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destination wedding etiquetteAh, destination wedding etiquette – just when you thought boring ol’ normal wedding etiquette questions weren’t enough, you went and decided to get married in some romantic, far-flung location.

I have to say, good for you. Destination weddings are really smart and can actually save you money by combining your wedding costs with your honeymoon expenses – plus you’ll likely have a smaller headcount, which also keeps moolah in your pocket.

However, destination weddings bring up all kinds ofdestination wedding etiquette issues: Who pays for what? What’s the correct destination wedding invitation etiquette? What about destination wedding gift etiquette? You’re about to find all these answers and more with our current top 10 destination wedding etiquette Q’s and A’s.

Destination Wedding Etiquette – Your Top 8 Questions Answered Honestly

Q #1: What’s the proper destination wedding invitation etiquette? When do I send them? What should we say? What about save-the-dates?

A: Etiquette experts usually advise you send your invites about three months in advance, but if you’re getting married abroad, destination wedding invitation etiquette dictates that you send them earlier than that, like at least six months.  If you can send your save-the-dates out even earlier, like a year or even more in advance, all the better. The reason is simply that destination weddings are expensive for your guests and people generally need time to work your wedding into their budgets.

The implication for you is that you really have to get your guest list nailed down much more quickly than if you were having a wedding at home. You also need to ensure you include some hotel information on an insert. Give guests a number of options (like this: Garden Inn (budget): 555-555-5555, Valencia Suites (mid-range): 555-555-5556, Belvedere Resort (luxury): 555-555-5556). BONUS: By letting them know these details, you tell them (a) where they can stay so they can plan ahead and (b) that you won’t be paying for their accommodations.

Q #2: Do I have to pay for accommodations/activities/meals/whatever else for my guests?

A: Yes. And no. Here’s the rundown: Any organized wedding event, including pre- and post-wedding events, should be paid for by you. If you invite a guest to something, they are your GUEST, and that means you pay. So if you want them to come to a pre-wedding luau rehearsal dinner, you should be footing the bill, period.

If your guests want you to rent them a car so they can scoot around the island or get them some jet-skis for the day, too bad for them (and yes, this has happened to brides I know!). Anything they are doing outside of official wedding activities is going on their credit card, not yours. Also, you are not obligated to pay for anyone’s accommodations.

Q #3: What about my wedding party? Do I have to pay for them? That could get pricey!

A: The destination wedding etiquette jury is actually still out on this one, but here is what The Alternative Bride says: Do what you can for your wedding party. These are supposed to be the most important people in your lives and likely they want to be there for you, but your destination wedding is seriously going to cost them an arm and a leg. So, consider paying for some or all of the following: their airfare, their accommodations, their wedding attire, their meals, etc.

Of course, this simply isn’t pragmatic for a lot of to-be-weds, so just do what you can. Maybe plan a special activity for them (like a snorkeling tour, which can be very affordable) or get them an extra-nice thank-you present.

Also remember not to be, well, a jerk. If you ask someone to be your maid of honor and she can’t make it because you’ve chosen to get married in Fiji, either let it go or, if you can, offer to foot the bill for her (just be discreet if you aren’t making the offer to the rest of your bridal party). Be prepared to get “no”s from people, even your BFFs. A destination wedding is simply not in many people’s budgets.

Q #4: Do I have to do weddings favors or an open bar? This wedding is going to be expensive and we want to trim costs.

A: The rule is don’t trim costs at the expense of your guests. Yes, they get wedding favors because you are obligated to make a gesture of thanks to your guests for making the considerable trip to your nuptials. Yes, you really, really should have an open bar. A cash bar is kinda tacky, especially at a destination wedding. These people are paying thousands of dollars each to attend your wedding; the least you could do is buy them a few drinks.

If you’re really on a budget, trim costs in other ways: Reduce your head count. Shorten your honeymoon. Get a less expensive gown. Choose a more affordable resort. Reduce your cake by a tier. You get the idea.

Add items from any website on the internet onto one universal gift registry

Q #5: What’s the correct destination wedding gift etiquette? Should we expect gifts? How do we tell people not to bring presents to the wedding? Can we just ask for cash?

