The Elopement Checklist That Every Couple Needs
A major benefit of choosing to elope is the small list of to-dos on your elopement checklist compared to a traditional wedding. But there is still plenty of preparation to be done before the big day. You and your partner have to choose your ceremony location, wedding attire, wedding vendors and get the piece of paper that makes the whole event legal—your marriage license. It might sound like a lot to do, but planning your dream elopement doesn't have to be stressful. This checklist will give you peace of mind as you're figuring out how to plan an elopement. And remember, we know that every couple's elopement journey is different, so use this checklist as a guide to fit you and your partner's needs, not the other way around.
In this article:
What Does it Mean to Elope?
You might think of eloping as a couple spontaneously getting married in Las Vegas or saying "I do" in secret away from family and friends. Typically, couples only have an elopement ceremony, which means there's no reception. But over the years, lots of couples have redefined what eloping means and have been celebrating their elopement in beautiful, unique ways. Now, couples use their elopement as a time to travel to a new and gorgeous destination together or to honor their love in their hometown. Opposite of elopement tradition, some couples even decide to include VIP guests so they can share their wedding memories with their loved ones.
You may have encountered microweddings during your wedding research and are wondering how elopements are different. Microweddings usually have a maximum of 50 guests and are planned very similarly to a traditional wedding—with decor, food and invitations, just on a smaller scale. Elopements are small, intimate ceremonies that normally only include immediate family and close friends (that's if the couple decides to have any guests at all).
Before you can fully enjoy your elopement ceremony, you must take care of four crucial details on your elopement checklist: booking travel and accommodations, getting your marriage license, hiring elopement vendors and finding your elopement attire.
Travel and Accommodations
If you're eloping to a destination:
Research if your destination requires a permit.
Don't get your heart set on a destination wedding before finding out if the location allows weddings. If weddings are allowed, check to see if you'll need a permit to have your elopement. State parks, national landmarks or private beaches require permits for legal ceremonies, so consider permit fees when making your wedding budget.
In addition to permits, some countries don't perform legal marriage ceremonies for non-citizens (Italy is one example). If your chosen country doesn't allow for a legal ceremony, think about having a symbolic ceremony abroad then getting your marriage legalized in your home country—you have the best of both worlds.
Our tip: Add a wedding planner (one that specializes in elopements) to your elopement checklist if you think you have to travel. Elopement planners will know what steps to take to acquire your permits and know what location is best to elope if you want a legal marriage ceremony.
Make your travel arrangements.
According to The Knot Real Weddings Study, the average cost of a destination wedding was slightly higher in 2021 at $32,700, compared to the average cost of a hometown wedding, which was $28,000. But don't let those numbers discourage you from having your dream destination wedding. We know one surefire way to decrease your elopement destination costs: book your travel and accommodations early.
If you're thinking about how to plan an elopement ceremony out of the country, research in advance the best times to travel to your destination. There are high, low and shoulder seasons for traveling and each season has its own pros and cons. The high season is usually when the weather at the destination is the most temperate, but the consequences are lots of tourists in the area and airfare and hotel accommodations prices skyrocketing. The low season is the least busy time to travel to the destination and when you can score inexpensive airfare and hotel accommodations, but unfortunately, the weather might be less than ideal. Also, some restaurants and attractions may be closed because it's off-season. The shoulder season is a combination of the high and low seasons. Discuss with your partner what your priorities are (for example, is beautiful weather your number one priority or are you looking for low travel costs?) before choosing your location.
Our tip: Aim to arrive a few days before your elopement date so you have more time to get settled and don't have to stress if your transportation gets delayed.
Book overnight accommodations.
Book your overnight accommodations far in advance to decrease your travel costs—the sooner, the better for your budget.
Another way to cut costs is by booking your accommodations near your elopement ceremony destination (if the location is not the same). This way you'll save money on ground transportation which means fewer cabs, rideshare vehicles or less gas if you're driving.
If you're eloping locally:
Check if your courthouse takes appointments or is first-come, first served.
Some city halls are so popular, like San Francisco City Hall, they are booked months in advance, so try to make your civil ceremony appointment as soon as possible. Some states require you to schedule two appointments (with an additional requirement that the appointments be at least 24 hours apart): one appointment for your marriage license and a separate one for your ceremony. Include calling your chosen courthouse to your elopement checklist so you can confirm all of these details and plan accordingly.
See if you can recite your own vows (if you choose a courthouse).
Most likely, your chosen courthouse is doing multiple civil ceremonies a day, so you'll have a limited amount of time with the courthouse officiant. This results in select courthouses not including time for personal vow recitation (some courthouses offer standard vows for you to recite) in the civil ceremony process. If reciting your own wedding vows is important to you, look into what courthouses allow you to do so.
Ask how many guests the courthouse can accommodate.
The amount of time allotted for civil ceremonies isn't the only restriction to consider. The number of guests you can have present is often limited too. Keep in mind that if you have your courthouse elopement with guests, the limit includes your loved ones and your elopement photographer so be conscious of who's on your guest list.
