The Ultimate Destination Wedding Checklist

We all know the saying, “home is where your heart is.”

If you’re a newly engaged couple sharing a wanderlust streak, you may dream about saying your “I do’s” in a romantic and historic place far across the ocean, or on a fabulous beach in paradise.

Bride and groom hugging in the park
Photo by Emily Blackford Photography

Wherever your love takes you, we’ve got a super-special destination wedding checklist to kickstart your planning—because no two destinations, or wedding day challenges, are the same!

Bride and groom holding hands next to the pool
Photo by Nick Mehn Photography

Our destination wedding planner is a bit different than destination wedding timelines. They’re super-helpful, but knowing what to do when doesn’t help you decide where you want to get married!

This destination wedding checklist is your jump-off point for destination wedding itinerary inspiration, including:

  • Wedding planning by location (it varies significantly, for instance, an all-inclusive Caribbean resort or a vineyard in France).
  • Cost-saving tips from travel to vendors, including wedding photography and event planners.
  • Deciding to hold a wedding versus eloping, gift giving (and who pays for what).
  • Stationery ideas for your engagement announcements, save the dates, wedding invitation suites, and more.
  • Best fashion for destination wedding parties.

Ready for your dreams to take flight? Let’s go!

Specifics of Planning for Your Wedding Destination

Bride and groom dancing at sunset
Photo by Taylor Rae Photography

I mean, seriously—what on earth did we do before Google? These days, it’s simple to start your destination wedding planning process virtually.

Destination Wedding Checklist Tip: Set up a free Gmail address for your wedding (and connect it to your wedding website for added ease). That way, your wedding details are quickly found and kept private from your work or general email accounts.

Hit the Beach First

Perhaps there’s a tropical island you’ve visited before that’s special to you, or you’re scoping out exciting new destinations. You can learn a lot about wedding planning by visiting the official tourism website of a country.

For instance:

  • Go Hawaii is the state’s official travel website. The link provides results on wedding planning⁠—they even break it down by island, with reliable information on destination wedding planners and venues.
  • Aruba.com also offers extensive destination wedding planning info and current entry requirements. Aruba is also one of the first countries we’ve seen with a Postponable Destination Booking Policy to guarantee your “happily ever after!”

Sometimes the government tourist website doesn’t have a specific tab for weddings.

Try a search term like “Getting Married in Jamaica” for legal requirements and general information on destination wedding planning as your point A.

Where To Start Looking if You’re Not Sure

I googled “Best Caribbean Wedding Resorts” and got a hit from Tripadvisor with current rankings of the best Caribbean wedding resorts for service and value. There are 313 resorts listed, so you have a lot of choices!

Here’s One TikTok Challenge We Love

Social media is a great way to pick up the latest tips and tricks from destination brides who’ve been where you want to go. Check out these search results for destination weddings on TikTok.

Destination Wedding Checklist Tip: We found Destination Weddings offers exclusive savings and the complimentary services of a destination wedding planner for places like Hawaii, the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It’s worth plenty of time to check out!

Whether you find a resort online yourself or you choose to have an expert wedding planner do the heavy lifting, here’s a checklist of considerations:

  • What’s the most accessible destination? The Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Hawaii, and Nassau or Freeport in the Bahamas offer regular flights from the US.
  • The preferred time for a Caribbean wedding is outside hurricane season (June to November). Although you could get significant discounts during that time, the headaches (and potential heartaches of a postponed wedding) aren’t worth it.
  • If you want summer to a late fall wedding, consider the “ABC” islands in the Southern Caribbean (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) because they’ve historically been outside the region’s hurricane zones.

Consider Beaches Closer to Home

The bride and groom kiss on the pier. The groom is holding a spinning rod
Photo by Kayla Graves Photography

Super-fun fact: did you know that there are 90,000 beaches in the US? This is great info since international travel restrictions are getting more commonplace.

When you realize how many dreamy beach wedding destinations are closer to home, it may inspire you to hold your destination beach wedding in the continental US.

We’ve got you covered! Check out our Ultimate Beach Wedding Checklist.

Other Dream Destinations You May Not Have Considered

Some of the world’s most unique wedding venues could be within a day’s drive from where you live!

We googled the best Airbnb venues and discovered outstanding options worldwide, from Europe to Indonesia and the Caribbean.

One link, in particular, caught our eye: Airbnbs in the US, where you can get hitched on a budget. If you decide on a domestic venue, Wedding Pioneer offers you great leads on finding a photographer and cost-saving tips, including catering your own wedding.

Getting Married on the Water

Cruise ship weddings are another great option to blend your vows with travel to more than one magical destination.

Do you want to feel like a princess or a celebrity on your wedding day?

