Dreaming of a destination wedding? We don't blame you. Few things can compare to the thrill and romance of jet-setting to say "I do".
But, reality check: If you're planning an international affair, your wedding planning challenges just got taken up a notch. Tack on a few thousand miles, language barriers, and regulations in a foreign country, and things can get pretty tricky.
Luckily, we've put together a comprehensive Destination Wedding Checklist to help you navigate through the logistics and smoothly sail to Happily Ever After.
12–16 Months To Go...
- Work out your budget. This includes most of the typical wedding items, but also travel expenses like airfare and accommodations.
- Draft up your guest list. This will be directly related to your budget.
- Decide on a country or region you'd like to get married in. Be sure to check which seasons have the best weather (and no hurricanes).
- Talk about marriage license options with your fiancé. Marriage requirements vary from country to country. They range from blood tests (no, we aren't kidding) and waiting periods to extra fees. So unless you're planning on running to your nearest courthouse for a civil ceremony prior to the wedding day, find out what the country you've chosen requires in order to make it official. See the country's tourism website for details.
- Do you and your fiancé have your passports or travel visas? If not, start the application process ASAP. (Some countries require that it be valid for a minimum of 6 months prior to the ceremony. Plus, it can take months to process!)
- Hire a planner. Do not skip this step. When it comes to international matters and planning from afar, a seasoned professional is essential in helping you manage the process. Bonus points if they're fluent in your wedding country's language.
- Book a travel agent. Travel agencies that specialize in destination weddings can match you up with a location that fits your vision. They'll also negotiate with venues to get you the best pricing, perks, and upgrades!
- Secure a wedding venue and set your date! Get all details and contracts in writing and send in a deposit if needed. (It's great if you're able to take a pre-wedding trip out there to view venues in person, but this isn't always possible—or necessary. If you can't visit, scour the web for trusted reviews—and get input from that travel agent and/or wedding planner you hired!)
- Do you need wedding insurance? It's something to think about. Check with your venue about liability insurance and consider other options like cancellation insurance.
- Reserve your honeymoon suite. If it's at the same venue you're getting married at, you can do this at the same time you book your wedding.
9–11 Months To Go...
- Recruit your wedding party. Make sure they have all passports and any other identification needed to travel (or information on how to obtain the required ID).
- Send out Save The Dates. This is important! For a destination wedding, send them out early in order to give your guests plenty of time to make travel and accommodation arrangements (and plenty of notice to save up their vacation days!).
- Set up a wedding room block. Research the best group hotel accommodations near (or at!) your wedding venue, and let your guests know of any promotional codes they'll need to secure the discounted rate.
- Create a wedding website that includes details on travel and accommodations. Include local maps, airport information, and registry details, as well as predicted weather so your guests will know what to pack.
- Plan any additional wedding-related events. Since destination weddings require travel for almost all parties involved, they're naturally longer celebrations. Consider hosting additional events, such as a welcome party or post-wedding brunch. Planning these events early will enable you to add them to your RSVP card, so you'll know how many guests to expect.
- Create your gift registry. However, keep in mind that guests traveling for your wedding are already spending a pretty penny just to be there. You may want to let everyone know that their presence is present enough.
- Say YES to the dress! Or tux, of course. Take the ceremony and reception location into account, along with climate and local customs. Plus, keep in mind that you'll want to carry it onto an airplane, so a poofy ballgown may not be such a good idea.
- Purchase your airline tickets. Get those earlybird deals!
- Work with your wedding planner or venue coordinator to find vendors. If they're based in the U.S., be aware that you may need to pay for their travel fees. If they're based in your wedding destination, be sure to do some Skype consultations so you can "meet" before you book them!
6–8 Months To Go...
- Take engagement photos, if you'd like. This can be with your wedding photographer if they're local to you. Otherwise, you may need to hire another photographer for just an engagement session.
- Work with your wedding venue and caterer to create the menu. Unless you're able to fly out there before the wedding, you may not get a tasting until you arrive—if at all!
- Book the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner location(s). Destination wedding etiquette usually involves inviting everyone in attendance to the rehearsal dinner or some sort of pre-wedding event.
- Schedule your dress fitting and get your wedding party attire. This also includes any flower girl or ring bearer attire.
- Order your wedding invitations. You'll want to give guests plenty of time to RSVP, as well as point them to your wedding website for full details on accommodations, transportation, local attractions, wedding events, dress code, and gift registries.