Figure out if you need to book an appointment.
While going down your elopement checklist, you may be wondering, "Do you need a marriage license to elope?" Simply put, if you want your elopement to be your legal wedding, you need a marriage license. The documents required for your marriage license (current state IDs or passports, social security numbers and certified copies of birth certificates, to name a few) depend on the state you're eloping in, so make sure to do your homework. Often there is limited availability for appointments, so try to book as far in advance as possible.
Confirm if you need witnesses.
Your ceremony destination determines if you need witnesses to elope and, if required, how many you need. Ask friends or family to serve as your witnesses (some people even ask their elopement vendors, such as the photographer). If you're marrying at a courthouse, consider having your guests double as your witnesses since your guest list must be limited. If you would like your elopement to be just you and your partner present, some destinations allow you to self-solemnize, which means you don't need witnesses or an officiant to legally marry. Check with the local government for what tasks you must complete to accomplish either option.
Find an officiant (if required).
If the destination you're eloping in requires a wedding officiant, contact one immediately. The officiant is arguably the most important among your hired vendors, since they make your marriage official.
Book a wedding photographer or videographer.
Whether you decide to have a small guest list or keep your elopement ceremony between only you and your partner, we recommend you book an elopement photographer or videographer to capture the special moments of your big day. After your elopement, you can share the photos to announce your marriage or with your loved ones that couldn't make it (we'll talk more about including these photos on your elopement announcements later).
Book a florist.
A wedding florist can add a lovely touch to your photos, so discuss with your partner how to incorporate both of your favorite florals in your wedding bouquet, boutonniere or hair accessories on your wedding day.
Hire a hairstylist and makeup artist.
Finding someone to do your wedding hair and makeup is optional but can be a fun way to treat yourself and elevate your photos. Plus, a pro will specialize in using products that will last all day long. Depending on the look you're going for, some salons provide their services for walk-ins, which is a great option for last-minute elopements.
Choose your elopement ceremony look.
Your elopement attire should reflect the environment where the ceremony is taking place. Floor-length gowns work for indoor ceremonies, like courthouse weddings, since you probably won't have to walk around much. If you want to move freely outside of traditional norms, ditch the dress and see if a bridal pantsuit fits your style. A breathable flowy outfit or short dress is best for outdoor elopement destinations where you're going to be moving around a lot—this is a perfect option if you're saying "I do" on the beach. A formal tuxedo isn't necessary for an elopement, so opt for a simple suit and tie or dress business casual with a button-down shirt and dress pants for informal outdoor ceremonies. Think to yourself, "Will I be able to walk around in this comfortably?"
Shoes are a big part of your elopement attire as well, especially if you're getting married in an unexpected location. If you're reciting your vows in the mountains, high heels or other dress shoes aren't the best option for footwear. You're already going the non-traditional route by eloping, so take the time to get creative with your wedding look (wedding sneakers or wedding flats are a fun alternative).
Factor in wedding outfit packability.
If you're traveling to your elopement destination, think about how you'll bring your wedding outfit with you before you purchase. You'll have to pack your outfit in your luggage or carry it in a garment bag, so consider what fabrics are most forgiving. For example, your accommodations may not have a professional seamstress nearby to help with ironing and pressing your wedding outfit. Opt for an outfit that's made of lightweight fabric, for example silk or cotton, since it would be easier for you to steam yourself if needed.
There are a couple more details to complete on your elopement to-do list after you commit. Once you and your partner get these final tasks squared away, the only thing you have to worry about is having fun on your honeymoon.
Send in final paperwork to complete your marriage license.
It can be easy to put this step on the backburner when you're wrapped up in the excitement of your elopement, but don't forget to send in all necessary documents for your marriage license to make your newlywed status official.
Our tip: This step is for couples that want to do a symbolic ceremony and get legally married afterward. If you're getting married at city hall or a government courthouse, the legal paperwork will be finalized at the time of your ceremony.
If you would like to change your name, post-elopement is the time to start that journey. There are numerous documents you'll have to update to complete a legal name change. Luckily, we have a name change checklist to help guide you through the process.
Create a gift registry (optional, but strongly recommended).
This is a great way to involve people who want to send a gift even if they weren't present for the elopement ceremony. The process of creating a registry for an elopement is the same as making one for a traditional wedding. All you have to do is add a few items to your registry and update the list as needed once gifts are purchased. (Start your wishlist now on The Knot Registry.)
Send an elopement announcement to your loved ones.
Finally, the last thing to scratch off your elopement checklist (and the most fun) is to send elopement announcements to family and friends. This is the perfect way to show off your new relationship status, summarize what you did during your elopement and add details about any post-elopement party you might be having.
Remember those photos your wedding photographer took? Use them when announcing your elopement so your loved ones can feel included in your post-marital bliss.
FYI: Unlike wording for wedding invitations, there aren't as many etiquette rules to abide by for elopement announcements. You can be silly and keep it short or formal and explain your ceremony in detail. It's completely up to you how you want to represent your special day.