Destination Wedding Etiquette

Planning a destination wedding can be tricky, especially when it comes to etiquette. There are so many things to remember when you’re in the middle of planning, such as what clothes to wear and how best to navigate any family drama that might arise during your special day.

You have to think about many things, from the location and attire to what you’ll serve for dinner. But, do you know how to handle the inevitable “when will you get married” questions?

What is appropriate etiquette when it’s time for your honeymoon post-wedding day? Also, how do you deal with in-laws who are not invited but want to attend anyway?

It’s important not to forget about all the little details that make up an event like this, including who should pay for what or how much time is appropriate for guests before they leave.

You’ve got the dress, the shoes, and all your wedding party members. All that’s left is for you to head off to your destination for a once in a lifetime experience. But are you prepared? Destination weddings present unique challenges when it comes to etiquette. Here are some tips on how not to offend anyone at your destination wedding.

A destination wedding is a wonderful way to unite two people, but what about the rest of your guest list? If you’re planning on having a destination wedding, it’s important to know some etiquette guidelines before signing that contract.

Read on for tips on all these topics and more!

Invitation Etiquette

Have you already set a date for your big day? Keep in mind that a destination wedding is essentially a holiday for your guests, and all holidays require a significant amount of budgeting and planning. The more notice your guests receive, the better!

If you’re planning a destination wedding, give your guests the heads up as soon as possible by sending your save the dates at the 6-month mark.

This allows your guests to make the necessary arrangements with work and family, start saving for the big day and keep an eye out for flights and accommodation deals.

You can keep your save the dates short and sweet. Just let your guests know the exact dates they should block off, the wedding location, and the link to your wedding website for more information.

If you still wish to send formal invitations, you should post these at the 3-month mark. However, if you already know certain guests cannot attend, it’s courteous to send them a formal invitation anyway. This provides them with a little memento and allows them to feel involved in your special day.

1. When should save-the-dates/invitations go out?

It would be best if you gave your guests as much advance notice as possible so they can save money for the trip, ask for time off from work, get the best travel deals (the earlier they book, the cheaper it will be) and make any childcare arrangements.

For these reasons, you must send out save-the-dates or a link to your personal website 6-9 months in advance. Formal invitations should follow at least 2 or 3 months before the wedding. Read more about when you should send out save the dates and invitations for the destination wedding and at-home wedding reception.

2. Do I need to send formal invitations if I already sent a website link with all the information?

The short answer is yes. Attending a DW requires a significant time and monetary commitment from your guests, and we know many people who hesitate to book flights, a hotel room, or take time off from work before receiving a formal invite in the mail. But, on the other hand, something about a paper invitation makes people take it more seriously.

3. Am I required to send travel information to guests?

Yes, it would be best if you made this trip as easy and smooth as possible. Please give them the airport code of the airport you’re flying into, airlines, hotels and driving distance.

4. Should I still mail an invitation to friends/family who I know won’t be able to attend?

Destination wedding etiquette will tell you that yes, you should, if they’re important to you. Even if they’re strapped for cash or can’t get time off work, it will still message that they’re special and you would love to have them there.

And you’d be surprised to see who will come through in the stretch and literally go the extra mile (or thousand miles) to be with you. However, suppose you’re strapped for cash (and let’s face it, invitations can get pricey). In that case, you can always send everyone a save the date and follow up with formal invitations only to those people who expressed an interest in attending.


Who gets invited to what?

1. Who gets invited to a destination wedding? And how do I handle those people who I’m not asking?

You should invite anyone you want, just like you would if you were getting married at home.

The big difference between the two is that with a hometown marriage, there are many people you’re obligated to invite even if you don’t necessarily want them there (boss, coworkers, friends of friends, your parent’s friends, neighbours).

With a destination wedding, etiquette kind of goes out the window when it comes to this. However, most people will understand if they don’t get an invitation to travel with you because the guest list usually consists of close family and friends.

2. Is it poor etiquette to invite friends and coworkers to my bridal shower but not invite them to the destination wedding?