A: Yes, you can register for gifts even if you’re having a destination wedding. Destination wedding gift etiquette is pretty much the same as for a normal wedding. No, don’t include info on your invitations and, sorry, you still can’t ask for money (but you can try a honeymoon registry). Ask your bridal party and/or family members to spread the word only when asked.

It is common sense for guests not to cart prezzies for you in their suitcases only for you to cart them back home, so your bridal party can let your guests know they can ship any gifts to your home instead. On the other hand, if someone shows up with a 30 lb. stand mixer, just be gracious about it. These things happen and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal – and you get a stand mixer so, hey, that’s pretty great!

And what if people DON’T get you a gift? Well, etiquette-wise, they are supposed to, but the decent thing to do for a destination wedding is to assume that their presence is gift enough. They are shelling out a LOT to be there, after all.

Q #6: We want to get married at an adults-only resort. Can we tell people they can’t bring their kids?

A: Yes you can, but realize that it can be very hard – if not impossible – for parents to leave their kids for a week and come to your wedding, or bring their kids along for the ride and use a stranger to look after them while they’re at your wedding reception. If it’s critical to you that no children attend your wedding, then be prepared for parents to RSVP their regrets.

Q #7: Do we have to hang out with our wedding guests before and especially after the wedding? Can’t we have alone time on our honeymoon?!?

A: Yup, you are absolutely entitled to alone time. However, you should expect many guests to think, “We flew halfway around the world and blew our kid’s college budget to be here, I want to spend time with these guys!”

To help keep everyone satisfied, plan an activity or two before the wedding with your guests, and maybe even one after. Make a special effort to spend a little quality time with everyone so no one feels like they didn’t get a moment with you. You’ll likely find that most guests are reasonable and understand that they aren’t going to get days full of quality visiting time with you, but do what you can.

As far as the “honeymoon” part goes, you are under no obligation to hang out with your guests after you’re married – just do what feels right to you. It’s nice of you to spend a little time with them, but you don’t have to, and your guests should understand.

Q #8: What about an after-party for people who couldn’t make the wedding? Can we do that? Will it hurt people’s feelings if they aren’t invited to the actual wedding?

A: This is a good question and luckily it has a pretty simple answer. Yes, you can absolutely throw a reception after you get home to celebrate your newlywed status with your peeps who couldn’t make the destination wedding. The caveat: don’t ever ONLY invite people to your at-home reception. If they get an invite to that, they should get an invite to the actual wedding.

Even if you’re “really sure” someone won’t be able to attend your destination wedding, you might be surprised. After all, your big day might be someone else’s perfect excuse to finally take a beach vacation. Approximately 70% of people RSVP “yes” to destination weddings, so don’t just assume you can invite everyone and still wind up with a small wedding. Handle this scenario by including your at-home reception info on your invitations and let people choose for themselves which event they will attend (or, if you want, ask them to attend both).

Do you have other destination wedding etiquette questions? Ask (in the comments below) and you shall receive!

Photo Credit: kristaguenin on Flickr

14 thoughts on “Brutally Honest A’s to Top 8 Destination Wedding Etiquette Q’s

  1. With a destination wedding, we had a shower here before and plan to have a after wedding party for those who can’t go and a few that were not invited due to limited number allowed. What is proper etiquette on the invite as far as putting gift registry? The same people who went to the shower will also be invited and I don’t want them to think we are asking for more but some people that did not get to go to the shower will also be invited.

  2. Emily says:

    I have been invited to a destination wedding in Mexico. Would it be rude of me to invite some of my own friends to spend the week in Mexico also, not to attend the wedding, but to enjoy the vacation with me?

    1. Hi Emily! Sorry, somehow this comment slipped by me. I don’t see a problem with you inviting your friends to the wedding, just as long as they don’t attend any of the wedding-related events (as you mentioned).

  3. Tina says:


    I have a friend who told me that she and her husband are not going to attend our DW due to:
    1. They’ve been to Punta Cana (that’s where we are having our DW)
    2. The husband doesn’t want to be confined in one place.

    My friend wanted to go but it was the husband who doesn’t want to go. I told my friend that I am disappointed because of their reasons. Had it been for financial reasons I would totally understand. After I told her that I am disappointed, they are now going…

  4. Nancy says:

    We are hosting a small destination wedding for our daughter. Several people have offered to give her a shower but do you invite someone to a shower if they are not going to be invited to the wedding? I’ve always heard that is poor taste. I just don’t know if a destination wedding has different rules to follow.

