Everything you need ti know about Eloping

If you’re looking for an intimate and romantic way of getting married, eloping could be the right option for you.  More couples than ever before are choosing to elope rather than holding an enormous wedding for all their family and friends to attend. One of the most famous destinations for eloping couples in the UK is Gretna Green, and over 3000 couples come here to get married in private every year. However, there are a few legalities and practicalities that you should know about if you’re going to choose an elopement with your significant other over a traditional marriage celebration.

An Ultimate Guide To Eloping
Photography by Mark Ewels Photography

There are many reasons why couples choose to elope. Whether trying to avoid family politics or save some money, couples who go for this option experience a number of benefits from having a highly personal ceremony for just the two of them, plus witnesses. 

However, what does eloping really mean? Where should you head to if you want to elope? What should you wear and what will your family say? Read on to discover your expert guide to eloping.

What Does Eloping Mean?

At one time, eloping meant running off in the night to Gretna Green to get hitched, or drunkenly dropping into the Chapel O’ Love in Vegas after a night at the gaming tables. However, this is no longer the case. Although technically, eloping means to “secretly run away to get married”, these days, there’s more nuance to this definition.

Rather, today, eloping is better understood as a couple going somewhere to get legally married without inviting or telling many or even any of their family or friends. It’s a speedier, romantic and informal way of tying the knot, but you have to be ready for the fact that it won’t be as simple as it appears in the movies.

When it comes to eloping, it’s up to your partner and yourself how you choose to do it. You can choose to elope either abroad or in the United Kingdom. Some couples choose to do it all in secret while others inform their families beforehand. Some choose to take some friends along as witnesses, others prefer it to be just the two of them on their big day.

Some couple want to go completely no-frills, while others follow their private ceremony up with an enormous party afterwards at home Elopements can be planned or spontaneous. With all of this in mind, it’s no wonder that some couples become overwhelmed and confused. However, if you’re already thinking a huge wedding might not be the right choice for you, this guide may help you to make a final decision about your wedding day.

Why Should Couples Elope?

It’s certainly a major decision if you decide to overlook tradition and go for an elopement. However, there are plenty of great reasons to opt for this way of getting married. They include:

Saving money – an average wedding in the UK costs more than £30,000. Clearly this is an enormous sum and if you’re already raising children, saving to buy a home or are on a low  budget, it’s easy to see why eloping could be an appealing option since you’ll save a fortune. Even if you choose travel abroad to elope, you’ll still save thousands. If you head to Gretna Green, for example, you’ll find elopement packages with photography services included for less than £500! 

Avoiding family politics – you may get on perfectly well with your family,  but family politics can ruin the planning process for any wedding. It can be hard to choose whose family you’re going to get married near, or perhaps inviting certain family members may cause problems with others. Eloping resolves all of those issues in one fell swoop. 

Traditional weddings aren’t for you – maybe some elements of a traditional wedding – white dresses, being given away, being the focus of everyone’s attention for the whole day – don’t appeal to you.

You hate planning – planning a wedding is certainly very stressful. Planning an enormous party for hundreds of guests is a lot of responsibility and that can tip you over the edge into deciding that elopement is right for you. You can even hire elopement services to eliminate the hassle of arranging your wedding, but doing it yourself is simple too. You’ll save time and be married in just a few weeks rather than a few months or even years. 

You’re having another wedding or getting married later in your life – you may have already had one big wedding and want a quieter ceremony second time around. Or perhaps you’ve got children and want your big day to be just about you and the kids. Perhaps you’re just keen to make your special day small and simple. 

Making the day an event – the money you’ll save by eloping can be spent on all kinds of other things. You can combine a honeymoon with an elopement and splash out on a fancy hotel, bucket-list experiences, a brand new wardrobe and expensive meals. You can make an elopement just as extraordinary as a wedding day. 

Sharing your special secret – when you choose to elope nobody knows that you’re married except the pair of you. This is a special time that can be sacred and precious for many couples. 

