Everything you need to know to plan a wedding abroad

Short background: my husband is Spanish and I am American. I have lived in Spain for nearly ten years, and with him for seven of them. Our wedding was on July 6th, 2019, at 8:30pm, performed as a civil ceremony by my sister and his oldest brother. Keep this information in mind as you read and take my advice within the boundaries of your own situation!

For those who have ever been a part of a wedding planning process, you know the chaos which can, and most definitely, will, ensue at some point during the journey. If you have ever successfully planned an international wedding with people coming from over thirteen different countries, speaking their respective languages, you are clearly a pro and do not need this article.

But perhaps you’ve found yourself engaged to that guy who came to talk to you on the beach one day, who later became your pareja de hecho, and now you’re spinning in circles asking yourself and the world wide web a million questions. Good news! You, my friend are in the right place. This is everything I learned and everything you should know while planning your international/bilingual wedding abroad.

1. Choose a location

Tradition says that the wedding is in the bride’s hometown or at the very least, home country. Tradition is also kind of bullshit. You need to decide what is going to be easiest for you both as you plan, and which side of the guests you think is most likely, (and most able) to uproot themselves for a wedding overseas. For us, this was a no-brainer. My entire family and a few close friends saw our wedding as an opportunity to visit and travel, with a major upside attached. I can tell you logistically it will be easier for you to deal with a venue and vendors in your nearby surroundings.

We originally had planned to do a small celebration in the States as well, but because nearly all of our guests were able to come to Sevilla, we didn’t end up doing it. Cost wise it was also a more sensible option, but each couple has to decide what’s best for them!

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2. Make a website

We used one of the formats on Minted because they had loads of options and we found one to match the style we were going for. We paid a bit extra to have a custom URL but it made it a lot easier for the guests. It was especially useful for those who were coming out of the country. We gave details about the events the days before the wedding, the buses and schedules, Spanish wedding customs, and how to handle gifts–always a tricky subject. Giving all of the details to everyone makes it a lot easier on you knowing that everyone can find the information in one place.

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3. Give your guests fair warning

By this I don’t only mean give them PLENTY of time to work out their vacation schedules and budgets by letting them know with ample time in advance, but giving them a heads up on what to expect. The post I did a few years ago about the differences between American and Spanish weddings was clutch for a lot of people. They were making a huge effort to come all the way across the ocean, (and probably way out of their comfort zone), so letting them know what to expect really helped. Of course I had to reach out and let them know that I didn’t personally care about a dress code, but that they could expect Spanish women to wear long dresses and men to wear suits. And of course, that they could expect to go home no earlier than 3am.

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4.  Make a survival pack

A month or so before the wedding I sent my out of country guests a packet with information about customs in Spain, emergency numbers, historical spots in town and things not to miss, typical dishes, and all of our favorite restaurants–cheap as well as swanky. It really made them feel right at home, especially when we didn’t have time to take them on a tour of the city like we would have liked to. If you’re interested in my Out of Towners Wedding Guide to Sevilla, feel free to message!

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5. Pick the perfect DJ

Listen, you guys. Forget the dress, the food, the venue, the decor, forget all of it. The music at our wedding was by far the MOST difficult thing to pick out. Not only did we have music at the ceremony, the cocktail hour, the dinner, and the dance, but every single song was picked out personally by us. And if you are “tiquismiquis” about music, this will be you too. It isn’t easy trying to descend not only generational differences in music likes, but also cultural and language differences. Ie: Reggaeton is not a club banger in Wisconsin. Who knew.

By far the most difficult playlist was the barra libre, or dance part of the evening, because the music that gets people moving is different for everyone. Talk to your DJ, and try to get someone who speaks at least a little bit of English and who may have done a wedding like this before, that will be crucial. Ask a select few people about songs they’d like to hear, but do not ask the whole guest list, it will do your head in.

Our DJs not only took charge of the music, but the package we contracted also meant they helped coordinate eeeeevvverything, making sure it all went off without a hitch. Bonus–they also filmed the entire ceremony, all the speeches, and took pictures all night. It wasn’t professional quality, (which they warned us ahead of time), but it allowed us to get a sneak peek long before we had any professional pictures or videos back yet. I can’t recommend them enough.  If you’re interested, here are our playlists for the cocktail hour, dinner, and the dance floor playlists!

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6. Have some pre-wedding fun

After talking to all of the guests who came from the States, Scotland, France, Germany, England, Spain, and beyond, the number one thing they found most helpful about the wedding were the events we had leading up to it, and for multiple reasons.

Firstly, it gave them the opportunity to spend more time with us without so many people around. I can tell you that our wedding day was hands down the best day of our lives but that neither one of us can remember a single conversation we had–for the simple reason that you are bouncing from person to person all evening long. The dinners and parties we had prior to the big day helped us actually talk to people who had come so far to see us.

The second major reason people loved it was because it helped them bond with other guests so that on Saturday they felt like they knew a lot of people already and were ready to bust a move with them on the dance floor. Lots of them have even remained friends after the wedding and have already visited each other!

