The ultimate guide to your dream destination wedding

Everything you need for the best destination wedding, and how to come out way below budget.

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The average cost of a wedding depends on who you ask. In 2015, Bride to Be magazine said it was over $65,000 while our 2017 survey of over 1,000 couples found the average cost to be $22,669.

WorldFirst's 2018 research claims it to be stuck in the middle at $36,220.

Either way, the cost is no drop in the ocean and thrifty couples are looking to destination weddings to keep on budget, with travel companies and organisers reporting booming business overseas.

And why not? By lining things up just right, you might even be able to save money by having a dream wedding overseas instead of at your local church.

Be inspired: Destination wedding location inspiration

How much does a destination wedding cost?

Once you add up the costs of a destination wedding, you might find that the “destination” part is actually saving you money and can help offset the cost of the “wedding” part of the equation.

According to a 2012 report, the average cost of a $36,200 wedding is broken down like so:
  • Food, alcohol and venue: $18,683
  • Wedding clothing and accessories: $4,271
  • Photography: $3,983
  • Entertainment: $2,896
  • Flowers and decorations: $2,896
  • Ceremony: $941
  • Other, including car hire, hair, makeup, accommodation and invitations: $2,534

This is for a wedding in Australia, so the balance is naturally different elsewhere. Whether you’re having a destination wedding somewhere in Australia or overseas, however, there are a lot of ways to save.

How to save big money on a destination wedding

Having a local wedding doesn’t mean there won’t be accommodation and travel costs. Hiring wedding cars or a limousine can cost more than your flights. You might also spend a surprising amount on nearby accommodation. A lot of resorts and hotels, especially in destinations like Hawaii that know how to cater to destination weddings, have great on-site venues that can help you do away with wedding cars. Everything is nearby, so your party can take a leisurely stroll between spots rather than having to jump into a car.

Package deals abound and it can be worth looking for all-inclusive offers or flight plus accommodation deals as well as other special offers. The problem with using these for a destination wedding is that some of the best travel deals come and go fast as everyone jumps on them. If you know your destination and have a timeframe in mind, you can get around this by subscribing to a travel deal newsletter for the latest and greatest offers. This is perfect for weddings because some of the most ridiculously cheap deals are only available when you book months, or even over a year, in advance.

By keeping an eye out for the right offer and jumping on it when it arrives, you can save a small fortune. Your guests will also be grateful if you let them know about these (and will have more to spend on a wedding gift).

Here are a few other ways you can save:

  • Be the boss of exchange rates. If you’re about to pay in a foreign currency with your credit card, stop. Put down the card and look into an overseas-wedding international money transfer instead. Depending on which service you choose, you can enjoy zero transfer fees and guarantees to match any competitor’s exchange rates. It’s practically impossible to find any cheaper way to pay in a foreign currency. It’s also way more cost effective than exchanging money after arrival, so you might want to pay in advance with these types of services when you can.
  • Work the frequent flyer points. You’ll be spending quite a lot on your wedding anyway, so with a bit of planning, you can rake in the frequent flyer points. Read about how it works from someone who’s done it and enjoy luxuries like “free” flights, upgrades, accommodation and anything else you can get with those points.
  • Think outside the box. Check out our ten outside-the-box tips for saving big on a wedding. Depending on the situation, every one of these tips could save you over $1,000, although not all of them work for all weddings.
  • Get serious accommodation discounts. Hotels like certainty, although some like it more than others. Depending on the property, you might be able to get a 30% discount by booking 90 days in advance or 25% off by booking 30 days in advance. It can be worth seeing how it works for different hotels.
  • With destination weddings, the biggest savings might come from picking somewhere cheap. See what you can get over there, instead of in Australia, and pay the cheaper local prices instead. Suddenly, that $18,000+ average food, alcohol and venue expense might shrink considerably.