Put, if you don’t feel that someone is important enough to make your destination wedding guest list, then you probably shouldn’t invite them to your shower either. It’s in poor taste to invite people to an event that is pretty much designed to solicit gifts yet not invite them to the main event.

3. Who gets invited to the rehearsal dinner and welcome party?

If you were tying the knot at home, you’d only invite the immediate families and bridal party to the rehearsal dinner. But when it comes to this, destination wedding etiquette is a little different. No one will expect an invitation.

However, it can be a little awkward to exclude most of your guests, especially when they’ve travelled so far. Your guest list will likely be much smaller than a traditional hometown marriage, where inviting everyone to a rehearsal dinner could be cost-prohibitive.

With a DW, you can get away with inviting everyone without breaking the bank. And this is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to mingle and get to know each other.

4. Some people are important to me (i.e. my grandma, parents, best friend). But I’m worried about how they’ll react to a destination wedding. Will they think I’m selfish, and how should I handle them?

This is a very common question and a tricky one to address because everyone’s circumstance is unique. However, if there are “must-haves” on your list, you should talk to them about your plans before you book.

Depending on their reaction, you can then decide whether you want to move forward with a destination wedding or not. Some people may react negatively for several reasons – they can’t afford it, don’t like to travel far, childcare, etc.

If it’s critical to have them there, you can take steps to make it easier on them. For example, choose an affordable location close to home, help them out with costs if you can afford it, choose a family-friendly resort.

These gestures will go a long way in showing that you’re not selfish and you’re considering others.

If they’re hesitating because of the novelty of it all (and some are sticklers for tradition), then you have to decide what’s more important to you – making them happy or having the wedding of your dreams.

But keep in mind that most people who hesitate or resist destination weddings end up having the time of their lives. It may take a little convincing at first, but chances are they will thank you when it’s all said and done.

Wedding Website Etiquette

There is a lot of communication involved in a destination wedding. There is usually too much essential information to fit on a single piece of paper, so a wedding website is a no-brainer.

Your wedding website will be a valuable resource for guests as they plan and prepare for their trip, so you must include as much useful information as possible. For example, when you send out you save the dates, your wedding website should already include the following details as a reference for your guests.

1. Dates and times

Along with the date and time of your wedding ceremony and reception, make sure you also include any pre or post-wedding festivities so that your guests can block out the right amount of time and budget accordingly. This includes any rehearsal dinners or post-wedding brunches.

2. Accommodation advice 

Do a little research on the closest hotels in the area and provide direct links for your guests to check them out.

If you have already arranged discounted group rates with certain hotels, let your guests know who they need to call and what they need to mention to be eligible for the discount.

3. Location tips 

Keeping in mind that this will likely be the first time at your chosen destination for your guests, some local knowledge can really be a lifesaver.

Take the time to research and include details for recommended restaurants, things to do in the local area, and any particular customs they should be aware of.

4. Flight and transport advice 

If you already know which airline provider has the best rates or special deals for your location, give your guests this insider knowledge to assist them with booking flights. You’ll also want to let them know the transport situation – will they need to hire a car, or is the venue easily accessible?

5. Dress code and weather conditions 

Prepare your guests for the question they all want to know – “what do we wear?!”. Are you hosting a relaxed beach party or a more high-end dinner by the pool? What is the weather going to be like at that time of the year?

Brief your guests on these details using your wedding website so they can pack their suitcases accordingly.


Gift Etiquette

If you’re planning a destination wedding, you might feel a little awkward about the topic of gift-giving. It’s a touchy subject because your guests will be shelling out more than usual in order to be a part of your special day, and you don’t want to add any financial burden by requesting a gift on top of this.

Generally speaking, it is common for the bride and groom to count their guest’s presence at the wedding as their “wedding gift”.

Flights, accommodation and other travel expenses can add up quickly, so if you don’t wish to receive a gift, then you can specify this on your wedding website. A simple sentence like “your presence at our wedding is the only gift we require” is a courteous way to address this issue.

