Although saying, “I do” under the Eiffel Tower sounds incredibly romantic, countries like France, Egypt, and Bali have lengthy residency and documentation requirements for foreigners. To get married abroad, a passport, birth certificate, and if applicable, a divorce document, are generally required. Sometimes medical records and a blood test are necessary as well. But even all that un-romantic documentation didn’t stop me from dreaming; after countless late nights of investigation, I made a list of the best places to elope with the least red tape to tie the knot. Now if only I can get the hubby-to-be on board …
1. Tamarindo, Costa Rica
As its name says, Costa Rica truly is a rich coast. Located on the Pacific coast, the sun shines in Tamarindo 365 days of the year. For lovers of adventure sport, eco-tourism, and the best Mother Nature has to offer, Tamarindo is the spot. Unlike other Central American destinations, Costa Rica is a relatively hassle-free wedding destination.
Red Tape: To get hitched in Costa Rica you need your passport, birth certificate, and two unrelated witnesses. You must register with a local attorney two months before heading to the altar. (In Costa Rica, notaries often act as attorneys and are simple to come across.) The Civil Registry will issue your marriage certificate four to seven weeks after your ceremony. Your marriage will be legally recognized in the U.S. when you or the lawyer who performed the ceremony submits your marriage certificate with the appropriate certifications to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica.
2. Niagara Falls
In a helicopter above the falls or on a cliff overlooking them, Niagara Falls is an inimitable place to get married. Couples who’ve taken the plunge at the falls claim the negative ions from the water reduce fatigue and act as a natural aphrodisiac. Since it’s in the states (and Canada is an extremely friendly northern neighbor), Niagara Falls is a stress-free and memorable destination.
Red Tape: Head to any city clerk or town clerk’s office in New York to obtain a marriage license. Bring a birth certificate and your driver’s license. You must get married within sixty days from when the license is issued. (Similar laws apply if you get married on the Canadian side of the falls, except you must receive your license in Canada.)
3. Grenada, The Caribbean
Just north of Trinidad, Grenada is home to some of the most stunning shorelines in all the Caribbean. Its history of volcanic eruptions has created a distinctive landscape complete with mango swamps and rainforests. A rich blend of African, Indian, Caribbean, and French cultures, its simple marriage requirements and exotic scenery make it an idyllic place to elope.
Red Tape: You must be in Grenada three days before the wedding and apply for a marriage license in person at the Office of the Prime Minister. Bring your passport and birth certificate. You’ll need to provide a document saying that you’ve never been married before or additional proof in cases of divorce or widow.
4. Ice Hotel, Quebec
With rooms, bars, art galleries, and a chapel entirely made of ice, a wedding at the ice hotel is unforgettable—just don’t forget your winter coat. The hotel is usually only open from January through April because the buildings start to melt in the summer. Dog sled from your ceremony to a romantic dinner, then spend a once-in-a-lifetime night in your ice-made honeymoon suite.
Red Tape: There are no residency requirements. You need to apply in person with a passport and birth certificate at a registry agent in order to receive a license to present to your officiate before the ceremony.
5. Mombassa, Kenya
Get hitched safari style with the white-sand beaches and black-striped zebras of Kenya. Ideal for adventure seekers, nature enthusiasts, and beach bums, Mombassa’s charms appeal to many. After you tie the knot, spend the night in a luxury tent and take a wild African safari for your honeymoon.
Red tape: You’ll need to be in the country three days prior to your wedding. To obtain a marriage license, head to the Registrar Office in Sheria House, Nairobi with your passport and birth certificate.
Located off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, there are few places as romantic and culturally rich as Mauritius. A turquoise sea, eco-tourism, and the largest Hindu temple in the world draw couples to this paradise. Its remote location offers an added level of seclusion and romance. It’s relatively easy marriage process and mind-blowing beauty make it a hot spot for elopements.
Red tape: You must obtain a certificate from the Prime Minister’s office. This can be obtained prior to your arrival by sending a request to the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in Port-Louis. Send two copies each of your passports and birth certificates and any documentation relating to cases of divorce or widowhood. When you get to the island, head to the Civil State Controller with the originals to receive your marriage certificate. You’re free to marry the day after receiving your certificate.
Home to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, Cyprus has hosted over 9,000 weddings in the past three years. At the heart of three continents, its cultural influence is largely European, but its proximity to Asia and Africa give it a deep Eastern influence. From golden beaches to a blanket of wildflowers in the spring, what’s cooler than saying, “We tied the knot in Cyprus”?
Red Tape: You must provide a birth certificate and passport in person to the marriage officer at a municipal office to obtain a marriage license. There is no residency requirement. The license processing usually takes fifteen days, but you can pay a bit more to get a license within two to three days. As soon as you receive your license, you’re free to get hitched.
8. Grenta Green, Scotland
Scotland was the chosen spot for Guy and Madonna to tie the knot; clearly, it’s one of the most charming places in the world. Hosting over 5,000 weddings a year, the regal village of Grenta Green is famous for runaway weddings. Brimming with rolling green pastures and mind-blowing castles, it has a magnetic romanticism that continually brings couples back.
Red Tape: You must complete the Marriage Notice Form (M10) three months to fifteen days prior to your nuptials. Send two completed forms along with copies of your passport and birth certificate to Gretna Registry Office, Central Avenue, Gretna, Dumfries & Galloway, DG16 5AQ, UK. Scotland is the only country in the UK with no residency requirement.
9. Santorini, Greece
If fresh gyros and baklava don’t entice you enough, then how about droves of vineyards and an aqua sea sparkling everywhere you look? Its bright white architecture, volcanic scenery, and village-esque setting are the perfect backdrop for your own small, skinny Greek wedding.
Red Tape: Bring your passport and birth certificate to city hall once you land. It takes up to seven days for approval, so give yourself plenty of time. There is no residency requirement. Additional documentation is required if you are divorced, widowed, adopted, or have changed your name.
10. Honolulu, Hawaii
Albeit clichéd, Hawaii is the most simple and stunning place to get married stateside. The Big Island is the most diverse and lively spot on the entire archipelago. Swim in the blowhole away from the tourist scene at Sandy Beach or go Zen at Byodo-In temple, an intricate replica of a 900-year-old Japanese temple. Or just relax and celebrate the beginning of the rest of your life hang-ten style.
Red Tape: There are no residency requirements; all you need is a driver’s license (and a surfboard).
Eloping isn’t for everyone. It’s ideal for couples who want a fast, affordable, and stress-free wedding day. However, there’s something to be said for celebrating your vows with everyone you love. While dreams of escaping to the shores of Santorini will monopolize my mind, I’ll be stuck choosing the perfect tulip shade for my centerpieces … sigh … a girl can always dream. No matter what, your wedding is your special day, so make it what you want.
Couples considering getting married out of the country should contact the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs at (202) 647-3444 to clarify all legal requirements before heading overseas.