaged I started researching every country abroad before choosing Mykonos.
Were there any unforeseen issues? We couldn’t legally get married in Mykonos - we could only get a blessing. The venue couldn’t help us find someone to marry us, so I had visions of a waiter from the venue or a wedding guest from our party being the person who did the deed! Luckily, we had friends in Mykonos, who helped us out so much, and they contacted a few people who provided us with contact details. Everything would have been so stressful without their help.
We didn’t have a wedding planner, but luckily Tamar, our wedding celebrant, was extremely helpful and provided us with so much more than we could have ever imagined. The venue also arranged for fireworks, which were fantastic. We were lucky though; we went out to Mykonos one year before the wedding and also in May 2014 to finalise lots of things prior to our September wedding, which made things very stress-free. However, the wedding venue took up to a month to get back to us, which was worrying - they’re Greek and very laid back, and I was the worried bride asking lots of questions.
Our most stressful dilemma caused me so much aggro; our wedding invitation featured our first wedding venue, which we had originally booked. We were naïve - our friends had recommended this venue, so we met with the owners, finalised dates and never discussed costs, as our friends had booked parties there. Once the planning got underway, with invitations sent to guests and people booking their holiday, the venue sent us their prices. They had heard the word 'wedding' and costs had shot up. Neil and I nearly had a heart attack.
So after lots of negotiations, which still cost us a bomb, we then had to go with Plan B, which turned out to be perfect!
Always, always discuss costs up front (which normal people would always do in the first place). Don’t be scared to talk money as it’s always a difficult subject to discuss when you’re face to face with the owners. Be confident with your questions and always do your research.
What are the benefits of getting married abroad? It’s so much cheaper than doing it in the UK.
Do you have any advice for people planning weddings abroad? Do your research, and if you can go out there beforehand, do it! I created a blog with lots of useful information about flights, hotels and places to go and see, which a lot of guests said was very helpful.
Also - plan ahead. I made sure all my guests could book early cheap flights way in advance. You have to be very organised if you want to get married aboard and not have a wedding planner. However, if you have the cash to spend on one, I would recommend you do as this will eliminate lots of stress and tears.
We got married in Europe, so nearly 70 people came out to see us. If we'd chosen an exotic venue further afield, we wouldn’t have had as many guests.
Carolyn Botfield from London married her husband Alex in Miami in October 2014.
How long did planning your wedding take? We had a year to plan it, due to having lots of teachers in the family, so had to wait for half term - we also wanted to give people (and ourselves!) as much notice and time to save up time off and holiday money. The main planning was from January - March once flights were released. We had a very non-traditional wedding though, so we only really needed to get there, get a marriage licence, book the ceremony and have the reception.
What were the pitfalls? The initial reaction from some friends and family was unexpected; we totally understood it was a big ask for people to travel all that way, so were expecting most people not to come. Instead, everyone came, but a few just moaned a lot about it, even on the wedding day!
Trying to find a notary public in London to stamp the wedding licence for us and having to pay £100 extra for that was unexpected (the licence itself was only $90). We aren't really 'wedding people' - our mantra was 'If we cant get excited about it, we don't do it' - so out went flowers, cake, favours, table placements and even the wedding breakfast.
Our non-traditional approach upset a few guests and I spent a year fielding questions about why we weren't feeding them a three-course meal and why I wasn't having a wedding dress/cake/bouquet. The only extra expense we had was the hotel bar forgetting to switch to a cash bar and going over the pre-paid bar tab by over $1,000! But a kindly stranger stepped in and offered to pay half for us, which was amazing.
What are the benefits of going abroad to get married? You don't have to invite or cater for all the hangers-on, like family you haven't seen in 10 years, or work colleagues you would be guilt-tripped into inviting! It means you end up with your very nearest and dearest there and you have time to spend with them all on the day, rather than greeting a cast of thousands and seeing no one properly.
We ended up with an amazing four-day holiday with all our closest friends and family, which is a really unique opportunity.
