Saying I Do Abroad: Is It As Costly, Cumbersome As We Think?10 min read
Here comes the bride, and she’s completely stressed out. No, you know those aren’t the lyrics to the wedding march, but they sound pretty accurate. More and more it seems weddings and the planning process are better known for being tedious, expensive and stressful rather than a time to celebrate love and families coming together.
From the moment the groom-to-be drops down to one knee and slips a diamond on his love’s left ring finger, a couple has to mull over details and decisions for their big day and every milestone in between. Flowers, cake, tastings, fittings, photographers, invitations, tuxes and bridesmaids dresses, the guest list and seating chart, venues, officiant, and a million more things. In fact, for the couple planning their wedding, it may seem like the decisions are never ending.
Between the pressure to host the “perfect” wedding and the cost of everything, it’s no wonder a couple’s stress is at an all-time high. It’s long been reported that stress can have a negative impact on your health, especially over a prolonged period of time– for instance, a year or more long engagement.
So what happens when a couple decides they want to host their wedding abroad? Have they just doubled the amount of decisions they have to make, increased the cost for themselves and their guests, and, thus, launched their stress levels into the stratosphere? And if so, why would they do this? Or is it a misperception that destination weddings are more difficult to plan and execute than traditional weddings close to home?
Making the decision to go abroad
Some couples know right away that they want to host a destination wedding. But that wasn’t the case for Savita Nagaraja and her husband Patrick Marshall, who reside in San Francisco.
“We got engaged and over the course of three or four months, we discussed what our options were,” she says. “We would either have a wedding in my hometown, Beaver Creek, Ohio, in our current city, a destination wedding, or just go to the court house.”
But, after considering all of those options, Nagaraja says a destination wedding in Costa Rica became obvious to them.
“We both love to travel. The idea of being able to incorporate a vacation into the wedding was really appealing,” she says.
“The idea of having a local wedding felt kind of over whelming. There would be many more people than at a destination wedding. It would involve having to make a lot more decisions. And we liked the idea of the simplicity of a destination wedding.”
For Nagaraja and Marshall, spending time with family is a priority in their lives, which added another reason to go abroad.
“You get to spend time with your family and your partner’s family a little more closely, and that just fit in with who we are and how we like to do things. It just made a lot more sense to us,” she explains.
Nagaraja and her husband’s reasoning for a destination wedding are quite common.
“For couples who want an intimate, small gathering with limited planning involved, a destination wedding can be a perfect choice,” says Jamie Miles, Managing Editor of TheKnot.com.
But there’s more to wanting an intimate wedding that drives couples’ desire to say “I do” far from home.
“Reasons for having a destination wedding are as varied as the couples marrying. Often, they want to do something different,” says Costa Rica destination wedding planner Larissa Banting, who helped plan Nagaraja’s wedding in November 2014.
“I wanted right off the bat to do something more unique,” Nagaraja says. Her sentiments about going abroad are echoed by fellow bride Jen Bentley Lynch, of Washington, D.C.
After attending a friend’s destination wedding, which Lynch says was a blast, she and her betrothed, Brendan Lynch, realized
how much time you get to spend with your guests.
“We also wanted to provide a unique experience for people, especially for those who don’t get a chance to travel much. In addition, my twin sister got married right before we got engaged in the area. Since we share the same family and friends, I knew that I wanted my wedding to be completely different than hers,” she says.
Aside from wanting more time with guests and offering a more unique experience, couples often opt for destination weddings in order to overcome the difficult issue of having friends and family located in so many different places.
“Sometimes, there are distance issues or family politics such as whose city to host the wedding in. A destination wedding brings the celebration to neutral territory,” Banting says.
And then there’s the factor of how much everything is going to cost.
What does the bottom line look like?
From the outside, it may seem like a destination wedding would cost a couple more than a wedding at home. You figure that the bride and groom are still paying the same or more for all of the elements involved in the ceremony and reception. But, actually, that’s not usually the case.
“A destination wedding can usually give you more bang for your buck. A bouquet of orchids that might cost $250 in the U.S. will run around $120 in Costa Rica. While site fees of $10,000 are common in some major U.S. cities, the average site fee in Cost Rica is $1,000,” Banting says.
In fact, the lower cost of a destination wedding is one of the major appeals of hosting one.
“Destination weddings can be cost-effective for the couple—many resorts and cruise lines have affordable all-inclusive wedding packages with on-site coordinators and planners,” TheKnot.com’s Miles says.
Planning an event from a distance
Planning a wedding is already difficult, so what is it like trying to make decisions about venues you’ve never seen before?
For Nagaraja, she felt a lack of control during the planning process.
“I had never met Larissa in person, we didn’t travel to Costa Rica before, and there was a lack of exposure to the groups I would be working with – I think that was the hardest part,” she says. “There was definitely an island time sort of situation. That sense of urgency and the ‘plan, plan, plan’ mentality isn’t the same as I imagine it is planning a wedding at home.”
