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Marrying abroad – Pluses and pitfalls

Published date: 22nd May 2019


Getting married abroad sounds great, and it can work out that way: sunshine, golden sands, exotic location. But unless it is properly organised with every detail taken care of, the big day can become a pig of a day.

Let’s start with a few examples of how things can go sadly wrong (to be honest, mainly because they amuse us, but they’re instructive too). Back in 2011 Gary and Marie Mead managed the good and the bad: they tied the legal knot in Vegas, then arranged a wedding ceremony in Murcia in Spain to be attended by 70 or more friends and relations. The US event went without a hitch, or actually with one which was the point. The Spanish leg was different. The priest failed to turn up. The church remained locked. Not good.

What happened recently to a Swiss couple who ‘married’ in the Vilu Reef resort in the Maldives was rather nastier than a forgetful priest. The officiant conducted the ceremony in the local tongue, Dhivehi. Unsurprisingly the bride and groom didn’t speak the lingo, or they may have objected to what was said, which included: ‘The children that you bear from this marriage will all be bastard swine. Your marriage is not a valid one.’ When a video of the event was put on YouTube someone spotted what had happened and it escalated into a major diplomatic incident, the Maldives government quickly apologising to the couple.

The stars are not immune to the ramifications of a foreign wedding: Mick Jagger married Jerry Hall in a Balinese ceremony in 1990; or did he? The legally ambiguous nature of the union led to wrangles when they split in 1999.

Research on this topic highlights one problem above all: food poisoning from injudicious choices before the big (away) day. Blushing brides made barfing brides; a honeymoon glued to the loo. This brings up (sorry for that) a point about preparation: list everything you’ll need and pack it. So medicines you take routinely and stomach-settlers in case; sun-screen; your wedding clothes (in keeping with the local climate!); hair products to avoid the ultra-frizzy look that beach and sun can cause.

What then draws people to marry abroad? Strangely one is the cost: a full-scale wedding in the UK is going to set you back a pretty sum, with catering for perhaps dozens of friends and family members. If you head for the sun it is likely only your very closest will attend, so the affair will be intimate and even factoring in your travel will cost less.

The simplicity of a wedding on a beach with just parents and maybe siblings is another plus, at least for some who shrink from what others love: the full production number, church, wedding breakfast, big cars, long speeches and giant cake.

That weather thing is in the back of some minds too. As our wedding day in the UK (admittedly in the autumn) included a downpour that meant brothers-in-law had to carry blushing bride over muddy ground that’s understandable. But don’t think that even in the most beautiful tropical island the weather never turns against you – especially if you book in hurricane season! (check on that one then).

Very few disasters do happen, but there are things to think about to ensure your wedding is not the exception. We’d recommend working with professionals to help you, which can mean an organising company, or a hotel used to facilitating these things. There is paperwork: you may well have to send in advance copies of documents like birth certificates, passports, and maybe affidavits (legal declarations) that you are both single. If this is not the first wedding for either of you then add to the list copies of divorce decrees if the previous marriage ended that way, or the death certificate of your former partner if you were widowed.

As we mentioned above, marrying abroad means it’s likely to be with few friends and relations present. This can cause resentment – siblings who can’t afford the trip could be annoyed; friends who invited you to their UK do may feel the favour has not been returned. A way of lessening this ill-feeling is to have a second reception back home, something that impacts on the money-saving aspect of the overseas ceremony but many think worthwhile.

At the very least marrying abroad is an option. As with everything to do with getting married (not just the wedding) it needs thought, and discussion with your family and your partner (who may not be as keen as you on the idea or your ideal location). We hope this piece provides a little perspective, and that the information elsewhere on the site makes life easier if you choose to go that way – or if you don’t.

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