How to Hire a Destination Wedding Planner to Get Married Abroad

Their expertise is absolutely essential.
sarah hanlon entertainment and celebrity editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
sarah hanlon entertainment and celebrity editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
Entertainment & Celebrity Editor
  • Sarah is the Entertainment & Celebrity Editor for The Knot, with special focuses on pop culture and celebrity wedding news.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Sarah was a contributing writer for Bravo at NBC Universal.
  • Sarah has a degree in journalism and resides in New York City.
Updated Jan 26, 2023

Above all else, your wedding planning experience should be fun—especially if you're hosting your nuptials abroad. When planning a destination wedding, you might have some added logistics to navigate, such as language barriers and virtual meetings with vendors. That's why hiring a destination wedding planner is absolutely essential, as their expertise and assistance will help keep the planning experience enjoyable and stress-free.

Creating the budget for a destination wedding can be complicated, as you'll likely have added expenses to consider, such as flights, transportation, lodging, shipping fees, and additional excursions. With all of these in mind, you might wonder: Do you need a wedding planner for a destination wedding? The short answer is yes. Navigating destination wedding planning in a different country can be challenging, but that's where your vendors come in to help. Here, we break down everything you need to know about hiring a destination wedding planner, including what they do and how to find someone you connect with. Plus, five experts from around the world share insider destination wedding tips you need to know when searching for the perfect pro.

In this article:

What is a Destination Wedding Planner?

Although your venue likely has a coordinator, a wedding planner can provide even more customization—especially for destinations abroad. "Hiring a planner for your wedding, especially a destination wedding, should be non-negotiable for couples," says Lindsey Shaktman, a destination wedding planner for Mavinhouse Events. "Our network is filled with talented vendors nationally and internationally, so we're 'in-the-know' when it comes to location-specific venues, transportation companies, entertainers, and more."

Like a domestic wedding planner, destination wedding planners can help couples with everything from event design to finding the perfect florist. Beyond that, they also assist with niche destination wedding planning needs, such as bridging language barriers, coordinating additional local vendors, conducting meetings on your behalf, and much more. All the while, they serve as trusted confidants, keeping you stress-free even as your wedding date inches closer and closer. "As a planner, I shudder when I hear that people are trying to navigate this on their own," notes Atlanta-based wedding planner Brian Green. "There are so many moving parts to a wedding. Then, you add the complexity of a destination, getting access to vendors, understanding travel requirements, and cultural nuances. It's a delicate balance to ensure it goes well."

What Does a Destination Wedding Planner Do?

We've only briefly scratched the surface of what destination wedding planners do. While specific tasks may vary based on the individual you've hired, here's an overview of some of the perks you'll get when you hire a destination wedding planner.

They'll Help You Respect and Understand The Culture

One of the most crucial elements of destination wedding planning is your ability to understand and respect the culture where you're getting married. Whether the location is a place you've frequently visited or the wedding will be your first time traveling there, your planner will educate you on what you need to know. "When you're in a destination location, respect the culture," Green explains. "A planner will help ensure you understand the cultural landscape so you don't inadvertently do anything disrespectful to their people."

They Can Connect You With Additional Wedding Vendors

A destination wedding planner is just one piece of your vendor puzzle. You'll also need to hire additional pros like a photographer, a videographer, a venue, a florist, caterers, rental companies, and entertainers, to name a few. Instead of trying to find great international vendors on your own, your destination wedding planner will help alleviate the stress of finding credible and reliable experts in another country.

"We have a substantial network of industry professionals across the globe, who we'll recommend to our couples if their personalities, budget or aesthetic is similar," says Neillie Butler, founder of destination wedding planning company Mariée Ami. "Alternatively, our team will do the research and foster the relationships needed to deliver our couples a celebration that is beyond their expectations. On occasions, we'll even contract out local creatives to help us with acquiring local goods, native entertainment, or day-of labor."

