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How do I plan a wedding from far away?

A destination wedding, broadly speaking, is a wedding that takes place somewhere other than where the engaged couple lives. The term typically refers to a wedding that takes place in a location that is considered to be a vacation spot in its own right, such as a theme park or island resort. If neither member of the couple resides near the destination, planning such a wedding may take quite a bit more effort. The same checklist of items that applies to planning a local wedding is still relevant, but resolving each item will likely come with additional challenges.

These tasks include::

  • Securing a venue for the wedding ceremony.
  • Making sure that enough lodging is available for your guests.
  • Booking vendors, such as a caterer, DJ or band, and photographer.
  • Taking care of the legal paperwork, like the marriage license.

Apart from taking care of the license and prenuptial agreement, some destination venues may offer full service wedding planning services that can help with almost everything.

Do I need a wedding planner for a destination wedding?

Legally speaking, you do not need a wedding planner, but having one is likely to save you a great deal of time, travel, and frustration. A Wedding Planner Agreement can document the services that a wedding planner is expected to provide and establish a timeline for their work.

Some wedding planners specialize in destination weddings. They can work with you directly while acting as a liaison with the destination. You may want to consider hiring a wedding planner located near where you will be getting married. They offer the advantage of local contacts but come at the cost of having to communicate with you mainly by phone, email, or video conference.

Do I have to visit the location before the wedding?

The best way to know whether a particular location or venue will work for your wedding is to visit it in person first. If your destination is far away, this could prove difficult. If you have hired a local wedding planner, they may be able to tour the site on your behalf.

Some locations may require an in-person visit, but this is rare. Many venues will be happy to accept a deposit whether you have visited or not. Typically, a portion or all of your initial deposit will be refundable for a limited period of time.

How far in advance should I start planning for a long-distance wedding?

The more time you have to plan your wedding, the better—up to a point. One year is a good place to start when you take into account the practical challenges of organizing a venue, vendors, and getting your guests there.

If your wedding will be outside of the United States, you may have to address visa requirements and other travel restrictions. The U.S. State Department provides country information and travel advisories for most of the world's countries. A U.S. embassy or consulate in the destination country can also provide you with helpful information.

The country or state where you want to get married may have specific requirements for both travel and weddings. For example, some countries will not let you in if your passport expires soon. Some countries need a considerable amount of time to process requests for marriage licenses or other important documents.

You are also going to want to ensure that your guests receive as much advance notice as possible so that they can start making travel plans. A good rule of thumb is to send out save-the-date notices eight to twelve months before a wedding that will require travel. Invitations should follow four to six months later.

How do I get my wedding vendor commitments in writing?

Contracts that you sign with a venue or vendor are generally governed by the laws of the destination. If you are getting married in Cancún, for example, then Mexican law, specifically the laws of the State of Quintana Roo, would apply. If the local jurisdiction allows it, you may use electronic signatures.

Ideally, any event contract you sign will be in a language that you can read and understand. If you do not speak the local language, and cannot read the contract, a bilingual lawyer can help you understand what the contract says. They can also determine for you whether an event contract translated into English matches the original. Important event contracts include:

Perhaps the three most important terms of any event contract for a destination wedding are:

  • The date, time, and location of the wedding.
  • When, where, and how services will be provided.
  • The amount you will pay for these services, including additional fees, if any.
  • What happens in case of a cancellation.

If everyone is on the same page about these three components, it is often possible to work out any other problems, whether they arise before the wedding or on the day of. A disagreement over what day the caterer is supposed to show up, on the other hand, needs to be resolved well in advance.

Do guests at a destination wedding pay for their own expenses?

Traditionally, destination wedding guests pay for their own travel and accommodations. Paying for your guests' expenses can not only cost you vastly more money but also add to your legal concerns. You may end up responsible for room service bills or damages your guests cause to their accommodations if you do not work things out in advance with their lodging.

Generally, when a couple does pay for travel or lodging for their guests, the guests may be required to cover incidental expenses, like room service or damages to their room.

How do we get a marriage license or certificate in a different state or country from where we live?

It is common for people to hold a symbolic destination wedding after getting married in a simple civil ceremony in their hometown. But if you want the destination wedding to be the official one, you should research your destination's procedures and rules as early as possible. The process for getting a marriage license varies from one county to another within a U.S. state. The procedure in another country may be vastly different.

It may be possible to obtain a marriage license online. However, many jurisdictions require you to apply in person or by mail. Either way, expect to be asked to produce a fair amount of paperwork. Some jurisdictions abroad require both people in a couple to submit blood tests. And some countries do not recognize certain marriages that are considered legal in the U.S., and vice versa.

Your state will likely accept a marriage certificate issued in another country, but you may have to submit even more paperwork. If the certificate is not in English, you may be required to pay for an official translation.

For help with reviewing agreements, or to get answers to the legal questions that come up while planning a wedding, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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