A couple in formal attire look up towards the sky framed by palm leaves at the Lake Nona Wave Hotel, with an airplane soaring directly above them.

You’ve been dreaming of a destination wedding for years but one question stands in the way: What is the average cost of a destination wedding? As a destination wedding photographer with 8 years under my belt, I’ve witnessed firsthand the magic a destination wedding can create. Choosing the right spot for your destination wedding can be as epic as it is daunting. From tropical beaches to historic cities, your location sets the stage. But what dictates the cost? In this post, I’ll dive into the factors that shape your wedding budget, using my years of experience and the magic of research. Let’s talk about the secrets to budgeting your perfect destination wedding!

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What Is the Average Cost of a Destination Wedding? 

The average cost of a destination wedding for couples in the U.S. ranges from $28,000 to $34,000. It’s worth noting that this can be significantly lowered by reducing guests, and location choices including less extravagant options. Destination weddings can be cost-competitive with traditional local weddings, which average around $33,000. Choosing a domestic location for your destination wedding can offer a memorable experience without the higher expense of international travel, providing a practical yet romantic option for your special day. 

Cost of Domestic vs. International Destination Weddings

While domestic weddings are generally cheaper, averaging between $10,000 and $30,000, international weddings offer a unique experience but come with a higher price tag, ranging from $25,000 to $40,000 on average. The choice hinges on balancing the allure of a destination with the practicalities of your wedding budget.

Domestic Destinations (e.g., Sedona, Key West, Chicago, Redwood National Forest, The Grand Canyon, Hawaii):

  • Average Cost: $10,000 – $30,000
  • Cost Factors: Travel, accommodation, venue fees.
  • Benefits: Easier logistics, familiar legal requirements.
  • Cheaper Option? Generally more affordable due to reduced travel and accommodation costs.

International Destinations (e.g., Costa Rica, Italy, Ireland, Thailand, The Virgin Islands, Mexico, Jamaica):

  • Average Cost: $25,000 – $40,000
  • Cost Factors: International travel, accommodation, currency exchange rates, varying legal requirements.
  • Considerations: Higher expenses due to long-distance travel, currency exchange, and peak season premium pricing.
  • Cheaper Option? Typically more expensive, reflecting the broader logistical and financial implications of international travel.
Florida Beach Intimate Wedding Photography

Beach Wedding Costs

Beach weddings offer natural beauty but require careful budgeting. While some beaches don’t require permit fees, costs can vary based on the destination, venue, and setup. A beach tent and a backup plan for bad weather are practical but add to expenses. Consider the location’s cost, from local beaches to international shores, and plan for potential extras like private resort fees or alternative indoor venues. Balancing these factors is key to planning a cost-effective beach wedding.

Unique Beaches in The United States:

  • Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii.
  • Cape Alava — Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Ocean City, Maryland.
  • Coronado Beach, San Diego, California.
  • Pope Beach, Lake Tahoe, California.
  • Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, Florida

Unique Beaches outside the United States

  • Zipolite Beach-Oaxaca, Mexico.
  • Playa La Poza-Todos Santos, Mexico.
  • Playa Balandra-La Paz, Mexico.
  • Red Beach-Santorini, Greece.
  • Super Paradise Beach-Mykonos, Greece
Mountain Destination Wrdding in Sedona at Cathedral Rock

Mountain Wedding Costs

Mountain weddings, particularly in the scenic ranges of the Western U.S. and the Smoky Mountains, offer stunning vistas but come with unique cost considerations. However, logistics can significantly impact your budget. Transporting essentials like fresh food, catering supplies, and the wedding cake up the mountain might require specialized services, especially for high-altitude or ski resort locations. Additionally, guest transportation, possibly via ski lifts or other mountain-access vehicles, can add to the expenses, although these services offer a memorable experience. While mountain weddings can be pricier, especially during peak seasons, off-season dates might present opportunities for cost savings.

National Park Wedding Costs

For a National Park wedding, several factors influence the budget. The cost of permits required for weddings in National Parks is typically modest, but it’s the amenities and logistics that can add to your expenses. Depending on the park and the specific site within it, you may need to consider the cost of transportation for guests into the park, especially if it’s a remote area. Additional facilities like seating, tents, or even portable restrooms may be necessary, each contributing to the overall cost. While National Park weddings are sought after for their breathtaking natural settings, ensuring guest comfort and meeting park regulations can require careful planning and budgeting. Remember to account for the time of year and the park’s popularity, as these can influence both availability and cost.

