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Can You Legally Elope Abroad?

The great thing about eloping is that it offers you the chance to travel anywhere you want, across the entire world! I've done some of the hard work of planning for you, by looking at the legalities and considerations you need to go over before planning an overseas wedding, as well as picking out some fantastic countries you may wish to consider for your wedding. Enjoy!
Rachel Sue Boehm, 5 star rated wedding and elopement photographer, holding a camera and posing under a tree.

I’m a wedding photographer with over 10 years experience. Based in Wisconsin, I specialize in elopements across the USA and worldwide.

As a certified drone pilot, I can offer aerial photography for a unique views of your wedding.

I’m also ordained through the Universal Life Church meaning that I can be your officiant and your photographer!

Get in touch with me to discuss your wedding or elopement photography.

Planning an Elopement?

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It’s a big old world out there! One of the great things about eloping is that it offers you the chance to go anywhere that you want. While the USA has 50 states for you to elope to, with a huge variation in weather, climate, topography and flora and fauna, you may wish to travel even further afield and explore what else the world has to offer for your elopement.

Here, I’ll go over some common questions that I get from couples who are thinking over where to hold their elopement.

Is It Legal to Marry Abroad?

Yes, getting married in a foreign country is perfectly legal as long as it complies with their local laws. Of course, these vary from country to country, but in general you should expect to apply for a marriage license, plan for a ceremony and an officiant (these often go by other names abroad, such as ‘registrar’).

If you have a particular country in mind, it would be worth researching their marriage laws or getting in touch with their embassy. In most countries, the processes are similar to the USA however some countries may have residency requirements in place, or refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. It is important to have a full understanding of a country’s laws before you elope.

Will An Overseas Marriage be Recognized in the USA?

It is a common concern amongst couples that I talk to: they want to be absolutely certain that their marriage in another country is all above board and will be legally recognized back home.

The short answer is that yes, a marriage abroad is legal and will be recognized in the US. The longer answer is that you need to ensure that you have followed all of the rules and regulations in your elopement location. In the vast majority of cases, a marriage abroad will be legally recognized in the United States. There are a small number of exceptions, that will only apply in a very small number of marriages.

A marriage conducted in a foreign country may not be recognized in the USA if it directly contravenes certain US marital laws. For example, if you marry multiple partners in a country where polygamy is legal you would need to specify one legal spouse in the United States and the other marriages would not be recognized.

Do I Need to Register an Overseas Marriage in the USA?

No, there is no centralized marriage registration process in the USA. Just as you wouldn’t need to register a marriage performed in another state, you also don’t need to register a marriage performed overseas. The marriage will automatically be recognized, as long as it doesn’t conflict with US laws (see above).

There may be exceptions to this if you marry a non-US citizen and they wish to apply to residency or citizenship. In these cases, you may have to present proof of marriage as part of the process.

Marriages for Military Members Stationed Overseas

The United States military contains around 1.3 million members, so there is a good chance that you or your partner may be stationed abroad. For servicemen and women at home, there are no particular requirements to be aware of: just make sure you follow the laws of the state your are getting married in.

However, things may be more complicated for those who are stationed overseas. Luckily, there are a couple of options available.

Firstly, if you’re able to travel and be where your partner is stationed that can be a lovely way to elope. But just to reiterate, you will need to abide by local marriage laws. There may also be the difficulty of having your partner be granted time off to get married, which can be a problem when stationed on active duty.

Another option is something called a proxy marriage. A proxy marriage allows couples to get married when at least one of them is not present. Proxy marriages are only available in:

Each of these states has their own requirements and eligibility, so check out in advance whether you’re eligible to elope there and have a proxy marriage.

The beauty of a proxy marriage is that they allow a couple to become legally married, which can be very important for military spouses to access certain benefits and military support, but keep open the possibility of holding a ceremony later on so that you still get to experience a traditional wedding day.

Where Should I Elope to?

Okay, so with the formalities out of the way let’s have a think about some fantastic overseas locations for an elopement. I’ve come up with these places based on my own travels and experiences.

New Zealand

The coastline of New Zealand
Te Mata Peak, New Zealand

New Zealand is such a gorgeous and diverse country, featuring snow-capped mountains, lush forests, and pristine coastlines. It’s believed that Peter Jackson chose to film the Lord of the Rings movie series there because of the diversity of landscapes on offer, as well as its pristine beauty.

