What you need to know about getting married abroad

The coronavirus pandemic has derailed many couples’ wedding plans during 2020 and into 2021. Venues have been closed, the number of guests you can have has been severely limited, and for months no weddings took place at all. Whether it’s a civil partnership or a full-blown church ceremony, the last 12 months have not been kind to star-crossed lovers.  

As restrictions start to lift and life gets back to the ‘new normal’, there are still some strict curtailments on how people celebrate their wedding day. To get around this, many have considered abandoning the local village church or registry office and heading abroad for that wedding on a tropical beach or in the most romantic places on earth like Paris, Rome, or Venice. 

So if you are planning to hop on a plane and say ‘I do’ under swaying palm trees while the Indian Ocean laps at your feet, here are a few things to consider before you send out the invitations and book the flights. 

Is it legal? A breakdown of the basics 

As in the UK, the marriage ceremony must be recognised as a valid form of marriage according to the laws applied in the country you are holding the ceremony in, as well as back here in the UK. Paperwork may be the last thing on your mind, but before you pack those wedding outfits (very carefully) into suitcases, you need to know that your marriage is going to be recognized as a legal ceremony. Every country differs, so your first port of call should be the British Government’s online guide at www.gov.uk/marriage-abroad where you can check the specific details regarding documentation in the country of your choice.  

You will need to take with you original documents (not photocopies), and the registrar in your chosen country will need to see the following: 

  • A valid passport with at least six months remaining on it 
  • Birth certificates 
  • Proof of any name change if appropriate 
  • A decree absolute if you have been married before and are currently divorced 
  • Marriage and death certificates if you are a widow/widower 
  • Your adoption certificate if relevant 

Bear in mind that if you’re getting married in a non-English speaking country then your documents may need to be translated before you go. 

Other possible requirements in certain countries are a Certificate of No Impediment to prove you’re legally allowed to get married, a Single Status Statutory Declaration (particularly relevant if you’re getting married in the Seychelles or the Bahamas), and a medical test. 

Many countries require you to be in the country for a certain period (usually 2-3 days) ahead of the marriage ceremony, so don’t assume you can simply hop off the plane and go straight to the wedding.  

Other things to consider  

Covid restrictions 

This is something that 12 months ago wasn’t even an issue, but today you will have to think very carefully before you make plans to have your wedding abroad. The ‘Red List’ of countries where it is illegal to travel to for anything other than specified reasons changes almost weekly. So keep a very close eye on the situation abroad as you don’t want to get stuck and unable to fly home if the Covid situation escalates.  

You and your guests may also be required to self-isolate or even go into quarantine hotels on your return (depending on where you’ve been), so you may also need to factor that into your plans, especially if you’ve booked time off work. 

The cost 

According to travel experts Kuoni, it costs around £7,500 to have a wedding abroad, which is considerably cheaper than the £30,000+ it can cost in the UK. However, that will depend on how many guests you have (and whether you’re paying for them to fly out and join you), your venue, and all those little extras such as catering, honeymoon suites, and flowers.  

Also bear in mind that there will be legal costs to pay including translation costs, your hotel for the period before your wedding (remember, some places will require you to be in the country for at least three days beforehand), and wedding insurance. 

Residency 

In some countries, that three-day rule may escalate into much longer. For example, if you want to get married in France, at least one of the parties will need to show that they’ve been living in the country for at least 30 days before applying for a marriage licence. In Spain, it’s two years. So check the residency regulations very carefully so that you don’t get caught out. 

Is it legal in the UK? 

You’ve got married in your dream location, you’ve had the honeymoon, and you’ve arrived back home. Is that marriage certificate legal here? Well, as long as you’ve followed all the rules and regulations then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be fully recognized as a legal marriage in the UK. If you’re worried that it may not tick all the right legal boxes then the alternative is to have the wedding in the UK and then fly out for a blessing ceremony as the sun goes down on that Indonesian beach! 

If you need to check whether your wedding plans for that idyllic ceremony in Tuscany or Tahiti is fully legal, talk to a family law expert to give yourself total peace of mind.