If you’re thinking to yourself that you can’t afford another dinner aside from the wedding, let me tell you how we did it. On the fourth of July we catered food from one of our favorite restaurants, picked it up, and bought our own drinks at Mercadona. I think the whole bill for about 40 people (mostly the Americans and a few others who were there a few days early), was something like 400 euros. The night before the wedding we invited everyone who came from out of town, which was at least 100 people, for a drink on a rooftop bar. We spoke with the bar and they gave us a certain number of tokens to give to our guests, and anything the guests wanted beyond that, they paid for themselves. We would have loved to have an open bar for everyone, but between not wanting people to have a hangover the next day and also just trying to keep ourselves within a reasonable budget, it was the best option for us.

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7. Have the ceremony in both languages

Initially we started with the idea of having booklet with everything translated into either English or Spanish, based on the guests’ needs. However, at the end of the day, we knew that my sister and my husband’s brother would be officiating and that the ceremony would be almost entirely bilingual, save for our vows and short speeches from friends. We saw it more important that the guests were experiencing the moment and without their noses pressed to a book, than that they understood everything that was said.

Afterwards there were plenty of people who said they wanted to read the vows in Spanish, (or English), but that is easy enough to translate later on. And of everyone we spoke with, 98% of people cried throughout the entire wedding, whether or not they understood a single word being said.

 

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Decoration from the masters at Decosureventos

 

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More from these guys!

8. Combine traditions

Examples we opted for:

  • No bridemaids, but instead the brothers and sisters with their partners walked down the aisle first.
  • Father daughter dance in which we also incorporated my mom, his dad, and my husband.
  • (Short!) speeches during dinner. Totally not a thing in Spain, but it was one of our favorite parts. They were not translated though, so had to be kept very short!
  • We also each both gave a quick speech before dinner, thanking everyone again.
  • Sevillanas played, but so did Dancing Queen.
  • The cocktail hour and dinner music was a combination of 60s and 70s classics, as well as jazz and romantic flamenco.
  • Candy bar with classic Spanish chuches, but also my husband’s first food in the USA and one of our favorite candies–Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.
  • Fried halloumi sticks with Ranch dressing–the closest we could get to Wisconsin cheese curds.
  • Handmade soap with lavender grown in Wisconsin (it took HOURS and multiple attempts to make. Do not recommend.), and olive oil from my husband’s hometown as wedding favors.

Think about what makes both of you who you are, and what parts of both of your cultures define you, (or at least you really love them), and try to make them work together. You’d be surprised at the great combinations you can make!

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9. Help your photographer out

Our photographer was incredible. Both she and her partner were with us for about 12 hours during that day and took incredible shots–many of which you’re scrolling through right now! But in order to help them out and make things go smoother, I would recommend doing the following:

  • Give them a must-have photo list.  Let them know ahead of time who can’t be missed and what photos you need to have. I wish I would have done this to facilitate things, make them go faster, and not have to worry the next day about if I got a picture with so and so.
  • Have a screen-free ceremony.  We had our decorator put up signs asking for everyone to put away their cellphones for the ceremony to help the photographers get all of the shots. Now on the other hand, I will say that we really enjoyed all of the pictures and videos from those guests who did not see or simply did not abide by this “rule”. Perhaps the happy medium is to let a few select friends know that they can take shots, just not the whole guest list.
  • Give them an English-speaking side kick. Shout out to my sister on this one. She was only too happy to bark at all of my family members to get in line and smile big, but it was a huge help to us and to the photographers, whose first language was not English.
  • Contemplate having a post wedding shoot. My sister, who is incredibly talented and even more patient, offered to do one for us after the wedding, in Wisconsin. It was perfect for so many reasons–we didn’t feel pressure to get a ton of couple pictures on the actual day and we got to spend more time with family and friends.

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10. Have a Couple Point Guys

We were very lucky in that our DJ spoke a bit of English and our Belgium decorator spoke amazing English. They both helped out guests immensely who were lost or looking for something or someone in particular. If you are lucky enough to have friends who speak both languages, give them the fun job of giving out programs or helping people sit down at the ceremony in case they’re confused about anything. We were lucky to have a few close friends and family members who did this job excellently. Regardless of language abilities or not, I can’t stress enough having someone or some people in charge of anything you need to be done. The maitre d was supposed to be on top of everything but its impossible for him to do it all. If you have small details like confetti blowers, sparklers, glow sticks, that sort of thing, delegate it ahead of time so that you don’t have to worry at all on the big day.

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Above all, the biggest piece of advice I can give, which goes for every single wedding, international or not is this:

Do. Not. Ask. For. Opinions.

Have your go-tos. Have your people who you trust, want, and need their opinion. But do not travel too far outside that small circle. I regret immensely asking for so many opinions on music, food, dress, shoes, everything! Never forget that this is your day, and it should be how you want it to be. ¡Vivan los novios!

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All vendors for our wedding:

Photography: Lele Pastor

Makeup and hair: Ana

Videography: Luis Moraleda

Dress: St Patrick

Bouquet: Cartamo Flores

Flowers and decoration: Decosureventos

Venue: Hacienda El Vizir

 

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Just a small town Wisconsinite in a fiery love affair with a country that sometimes loves me back and sometimes smiles and winks as it gives me the middle finger. I’ve spent seven years in this constant back and forth and I’m still as enchanted as day one. But there’s always tomorrow.

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