Most Unique National Parks

  • Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada. 
  • Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida.
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii. 
  • Sequoia National Park, California.
A couple eloping in union Station in chicago

City Wedding Costs

City weddings, set against the vibrant backdrop of urban landscapes, offer a blend of convenience and sophistication, yet they often carry a higher price tag. Venue costs in cities can be substantial, especially in sought-after locations or iconic buildings. Additionally, catering, decor, and other vendor services in urban areas tend to be priced at a premium due to the high demand and cost of operations in metropolitan areas. Transportation and parking logistics for guests also require consideration, as these can add to the overall expense. While city weddings provide an unforgettable setting with easy access to amenities and entertainment, budgeting for the urban premium is crucial. It’s also worth exploring off-peak dates or less central locations within the city to potentially reduce costs.

  • Most expensive US city to be married in: Manhattan, NY
  • Least Expensive US city to be married in: Nashville, TN
Bride looking at her bride on a destination wedding in the florida keys during the cermony.

How Do Couples Choose Their Destinations?

Selecting a wedding destination involves several practical steps:

  1. Identify Meaningful Locations: Consider places that are significant to you both, such as where you first met, dream destinations or a favorite vacation spot.
  2. Decide on the Setting:
    Choose the type of environment you prefer, like beach, mountain, national park, or city.
  3. Evaluate Guest Accessibility: Think about how easy and affordable it will be for your guests to travel to and stay at the wedding venue or location.
  4. Budget Considerations: Compare costs of different places, factoring in travel, venue, vendors, and any extra fees like permits.
  5. Size of the Wedding: Decide if you want a small, intimate wedding or a large celebration, and ensure the location can accommodate your plan.
  6. Check Legal Requirements: Research marriage laws and any required paperwork, especially for weddings in a different country.
  7. Have a Backup Plan: Plan for unexpected events, like bad weather, especially in outdoor or remote locations.

Couples need to discuss and prioritize these factors to choose a destination that meets their preferences, needs, and budget.

What Are the Most Expensive Wedding Destinations in the U.S.?

Based on the average wedding cost, these cities are the most expensive places. Keep in mind, that you can always find smaller or less known venues that will reduce the cost. 

Based on the average wedding cost, these cities are the most expensive places. Keep in mind, that you can always find smaller or less known venues that will reduce the cost. 

  • Manhattan, NY: $96K
  • Long Island, NY: $66K
  • Chicago, IL: $60K.
  • Cape Cod, MA: $58K
  • Philadelphia, PA: $46K
  • Santa Barbara, CA: $45K
  • Boston, MA: $44K
  • Los Angeles, CA: $42K

source: https://www.titlemax.com/discovery-center/personal-finance/the-most-and-least-expensive-places-to-get-married-in-the-united-states/

Where Can You Have an Affordable Destination Wedding?

Affordable destination weddings can be found in a variety of locations, offering the allure of a dream wedding without breaking the bank. When looking for budget-friendly options, consider the following destinations:

  1. Central America: Countries like Costa Rica and Belize are known for their beautiful landscapes and cost-effective wedding packages.
  2. Mexico: Popular destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum offer all-inclusive resort options that can be economical, especially for larger groups.
  3. The Caribbean: Islands like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico provide stunning beach venues with competitive pricing.
  4. United States: Locations like the Smoky Mountains, certain beaches in Florida, or state parks offer picturesque settings at a fraction of the cost.
  5. Southeast Asia: Countries like Thailand and Indonesia (Bali) are renowned for their affordable luxury and exotic charm.

When considering these wedding venues for your destination wedding package, remember to factor in the off-peak seasons, which can significantly reduce costs. Additionally, some destinations offer all-inclusive packages that can simplify budgeting. Always compare the total costs, considering travel, accommodation, and local vendor services to ensure the destination aligns with your budget and vision for your special day.

What Influences the Cost of a Destination Wedding?

The cost of a destination wedding can significantly vary based on several critical factors, estimates provided are not quotes:

  • Travel & Accommodation Expenses: The distance to the destination and the choice of accommodation play a major role. International flights and luxury resorts will increase expenses, while closer locations and group hotel rates can help save money.

    National: $200 – $500 per person per day
    International: $1,000 – $3,000 per person per day

  • Guest Lists: The number of guests directly impacts costs. More guests mean higher expenses for food, beverages, and possibly larger venues. Consider a smaller, more intimate wedding to manage costs effectively.