According to Miles, a destination wedding typically requires a wedding planner, whether that’s a stateside planner who specializes in destination weddings, a planner at the location where you plan to wed, or the wedding coordinator at the venue where you plan to hold your wedding.
This can lessen the amount of stress on the bride and groom since they don’t have to plan all of the details themselves. However, it’s a unique situation when the wedding planner is based in the location of the destination wedding.
“Most of the planning process is done through email and skype. This means that we exchange a lot of emails with couples in order to ensure they comprehend what is happening. Since the couple is not able to physically attend meetings with vendors and decide on things during a meeting this all has to be done over email and skype as well,” says Stella Chanioti, a co-owner and wedding planner for Stella & Moscha, a boutique wedding planning and design firm in the Greek Islands.
“We usually have challenges in the couple understanding the space of the venue since 60 percent of the couples can’t travel to meet with us and visit venues in person ahead of time. This requires us to send many photos and having long discussions in explaining the space and how it works,” she says.
But, when it comes to all of those decisions, the couple may have fewer to make.
“The specific decisions about how the wedding day would play out, there weren’t as many options. There were a couple of options of flowers. Based on the weather there, there are only a certain few types of flowers. There were only a few hairstylists and makeup artists to choose from — that made it much easier for me to come to a conclusion on things,” Nagaraja says.
Getting guests to attend
This may be the most difficult and stressful aspect of a destination wedding.
“Not everyone is excited to fly into the unknown, unfortunately. Some guests may have reservations about visiting another country or due to health issues, cannot make a long journey,” Banting says.
This was something Nagaraja anticipated, but didn’t realize just how difficult it would be.
“It was remote and it wasn’t a direct flight. A lot of our friends and family came from the East Coast – it wasn’t the most convenient destination wedding,” she explains.
“Destination weddings can be a tough choice for couples with big families or tons of friends that they want to include in their wedding day. Because there’s more travel involved, there will be guests who have to decline for financial reasons,” Miles says.
And organizing their travel is an added stressor.
“Organizing the actual travel of your friends and family, providing them with the things they needed to feel comfortable getting there…that was really stressful. It’s a lot of people that may not have ever been to Costa Rica and they’re learning about the country and booking travel all at once,” Nagaraja says.
A unique destination with unique complications
There’s likely to be issues or complications on the wedding day, no matter where it’s being held. But, with destination weddings, those complications are far different from ones you may experience at home.
One such complication involves legal issues.
“It’s important to research local marriage requirements before choosing a destination. Many countries have a ‘residency requirement,’ meaning that couples have to reside in the country for a certain length of time before getting married there. In some tropical destinations, it can be as short as 24 hours. France’s residency requirement is 40 days!” says Miles from TheKnot.com.
It’s a common glitch for destination weddings.
“Legal issues come up when we have complex cases. We often get couples who were born in one country, grew up in a second country and reside in a third country. And, in many cases, with dual nationalities. One time a couple was not been able to obtain and submit required documentation on time for the wedding. This means that we could not complete the official registration part. We proceeded with the ceremony and exchange of vows and the couple had to secretly marry in their local town hall back home,” Chanioti explains.
And then there are some other minor things that can pop up before and on the wedding day.
“The power went out in the entire area where our guests were staying and people had trouble communicating with each other since our phones didn’t always work,” Lynch says. “The biggest complication was that we miscalculated the amount of wine that would be drunk, and didn’t have enough at the end of the night.”
Nagaraja experienced a more “buggy” situation.
“My husband left a cookie in his backpack near our wedding stuff – which attracted some unwanted guests. There were fire ants all over our stuff, all over my dress, all over his outfit. We had to shake them out for about a half an hour,” she says.
Is it worth it?
Sure, it seems like there are some complicated issues to overcome while planning and hosting a destination wedding, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping couples from having them.
“According to The Knot 2014 Real Weddings Study, one in four couples had a destination wedding,” says Miles.
Aside from the lower cost and more intimate feel of the wedding, couples are hosting destination weddings for a bigger reason.
“It was really true to what we are passionate about: travel and family and being able to spend quality time with them. So I think we made a good decision,” Nagaraja says.
While she says some of the issues that came up on the wedding day stressed her, being in Costa Rica helped Nagaraja.
“You’re in such a beautiful place you’re not worrying as much about the small stuff,” she says, adding that she can’t wait to go back.
Lynch feels the same.
“Yes, there are things that I can think of that would have made it easier. We could have picked a country we had been to before, gone to visit the wedding location once we chose it, had our guests all stay in the same hotel so that we didn’t have so many logistical things to worry about, but when it comes down to it, I don’t think that we would have changed a thing. This unique experience that we now share with our friends and family is so priceless, I really would do everything the same,” she says.