Couple getting married in front of a lake.

Destination Wedding Laws You Need to Know

Local Laws That May Impact Your Destination Wedding

There’s a surge in destination weddings, as couples are flocking to far-flung islands and naturally-inspiring countries around the world to pledge their eternal love. But each destination requires unique legal hoops to jump through before the couple can be lawfully wedded.

Many countries have shortened the required residency and waiting periods, and countless resorts offer comprehensive destination wedding services that include processing the necessary paperwork and finding an official celebrant. Plus, weddings in most Caribbean nations, Mexico and Central America—home to many all-inclusive resorts—are recognized as legal in the United States.

Before deciding on a destination, though, it’s wise to consult a travel agent. A fabulous source of international knowledge, a travel agent will have the most experience helping engaged couples officially wed at destinations around the world.

Here is a quick checklist to make sure your ceremony goes off without a legal hitch. No need to print it outyour travel agent will most likely have all the connections and know all the rules for your destination, making the whole experience flawless.  

But if for some reason you can’t get your ducks in a row, you can always have your civic ceremony at home—making everything nice and legal the easy way—only to enjoy a symbolic wedding at your destination with all the gorgeous bells and whistles.

1. Paperwork

While each country may have additional requirements, the standard documents needed to apply for a marriage license include certified copies of:

  • Passports
  • Full birth certificates showing both parents’ names
  • If divorced, original final divorce papers
  • If widowed, the death certificate of your former spouse
  • If you have changed your name, legal proof of the change

Belize requires the marriage application forms be completed and signed in the presence of a Justice of the Peace, while Bermuda requires a “Notice of Intended Marriage” form. You’ll need a tourist visa in Mexico that can be obtained through the airline if you fly in. Your documents should be translated into Spanish, notarized by the nearest Mexican Consulate, and legalized in your country of residence.

Going a little farther abroad to get married in Tuscany or Cinque Terre? All documents that did not originate in Italy, such as birth certificates, must be translated into Italian and be stamped with an Apostille stamp.

Bride and groom signing paperwork.
Don't Forget: Remember to take your passports, birth certificates and other necessary paperwork.

2. Residency Requirements

If you’re staying in the U.S., a driver’s license is all you’ll need for that mountaintop Colorado wedding or California beachside affair. But U.S. residents have different requirements in other countries, which need to be included in your timeline.

Belize requires a three-day stay before applying for a marriage license, with approval taking up to a week. You must also reside in Mexico for three days before the wedding, while St. Maarten would like you to be there for 10 days… all of which sound like great reasons for a pre-honeymoon honeymoon! Jamaica and the Bahamas require just 24 hours, while there are no residency requirements in Puerto Rico, Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands or Costa Rica.

3. Witnesses

Two witnesses over the age of 21 are required in both Belize and Puerto Rico, while Costa Rica stipulates that the two witnesses cannot be immediately related to the bridal couple. In some locations, you can ask hotel guests or staff to stand in for you, in which case, ask the bartender—it’s never a bad idea to make friends with the bartender! Depending on the Mexican state, plan to have two to four witnesses over the age of 18 with you, and be sure they have passports!

Married couple heads down aisle as guests greet them with sparklers and cheers.
 Witness to Wedding: Be mindful of how many witnesses are necessary to make your wedding legal if heading outside the U.S.

4. Medical Tests

Until recently, Puerto Rico still required blood tests or required tests administered in the U.S. within 10 days of the ceremony. Most countries are slowly doing away with these requirements to ensure nothing will stop you from spending your wedding dollars there, but it’s important to do the research.

Certain states in Mexico require chest X-rays to check for tuberculosis (how romantic!), and all states require locally-performed blood tests with the results in Spanish. Get these done two days prior to your wedding so you can spend the rest of the time overseeing the finishing touches on your Simple Stunning Wedding package at the all-inclusive 5-Star Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa.

Most other locations in the Caribbean no longer require blood work, but it’s important to do your homework or work with a travel agent to guide you through any legal requirements.

5. Divorced?

Have you been counting the days since your divorce? You may need to since St. Maarten mandates that divorced women wait 306 days after divorce finalization. In Italy, if you’re a woman whose marriage was terminated within the last 300 days, you must seek a waiver from the Italian District Attorney’s office in the city where your marriage is to be performed. This waiver will be granted once you provide medical proof that you are not pregnant. Many Mexican states require that a year has passed since the divorce before you apply for a marriage license, so hopefully your new love can wait.

Wedding rings laying on a book.
The More You Know:  Make sure you legally get married if you're divorced. Counting the days you've been divorce will be helpful. 

6. Widowed?

Bring a copy of the death certificate of your former spouse and your former marriage certificate.

7. Name Change?

Bring legal proof of a name change, and for Mexico, you’ll need to have it stamped and dated by a local solicitor.

8. Same Sex Marriage

Unfortunately, most Caribbean nations, along with parts of Mexico, do not recognize same-sex marriages. Fear not – simply work with your travel agent to go further abroad to a destination where your love can be officially celebrated, like New Zealand, Argentina, Ireland or France. If you had your heart (and budget) set on a Caribbean all-inclusive-style wedding, you can always have a symbolic ceremony on the beach, then a legal one once you’ve returned home.  

Lesbian couple kissing and holding up a 'just married' sign.
LGBTQ Couples: Check out your destination wedding location first to make sure laws allow same-sex marriage among gay-friendly locals.

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