How to Plan a Destination Wedding

Groom kissing bride on head for an article on how to plan a destination wedding

Talk about intimate: I had the pleasure of photographing Julie and Emeric’s Linden Terrace wedding in Fort Tryon Park last week. It was just the couple, the officiant, myself, and the wedding planner — that’s it. Coming all the way from Paris, their ceremony was the perfect example of how to plan an. Thinking of saying your own vows in a far off land? Here are some tips for how to plan a destination wedding with ease, just like Julie and Emeric.

Meet Julie and Emeric

Groom kissing bride on the head for an article on how to plan a destination wedding

First: a few details about the beautiful couple. Julie and Emeric met six years ago at a music festival where Julie was singing and Emeric was playing drums. At the time, Emeric was married. They kept in touch as friends, but Julie noticed that after a while his Facebook posts were suddenly photos of him alone. That Christmas, Julie invited Emeric to a holiday party at her apartment, and voilà! The rest is history. They have a four-year old son, and live just outside of Paris. New York is a city near and dear to their heart, and after contacting wedding planner Muriel Saldalamacchia, they started to put a plan into place.

Julie and Emeric were smart about getting married, and kept their ceremony small. They had a beautiful, personalized ceremony from one of my all-time favorite officiants, Rev. Mary-Rose Engle. Saying their vows with a view overlooking the Hudson River was almost enough to make even me weep. After the short ceremony, we took photos on Linden Terrace, and then we all enjoyed a glass of rosé champagne in Fort Tryon Park’s New Leaf restaurant. The rest of the weekend was a holiday excursion as the couple took in all the sights New York City has to offer. (You can see Julie’s fabulous photos on her Instagram account, @ julie_l_mua.)


How To Plan A Destination Wedding – Before You Leave

Bride, groom, officiant, and wedding planning laughing together for an article on how to plan a destination wedding
The gang’s all here! Julie and Emeric with the officiant and event planner.

I would venture to say that about a quarter of my clients every year are foreign citizens looking to get married in New York. Most of my clients come from the United Kingdom, with France not far behind. If you are coming over to New York to get married, here are my top tips:

Have a representative on the ground who knows the area, the rules, and the language. Planning a wedding in your own country is difficult enough. Add in the complication of US rules and regulations plus a language barrier, and you can easily see why it helps to have someone who can take care of the logistics for you. In particular, make sure that the planner you choose is well versed in the documents you have to provide both in the US and in your own country in order to make your wedding official. Keep in mind that you will no doubt need to take care of paperwork on your own when you return home, so having someone to help who knows the paperwork requirements in both places is immensely helpful. Beyond this, having a planner who can help you purchase items for your wedding as well as make decisions on vendors is a real help.

Case in point, Muriel knew just where to send Julie when she needed to purchase a wedding dress and shoes. Her assistance cut down on the amount of shopping time and gave Julie and Emeric more time to enjoy NYC. Bottom line, I recommend having a wedding planner to help you with the process from start to finish. If you can’t afford this service, then reach out to your hotel concierge and see how they can help you.

Pictures say a thousand words, in any language. Pinterest is your friend if you are planning a destination wedding. Pin photos of what you want to create specific boards, and then share these with your planner, venue and all of your vendors. The photos you send will make your wishes loud and clear, despite the language barrier.

If you are going with a one-stop-shop wedding package, then make sure you check ALL the vendors provided. There are several package services out there that provide the whole kit and caboodle – from officiant to photographer, and even flowers and dinner reservations. If you go with one of these packages, and they can be a very convenient option, check all of the vendors provided to make sure that each one is up to your standards. From personal experience, I want to warn you that you get what you pay for. I have been approached by several of these package outfits to provide photography services. The pay that the services offer is so low that I have turned all of them down. I can only imagine that the photographers agreeing to work with these outfits are either inexperienced or desperate. If your package price is too good to be true, then it probably isn’t what you want. See if you can provide your own vendors where necessary and make sure you won’t be double charged for the privilege. As with all vendors, get everything in writing and read the contract carefully from start to finish.

One word of caution: if you are planning on bringing in an outside vendor, say you want to fly in a fabulous photographer from NYC for your wedding in Paris (hey there!), check first that your US vendor can legally work in the destination country. Several countries have rules against employing foreigners, even for only one wedding. And if you were planning on sneaking a photographer across the border, bear in mind that it is hard to be inconspicuous with bags full of professional equipment. I do not travel light.

Keep it small. For any wedding, having a large bridal party and guest list means you have limited mobility. From my own experience, trying to take photos at weddings where there is a large bridal party (i.e., over three bridesmaids and groomsmen) is a bit like trying to herd cats. In this case, since it was just Julie and Emeric, they could get married almost anywhere and do just what they pleased for the wedding. Indeed, for their wedding on Linden Terrace, we simply stood there and held the ceremony. If there had been more people, we would have drawn the eye of park security, and that would have meant having to pay a permit fee. Less people = less hassle and less costs overall.

If you are planning on inviting guests, then do so with the expectation that no one will show up. As hard as that is to type, you have to think that spending the money and vacation time is a big expense for most people. If your nearest and dearest friends and family can make the trip, then great. But don’t take it personally if someone turns down the invitation. Furthermore, make sure you get your invitations out extra, EXTRA early so that your guests can get the cheaper airfare and take care of their passports.

Location, location, location. Here’s where your guest count really matters: if it is just you two tying the knot, then getting hitched on the top of a mountain is a perfect plan. If you are expecting 35 guests — ranging in age from 20 to 80 — to make it to the top of the mountain with you, then rethink a location on the ground. Also, think about how hard it is to get to your destination. Getting married in NYC is never an issue because we have three airports. Getting married on the Isle of Capri is a bit more difficult because you need to fly into Naples and then take a ferry. That’s a lot of travel time for even the most hardened of tourists. If you want your family there, then get married in a spot with a major airport that has direct flights.

Get your paperwork in order early, including your passport. This year I had to renew my passport. The process took longer than usual because, ironically, the background of the photo I submitted was deemed by the US government to not be white enough. (Note that I had the photo taken at an official post office using their official camera.) Anyway, while I was planning on the process taking just a few weeks, the time spent totaled about a month and a half. Learn from me and check your passport now if you are planning a destination wedding. Filing paperwork and getting the correct answer on what forms need to be submitted will take double the amount of time you expect it to.

A few other paperwork details to note: keep in mind that in some countries, a church wedding is not considered legal in the eyes of the state. If you are planning a church wedding in a different country, you may also have to schedule a civil wedding at the courthouse in order to make your nuptials legally binding.

Finally, note that some countries have a residency requirement before you can get married. It is 24 hours in the Turks and Caicos Islands, 7 days in the UK, and a whopping 40 days in France. Oh, and don’t forget about having to travel early to your destination country in order to take a blood test and fill out yet more paperwork. Hope you have some vacation time saved up. My recommendation: have a civil ceremony in your own country to make sure your wedding is legal, then have a more personal ceremony in your destination of choice.


How To Plan A Destination Wedding – When You Arrive

Officiant speaking to bride and groom during ceremony for an article on how to plan a destination wedding

Visit your destination beforehand at around the same time as your wedding. You know how I always do venue checks before an event? If you are planning a destination wedding, you need to do the same. Can you imagine showing up at your beautiful mountain top venue in summer, days before your wedding, only to realize it is broiling hot and the mosquitoes are indefatigable? Make sure that the vision you have of your wedding is going to be your reality with a real-time visit.

Bring everything you need with you. Don’t mail anything. If you mail items, those items will be subject to customs fees and taxes, which means more expense. It is ultimately more economical to pay for an extra suitcase, fill it will all of the goodies you want to include at your wedding, and pay the extra baggage fee to the airline rather than try to ship anything. Also, if you ship ahead of time you risk having your items never make it to your wedding in the first place thanks to an unreliable postal service or being held up at customs.

Don’t forget about the exchange rate. This can be a costly surprise if you haven’t factored in the exchange rate, VAT taxes, and any customs fees to your final budget.

Plan for major weather issues. Um, hurricane season is not a great time to plan a wedding in the Caribbean. Just a word of advice from a Florida native. Also, snowpocalypse for anyone planning a winter wedding.

Know your (tipping) etiquette in different countries. Yes, they do tip vendors in other countries. It’s really a country-by-country situation, but get familiar with all of the local customs, tipping and otherwise.

Don’t expect perfection. I think with every wedding, something is bound to go wrong. How you handle the issue is how you will remember the day ten years from now. In the case of Julie and Emeric, the driver got horribly lost and had no idea where Fort Tryon Park was. (Ed. Why taxi drivers in New York City are not required to take a driving and location test is beyond me. Also, why didn’t this guy have a GPS system in his car???) The couple ended up being only thirty minutes late, and they didn’t let the issue mar the rest of their wonderful day. Bottom line: you can count on the fact that something will go wrong with your wedding, be it domestic or international. Embrace the imperfection and just have another glass of champagne. You deserve it.


Are you planning a destination wedding soon?  Drop me a line and let’s have a virtual cup of tea to talk about your photography needs.

If you would like to see more images from my portfolio, then please visit my website –

Wedding rings on green and yellow leavesClose up of bride holding flower bouquetBride looking at groom during ceremony for an article on how to plan a destination weddingGroom looking at bride during ceremony for an article on how to plan a destination weddingBride and groom exchanging vows for an article on how to plan a destination weddingBride and groom exchanging vows at a Linden Terrace weddingClose up of officiant's hand holding out wedding ringsGroom putting wedding ring on bride's finger during Lindent Terrace weddingBride and groom kissing after Linden Terrace weddingBride and groom in Fort Tryon Park for an article on how to plan a destination weddingBride looking at groom for an article on how to plan a destination weddingBride touching groom's moustacheGroom wearing grey bow tie and looking to sideSmiling groom wearing grey bow tieBride and groom looking at each other for an article on how to plan a destination weddingBride and groom dancing after Linden Terrace weddingBride and groom dancing for an article on how to plan a destination weddingBride and groom dancing for an article on how to plan a destination weddingClose up of bride dancing in rose pink wedding dressPortrait of bride wearing rose pink wrap around dressGroom holding open jacketClose up of bride wearing heart-shaped locket necklacePortrait of bride looking down for an article on how to plan a destination weddingBride and groom kissing with bride's hand on groom's shoulderGroom holding bride's hand to his chestPeople walking in Forty Tryon Park with view of Hudson RiverSnapshots of wedding party on picnic table with flower bouquetBride and groom against stone wall in Fort Tryon ParkGroom leaning over bride on stone wall in Fort Tryon ParkBride and groom in stone stairwell in Fort Tryon ParkGlasses of pink champagne at New Leaf Restaurant

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