Picture this. The sun is setting as you and your amour exchange vows on the banks of the Seine. It's romantic, but are you ready to spend 40 days in France fulfilling the residency requirement?
Under U.S. statutes, a marriage performed abroad is generally accepted by any state as long as it is valid under the laws of the foreign country. The problem is that every country has its own rules—they can even vary from city to city. Before picking an exotic place to say "I do," consider the following.
WHO'LL SET IT UP? There are three ways to go: have the wedding at a respected hotel; hire an experienced wedding-planning service based here or abroad; or do everything yourself. If you choose to go through a hotel and have never been to the site, ask the hotel to send you a videotape or brochures on its services as well as some written recommendations from others who've married there. The best hotels have personnel who can assist in planning a wedding; be sure this service will be available to you, and if it's not, choose an independent wedding planner instead. The good ones know the local regulations, can bypass some of the bureaucracy, and usually provide an on-site coordinator. If you decide to go it alone, start planning now.
WHAT WILL IT COST? In most cases, it's just the bride and groom who travel, which keeps expenses down. Those intent on having guests, however, should know that except for airfare an overseas wedding can cost less than one back home. At one Cancun resort a wedding and reception for 30 people, coordinated by a U.S. planner, was recently priced at $2,000, including everything from the judge's fees to the video, but not accommodations or airfare. The more guests you bring, the more likely it is that your hotel will give you a good deal.
WHAT ARE THE RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS? France may require a long residency, but Switzerland and Scotland have no such rules. England requires that either the bride or the groom be in the country for at least 15 days before the ceremony, but the rules were recently changed so that you don't have to get married in the district where you fulfilled your residency requirement. Ask your coordinator or the country's consulate or tourist board whether the days required are business days or actual days. Note that in some countries couples must "post the banns"—that is, place an announcement of the wedding in a local paper—to give people a chance to voice any objections. In several countries, including Italy, this requirement is waived for U.S. citizens; but in others, such as Greece, the practice is still required.
CIVIL VERSUS RELIGIOUS In Aruba and Portugal, you must be a citizen to have a civil ceremony; in Greece, there's an eight-day residency requirement. The best option, then, may be to hold the civil ceremony at home and the religious ceremony abroad. There may be additional religious restrictions: rabbis in Scotland, for example, will not perform interfaith ceremonies (but you are free to bring your own rabbi).
WHAT DOCUMENTS WILL YOU NEED? Providing the necessary paperwork can be as challenging as choosing bridesmaids. Besides obtaining whatever the countries demand—in some Mexican cities, for example, you need health certificates from a Mexican doctor—you should bear in mind that documents may have to be translated, or sent well in advance of the marriage date. Government office hours can also present obstacles: documents may be filed in Rome only on Tuesday and Thursday mornings; civil ceremonies in Athens are restricted to Wednesdays and Fridays.
THE BOTTOM LINE A quick fact-finding mission to your wedding destination can help you figure out the rules before it's too late.
WHO CAN HELP? For information on local regulations, call the country's U.S. tourist bureau or one of the following wedding coordinators.
Europe and Mexico: Weddings on the Move (800/444-6967)
Greece: Unique Tours (800/543-5527)
Italy, England, Ireland: Grand Luxe (201/327-2333)
Bermuda: Barbara Whitecross, Wedding Salon Ltd. (441/292-5677)
Around the world: Marcy Blum Associates (212/688-3057); Creative Leisure (800/426-6367)
The Ultimate Destination Wedding Guide has some information and contacts for many destinations (and some stories by veterans).