How to elope

How to elope: The ultimate elopement checklist

Eloping technically means running away to get married. However, the process isn't quite as spontaneous as you might imagine if you want to be legally married at the end of it. If you think you want to elope, there are some essential steps you need to take in advance - we explain what you need to do know.

If you think you might want to elope, you’re not alone. There’s been a rise in couples choosing a more intimate way to get married – Pinterest alone has reported a 128% increase in searches for elopement wedding photography ideas.

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It might be that you’re looking to save money. After all, the average cost of a wedding has risen by an incredible 54% since 2014. You might be trying to avoid family dramas over issues like the guest list, seating arrangements and whether to invite children. You might be in love with the romance of a just-the-two-of us wedding, putting the entire focus on you as a couple. Maybe it’s all these reasons – or something entirely different!

Whatever your motivation, nowadays there are plenty of ways to elope. Many venues in the UK and abroad offer elopement packages, so you can put together a stress-free intimate wedding. Alternatively, you might want to go fully bespoke and plan each element separately for a fully personalised day.

To help you elope with ease, we’ve put together the ultimate elopement checklist, covering everything from venue to outfits. We’ve also answered some key elopement questions, so you can be confident in your decision.

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What does elopement mean?

According to the strictest definition, to elope means to run off to be married in secret. However, the term has become more elastic. Some couples tell their friends and family in advance, so they know not to expect a wedding even though they’re engaged. We’ve even seen couples calling it an elopement when they’ve had a small number of loved ones present. The modern definition? We’d say it’s a very small wedding, with either no or very few guests – in any case, with the most emphasis on you getting married than on the guest experience.

Groom carrying bride outside
Image | Lauren Rader at Unsplash

Why do people elope?

Avoiding difficult family politics is something we hear a lot from couples who elope. If you think there’s likely to be fall-out from the type of wedding you’re imagining – your parents think full-on formal, you want laidback boho – you might find it easier to elope. What’s more, weddings tend to come with heightened emotions, so if there are already family divisions, these could be made worse by wedding issues such as who walks you down the aisle, who sits at the top table and which family members are invited. There are other reasons, too.

READ MORE: Why I decided to elope

You want the romance

Let’s face it, there is something romantic about running away to get married – even if the reality is that you decide to tell family and friends what you’re doing in advance!

You want the wedding to be about you

Let’s be clear: we love all kinds of big day, and we’d never join the wedding haters in criticising people for their choices, whether that’s an intimate back garden celebration or 3-day festivities with a guest list in the hundreds. Having a big wedding certainly doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten the wider point that you’re marrying the person you love. However, a wedding does involve a lot of moving parts, from décor to suppliers, so sometimes it’s possible to feel that you and your partner aren’t entirely at the centre of things. The easy solution? Elope!

You’re heading abroad

Newlywed Couple Dance Face-to-Face at the Waters Edge on a Beach
Image | Getty

Have your heart set on a beach ceremony in Bali or a Canadian mountaintop? While destination weddings are always delightful, if you know that most of your family and friends can’t afford to come – or would have to seriously stretch themselves financially to do so – it might be simpler to make it a just-the-two of us celebration and have a party when you get back.

You’re saving money

Again, we would never tell anyone what the ‘right’ size of wedding budget is. However, the reality is that getting married can be an expensive business, and if you’re not comfortable with spending the money, an elopement could be the answer.

You’ve been married before

Have as many weddings as you want, whether you’re on your second, third, fourth or fifth marriage – why not celebrate each one equally? Saying that, if you’ve already been through the process of planning a wedding once, you might just not feel like doing it again – which makes elopement a good option.

You don’t like parties

If you’re not big on gatherings, particularly where you’ll be the focus of attention, a wedding can seem rather daunting.

READ MORE: How to handle your wedding if you’re an introvert

You don’t want the stress of a wedding

If organising a big event with lots of different elements is your idea of a nightmare, either you need to engage a wedding planner and delegate everything to them – or consider eloping.