    1. Hmm, that’s a tough one. You are right that it’s in poor taste to invite people to a shower, which is a gift-giving party, but not invite them to the wedding. Unfortunately I think this rule still stands – otherwise your daughter risks coming off as greedy. I would limit the shower guests to just people who will be invited to the wedding, even though you are throwing a destination wedding. Think about how you might feel if you were invited to a shower, but not the actual wedding.

  5. LCD says:


    I was asked to be a bridesmaid at a destination wedding before the budget was given. The bridesmaid dress has already been chosen and bought. The cost is around 1800. As a single woman, this is a huge cost.
    The bride now wants to hold a stagette in another city (hotel, food) , and expects me to host a bridal shower. So 2 gifts, plus the shower, plus the stagette? Do I tell her I can’t afford it and pay for the dress or, how do I tactfully explain some of these costs are unreasonable…

    1. $1,800 is a lot for a bridesmaid dress! Wow!! I can understand how you would struggle with that, then to add on everything else is really a lot!

      I hardly know where to start. First of all, it’s in very poor taste for the bride to be making requests for her own stagette and bridal shower. Because these are often gift-giving parties, it is inappropriate for the bride to ask for them. She is putting you in a tough spot!

      This is a really tough situation. If you are willing to pay for the dress, that is awesome. But I do think your suggestion of telling her you simply can’t afford some of these costs and that you said ‘yes’ before you realized how much it was all going to cost. Maybe you could let her know that you won’t be attending the stagette? The bridal shower you could host as a potluck to keep costs down. You are also not obligated to buy her a wedding gift. You paying for all of these things is gift enough!!

  6. Taking Her Ring back to Jared's says:

    My fiance and I are thinking of doing a destination wedding where we would like to bring our kids(5) along. The conflict is that I plan to make this trip about us and not the kids. I do not see this as a family vacation, but as something special for us. I’m also paying for our parents to come and see them as the chaperones. Unfortunately my fiance want’s to turn this into National Lampoons in Jamaica. What is the proper etiquette? Should we even bring the kids?

    JR & TS

    1. The good news is that this isn’t strictly an etiquette issue – you really can do what you want as far as bringing your own kids. It sounds to me like the main issue is that you and your fiance have different ideas about how much you’d like to include the kids in your wedding celebration… he seems to want a family vacation and you want a romantic, intimate time with your new hubby! See if you can talk to your fiance to strike a compromise. Maybe there is a way you can both get what you want?

  7. H says:


    I appreciate this list. These are some of our biggest questions about the whole process. My fiance will be getting married out of the country and we just moved to our current city, which we love and where plan to have a reception for friends and extended family. This would be like a vacation for them. We really only want a few people at the wedding. Is it still impolite to only invite them to the reception?

    We appreciate your help! Thank you.

    1. Hi! Sorry, I had replied ages ago and somehow it didn’t post! Basically, I think you can do what you want since you are kind of having like a destination ceremony and then a destination reception, too. The issue about only inviting people to the reception is only really a problem I think when your ceremony and reception are in the same far-flung place. If your ceremony and reception are in two different cities, it should be okay to just invite people to the reception because the ceremony can be reserved for your closest peeps. The big issue is when people have traveled halfway around the world to your wedding and you only let them come to one event – so I’d say you’re good to go!

  8. Rhiannon says:

    Hi there!
    My fiance and I are getting married in Hawaii with a very simple beach ceremony. We expect to probably have a max of 20 of our friends and family coming and are trying to emphasize that it is just one big vacation for everyone, where we happen to be getting married! Anyway, our issue is that my fiance’s parents can be judgmental about drinking, and many other things and we don’t want any of our guests feeling like they cannot be themselves. Not sure how to handle this situation…

    1. Hmm, that can feel like a really tough situation, but you have to remember that it’s YOUR wedding and you’re allowed to have it however you want. It sounds like your fiance’s parents will find something to judge about your wedding no matter what… so if you can, I’d say just throw the wedding that you want and everyone is just going to have to deal with it. It would be awesome if people would keep their opinions to themselves, but since they don’t, well, you can’t please everyone no matter how hard you try.

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