    The cost per guest for meals and seating can range:
    National: $50 – $150 per guest
    International: $70 – $200 per guest

  • Planners: Hiring a wedding planner, especially one specialized in destination weddings, can add to the budget. However, their expertise in negotiating with local vendors and managing logistics can also help you avoid costly mistakes.

    National: $2,000 – $4,000
    International: $2,500 – $10,000 (can be higher based on location complexity and services)

  • Photography and Videography: Capturing your special day is essential, but photography and videography services can vary widely in price. Rates depend on the professionals’ experience, demand, and the package you choose. Typically “Included photographers” in resort packages provide more of a cookie-cutter, less customized or comforting experience.

    Expect between $2000-10,000 on average, but costs can be significantly more for more experienced, in-demand creatives. 

  • Food & Beverages: Catering costs can escalate quickly with the guest count. The choice between a sit-down dinner, buffet, or local cuisine, and the type of beverages served (open bar vs. limited options) will influence the final bill.
  • National: $5,000 – $15,000
  • International: $7,000 – $20,000 (varies greatly based on local costs and choices)

These numbers indicating the cost of a wedding are estimates from national averages and are not to be considered quotes.

Who Pays for What for a Destination Wedding?

For destination weddings, the financial responsibilities can vary based on traditions, family situations, and the couple’s preferences. Typically, the division of expenses is as follows:

The Couple:

  • Pays for their own travel and accommodation.
  • Covers the costs of the wedding ceremony and reception, including the venue, decor, music, food, and beverages.
  • Usually pays for the wedding attire, rings, and personal items.
  • The wedding package often covers photography and videography services to capture memories of your wedding day.

The Bride’s Family:

  • Traditionally, may contribute to or cover the costs of the ceremony and reception.
  • Sometimes helps with additional expenses like the bride’s attire or the wedding planner.

The Groom’s Family:

  • Traditionally, may cover the rehearsal dinner or welcome party.
  • Sometimes contributes to honeymoon expenses or other wedding costs.

Guests:

  • Typically pay for their travel and accommodations.
  • May be treated to certain events like a welcome party or a day-after brunch, usually hosted by the couple or their families.

It’s increasingly common for these traditional roles to be flexible, with many families choosing to split costs differently or for the couple to fund the wedding themselves. Open communication about budget and expectations is key to ensuring everyone is comfortable with the financial arrangements for the destination wedding.

Groom kisses bride on her forehead during chicago destination wedding

Factors That Will Affect Your Budget (and How to Save Money)

Manage your guest list.

A smaller guest list will always save money. You can take the savings from here an increase the quality of food or experiences or just reduce costs entirely. I will always recommend an intimate wedding of 10-20 guests total over huge destination weddings for those budget-conscious couples. 

Consider your wedding date.

Every location you choose will have some kind of peak season, look into when that is for your destination wedding. If you choose an off-peak date you may save significantly. Additionally just moving the wedding to a weekday can often save you on thing slike the venue and caterers because they are less busy. 

Choose a Venue that doesn’t need a lot of decoration

Picking a location that looks great without flowers or massive decor changes will help you save. In most cases, destination weddings have incredible backdrops or themes that don’t need much to be photogenic or unique can result in huge savings.

Consider requesting no gifts.

Gifts are great! Transporting them across the country or back to your country from your destination wedding can get extremely pricey. On your wedding website, you can allow guests to gift cash, or just consider their travel expenses as a gift to circumvent these fees. 

Destination Wedding FAQ’s 

Is a Destination Wedding Rude?

No, your wedding day is your wedding day. That said, navigating the delicate etiquette of destination weddings can feel like a tightrope walk. While these events embody romance and adventure, they might inadvertently stir concerns among guests who fear their absence might be misinterpreted as disinterest or worse, a sign they aren’t welcome. As part of your wedding planning, it’s essential to communicate heartfully, ensuring your loved ones understand that while their presence would make your wedding day perfect, you hold a deep respect for their circumstances and decisions. 

How do you tell your friends and family you are having a destination wedding?

Informing your friends and family about your destination wedding requires clear communication and sensitivity. Start by choosing a direct, yet gentle approach like a personal call or a small gathering. Explain the reasons behind your choice and highlight the significance of the location to you. Be upfront about understanding if they face constraints in attending, ensuring they feel valued regardless of their decision.

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