You want privacy

Bride and groom smiling at each other under the bride's veil
Image | Edward Cisneros at Unsplash

Getting married is full of emotion. Some people aren’t comfortable sharing emotions in front of a crowd, and may simply want to do to marry their partner without a lot of people there. You can’t get legally wed without anyone at all, as you’ll need an officiant and witnesses at a minimum, but you can get greater privacy by eloping.

Is it a bad idea to elope?

It could be a bad idea if only one of you really wants to elope and is pressuring the other to go along with it, so make sure you’re both on the same page. You should also consider your family and friends. Yes, the decision is yours alone, but in reality, some of the people who care about you might find the thought of not being at your wedding hard.

Can you elope and have a wedding later?

Of course! You can’t have another legal ceremony, but you could always have a humanist ceremony or a blessing – or just have a big party. This is the best-of-both-worlds scenario: you get the elopement you want, while still celebrating with your family and friends. Just don’t leave it too long between elopement and party.

READ MORE: What is a humanist wedding & are they legal in the UK?

How much is it to elope?

Having an elopement usually cheaper than a wedding, but it really depends on what type of celebration you’re planning. You could manage costs and have a wedding on a £5,000 budget, but easily spend more than that if you want to elope in high style, particularly if you’re going long haul and staying in five-star hotels.

The ultimate elopement checklist

These are the steps you need to take in order to have a just-the-two-of-us (or super-small guest list) wedding.

Romantic same sex couple hugging and cuddling on their wedding day, outdoors, on sunny summer day
Image | Getty

1. Set your budget

The wedding budget is the most important part of any celebration. You need to know how much you have to spend – and stick to it. There are various planning apps you can use to help track your spending.

READ MORE: How to start your wedding budget

2. Choose your location

Home or abroad? Having set your budget, you’ll have a better idea of what you can afford. Research costs in different locations, factoring in every last detail such as travel, accommodation, suppliers such as photographers, legalities and outfits. Don’t rule out an elopement package, as this can be good value and also save you the stress of planning each element individually. Take into account that you might want to combine your wedding with your honeymoon – where would you like to spend a couple of weeks?

There are amazing places to elope in Britain, and you can always combine this with a country road trip for a UK honeymoon to remember.

Popular destinations abroad include Italy, France, Greece, Croatia, Spain and Portugal for short haul. Further afield, consider North America, the Caribbean, Thailand, Bali and The Maldives. We’d recommend exploring our list of the 19 most beautiful places to get married abroad.

3. Check the legalities

Once you’ve chosen your destination, it’s crucial that you know exactly what you need to do in order to become legally wed.

Eloping in the UK
You have to give notice at least 29 days beforehand, at your local register office. You can get married from age 16, but you’ll need your parents’ permission if you’re under 18. You can’t already be married and, obviously, you can’t be close relations. Check out our full guide to the legal requirements for getting married in the UK for more information.

You also need to decide whether you want a civil marriage or a civil partnership, or a religious ceremony. Humanist ceremonies are not legally binding in England or Wales, but they are in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Gay couple standing in front of a celebrant during wedding ceremony
Image | Getty

Eloping abroad
Requirements vary considerably depending on the country. Some will require paperwork (and even blood tests) in advance, and some may have residency requirements. Use the gov.uk/marriage-abroad tool to find out what you’ll need to do. It might also help to use a local planner or a company experienced in helping UK couples get married in that particular destination. If you’re a same-sex couple, you also need to check the laws of your chosen country. And if the law of that particular country says you’ll need witnesses, think about how you’ll find them.

READ MORE: 10 top tips for planning a destination wedding

4. Find your venue

This is one of the fun parts! There are as many types of wedding venues as there are couples, so think about what style best suits you – a luxury London hotel, for example, or a laidback rustic bolthole? As with a wedding if you can set up in-person visits, it will be easier to make a decision.

You need to decide whether you want the ceremony and celebratory lunch/dinner in the same place. Having two separate locations will likely add to the cost, but could also be a nice option if you want to get married somewhere particularly dramatic, like a mountaintop or beautiful beach.