You want to marry legally – although the older generation may still frown at an elopement, in fact eloping is just as valid, legal and meaningful as a church wedding. It’s also a great alternative to visiting the registry office since you can make your day memorable, individual and unique.

Should We Get Engaged Before Eloping?

A common question asked by eloping couples is whether they should get engaged just like they would if they were having a standard wedding. There’s no single answer to this. You can, of course, have an engagement beforehand, but you certainly don’t need to. Eloping is, essentially, all about eliminating traditional wedding expectations so you can get married in the best way for you both.

While some couples choose to entirely elope in secret without getting engaged first, others choose to make their engagement public with their family and friends but then elope for an intimate ceremony rather than hosting a formal wedding. Some couples even realise they’d prefer an elopement when they’re going through the process of engagement and arranging their wedding. In simple terms, then, there’s no set rule to follow.

How Does Eloping Work?

If you want to elope in the UK there are some steps to follow:

Checking the legalities – unfortunately, it isn’t possible to have a completely spontaneous elopement. Whichever area of the UK you choose for your wedding you have to “give notice” at your registry office a minimum of 29 days before the ceremony. During this process, you have to give details of the venue, so you’ll need to be aware of where you’ll be tying in the knot. Due to this, you’ll need to choose an officiant and venue in advance and get booked in. For any couples wanting to elope with a church ceremony, you have to have the “banns” read for three consecutive Sundays during the 3 months before you get married. After giving notice, the ceremony has to be held within a year however you can’t get married with under 29 days’ notice.

If you’re outside the United Kingdom you’re able to give notice to get married inside the UK if the country in which you’re based is covered by the British Subjects Facilities Act and you’re marrying a citizen of the UK. At one time, eloping was usually only done by young couples who were running away so they could get married without getting permission from their parents. This is no longer the case, however there are age limits in law if you’re under 18 years old. In Wales and England you have to be 16 or over to get married and if you’re under 18 you’ll need your parents’ permission. In Scotland you still have to be over 16 but parental permission won’t be needed. There are also different rules in Northern Ireland, therefore, you’ll need to check the laws before making any arrangements. 

Planning your ceremony – you’ll have to know where you’ll be getting married in order to obtain a marriage licence. Remember, though, you don’t need to go elsewhere to elope – it’s possible to elope at the registry office in your local town if you choose. You also need to decide on the elements to include in your ceremony. Will you exchange rings? Will you have a photographer? Will you have a bouquet? Will you choose a white dress? 

Choosing witnesses – If you’re marrying in the UK you’ll need two witnesses to be legally married. Those witnesses may be someone you know, registry office staff or strangers. It’ll be less stressful, though, if you’ve chosen witnesses in advance instead of having to find people on the street. 

How will you celebrate afterwards? – Once you’ve had your wedding ceremony, you’ll probably want to carry on celebrating afterwards. You might want to have a meal, a huge reception with family and friends, or a smaller celebration with just a few loved ones. You’ll need to choose which option is right for you. If you choose to have a celebration with just you and your new spouse, you might want to jet off straight away on holiday or book into a fancy hotel. On the other hand, if you’re going to tell loved ones that you got married, you could invite them to dinner pretending to celebrate another event and then tell them when they arrive that you’ve actually got hitched! 

Announcing the elopement – no matter how you choose to elope, you’ll need to come up with a plan to reveal it to your friends and family as they’ll be upset and maybe even angry if they learn you’re already married by accident. There are several ways you could tell people. You could telephone family and close friends and let them know before announcing it on Facebook and other social media platforms or send everyone an email containing photos explaining why you wanted to elope. Alternatively, you could host a party and then reveal that you’re married in person to the attendees. 

Eloping Overseas

If you prefer an overseas elopement instead of eloping within the UK a similar basic plan will be required, but you’ll need to know that some legal requirements are different abroad when compared with the UK. 

Eloping abroad means you’ll need to comply with the laws in the country of your choice. You’ll need to supply specific documents, meet certain residency and legal requirements, and you’ll also have to find out where your marriage will actually be legal when you return to the UK. Some countries and American states will even require you both to have a blood test. 