- Set dates and locations for bridal showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties. Create your guest list for these events, and let your MOH or another trusted friend/family member handle the rest.
- Book wedding-day transportation, if needed. If your room block is at a separate location from your venue, set up a shuttle service for guest transportation to and from the wedding.
- Continue booking vendors. Definitely have your photographer and caterer locked in by now. You may also want to book the following:
- DJ or Band
- Cake Maker
- Rentals & Linens
- Hairstylist/Makeup Artist
- Review contracts and get everything in writing. Everything.
3–5 Months To Go...
- Finalize that guest list and get those invitations out! Early, yes, but also necessary when planning a destination wedding. Have a game plan for recording the RSVPs and meal choices.
- Start scheduling any informal recreational activities. This is totally optional, but if you're going to be in a tropical paradise wouldn't a group snorkeling excursion be fun? Update your wedding website to inform guests as plans are secured.
- Purchase wedding rings and accessories (such as veil, wedding shoes, and undergarments).
- Finalize honeymoon plans.
6–8 Weeks To Go...
- Finalize and confirm:
- Flight and hotel bookings.
- Guest RSVPs and meal choices.
- Wedding vows and readings with your officiant.
- Shot list with your photographer/videographer.
- Menu, beverage, and catering details.
- All rental delivery times and pickups.
- Song list for ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception with your DJ and/or band/musicians.
- Timeline for the reception and who's giving the toasts.
- Get any required vaccines before traveling to your destination.
- Do you have all necessary legal documents in hand? This may include passports, birth certificates, visas, and anything else needed to make your destination wedding legit.
- Order wedding favors for your guests.
- Buy gifts for the wedding party and parents of the bride/groom. You may also want to buy a gift for your fiancé.
- Arrange welcome bags for your guests. They may include a welcome note, wedding itinerary, maps, locally made treats, or travel-sized essentials.
3–5 Weeks To Go…
- Send anything you can't take with you on the plane to your on-site wedding coordinator (i.e. any reception decorations, wedding favors, welcome bag items or paper goods). Make sure you use a trusted and timely shipping method and get insurance for your package(s).
- Pick up your wedding rings and proofread any engraving!
- Have your final dress fitting. Bring your shoes, undergarments, and accessories for the full impact.
- Hunt down whoever hasn't RSVP'd yet. Sigh.
- Start putting a packing list together. Give yourself plenty of time so that no items are overlooked.
1–2 Weeks To Go...
- Pick up your gown or tux or suit. Swoon.
- Confirm flight numbers and arrival times for all the key players in your wedding.
- Finalize seating arrangements and have a seating chart or place cards created.
- Put together your own Wedding Emergency Kit.
- Speaking of emergencies: Check the weather report, and if things look iffy contact your venue to make sure a contingency plan is in place.
- Start packing for your wedding and honeymoon. The earlier the better. Plan outfits for the different wedding festivities (rehearsal dinner, post-wedding brunch, etc.) and triple-check that packing list to confirm you have everything you need.
- Make sure you have the proper electrical converters so you can plug in your devices. You really need your hairdryer to work.
- Figure out tips and final payments for vendors. Tipping customs vary greatly from country to country, so ask your coordinator about proper etiquette.
- In desperate need of a facial or massage? Now's the time to squeeze one in.
4–5 Days To Go…
- Get on that airplane! IMPORTANT: Pack your wedding attire, rings and anything else of value in your carry-ons. You don't want lost luggage to ruin your wedding day.
- Arrive at your wedding destination. You'll want to show up a few days ahead of your guests so you're there to greet them. You can also:
- Do a walk-through of your ceremony and reception venue.
- Meet with your coordinator and other vendors.
- Apply for your marriage license.
- Have a tasting with your caterer/cake maker.
- Make sure welcome bags will be delivered to guests' rooms.
- Do a makeup & hair trial.
- Enjoy a mani-pedi.
The Day Before…
- Have your wedding dress or suit steamed to remove any travel-induced wrinkles.
- Rock that rehearsal and dinner. Now's the time to give out wedding-party gifts.
- Try to go to bed early. You need your beauty sleep tonight!
The Day Of…
- Allow plenty of time to get ready. And don't forget to bring your wedding rings and marriage license to the ceremony.
- Do the rounds at your wedding—greet everyone and thank them for coming.
- Take a deep breath. Stop to appreciate your new spouse and enjoy every moment that you spent so much time and energy planning!
- Next destination? Happily. Ever. After.
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