The low-down on destination weddings.

The low-down on destination weddings.


It is no surprise that the attraction of a destination wedding in an exotic location is quite alluring, and given the incidence of overseas weddings in such locations as Bali, Vietnam, Fiji and Thailand becoming more and more prevalent, Tribal Celebrant, Shannon Jeans found herself answering a lot of legal questions about the processes and what is involved.

Shannon’s advice to most is, “With a little research, time and some good planning, anyone can have the perfect overseas wedding without any problems along the way.  Getting married overseas is surprisingly simple in most destinations.  In most cases, it’s all about paperwork and notification.  However there are those odd cases where countries insist on the ceremony being performed in the local language or religion or that you reside for a length of time in their country prior to a marriage taking place in that country.

So, before you pack your passport and fly off overseas to get married, please understand that you need to comply with the country’s local marriage laws, as well as Australia’s, to ensure you will legally be married upon your return home.

Whichever country you choose to host your wedding, you should as soon as possible contact the embassy or consulate of that country (within Australia) to establish the exact requirements.  Then double, and triple check just to be safe!  There would be nothing worse than arriving at customs in the country you intend to marry in, only to be deported back home due to a lack of paperwork.”

Having conducted a number of overseas ceremonies, as well as assisting Australian couples to complete their legal paperwork before/after their overseas ceremonies, Shannon is quite experienced in ‘destination weddings’ so we prodded her for a little bit of information on how it all works.

If I get married overseas, is my marriage recognised back home in Australia?

While a marriage that occurs overseas cannot be ‘registered’ in Australia, an overseas marriage will generally be recognised as valid if:

The marriage is recognised as valid under the law of the country where the marriage took place

The marriage is between a man and a woman

Both bride and groom are at least 18 years of age, and

Neither bride nor groom is married to any other person at the time of marriage.

So, if you do get legally married overseas, the foreign marriage certificate will be evidence the marriage has occurred.

Make sure you keep this certificate as it may not be easy to replace if lost and it provides the only evidence of the overseas marriage.

Can you as an Australian Civil Marriage Celebrant officiate my overseas wedding?

 Legally?  No.  Marriage celebrants authorised in Australia can only perform legal marriages within Australia.

So, whenever I am abroad conducting a ceremony, it is basically a ‘commitment ceremony’ or a ‘symbolic ceremony’ with all legal components taking place back on home soil in Australia – either before or after your overseas celebration.

So, what is the point of flying over an Australian Civil Marriage Celebrant, when I can just get the locals to marry us?

This just comes down to personal preference.  Of course you can use the local celebrants, however keep this in mind as an example…

If you were planning to get married in Bali, under Indonesian law you need to get married by a minister of religion AND a civil registrar – that’s two ceremonies!

According to the Australian Consulate-General Bali  “persons of any nationality may marry in Indonesia providing they hold one of the five religions recognised by Indonesia (Buddhism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and Protestantism).”

So, both marriage partners have to declare the same religion (a mere formality but it is something that you should know beforehand) and the religious ceremony and the legal ceremony must be held at the same location on the same day.

This is the current regulation for Bali, but all countries have their own rules and regulations (that can change from time to time) – so please make sure you research the rules of the country you are planning to marry in, well before you pack your suitcase and all the documents required!



I asked Bali Bride Anika Potter if she would do anything different after having gone through the Indonesian legal process for her Bali wedding and she told me;

“Matt and I wanted our Balinese ceremony to be legal then and there on the day, so three days before the wedding we had to go and have our pictures taken for the marriage certificate and then go to the Indonesian consulate, find the correct people within the consulate and sign all the legal documents. We had very little clue of what we were doing!

There is NO WAY we could have done all that correctly without our Balinese wedding planner present to guide us around and translate for us.

The priest that was appointed to conduct the religious ceremony was quite difficult to understand during the ceremony, but given our venue was extremely booked, we did not have time for a rehearsal to prepare for this.  We only met him on the actual day.

If we had our time again we would have had an Australian celebrant fly over with us to conduct a more personal ceremony, then handled the legals when we arrived back home and had a dinner party to celebrate with those loved ones who couldn’t make the trip.”

Other countries can be just as troublesome.  If you were to get legally married in Fiji for instance, whilst the Fijian marriage certificate is proof of marriage, unfortunately some banks and other institutions will not accept it when it comes time to actually change your name.  They will however accept an Australian Marriage Certificate as evidence enough to change it on the spot!  So, for me, it’s a no brainer!

Other than to make the process much more streamline and personal, there are a number of other reasons you may choose to take a Celebrant with you:

  • You have the chance to meet with them well before the actual day and plan a personalised, non-denominational ceremony for your family and friends to all understand and enjoy. No surprises!
  • They can then ensure all the legal paperwork is completed back home which ensures ease of obtaining your official marriage certificate, ease of name change etc.
  • To prevent any language barrier issues that may occur with using an international celebrant.
  • No need to take any unnecessary paperwork with you overseas.
  • Anyone who was unable to make the trip overseas, could be privy to being present at the ‘legal’ ceremony back home – which could take place anywhere!  I’ve married a couple (who had their ceremony overseas) in a retirement village so their grandmother who couldn’t travel was able to witness the occasion – now that was cute and special!

So if I wanted to elope in Vietnam, then I could just have a ‘symbolic ceremony’ over there and do all the legals back home either before or after?

Absolutely!  I’ve assisted with the legal paperwork for plenty of couples who haven chosen to have their ‘wedding’ in such sensational destinations as; Croatia, Spain, Fiji, Thailand, Vietnam, Bali and the Cook Islands.

So did you go along to all of those destination weddings?

No, not at all (although I probably wouldn’t have declined!)  Instead, they may have asked a family friend or local to conduct the ‘symbolic ceremony’ and then I took care of the legal side of things either before they left or after they returned!

Will my same sex marriage be recognised in Australia?

Unfortunately, the Australian Government does not recognise same-sex marriages entered into overseas, nor allow same-sex marriages to be performed within Australia – therefore even if your same-sex marriage was held in a country where it is legal (i.e. New Zealand), it won’t be recognised in Australia.

If I get married overseas, do I have to return home to register it in Australia?

No, there is no need or requirement to register a marriage in Australia which takes place overseas.  In fact, you can’t! The foreign marriage certificate is prima facie evidence in Australia of the occurrence and validity of the marriage in that country.

Keep in mind though, that whilst the overseas marriage certificate is proof of marriage, some banks and institutions may not accept it in order to change your name with them.  They do however accept the Australia official marriage certificate.  Instead, you would have to do a legal change of name – which isn’t a difficult process, but of course it could be avoided if you did your legals in Australia!


So, if you are thinking about having an overseas wedding or celebration yourself, and would like more information on the legalities and process, then don’t hesitate to contact Shannon for advice or insight into making your day less stressful and more enjoyable for all.

Shannon will be in Bali in May/June 2017 and again in July 2018, so if you are planning your dream Destination Wedding and would like the peace of mind of having an experienced, modern and engaging, English-speaking and well respected Australian Celebrant, then we strongly suggest you get in contact with Shannon to have a chat and secure your date!