With this in mind, many guests do see wedding gifts as a tradition and will still want to send you something regardless! If you’re expecting this to happen, provide your guests with a residential address for them to post their gift before the wedding instead of making them transport their gift across the country.

You might even wish to set up a honeymoon fund so that your guests can offer a monetary donation online with the click of a button.

1. I feel awkward taking gifts when I’m already asking people to spend so much money on travel. How can I tell them I don’t want gifts without sounding rude?

One way you can approach this is to ask parents or the bridal party to spread the word verbally. Even saying “no gifts” on your invitation can be considered poor destination wedding etiquette.

If you feel it’s necessary to address it on the invitation, try something more subtle like “Your presence is the best gift we wish to receive” or “Your presence is gift enough”. If they still choose to give you a gift, accept it gracefully.

2. I created a registry; how do I spread the word about it?

Please don’t mention it on your invites. Instead, put a link to it on your website or ask parents/bridal parties to spread the word. And make sure you communicate that you won’t be able to carry gifts back home because you’ll be travelling.

3. Is it proper etiquette to tip vendors?

It depends. If you’re staying at an all-inclusive, tipping is unnecessary and sometimes even discouraged by management. Again, however, you should use your discretion.

If you received exceptional service from a coordinator who handled everything for you, a tip would be a good way to say “thank you”. You can also give her envelopes for the catering staff, waiters, or anyone else whose service you were really happy with.

You are not expected to tip if you hired outside professional services, such as a photographer, videographer or florist. This is because they probably negotiated their rate and expected to be paid what they asked for. But if you feel that you received amazing service, a tip would be a good way to thank you.

Any tips should be distributed on the day of the ceremony.

Bridal Party Etiquette

There’s no doubt that destination weddings can be expensive, but they can be particularly expensive for those in your bridal party. Along with the travel and accommodation costs, your bridal party also has to organise their attire, accessories, pre-wedding celebrations and more.

As the expenses start to add up, you might find yourself wondering who pays for what. Our advice? Suppose you have room left in the budget. In that case, it’s definitely worth considering chipping in for these extra costs to show your appreciation for everything else your bridal party is helping you with.

If you don’t have room in the budget, then make sure you are flexible with choices like bridesmaid dresses. Leave this up to your bridesmaids to decide so that they can choose a dress that works within their budget, instead of having to fork out for the custom gowns you pick out for them!

Alternatively, you might wish to cover their accommodation or flight expenses to reciprocate for their other costs. Many hotels will offer special deals for bridal party suites or a discounted rate on large villas with plenty of bedrooms. Think about how you can lessen their financial burden in this way.

Frequent Questions

1. Is it proper destination wedding etiquette to pay for the bridesmaids’ dresses?

No one in your bridal party will expect you to pay for their attire. And you don’t have to.  But if you have some extra money left in your budget, it would be a very nice gesture.

You are already asking them to fork over a lot of dough for airfare, hotel, and other travel expenses. Also, asking them to purchase an expensive dress that they’ll only wear once can put a big strain on their budget.

If you can’t afford it, try to go a little easy on their pockets by choosing an inexpensive dress style that they can wear again in the future.

2. Who pays for the DW?

There are some hard and fast rules about who pays for traditional marriage. You know the drill – the bride’s family pays for the ceremony, dress, and flowers while the groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner and his attire. But destination wedding etiquette is far from traditional.

You may find that your parents are not too keen on the idea of a destination wedding. Instead, they’ve probably always dreamed of their little girl (or boy) getting married in the local church before all their friends, family, coworkers, church acquaintances and country club buddies.

If that’s the case, they may only pay if you follow their wishes. If you want to go over their heads and do it anyway, then you shouldn’t expect them to fork over the dough. Do what’s best for your circumstance.

3. Is it proper destination wedding etiquette to pay for all my guests’ travel expenses?

Absolutely not. No one is going to expect you to pay for their travel. You should only pay for the reception dinner and drinks, as well as any other events that you arrange.

