Let me tell you a story about a bride that came to VIP to help plan her destination wedding. She loved the thought of getting married in St Bart’s and she had already spent endless hours pricing hotels, coordinating flights for her family, and felt confident that she found the perfect beach location. At the suggestion of her cousin, she contacted VIP Vacations and asked if we could help with the reservations for all of her guests. My first question to her was to ask if she planned on a symbolic ceremony? She seemed a bit perplexed and asked what that meant? I explained that a symbolic ceremony involved getting all of the legal paper work taken care of prior to leaving the US and essentially getting married at a justice of the peace or local courthouse, then in ST. Bart’s, she would have a ceremony that entailed a local minister who would perform the vow exchange and symbolically joins the union together. After going over these details this bride scoffed and said that she wanted to have a “legal” ceremony in St Bart’s. At that point I told her that a legal ceremony in St Bart’s required that’s she establish a residency there for 30 days and have all of her paperwork translated into French by certified French consulate. Needless to say, this bride was stunned and a few days later contacted me ready to start fresh and looking for a different island where it was easier to have a legal wedding.
Many destination wedding couples should begin the wedding process by deciding the type of ceremony they are comfortable with. There are 3 different types of weddings that couples should consider.
The first is the legal wedding. A legal wedding means that a couple follows all of the laws and guidelines of that particular country so that when they return home, they are legally married and may only need to file their foreign marriage license in the state that they reside in (many states do not even require this). Legal weddings usually entail filing paperwork in that destination and following specific rules of residency. Some countries specify that paperwork is also translated into the country’s national language and if the bride or groom has been previously divorced, then there may be a mandatory time period before this 2nd marriage that is required before paperwork can even be filed. Some countries may also require blood work, and ceremonies may be in a foreign language. Other countries require that legal paperwork is filed at your destination’s foreign embassy as well. However, some destinations have relatively easy processes for weddings. (Jamaica, Turks/Caicos, St. Lucia, Antigua, and the Bahamas are very easy to get married in)
The second option is the Symbolic Ceremony which I detailed to the St. Bart’s bride! Many couples that choose the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Aruba opt for the Symbolic Ceremony.
The third option is a “religious” ceremony. This option is very similar to the symbolic ceremony, however, the couple is religiously married by either their priest, rabbi, or minister, and follow the religious requirements of their faith. Many couples bring their own religious officiant with them to their destination and like the symbolic ceremony, they file their paperwork prior to leaving the US. If getting legally married abroad is relatively easy, couples can seek out a local officiant in their particular faith and then their ceremony is legal and religious! (a double whammy)
In Mexico, we have many symbolic weddings in small chapels that are located directly on the resorts grounds where a Catholic Priest can perform a mass and bless the union. This would be a religious but symbolic wedding if the couple had their legal paperwork arranged in the US prior to departing for Mexico.
Before you spend hours of research and fall in love with a resort, it is a good idea to know the legalities of a destination and discuss which type of ceremony is the most important to you. Now that you know the choices, you won’t gasp when I suggest you do something “not legal”.