If you’re planning to elope abroad, you may find that hiring a wedding planner in that country will make it easier to deal with the practicalities and paperwork.

Same-Sex Couples And Eloping

If you’re in a same-sex couple and want to elope you’ll need to find out whether same-sex civil partnerships or weddings are legal in the country you want to elope to. If they are, you’ll have no difficulties. In the UK, same-sex marriages are legal in all areas so whether you get married in Northern Ireland, England, Wales or Scotland you’ll still have a valid marriage when you get home.

Which Countries Are Best For Eloping?

It can be tricky for UK citizens to get married in countries abroad. For example, in France there are residency requirements that require couples to have been living in the country for a period of 30 days before the marriage in order for it to be legal. This makes it hard to meet those legal requirements. Nevertheless, destinations such as the Caribbean or the USA are brilliant choices for elopement. New York is especially popular since there’s just a waiting period of 24 hours between obtaining a licence and the ceremony itself.

If you choose to elope to Barbados it’s possible to get married on the very same day on which you arrive and if you’re eloping to the British Virgin Islands it takes under a day for the licence to be processed. Eloping to Antigua is so easy that you can just make a day stop on a cruise, fill in a form, pay your fee, find someone to marry you and then you’ll be done! There are lots of other great destinations around the globe too for eloping couples including South America, Iceland and Australia. 

If you prefer to elope within Europe, some of the easiest countries include Cyprus, Gibraltar and Italy since there aren’t any residency requirements. Lots of venues in the United Kingdom specialise in offering elopement packages too, so if you want a private wedding closer to home you shouldn’t have too many difficulties. 

How Much Will Eloping Cost?

When you want to know the main difference between a wedding and an elopement, you probably won’t be too surprised to learn that the answer is cost! Eloping to Gretna Green costs from less than £200 for a simple ceremony. Pop-up weddings in the United Kingdom start at just £3,300 and if you want to go abroad, you’ll find basic registry office weddings in New York come in at under $100 – that’s just £80! Even heading to Las Vegas for a wedding won’t break the bank with basic ceremonies starting at just $500 or £400! When you bear in mind than an average UK wedding costs around £31,000, you’ll certain save lots of money if you choose to elope.

How Many People Should I Invite If I’m Eloping?

The whole point of eloping is to have a small wedding day. Although there aren’t any hard or fast rules about the number of guests to invite to your elopement, if you go for 13 or more people, you’ll be straying into the territory of micro-weddings rather than elopements.

It’s considered normal to have somewhere between 2 guests (who are also your witnesses) and twelve guests at an elopement. On the other hand, if you’re choosing to get married in secret there’s no need to tell anybody you know – instead, you can choose two complete strangers as your witnesses. 

Will I Be Legally Married If I Choose To Elope?

So long as you’re legally complying with the laws around age of consent, have obtained a marriage licence and are adhering to the other essential marriage requirements for the country that you’re in, you can rest assured that you’re elopement is going to be completely legal and valid. Bear in mind you are only able to be legally married in Northern Ireland or Scotland if you want a humanist celebrant.

If you’re in England or Wales, a humanist celebrant-led ceremony won’t be legally recognised. Therefore, if you want a humanist ceremony in England or Wales you’ll need to get legally married at your local registry office either after or before your wedding. Don’t worry, this is very quick and will take under ten minutes.

What Should I Wear If I’m Eloping?

Since your wedding won’t be a traditional one there’s no need to choose a formal suit or the classic white dress. However, if you choose a traditional wedding dress, that’s possible too! There’s only one rule – to love your choice of outfit. Brides can wear anything from a jumpsuit or short dress to a silk slip, sequinned gown or boho dress in ivory, off-white or even a bright colour.

You can find plenty of options in designer or high street stores. For the groom, a linen suit, or tailored pastel coloured shirts and shorts would look great for a destination elopement, while a suit in a stylish print will look great if you’re eloping in the UK.