READ MORE: This couple eloped to the Rocky Mountains and the photos are incredible

Saying that, you need to check the laws on getting married outside in your chosen country. In England and Wales, for example, you can only get legally married outdoors under a permanent structure, such as a pergola. You can get married outside in Scotland, and in Northern Ireland with certain restrictions. The laws vary similarly in other countries – and bear in mind that some locations, such as national parks, will charge a fee.

5. Choose your date

You may have a season in mind, or be even more specific – the anniversary of when you met, for example. Just make sure you check these seven things to think about before you set your date.

6. Decide on suppliers

Once your venue is booked, think about any elements of a traditional wedding you’d like to include. A wedding photographer is a popular choice, to capture the moment, and to give you professional pictures to show friends and family back home.

Lesbian Couple Standing On Bridge
Image | Getty

You might also want a wedding cake – albeit a more petite version, if it’s just the two of you – and flowers, for example. And don’t forget hair and make-up on the day, if wanted. You then need to find and book suppliers. Again, having a wedding planner could make this easier, and ultimately save you money if they can negotiate discounts and find you the best prices.

7. Book accommodation and travel

We recommend finding somewhere particularly lovely for the wedding night, such as a beautiful hotel suite or a gorgeous Airbnb.

READ MORE: The world’s greatest honeymoon suites

8. Get insurance

We cannot overemphasise the importance of wedding insurance, and this is true for elopements, particularly if you’re getting married abroad.

9. Choose your elopement outfits

Another fun part! There are no rules when it comes to elopement outfits. If you want to wear a full-on princess wedding dress, go for it. If you want something more laidback – a wedding jumpsuit, say, or a short wedding dress – that’s up to you. Choose what suits your style and also the likely weather on the day. If you’re eloping abroad, you’ll also need to plan how to transport your wedding outfits safely.

READ MORE: Wedding dresses for destination weddings

10. Think about the ceremony

Aside from the legalities, there are lots of ways to make your wedding ceremony more personal. Think about the décor – would your chosen venue be able to set up something beautiful for you? You could consider writing your own vows, or including something extra like a sand ceremony or lighting a candle.

Newlywed same sex couple with confetti in a field
Image | Getty

In terms of ceremony traditions, it’s up to you whether you ditch them or give them a twist. If it’s just the two of you, for example, decide how you want to arrive at the ceremony – separately or together? Are you going to have the something old, something new, something borrowed and something new? Will you see each other on the wedding morning? Will you have an aisle – and if so, walk down it together? Remember, you can still have wedding confetti at a no-guest ceremony – just bring along some confetti cannons! If you’ll be exchanging rings, it’s probably easiest to buy these before you get to your elopement destination, unless you’ll have a couple of days before the ceremony and feel it would be more romantic to buy them there.

11. Plan your celebration

Whether it’s a long lunch or a gourmet dinner, we’d recommend planning something lovely to make your first 24 hours as newlyweds feel special. If you’ve decided to have a small and select guest list, it’s nice to give them a way to celebrate with you after the ceremony, such as drinks and a meal, particularly if they’ve paid to travel abroad.

READ MORE: 10 ways to make wedding guests feel extra-special

12. Decide how you’ll tell people & plan your after-party

Only you can have an idea of how your particular friends and family will react. It’s not selfish to elope, but it is selfish not to consider other people’s feelings at all. It’s possible everyone will be absolutely fine with it and will be delighted when you make the “we’re married!” announcement. It’s also possible some people will be hurt at the idea of not being there when you got married. If you’re in any doubt about their reaction, particularly when it comes to parents, it’s worth telling them beforehand, to give them time to get used to the idea. We very much recommend not simply making an announcement on social media, unless your loved ones are uniquely laidback.

Image | Getty

Having a party at home is a way to make friends and family feel included even if you’ve eloped, and let’s face it, it’s fun to celebrate your newlywed status! This doesn’t have to mean full-on festivities if that’s not your style – a meal out with your nearest and dearest would be perfectly lovely.

Asking for presents is generally not looked on favourably when you elope, so you should forgo the gift list. However, if someone offers, that’s a different matter.

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