Your dreams could include getting married on the sea, so check out Princess Cruises or Celebrity Cruises because they offer fantastic cost-saving options, including Group Celebration Programs and event managers that plan your wedding from start to finish.

Go Where the Love Lives

I was pleasantly surprised to read that romantic and historic France is currently one of the most economical countries in the Western world to hold your wedding!

But there’s a pretty big catch:

  • Marriages in France are only official with a civil ceremony (not a church wedding), and the civil ceremony must take place in a legal town hall.
  • One of the two people getting married must reside in France for 40 days beforehand for the marriage to be legal (I wouldn’t mind that “hardship,” but it’s not practical for most of us).

Again, the internet serves you well when you’re thinking of any European destination for your wedding. Here are ways to cut through potential loopholes and make your destination wedding planning easier:

  • Hold your civil ceremony stateside, and throw your wedding bash in the destination location of your dreams (check out the best wedding dresses for your civil ceremony!).
  • Pinpoint the best place in that country to hold your wedding and the best time of year (this website from France is a great explainer, and spoiler alert: August is mauvaise idée).
  • Be specific about your location. For instance, I randomly googled “foreigners marrying in Dublin, Ireland,” and found great planning tips from the US Embassy in Dublin and a wedding photographer who explains in detail how to plan your wedding in Ireland.

It would be best if you didn’t think of traveling anywhere to get married that is unsafe for Americans to visit. Whether there are weather-related concerns or a history of warfare, always check out Travel Advisories for updates provided by the US government.

Getting Married or Eloping (And Who Pays for What)

We already mentioned a civil ceremony because many countries worldwide have strict guidelines for obtaining a marriage license and officially tying the knot.

So, if you two should say “I do” at home, what’s the difference between a wedding and eloping somewhere overseas?

Our article on Eloping vs Wedding is an ultimate guide on the subject. It should answer most (hopefully all) of your questions because these days, eloping can mean a destination wedding with a small group of family and friends in attendance.

Still, I frequently hear from many destination wedding couples, and they all ask me the same thing: Who pays for the guests at a destination wedding?

It may seem unclear, but I promise it’s simple. Here’s what to know:

  • The wedding couple (and their parents, if they’re helping you out) pay for what any family usually covers at a wedding (photography, music, food, and drink at the reception).
  • If your guests are traveling out of town for your wedding, paying for the rehearsal dinner (or a welcome party) and a buffet brunch the day after the wedding is a super-thoughtful gesture by the couple and their immediate families.
  • For destination weddings at an all-inclusive, you should cover ground transportation for your guests. If it’s not in the package, it’s polite for the wedding couple to handle ground transportation–but not airfare (we’ll get into guest expenses next).
  • For any destination wedding, your guests pay for their airfare (or however they get to the country) and accommodations. Your guests will also pay for food and beverages outside your wedding reception, rehearsal dinner, welcome party, or the day after brunch.

Here’s another good question from destination wedding couples: Is my guest list expected to fly with my wedding gift?

Gift Giving at a Destination Wedding

While a sky-high pile of brightly wrapped wedding presents on a beach in paradise is a beautiful fantasy, there’s no way I would expect destination wedding guests to take up room in their airplane luggage with a gift, and these days, they shouldn’t have to!

Amazon is worldwide and offers one of the best wedding registries for couples and their guests.

Destination Wedding Checklist Tip: Have your wedding gifts delivered to your home and set delivery dates for after you get back from your destination wedding and honeymoon. It gives you two something to look forward to, especially when you have to return to reality!

Of course, some couples prefer cash gifts, and that’s perfectly acceptable. If you’re looking for the best ways to hint at your guest list that you’d like to receive those dollar bills, check out our Best Ways to Ask for Money.

Destination Wedding Stationery Checklist

Wedding stationery is no longer one of the costliest things in a couple’s budget, but destination weddings require more notice. You may also want to include more information for wedding guests traveling to an unfamiliar area.

With those details in mind, here are excellent links:

Okay! Time to a fun part of any wedding planning: what you will wear!

The groom in a white tuxedo looks at the bride in a white dress against the background of the ocean
Photo by Jessica Livingston Photography

Destination Wedding Fashion

I’m not glued to The Real Housewives. Still, I give big ups to those ladies for their dramatic fashions, not least Teresa Giudice, whose most recent nuptials included her wedding dress with “300 yards of hand-draped English netting” and a train measuring “100 inches long.”

Chances are, a destination bride won’t fit a bridal gown like that in her suitcase for her wedding ceremony!

Fashion becomes an essential part of the process when planning your wedding away. Focusing on attire that travels well and is extremely comfortable in any weather is vital.

Here are our very best tips to make everyone gorgeous on your destination wedding day:

Of course, we’d never forget the groom! So here’s an extra-special Wedding Pioneer fashion piece on everything Beach Wedding Attire for Men that works for any destination wedding!

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