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Making Your Destination Wedding Legal


July 25, 2023
Words by Jennifer Stein
Photos courtesy of P.Taufiq Photography

Of all the details to cover in your destination wedding planning process, none is more important than fulfilling the legal requirements for marrying in another state or country. After all, the whole destination wedding becomes a moot point if you do not wind up with a legally valid marriage when you get home!

Three important tips to consider:

  1. Some locations have very little red tape and others have a laundry list of requirements. If you choose a location outside of the US, we highly recommend using a wedding planner to help with the legal details. Very often the venue will provide this as part of a package, but even if you must contract with someone independently, it is well worth the expense for the peace of mind.
  2. Requirements change from time to time! Most Department of Tourism provide links to official government sites that outline current marriage requirements and it is well worth taking the time to do your homework.
  3. Consider holding your legal ceremony at home as a hassle-free alternative. “Getting legally married before your destination wedding through a civil ceremony or online marriage platform can simplify the process,” says Micaela Beltran, CEO of legal wedding platform Courtly. “This approach allows you to focus on enjoying your celebration abroad without worrying about international legalities or residency requirements.”

Questions to ask as you research:

What are the residency requirements?

Since some countries have lengthy residency requirements before you can legally marry, it is actually one of the first things that you need to research and understand before you finalize the location for your destination wedding. If you find that you need to be in the country for 30 days before you can apply for a marriage license, it may not be a practical option.

Is there a waiting period?

Some destinations require a certain amount of time between when the application is filed and the wedding ceremony itself so be sure to build enough time into your travel schedule.

What are the entry requirements for the destination?

Check with the consulate or embassy of your destination for current entry requirements. Passports are routinely required for entering and leaving countries outside the US. Your destination’s consulate or embassy can also tell you if you need a visa for entry.

What documentation will we need to provide?

Every destination will require some documentation, and often they need to be official, certified copies. Some countries also require forms to be notarized, authenticated or translated. If you have been previously married, you must provide proof of your single status which is generally a copy of your divorce decree or a death certificate. Always pack these essential documents in your carry-on luggage.

Are physical exams or a blood test required?

Fewer destinations have these requirements, but some locations actually require that the exams be done locally.

Are witnesses required?

Some destinations require witnesses at the time of application as well as for the ceremony.

What are the fees?

It is good to know ahead of time what the required fees are as well as the form of payment. Some require payment in cash, so advance planning can definitely smooth the process!

What are the religious requirements?

Generally, local officiants can explain the requirements, which may be above what is required for a civil ceremony (e.g. baptismal records, records of premarital counseling, etc). If you bring your officiant with you, they will need to understand the destination’s legal requirements to be sure they can legally perform the ceremony.

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