But you can make it easier by finding good destination wedding travel packages that offer airline discounts and group rates on hotel rooms. Or find other ways to help them save money, such as booking a villa that sleeps a big group.

4. I’m planning a welcome dinner (or rehearsal dinner) – is it proper destination wedding etiquette to pay for everyone I invite?

If you arrange it and invite them, then you should also pay. And that goes for pretty much anything at the destination. But, wedding etiquette or not, common courtesy says you shouldn’t expect your guests to pay for dinner (or brunch or excursion) if you arranged it and invited them.


5. My ceremony/reception is at a venue outside of the resort, and guests will need to travel there by cab or bus. Who should pay?

If transportation is required to get to your venue, you should arrange it and pay for it. It’s good destination wedding etiquette because your guests are in a foreign land, and you’re probably a lot more familiar with it, or have become familiar throughout the planning process.

You have more resources (through the resort or the coordinator), so you should absolutely not let them fend for themselves on this one.

6. I’m getting married at an all-inclusive, but my guests are staying at a different resort and will need day passes to attend the ceremony. Who should pay the day pass fee?

If your package requires day/guest passes for either your guests or outside vendors, it’s proper destination wedding etiquette for you to pay that fee.

7. Is it necessary to book excursions and other activities to keep guests entertained?

Not necessary. There are two schools of thought here – because you probably chose a really nice location. First, if you over plan every second of their time, they won’t have space to do their own thing.

On the other hand, some people believe that booking at least one excursion or activity is a nice gesture. The choice is really yours. If you arrange something and invite guests, it’s proper destination wedding etiquette to cover the costs and transportation.

8. I will get an awesome deal at my venue if I book on weekdays instead of the weekend. Would it be rude and poor destination wedding etiquette to get married on a Tuesday or Wednesday?

One of the beauties of getting married abroad is that everyone is already on vacation and they don’t have to go to school or work the next day, so what does it matter what day of the week it is?

It is very common and acceptable to get married on a weekday when having a destination wedding. Etiquette rules are not as strict when it comes to this.

9. Do I have to do something special for my guests during the week/weekend (Rehearsal dinner/welcome cocktails)?

Don’t feel pressure to arrange special meals. Of course, it’s nice to plan something as a thank you and to give everyone a chance to mingle, but it’s certainly not mandatory.

The same destination wedding etiquette advice applies when it comes to paying – if you plan it, arrange it and invite people, you should pay.

Tips & Advice

Everyone attending your destination wedding has made a genuine effort to be there, so the gracious thing to do is make it as easy and cost-effective as possible.

Try to think about what you can do to make the trip more affordable and enjoyable for your guests. Some tips to consider:

  • Host a more intimate wedding with just a small group of close friends and family, allowing you to help cover their flights or accommodation. But, of course, you can always throw a party for everyone else when you return, so think carefully about your guest list.
  • Apply for a discounted rate at local hotels to pass on to your guest.
  • Host your wedding in the off-season or on a weekday for cheaper flights.
  • Cover the costs for any extra activities like welcome dinners, rehearsal dinners or post-wedding celebrations.
  • Arrange a babysitter to take care of any children that might be present.
  • When they arrive, create a helpful ‘welcome pack’ for your guests, including a wedding schedule, location map, public transport information, and contact numbers.

It’s also important to be understanding and gracious if guests decline your invitation. For example, committing to a destination wedding might not be feasible for them at that time due to financial, work or family commitments.

Don’t take it personally – you can rest assured they would love to be there celebrating alongside you.

And most importantly: send a thank you card to every guest after the wedding (and toast them on the night!) to show your appreciation for them being a part of your incredible day!

The Planning Is Worth It!

Yes, it sounds like a lot of planning and preparation, but let’s be honest – it’s all going to be SO worth it when it all comes together. Just keep the above tips in mind, and you can make the process as easy as possible for your guests.

Celebrating your love in an exotic location, surrounded by your favourite people, making lifelong memories. What could be better?!

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