destination beach wedding in mexico bungalows lydia photo by kate harrison

When we first began planning our intimate wedding, we thought about a destination wedding. Scotland would have been our country of choice. Weddings away have always appealed to both of us. They seemed like the perfect way to combine both a vacation and a major life event.

Although we ended up having a wonderful at-home wedding instead,  I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to have a destination wedding.

If this is something you are considering, realize that the planning process isn’t always as stress-free as some people in the wedding industry make it out to be. Weddings away don’t come without risk. One thing that wedding specialists suggest is that you make sure you either choose a location that you have already visited – or at least plan a visit before your wedding to ensure that the place lives up to your expectations. But that can be expensive.

If you’ve got plenty of good information on the location – which may include recommendations from other couples or travel agents, and you don’t mind taking risks, you might want to forgo the visit.

If Darin and I had planned a destination wedding in Scotland, there’s no way we would have made a preliminary trip to our chosen location. But I have been to Scotland before, and loved the beauty of the Highlands. We would have based our decision from extensive research via the Internet.

If the thought of eloping with only your nearest and dearest is appealing to you, make sure you start early.

It’s important to nail down a few possibilities early on. Some wedding specialists suggest that planning for weddings away should begin 6 months to one year in advance. The sooner you can start planning your wedding – the better. If you plan well in advance fewer places will be booked up, and you may be able to take advantage of cheaper prices on flights and lodging.

Planning ahead will also give you more time to spend on researching locations. And it will mean that your destination wedding guests will have plenty of notice so they can book vacation time and save up for the trip.

Once you’ve come up with a few possible locations, the next step is to find out about marriage laws in each region. In France, for instance, there is a 40-day residency requirement, whereas Jamaica only has a one-day residency requirement. Several Caribbean islands, on the other hand, have residency requirements from one to 10 days.

If you want to get married in Cancun, you and your sweetie will be required to submit blood tests taken within 15 days of your wedding, as well as copies of birth certificates or passports. Hawaii simply requires a driver’s license.

In the U.S., laws vary from state to state, so make sure you research the location and find out about its requirements. You can get information about what documents and health tests are needed by contacting the county’s marriage license bureau. Make sure you ask how long it will take for the paperwork to be processed.

Many resorts/hotels throughout the world provide wedding co-coordinators that will help you understand the region’s legalities, and some will even assist you in filing the required paperwork.

If you aren’t working with a wedding planner, you can find out information on your own by contacting the location’s tourist office, the country’s consulate or U.S Embassy. Some government websites also offer this information. Travel agents are another possible source.

The following are questions you should have answers for prior to deciding on a location for your destination wedding:

What types of documents are needed? Will they have to be translated and notarized? Are originals required, or are copies okay?

What type of proof do you need if you are divorced or widowed?

Is there a minimum residency requirement?

Are there any other waiting periods?

Are blood tests or other medical tests required? If so, does it matter if your own doctor takes them, or do you have to have them done in the country of marriage?

How many witnesses are required?

Are religious ceremonies considered legal, or must they be preceded by a civil ceremony?

Photo: Kate Harrison Photography