The UK

The Yorkshire Dales, UK
A street in Gretna Green, Scotland

The UK is made up of four constituent countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This gives it many options, including the home of UK elopements in Gretna Green. You can check out another one of my posts if you’d like to know a little more about why Gretna Green is a popular elopement destination.

You will need a marriage visa to get married in the UK, but the process is pretty simple and makes the UK a great choice for an overseas elopement.

Mexico

The beach at Riviera Maya, Mexico
The Tulum Ruins, Mexico

With lovely beaches, fantastic food and the Latino taste for fun, Mexico is a great elopement destination. And sharing a border with the USA, it’s one of the closest places you can elope to while still being in a foreign country.

Joe and Kristen eloped to Mexico, why not read about their story to give you some ideas of your own?

France

A newly-wed couple in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris
Najac, a beautiful village in France. An old castle can be seen in the background

France is an excellent elopement destination thanks to its incredible food, culture, wine and of course, champagne (which you may well need to raise your glasses with). While Paris is well-known as one of the most romantic cities in the world, offering a multitude of options for a wedding ceremony, France also boasts some incredible rural destinations as well.

One thing to be aware of is that France isn’t the easiest destination to elope to because of its requirements for documentation to be translated into French as part of your marriage license application, and you must also be married by a local Mayor or representative. Nevertheless, going through the process is well worth it when you consider the end result.

Iceland

A newlywed couple who eloped to Glacier Lagoon in Iceland
Godafoss Waterfall in Iceland

Despite the name, Iceland isn’t actually compleley frozen all year-round (although winter usually sees very deep snow and cold temperatures). In fact, during the Spring and Summer months you get to experience some of the most beautiful locations in the world. With volcanic hot springs, geysers, ice sheets and cascading waterfalls, there are no shortage of natural backdrops for an elopement.

Iceland’s stunning natural scenery, as well as the chance of the Northern Lights painting the sky with swirling greens and blues, means it may just be the closest you can get to being in a dream.

Greece

A view of the coastline on a Greek Island
A small harbor town in Greece. Fishing boats are visible in the foreground.

Greece is made up of forty islands, with some of the best known ones being: Crete, Rhodes, Kefalonia, Corfu and Santorini. Not all of the islands have an airport, so if you wish to elope to a smaller destination you may need to travel by sea. How cool!

Being one of the most historic ancient countries, and the birthplace of Aristotle, Plato and Homer (no, not Simpson), there is plenty of culture to immerse yourself in while you’re there.

Another fantastic thing about Greece is that it really has something for everyone: quaint fishing villages for those who like serenity, or mountains to climb for the adventurous. And because Greece is known as a party destination for Europe’s youngsters looking to have a good time, there are plenty of booming towns with nightclubs for those who like a drink and a dance.

Italy

A newly married couple who have eloped to Rome. Constantine's Arch and the Colosseum are visible in the background
A canal in Venice

Historic, romantic and with amazing food and wine. What’s not to love about Italy? The capital, Rome, spelled Roma in Latin is actually “Amor,” (Latin for “love”) backwards. If that doesn’t tell you that Italy is a great elopement destination, then what will? And that’s before we’ve even brought Venice into it!

With its historic cities, as well as abundant lakes and vinyards, there’s plenty of locations to choose from to make a truly stunning elopement.

South Africa

A group of elephants playing in South Africa
The waterfront at Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa offers areas full of natural beauty: mountains, vinyards, beaches, rivers, and the pièce de résistance, safari weddings. There’s absolutely no shortage of stunning locations, but if you’re feeling super adventurous: South Africa boasts one of the highest bungee jumps in the world at the Bloukrans Bridge, which stands at 216 meters high!

With the process for non-residents to get married being pretty straightforward, South Africa should be somewhere on your radar if you love the outdoors.

Canada

A newlywed couple walking along a snowy path in Canada
A bride and groom walk up the stairs in a park in New Brunswick, Canada

Another close location, this time on our Northern border, Canada offers mountain locations, welcoming cities such as Montreal, Vancuover, Toronto and Calgary, and plenty of national parks. So there’s plenty of places for an outdoor wedding.

Eloping Abroad

There’s nothing I love more than an adventurous outdoor wedding, and what could be more adventurous than travelling to a new country with a small group, or even just the person you love? With over 10 years experience of planning and photographing elopements and intimate weddings. If you’re considering an elopement overseas, why not get in touch and see how I can help?

A photograph of Rachel Sue, an elopement photographer based in Wisconsin. She is standing with her back to the wall, with a camera in hand

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