If you read this blog, you know that I got married near Lisbon, Portugal nearly a year ago. Due to requests from a number of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, here are my top 10 tips for planning a destination wedding! Side note – these are probably most applicable for those traveling to Europe (and particularly Portugal) from outside of Europe (I’m from New York).
# 1 – Get Married In A Destination That You Are Somewhat Familiar With, i.e. You Have Visited Before Your Wedding.
To be clear, if you have never visited a destination, do not have your wedding there. Your wedding, which will take months to plan, cost a small fortune, and stress you out to no end, should not be held at some place that you *think* is magical, but to which you have never even visited in person. Save that for your honeymoon. For your wedding, you need a basic understanding as to what you are getting yourself into, the destination, and the culture. We had visited Portugal 3 times before our wedding.
Caveat – I do not think this necessarily holds true for weddings at all inclusive hotels in tropical places where you do not leave the resort.
# 2 – Pick A Destination That Is Easy For Your Guest To Reach.
That is, if you want guests to attend your wedding. Guests prefer locales that are easy to reach, so take a look at plane, train, and ferry schedules to ensure your guests will not have to win Amazing Race to attend your wedding. I cannot stress this enough. Plus, if your guests are having trouble getting to your wedding, you are having trouble with your wedding. Locales with public transportation to a major international airport are preferred. For our wedding, our guests based in Ericeira, Portugal, which is about 50 km drive from Lisbon with no easy public transportation. So, we rented a bus to take all of our guests from Lisbon to Ericeira. Plan similarly if your destination is hard to find. Renting buses was a daily occurrence during our wedding week; we rented so many buses!!
# 3 – Make Peace With Letting Go Of Control Of Your Wedding.
Weddings in many countries are not nearly as big of a production as they are in the US. For example, in Portugal weddings are certainly special, but they are not the “best day of your life” events that they are in the US. Go into the planning process accepting this, and knowing that your vendors will probably not be as neurotic (or responsive) as their US counterparts. For example, I did not know what my wedding flowers were going to be until the day of my wedding. If this is not you, you should not have a destination wedding.
# 4 – Plan At Least One Trip To The Venue Before Your Wedding (And Add That Into The Budget).
This is very important, and I recommend visiting your venue before you book it (which makes 2 trips). Seeing your venue in person will help you set the theme for your wedding and schedule, plan, and organize your day; it will also reveal if those internet pictures are just too good to be true. Dan and I visited ours twice, once before booking it and again a few months before our wedding.
# 5 – Notify Your Guests Of The Date And Location As Early As Possible.
While you probably travel a good amount and enjoy traveling if you are planning a destination wedding abroad, all of your guests will not be in the same place. Flying to Europe for a week will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for some, if not most. People will need to take off multiple days from work and spend a lot of money getting to your wedding. As such, notify them as soon as possible, even as much as a year plus in advance for far off destinations.
# 6 – Make A Website & A Detailed Itinerary For Your Guests.
If you are getting married abroad, you absolutely need a website with wedding details (you can make it password protected if you’re a private person). Seriously, your guests will gravitate to this website and of course, want information about their upcoming vacation. The website should be followed up with a written itinerary at your destination, as your guests may not be able to access the internet abroad. Most hotels will deliver or hand out itineraries for no extra (or minimal) charge.
# 7 – Plan Extra Events For Your Guests.
Following up on tip #s 5&6, attending your wedding will be a big trip for lots of your guests. They are using precious vacation days, hard earned money, and possibly favors for child care. Since they are coming so far, its only polite to plan some extra events for them. We planned 2 included events – a Welcome Cocktail Hour and a dinner and Portuguese farm tour the night before our wedding. We also planned 4 days of other activities that our guests could opt into (for an extra cost at their own expense). Most everyone at our wedding took advantage of this and seemed very appreciative that we had planned these events! Trust me, this will go a long way in your guests loving your wedding! Just make the cost clear on your wedding website so they guests know what they are getting into. I collected money for the extra “opt in” activities before we left home, so there was no exchange of money near the wedding.
# 8 – Getting Your Dress To The Venue Via Plane.
Phew, this is a difficult one! Of course, as a bride, you will want to carry on your dress and hang it in a closet. However, surprise, this is NOT guaranteed. You have a better change if you are sitting in first class; however, airlines will not guarantee space to hang a wedding dress, as there can be multiple brides on a flight and not all planes have closets. WHAT?! Yes, that happened to me… Also, you dress has to be carry on sized, meaning that you cannot carry on a huge puffy dress; the airline will make you check it under the plane. If you are intent on a big dress, you may considering shipping it in advance (but then consider potential customs issues). For me and Dan, my dress was small and made of lace (few wrinkles!). As such, I placed it in a garment bag, folded the bag in half right before we left, and fastened the two sides together with large legal binder clips! When we checked in, the staff of TAP Portugal was super nice, but there was absolutely no closet on the plane!! Despite this, the nice stewardesses gave us an entire over seat storage unit for my dress and Dan’s tuxedo. It worked out fine!
# 9 – Wire & Currency Conversion Fees Add To Your Budget.
If you are getting married in another country, you will have to pay all of your vendors in said foreign currency, so keep the currency conversion and fluctuating currencies in mind here. Also, many vendors And, on that note, ask your vendors if they take credit card via website, Paypal, or Venmo to save on these costs.
# 10 – A Lot Of People Will Not Make It To Your Wedding.
Sad but true, a lot of people, even those who really want to come, will not be able to travel to a foreign country. Be it time, money, children, or otherwise, a lot of people will just not be able to make it. Know that you will almost certainly have a smaller crowd abroad. If there are people who you absolutely cannot get married without, you should definitely discuss the destination before booking.
# 11 – Legal Rights Are Iffy Abroad.
Many of your vendors, at least ours, did not have contracts (it was a handshake deal) and we paid in cash to save VAT tax. Be sure that you trust your vendors because legal remedies if something goes wrong are iffy and expensive, if in existence at all once you leave your home country. Ours were great and we had no trouble, but be careful.
# 12 – Your Marriage May Not Be Legal.
Finally, while anyone can have a symbolic ceremony abroad, getting legally married in a foreign country can be tricky. For example, some countries have residency requirements, others have religious requirements, others have just plain bizarre requirements. If you are looking to legally tie the knot abroad, research this at length before booking your wedding. And, even if it can be worked out, it may be easier and cheaper to get married at the courthouse before or after.
If you want to read more about Dan and my wedding, read my other posts, breaking down our wedding day by day:
- Wedding Week Day 1: Finally in Lisbon Portugal
- Wedding Week: Day 2. A Tour of Belem and a Sunset Cruise on the Tagus River!
- Wedding Week: Day 3. Touring Lisbon’s Highlights
- Wedding Week: Day 4. to Lisbon Ericeira and Our First Official Wedding Event!!
- Wedding Week: Day 5. Ericeira and Rehearsing at Quinta do Arneiro in Gradil
- Wedding Week: Day 6. Our Wedding at Quinta de Sant’Ana, Gradil, Portugal!
- Wedding Week: Day 7. Day of Rest in Ericeira!
- Wedding Week: Day 8. A Group Day Trip To Sintra And Cabo Da Roca!