Everything You Need to Know About Symbolic vs Legal Destination Wedding Ceremonies

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When considering your destination wedding – planning a destination wedding is more than just deciding where you’ll hold the ceremony. One of the first questions many couples ask about planning a destination wedding is whether they will be legally married when they tie the knot in their chosen country. You see, all destination wedding couples will eventually come across this issue of having a symbolic wedding ceremony or a legal wedding. It’s important to understand the options you have and the difference between what a symbolic and legal destination wedding ceremony are so that you can make the best decision for you. We will discuss in detail how each style works, and why choosing one over the other could be right for you- and if you have any questions about this topic, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Destination Weddings Are More Popular Than Ever

In the past couple of years, destination weddings have experienced a surge in popularity. So much so that the trend is making its way across to those who would otherwise not have considered it.

If you’re planning to get married in a different country, you will probably be faced with the decision between a legal and symbolic wedding and may be wondering, “what the heck is a symbolic wedding?” or, “is a symbolic wedding legal”, or “what’s the difference between a symbolic ceremony and a civil ceremony?”

This article is going to give you the deets on both a legal (civil) destination wedding ceremony and a symbolic destination wedding ceremony so that you can decide which is best for you.

What is Required For a Legal Ceremony Away?

Documents You May Need

Just like you would experience in your State, there will be documents and proof of identity required, along with any licensing fees. Some countries require notarized copies of your passport, divorce decree, or legal name change. Others will require translation of the documents into their language.

Ceremony Officiated in Language of That Country

Additionally, when doing a legal ceremony in a country where English is not their native
language, there is no guarantee that your wedding will be officiated in English. In this case, a translator (usually the onsite wedding planner) will translate what the officiant says.

Government Fees:

Then there will be government fees involved, and possibly a blood test done on-site.


Some countries will require witnesses (who are not related to you) to arrive with you on the same day.

Residency Requirement:

Beyond that, most countries will also require a residency. For example, a requirement may be a 4-day residency and only business days (Monday-Friday) count toward your residency. Others may have a requirement of 48 hours and you can arrive any day of the week.

A Legal Ceremony is Nothing to Worry About:

Don’t let this scare you! Some countries are super easy to get legally married in. It all varies, so I generally advise my clients to do what is best for them based on the country they decide to get married in.

Be Flexible:

I also suggest being flexible. You may be going into planning a legal destination wedding
abroad assuming that you’ll be able to make it legally binding in the destination. Don’t let this pigeonhole you into only a handful of options.

Benefits of a legal/civil marriage:

  • The moment you say “I Do” in front of your friends and family is the real deal.
  • You won’t have to decide which day to celebrate your anniversary.
  • In my book, it’s kind of cool to say you were legally married in “Mexico”

A Symbolic Ceremony:
Second, let’s discuss the mystery of the symbolic wedding and what you need to know.
Essentially, a symbolic wedding looks and sounds just like a civil wedding, it just isn’t legally binding. It is like a commitment ceremony or a renewal of vows.

Avoiding Extra Hoops to Jump Through:
The purpose of choosing a symbolic destination wedding would be to avoid the legal
requirements to get married in another country. Maybe due to the hassle, or possibly due to the cost.

Can Ensure Everyone Can Celebrate:
Sometimes, couples will have certain family members who won’t be able to travel with them, so they choose to get married in the States before heading to their destination so that those family members can be a part of the union.

You Will Need Proof You Are Married:
No matter your reason, with a symbolic destination wedding you will want to get married before heading to the destination because the country you are heading to will want a copy of your marriage records. To them, your ceremony is like a vow renewal, and they want to ensure you are legally married before officiating your ceremony. Make sense?

Benefits of a symbolic wedding ceremony:

  1. Less expensive
  2. Not as much paperwork
  3. No residency requirements
  4. No translation of documents
  5. Ceremony can be officiated by a family member or friend

Ultimately, both a symbolic and a legal destination wedding ceremony can be valuable in different ways. The most important thing to remember about your destination wedding ceremony, is to do what will make you and your soon to be spouse most happy. A destination wedding is supposed to be a celebration of your love, so make it as hassle free & wonderful as possible. After all, a wedding isn’t all about the paperwork.

If you like the idea of getting married without a lot of extra legal and financial hoops to jump through, then a symbolic ceremony might work for you. On the other hand, if you want or need to make your union official the actual day you get married in your destination, then a legal wedding is going to be better for you!

If you are in the midst of planning your destination wedding and feel like you’re stuck
and not getting very far, I encourage you to use this link, to schedule a free 30-minute
destination wedding planning strategy session with me
! I would be honored to help your figure out everything you need for an amazing destination wedding! (Legal or Symbolic)

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