What to know about the legality of overseas destination weddings

Generally, there’s no problem and you’re legally married as long as the wedding meets the following criteria:

  • The wedding is recognised as legal in Australia.
  • The wedding is recognised as legal in your country of destination.

However, certain countries might ask for a document called a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage (CNI). This is basically a letter from the Australian government saying that you’re allowed to get married or that you haven’t accidentally forgotten to divorce someone from a previous marriage.

A CNI will often not be necessary, but when it is the exact procedures can vary. Check with the government of your destination country, through their embassy, consulate or official website, to find the following information:

  • Whether you need a CNI
  • If you do need a CNI, whether you can get it signed in Australia or if you have to get it signed at the Australian embassy/consulate in the destination country
  • If you need any other documents, like a “single status certificate”

How to get started: Destination wedding checklist

Wedding travel insurance

Some travel insurance policies will let you add special wedding extensions to your travel insurance or will even offer policies specifically designed for weddings. You can learn more about it here, but in a nutshell these policies can deliver some specific features to make things a lot safer.

    • Insolvency of your wedding services provider. You’ve booked the wedding, sent the money, but when you arrive, it turns out the place has gone out of business and run away with your money. Wedding travel insurance can cover you for this (unlikely) event.
    • Cancellation and rearrangement. If the celebrant doesn’t show up or a freak storm blows everything away and you need to schedule the wedding, wedding travel insurance can help cover the costs of a delay or cancellation.
    • Wedding attire, gifts, flowers and cake. Rings get stolen, cakes get crushed and tuxedos get covered in crushed cake. If this happens to you, the right policy can cover it all.
    • Wedding cars and transport. If you hire a wedding limo that never shows up, your insurer can reimburse you and help you arrange replacement transport.
    • Photography and video recording. If the photographer never shows up or the photos failed to develop, wedding travel insurance can cover you for the cost of a do-over, including a rehire of wedding attire.

These are just some of the features you can get with wedding travel insurance. The cost of travel insurance can be almost negligible next to the cost of travel, let alone next to the cost of a wedding, so this type of more specialised protection is highly recommended.

Guests can benefit too. If you really want them at your wedding, you may want to point them at travel insurance with special events cover. If you didn’t want to invite them anyway, then you might ignore it and hope they get delayed instead.

Destination wedding, planning and etiquette FAQ

Why have a destination wedding?

The main downside of a destination wedding is that some of your friends and family might not be able to make it, with 59% of those surveyed through WorldFirst stating getting friends and family to the wedding is the biggest challenge. The silver lining is that fewer guests can mean lower prices for you.

To make sure you don’t leave anyone out, you can always have a second party after you get back. Approximately 1 in 5 destination wedding couples have done this.

If you have friends and family overseas, a destination wedding might mean an even bigger bash with more guests. Australia is a long way from most other countries, so picking a midway destination can make it a lot easier for people to attend if they don’t live in Australia. On the whole, a destination wedding is good news for your big day and your wallet. Here are a couple of monetary reasons why opting for a destination wedding is a good idea:

    • You can jump-start your honeymoon. If you’re going to travel for your honeymoon, you can pick a convenient spot for the wedding to save big on airfares.
    • You can work the exchange rates and pick cheaper countries. Travel expenses are just a fraction of the total expenses for a wedding, so picking a place that’s renowned for great times at low prices, like many destinations throughout Asia, or somewhere that has favourable exchange rates, can be more than enough to pay for a few flights.
    • You can get the wedding you really want. Want a beachside wedding, but can only find exorbitant venues? Escape overseas to sidestep the problem and pick a place that has exactly what you want.
    • You can do it whenever you want. There’s definitely a peak season for weddings, and it’s not the dead of winter. Busy times mean higher prices for almost everything, from catering to venues to wedding planners. By heading overseas, you can have a wedding at any time of year without paying the inflated prices.
    • You can also travel Australia to get a destination wedding for less. There’s no shortage of great destinations in Australia, so you can get a bit of everything by travelling more locally.

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