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They'll Ensure You Understand Your Contracts

Planning a wedding and signing contracts go hand-in-hand—but if there's a language barrier or cultural differences, it might be challenging to fully understand binding paperwork. In this scenario, your pro will make sure you know exactly what you're signing. "By hiring a qualified wedding planner who is well-versed in destination weddings, they'll help make sure everything is spelled out in contracts," notes destination wedding planner JoAnn Gregoli. Plus, following the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, she adds that your planner will ensure proper COVID-related clauses—as well as clauses for additional acts that may result in postponement or cancellation—are addressed in your contracts.

Similarly, Gregoli stresses the importance of purchasing travel insurance for your destination celebration, which your planner can assist with. "When planning a destination wedding, acquiring travel insurance is imperative in case there is a disruption of travel."

They'll Explain Local Border Regulations & Shipping Requirements

Getting yourself (and your guests) to your destination is half the battle. In addition to transporting people, you may also have to ship wedding items, like your attire, accessories, decor and rentals to your venue. Rather than try to make sense of international shipping guidelines on your own, rely on the expertise of your destination wedding planner. "Ensure that your planner has a good understanding of the customs and border regulations and needs," suggests Green. "Know what can and cannot be shipped, how long it may take to clear them for use, and if you can ship on your own or if you need a broker. Delays can be avoided with research and planning ahead of time."

Weddings around the world aren't immune to weather mishaps. Hiring an international wedding planner that's well-versed in the weather patterns of your intended location will help you pivot plans in the event of an unexpected rainstorm or a sweltering heat wave. "One of the biggest mistakes I've noticed when it comes to destination wedding planning is that many people forget about the weather conditions and never have a rain backup plan," warns Gregoli. "Work with a planner who knows the destination's weather patterns and ensures that you're prepared."

They May Help Coordinate Additional Experiences

Some destination wedding planners offer services that go beyond the wedding day itself. Considering all the time and dedication it takes to plan a destination wedding, you probably want to stay in the area and soak up the ambiance with your loved ones for a few extra days—and that's where your planner comes in. "Planning a multi-day wedding weekend is what we've come to be known for," says Butler. "Whether the couple chooses to plan a lake-side bridal luncheon or extend the invitation to sail along the coast of Positano to Capri, we've seen and planned it all. If you're going to plan a destination wedding, your guests are going to look to you (the couple) to be the hosts. In today's climate, so many weddings are turning into reunions and vacations so guests are taking full advantage of the invite and spending time on either end of the wedding day to enjoy the location."

Making an effort to plan multiple events will also help you and your guests experience everything the city has to offer. "I love to incorporate local activities at my destination weddings and have guests immerse themselves in the culture," says Gregoli. "From wine tastings to cooking classes to pottery-making sessions, the sky is the limit. Allowing everyone to experience what the destination offers makes for a memorable event."

They'll Help Manage Correspondence With Vendors

Communicating with international vendors can sometimes take longer than it would with domestic vendors, especially when time zones come into play. By hiring a destination wedding planner, they can help ease the stress of round-the-clock communication so that it doesn't all fall on you. "Patience is key when planning a destination wedding, simply because you're most likely working with vendors outside of your time zone," Shaktman says. "Someone who typically has a 24-48 hour response time may increase to up to 72 hours or more simply because your emails are being exchanged in off times for each other. Patience with communication will make your wedding planning feel infinitely easier."

How to Hire the Right Destination Wedding Planner

Finding a pro who's the perfect fit will make your destination wedding planning process easier and give you the peace of mind you deserve. Here are seven must-know tips for finding the perfect destination wedding planner.

1. Think about what you want.

Destination wedding planners often have an array of options, including full-service wedding planning. Couples who choose this option will get a full planning experience, from beginning to end. They'll anticipate the couple's needs (such as what should go on the wedding website to help guests navigate travel) and educate them on options (like whether certain venue upgrades are worth it). The planner will often be there the entire wedding weekend, including for the rehearsal dinner and post-wedding brunch, ensuring everything goes exactly as planned.

