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Updated 30 May 2012
Planning a wedding can be a challenge at the best of times, but when it’s in a foreign country, away from friends and family and most of what you are familiar with, it can be an even greater challenge. Claire Morris is a British expat who is living in the south of France and is in the process of planning her big day. Here she shares some of her experiences of being an expat and planning a wedding abroad.


 

Most people say that planning a wedding is probably one of the most stressful things you will do in your life time, along with either buying a house or having a baby. And just think…some people actually do it more than once. People say it’s stressful, so imagine when you decide to marry abroad!
 
When I became engaged, I was so excited and couldn't wait to start planning our big day. Shopping, looking at bridal magazines, interest boards, scrap books - my creativity was flowing. It’s exciting and I was thinking of all things magical and glamorous. I am due to marry my French Prince in the South of France, where we currently live. I am enjoying organising and planning our big day, thinking of what we would like, what we don't want and how we can make it extra special. The biggest challenge I feel is to ensure that our family and friends are not isolated with the language barrier. Our wedding will be a mix of English and French and some who don't speak the other language. So we feel it's really important and our responsibility to ensure the guests are following the day and understanding everything. We don't want them there twiddling their fingers as they don't understand what is being said.  Therefore, we are thinking about either having a translator, a projector, or hand out with the translated ceremony in it.
 
I wouldn't say planning a wedding abroad is easy but the rewards, I'm sure, will make up for it. From my experience so far, I would compare it to taking on a job! The job description should read: possess good communication skills, planning and organising skills, negotiating powers and for those of you who have decided to plan a wedding abroad you need to add language skills. To plan the wedding you want and ensure it goes to plan you can of course take the route of a wedding planner; although, this will cost you, and for us we did not have 'spare funds' to have this luxury. So we decided like most people to organise our wedding day ourselves and to enjoy the journey, and at the end when people say they enjoyed our wedding we can say we did that.  
 
If you are thinking of marrying abroad, you firstly need to set a budget, then decide where. Importantly, you must find out how you can be married abroad, i.e. the legal requirements. Things are slightly different between countries. In France, you need to be married in a Mairie (registered Town Hall) for your marriage to be legal. If you want a religious ceremony you can have this either directly afterwards or on another day. Depending on which country you choose to marry in, you will need to make sure you have all the correct documents. Generally, you should be able to obtain these from your embassy. Note, you may be required to translate documents, so make sure you have someone reliable who can help you understand exactly what it written and required on the documents.
 
For the reception, choose either a hotel or venue that you feel comfortably communicating with as you will be doing a lot of it! Make sure you think about transport to and from the venue and place of marriage.
 
It is also worth planning a try-out of the day. For example, take a drive around, noting all the important things like shops, chemists and airports that you can advise your guests about, and perhaps offer a little language book with all the important phrases that will help them. Note the distance between venues and how long it takes. Talk to the hotel/venue to ensure you both are singing from the same hymn sheet and your expectations are understood and can be carried out so you avoid any surprises. It's really important that anything you don't understand you ask questions or get help from a translator as you do not want to have any confusions or misinterpretations that could potentially cause hiccups on your big day.
 
Of course organising a wedding is never going to cost nothing, but you can control the costs by researching suppliers well and negotiating, and of course compromise. You may want the designer wedding dress but perhaps you can look around and find something the same but half the price. You may want a band but you can also copy music to your iPod and be your own DJ for the evening. There are many ways to reduce the cost of your wedding but still have a lovely day.
 
Personally, the biggest challenge is by far the language and cultural difference. The emotional challenge is okay as I'm lucky that most of my family expected me to marry in the South of France and not the UK and they are all looking forward to the holiday they will enjoy after.
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