Eloping – The Do’s And Don’ts

If you’re going to be eloping, you may be reducing the amount of things you need to bear in mind and the amount of planning that you’ll need to do before your big day, but that doesn’t mean that no planning goes into your ceremony at all. There are still several things you need to consider before you elope. Here are a few of the do’s and don’ts of eloping so you don’t make any accidental errors that could cause you problems in the future.

DO – Have A Plan For Revealing You’re Married

You’ve got to tell friends and family at some stage so think about how you’re going to do it – don’t just expect the news to come out naturally! If you want to avoid a lot of upset, it makes sense to plan in advance for your big reveal. Perhaps announcement cards would be a good idea, or maybe you’d prefer to host a large party so you can all celebrate together. Some people want to tell everyone they know while others just want to tell their closest relatives. Remember, though, that your nearest and dearest need to be told in person.

DO – Be Prepared For The Reactions Of Your Loved Ones

There’s no need to feel as if you have to justify eloping to anybody. After all, eloping is all about doing what’s best for you and your partner. However, you need to bear in mind that it’s going to be surprising, or maybe even shocking to friends and family. Some may be upset or offended that they weren’t invited to share your special day. It’s very important to tell close loved ones before they find out on Facebook, so plan your script about how you’ll break the news to them.

DO – Find Out Whether You’ll Need Witnesses

All UK wedding ceremonies need you to have two witnesses who can sign your marriage register. So, make sure you’ve planned in advance and arranged for witnesses to attend if necessary. If you’re arranging your wedding with one of the elopement planning services, or if you’re choosing one of the most popular elopement destinations such as Las Vegas’s Little White Chapel, you’ll find that they’ll be able to supply you with witnesses.

However, if you’re just going to visit your local registry office, the responsibility of finding witnesses will be yours. While you may be lucky enough to find a couple of strangers who’d be happy to come and join your ceremony, it’s probably best to invite a couple of family members or friends who can be your witnesses, or even arrange for a couple of strangers to come through Gumtree or Facebook. You may even be able to check whether your chosen venue offers a witness service.

DO – Decide Whether You’re Going To Use Elopement Planning Services 

If you can afford it, you may wish to invest in an elopement planning service since they can help you to ensure everything runs smoothly and nothing is accidentally overlooked. On the other hand, if you need to keep your costs low, you can do everything yourself, but you should make sure you’ve done all the necessary research.

There are online planning services you can use that specialise in helping couples to arrange elopements all over the world. They’re able to arrange the paperwork, venue, florist, videographer, celebrant, photographer, and anything else you need. This allows you to just sit back, relax and enjoy your big day. If you’re keen to minimise your stress and still have a truly special day but with very few or even no guests, an elopement planning service could be just what you need to arrange an unforgettable occasion that will be hassle-free.

DON’T – Forget To Get Photos

After your big day, your photographs and memories will be all that you’ve got left to remember your wedding by, particularly if you choose to elope with just the two of you. Also, if your friends or family will be upset that they weren’t part of your big day, having photographs to show them could help them to feel part of the festivities.

An Ultimate Guide To Eloping
Photo Credit – One Vision Photography

DON’T – Just Expect To Turn Up

Even though eloping is a lot less stressful and involves a lot less planning than a traditional wedding day you can’t expect to just turn up on your big day. You’ll need to meet with the suppliers before the ceremony and you’ll need to feel familiar and comfortable with the venue and location that you’re in. After all, you still need your day to feel special.

Some advance planning will make sure the experience is a really memorable and unique one. Consider writing your own vows, spending a little more on a posh hotel or dinner, or a special dress. Pay for a photographer to take beautiful shots of your big day.

DON’T – Expect Anyone To Buy You Wedding Presents

If you’re choosing to elope you can’t expect the traditions of an enormous wedding to apply. That means you can’t expect to receive many, or even any, wedding gifts. Your nearest and dearest may give you a gift once they learn about your marriage, but most people won’t, so have realistic expectations!

With this guide to eloping, hopefully you’re now armed with all the information that you need to decide whether this is the right way for you and your partner to tie the knot. Have fun arranging your big day!