However, not everyone is looking for so much heavy lifting. Some couples want to be more hands-on when planning their own wedding. They may want a planner who really focuses on one aspect of the event, like creating a cohesive and wow-worthy event design or assisting with language barriers in a far-flung location. Remember: The final pricing will depend on how much you're leaning on your destination wedding planner, so you'll want to establish a budget first.

2. Do your research.

After setting a wedding date, begin researching vendors, including your destination wedding planner. Social media pages, websites like The Knot Marketplace, and a wedding planner's website serve as digital portfolios. Scroll through photos to see if the event design fits your style, and check reviews for details on whether the planner is timely, organized and compassionate.

Friends and family can also offer recommendations. If you're having a beach wedding in the Caribbean and your coworker did too, ask if they can recommend a planner.

3. Conduct an interview.

Once you've narrowed down your search, it's time to start interviewing prospective candidates. Jessica Ghazal, owner and founder of JG Eventi, suggests meeting with destination wedding planners as a couple to make sure you each have peace of mind with the potential hire. "Both people in a couple can feed off each other with questions, and you want to know you'll both be comfortable," she says, adding that you'll want to ask the following questions:

  • Are you available on my wedding date?
  • How many years of experience do you have?
  • How many weddings have you planned in this locale?
  • What planning services do you offer, and what are your pricing levels for them?
  • Can I see examples of other weddings you've designed?
  • How do you like to communicate?
  • How much time will you dedicate to my wedding on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?
  • What do you include as part of this package? What do you consider an upgrade or add-on service?
  • How long will you be with us on the big day, and what will you be doing?
  • Will you travel with me to the destination before my wedding day to meet with vendors in person? If so, do I need to pay extra for this service?
  • Will you help plan and attend my rehearsal dinner and post-wedding brunch?

4. Consider experience in a locale.

When you don't live in a specific destination, you may want a wedding planner who knows the ins and out of the area. This way, if you need to send someone on a last-minute run for clear umbrellas, the wedding planner will know exactly where to go. They'll also understand the venue and have experience working with the wedding coordinator, which can help the day go more smoothly.

That said, Ghazal notes a lack of experience with a particular location or wedding venue doesn't have to be a deal-breaker if you love the planner's style. "I haven't done a wedding in Italy, but I can handle a destination wedding in general," Ghazal says. "[A couple] may love that we're in the same neighborhood, and we can fly together to the destination before the wedding day." Adds Butler: "To many couples' surprise, hiring a planner that's not familiar or local to the destination location can be a huge advantage. It allows for a completely fresh perspective and new ideas."

5. Think about language barriers.

Communicating with vendors is an essential part of bringing your wedding vision to life. But if you're getting married in a foreign country, you may work with vendors who aren't fluent in English. "Having a planner who speaks the language on-site can help break down language barriers," Ghazal says.

If you anticipate a barrier, ask prospective destination wedding planners if they're fluent in your location's native language. Not only can this help everything run smoothly on the day of, but it can also make it easier to communicate with vendors leading up to your wedding day.

6. Find a planner you connect with emotionally.

Destination weddings, as exciting and beautiful as they are, take you away from the comforts of home. You won't be sleeping in your childhood bedroom the night before, and you may have to take a long flight across the ocean to get there.

Ghazal says destination wedding planners are more than just people who liaise between you and your florist or put together a stellar, Instagrammable installation. "We're there to be the mediators, your therapist and your cheerleaders, and we're also manning the setup site with your team," she says. She recommends finding someone you could see as a trusted confidant throughout every aspect of planning.

7. Go with your gut.

Sometimes, saying "yes" to a destination wedding planner can be even harder than choosing your dress. If two planners check all of your boxes, it can feel like a tough call. In these situations, Ghazal suggests trusting your instincts. "If you've done your research and due diligence, at the end of the day, [you just have to trust your gut]," she says.

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