A destination wedding can be the most romantic way to begin your marriage. It’s adventurous and exciting for everyone involved, whether it’s an intimate gathering with immediate family or the party of the year for your two hundred closest friends. Arranging a destination wedding can definitely be a huge part of this excitement – picking the stunning beach venue, the most beautiful spa for the ladies to visit, the charming hotel for your favorites to stay in. Although it can take some time, the reward is intangible.
As with seemingly everything involved with adulting, a destination wedding has a few not-super-fun tasks, too. The largest and probably the most important is getting the paperwork in order to make sure your wedding in a foreign country is legal and that the U.S. will recognize the marriage once you get home. It can be a tricky business to navigate, but we’re here to help.
Here’s your complete crash course to make sure your perfect destination wedding is legal and headache free.
Get your paperwork in order
Before you fly out, preferably way before, make sure all of your required paperwork is in order. The paperwork you’ll need will depend on which country your destination wedding is in. Some commonly required paperwork includes copies of you and your future spouse’s passports. You may also need copies of both of your birth certificates. Divorce or death certificates may be requested, if that applies to either of you. Some countries will want this paperwork translated into their local language.
It’s not uncommon for a country to ask to see a legal document that states you are both single and eligible to be married. Nothing like this exists in the United States. Unofficially we just use Facebook relationship status, but alas that’s not legally binding (yet).
In order to get this “document” you’ll need to type out an affidavit and get it apostilled by either the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country you’re marrying in or at home before your depart. If you’re taking the route of getting it done while in the country of your wedding, it will be best to make appointments before you leave home – the sooner the better! No one likes a DMV type line, especially on vacation!
Here’s a simple checklist for you to make sure you’re not forgetting anything
- Copies of passport
- Copies of birth certificate
- Divorce/death certificate
- Affidavit of marriage eligibility
- Parental consent (check the country requirements, normally under 18 years old)
- Blood test results
You might need to head to the doctor
While checking if you need any travel vaccines before boarding that plane to paradise, check to see if you’ll need a blood test. Some countries require you to show the results of a blood test before you’re allowed to legally marry in the country.
Same-sex marriages abroad
Not all countries allow same-sex marriages to legally occur. If you have a country in mind, the best plan of action is to check out their local laws regarding gay marriages. Some countries don’t legally recognize same-sex marriage and view LGBT relationships to be a crime. Definitely something we don’t want you to deal with during your once-in-a-lifetime adventure!
Some gay-friendly destinations we recommend:
- Puerto Vallarta
- New Zealand
- Netherlands (the first country to legalize gay marriage!)
Hire a translator
That paperwork checklist above may need to be translated into the local language. To make sure this is accurate, you’ll need to hire a local translator. The plus side of this is that the translator will generally also be able to assist you with any paperwork you will need to fill out in the local language. Be sure to also have the translator work on getting all of your new paperwork translated back into English for submission once you get home to legalize your marriage in the U.S.
This is a biggie, so be sure to hire a trustworthy and reputable translator. Schedule all appointments with the translator before you head out to make sure everyone will be ready to go when you arrive at your destination.
Residency and visa requirements
It’s not uncommon for a foreign country to require you to be in the country for “X” amount of time before you’re eligible to be married in that country. This could be as little as 24 hours. Or it could be more – a significant amount more – like six months. The latter means you might only be able to legally get married there if you have some form of resident visa or extended tourist visa. The country specifications are broad, so look into the local laws before you decide on a destination country for your wedding.
Does this sound like a pain in the a**?
If you’re hovering over the “cancel” button for those reservations because this all sounds like a headache, don’t click anything! Yeah, some of the paperwork to make your marriage legal abroad is a pain. But not all countries are difficult to navigate. If you hate signing here, here and here, you have a few alternative options, while still having the destination wedding of your dreams.
Get married at home in the courthouse before you go
This is a fun combination of taking two incredibly different wedding paths. The first step is heading to the local courthouse for the official marriage certificate, ceremony and signing. Whether you make this into an event or just quiet “official business” is entirely up to you. With the legal aspects settled, you’re free to venture down a completely different wedding path and jet off to your destination wedding with zero paperwork, appointments or translations to take care of. Your destination “wedding” will be a “celebration” ceremony, rather than the official shindig. It’s a bit like a two-in-one wedding!
If you’re opting for this choice, the one incredibly important note to take is DO NOT officially change your name on anything until you get home. Your passport, plane ticket, hotel reservations etc will need to all match with your maiden name. Of course, if the courthouse ceremony takes place far enough in advance for you to get all your ducks in a row and change your legal name on everything you need to travel with, then go ahead.
Get (legally) married at the courthouse after you get home
Another way to avoid the paperwork of a legal marriage from a foreign country is to have the symbolic ceremony abroad, and then head to the courthouse at home once you get back. Of course, this means you won’t be officially married after your wedding. But this does get around any issue you may have with being married before the destination ceremony takes place.
Bonus points for this plan: If you’ve had a small gathering for your destination wedding and are planning a larger reception at home, combine this with the courthouse ceremony. Those who weren’t able to make it abroad will feel extra special knowing they were there for the official marriage.
Alternatively, you can contact us!
We’re here to do the heavy lifting for you, and we’re super strong! Let us know which country(s) you’re interested in for your destination wedding, and we’ll provide all the legal information you’ll need to make sure the U.S. will recognize your marriage once you’re back at home sweet home.
More information can be found at the U.S. Department of State Consular Affairs page.
Country-specific information can be found here: