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Offshore Weddings

Who would have thought getting married in an exotic place could be cheaper and easier to organise than a wedding in your hometown? Bridget Cull looks into the growing trend of destination weddings.

"A destination wedding means you won't have your parents' neighbours' dog-walking friends coming along."

These are the thoughts of Sydney-based Caroline Kaulback, who is marrying Shane Hamilton in Costa Rica this September.

The couple chose a destination wedding for a number of reasons, including their love of travel and the fact that they could choose somewhere between Caroline's home country of Canada and Shane's Australia. Caroline says getting married offshore also makes a wedding more of an experience.

"I absolutely hate going to big weddings where you don't get to even speak to the couple," she says. "You get stuck at a table with people you've never met and don't really get to know over just one meal. A destination wedding lets friends and family who love you really get to know each other."

Money talks:

Caroline and Shane are one of many couples choosing to tie the knot overseas each year. Global Weddings travel agent Narelle Williams has been organising destination weddings for Australian couples for seven years, and has gone from dealing with three weddings a year in the beginning to about 40.

And she predicts the trend is only going to grow as more couples realise how cost-effective and convenient it is.

"Of course a lot of people won't ever do it but for people who love travel, it's definitely a great option," she says.

While the average Australian wedding costs about $36,000, Narelle says the average cost of a destination wedding is between $8000 and $10,000, including the couple's airfares and accommodation, and all wedding costs such as the venue, food, cake, flowers and photography.

Narelle says it's cheaper because the average number of guests is between 20 and 30, and overseas resorts don't charge more for weddings than other functions.

"You can have a five or six-star wedding with brilliant food and an amazing setting for less than half the price of what it would be here," Narelle says. Legally speaking:

Global Weddings organises weddings in Thailand, Bali, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and Santorini, with the first three being the most popular destinations. Couples wanting different destinations are referred to other businesses, such as Italian wedding specialist, Marry Me Abroad. Although Narelle says the legal requirements of getting married in destinations other than the six she specialises in often put people off.

"You have to live in Paris for 30 days before you can get married there. It's better to go to places like that for your honeymoon."

Even some of the popular destinations have annoying legal requirements, such as Thailand where you have to get all your official documents translated into Thai and spend more than half a day organising everything. But using a travel agency helps, since they can arrange others to do a lot of the work for you.

Narelle says many people think destination weddings are not legally recognised in Australia. "But all the weddings we organise are (legally recognised). It's just that they're not registered in Australia - they can't be." The only affect this has is if the bride decides to change her name she has to do it by deed poll rather than through the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry, Narelle says.


While many couples organise destination weddings themselves, Narelle cautions against this. "We only recommend a small number of resorts that I've been to and trust. They have great wedding co-ordinators and are well set-up for weddings. You don't want to get somewhere and not be happy with it and if you're trying to organise it yourself it can be really difficult - a lot of wedding co-ordinators just won't get back to you."

Caroline and Shane have organised their wedding on their own, but Caroline says they had some invaluable help along the way. "I did a lot of internet research. I even met a woman online who was asking questions about the property we were looking to rent as she was going there too. She offered to give me a 'real' run-down of the place and surroundings as you can't always trust the official stuff posted on websites. I waited to book the house until I heard back from her - she sent a glowing recommendation."

Caroline says anyone who wants to control all the little details of their wedding should not go for the offshore option. "There are a lot of things you have to leave up in the air until you get there, or up to chance. Trying to make arrangements in another country, in another time zone, in another language can sometimes be frustrating but I've managed so far without any dramas."

Caroline advises others not to sweat the small stuff and to hire a local wedding planner if it gets too hard. She and Shane have adopted an ultra-casual approach, even leaving the date flexible. "We've chosen September 6 because we had to choose a date but the beauty of a casual destination wedding is that everyone will be there for the whole week, so if it rains on the day we can change it," Caroline explains.

They've invited about 100 guests but expect up to 30 to make it to the boutique hotel/private residence they've hired on Playa Grande, which Caroline found on

"We're having a no-shoes theme. I'm not really worrying about colours and all that other stuff. We'll be arriving the week before and we'll sort out flowers, etc. then. We want to really work with the surroundings, so we'll use local flowers and dishes."

To help guests get information about the wedding and destination, Caroline set up a blog ( and sent an e-vite to guests so they can get in touch with each other and organise sharing accommodation and other activities.

So it seems as technology improves, the world is not only becoming a smaller place - it is becoming much more accessible to couples wanting to get married in a dream overseas destination.

Member of the wedding staff.

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