What advice would you give to couples booking their wedding overseas? Pay the extra fee to file the marriage licence before and after the ceremony. We looked into it, and it would have meant spending a day waiting in the courthouse to get the licence stamped ourselves. I would have hated to deal with the stress a couple of days before the wedding, thinking there might have been a problem. It was only an extra £100 in the end.
Book flights when they are first released (usually nine months before your travel date) as they are much cheaper, and you'll all be seated all together. My mum took our official photos, and they are amazing, but seeing other guests' photos is great. I didn't think a video would be worth it or ever get watched, but my brother took some footage on a GoPro and added some music, and it's amazing - it really captures the day perfectly and we've watched it loads.
Don't stress about the small stuff. Details like flowers and table settings seem interesting, and people will tell you they are important in the run-up to the wedding, but on the day nothing seems important and time goes so quickly. Get all your guests to take as many photos and videos as possible, and spend as much time before and after with everyone.
Don't get lost in a million hair and make up appointments - you will never get that time back again. If you are going anywhere hot, don't dress too formally, or you will melt. Finally, book everything separately! You do not have to buy the 'wedding package' that everyone tries to sell you; we booked the hotel suite upgrade when it was on offer, and a cocktail reception which just had a minimum spend rather than a hefty wedding price tag.
Hannah Corlett from London married her husband Stewart in Las Vegas in June 2014.
How did the planning go? We booked our own flights and accommodation in November 2013, for just myself and then-fiancé, with family and friends arranging their own. Most of us stayed in the Paris Hotel; Stew proposed in Paris so we thought it was fitting.
We booked the Chapel of the Flowers in April 2014, two months before wedding. You can book further in advance, but we just couldn’t decide initially where we wanted to get married.
Lots was arranged over email, with our own planner from the chapel. Once you have created an account, you complete a questionnaire so they can get an idea of what you want. Once the questionnaire is filled in and a deposit is paid to hold the date, you are assigned your wedding planner, who is available on email to answer any questions you may have.
Everything was arranged before we left; we then met our planner in person when we arrived in Las Vegas, after we had been to the court house to get our licence. You can apply online in the UK to fast-track the process.
I had pre-arranged a wedding meal at the Eiffel Tower restaurant in the Paris Hotel. This was again an easy process via email, and included choosing menu options and drinks. It went smoothly, despite me suffering from sunstroke! We then all went round the casino, drinking and partying into the night.
What were the pitfalls? We were very lucky; we didn’t have any issues with planning our wedding, or when we got out there. Lots was organised in the UK over email, which was helpful. The only thing arranged when we got there was bridal hair and make up, which we had done in the hotel. We had a trial in the UK with my hairdresser, so we just showed them what we wanted - simple and quick!
What are your top tips? Make sure you plan as much as you can before you go, depending on where you’re getting married. When you get there, you might struggle with Wi-Fi connectivity or calls, which could cause you issues. Print out and keep safe all your documentation, and ensure you have access to them on cloud storage.
For Vegas weddings, make sure you have plenty of cash on you for tips - the pastor and limo drivers are paid in tips anywhere from $40 to over $100, and like elsewhere in the US, it's customary to tip those who have helped you. Also, drink plenty of water and take a bottle with you - photos outside really take their toll as it's very hot and dry. Even though I was drinking water I still got sunstroke, so be careful, and get into the shade if you start feeling woozy.
Don’t forget to mention you’re there to get married when checking in to your hotel - you can sometimes get free room upgrades or added extras.
People do have the misconception that Vegas is tacky, but there are some beautiful chapels there which really make you feel special on the big day. Not all of them are Elvis-themed or feature a drive-through, in fact, many of the hotels have beautiful chapels.
Getting married abroad is also great in terms of cost. In total, the flights and accommodation (plus flights and hotel stays in Los Angeles and San Francisco), the wedding chapel package, meal at the Eiffel Tower restaurant and spending money cost us just over £5,000. We would have struggled to get the same value for money back in the UK - plus, there'd be no sunshine!
Images: Shutterstock, and supplied