Hosting a wedding in a foreign country can be a beautiful thing. As someone who just hosted his own wedding in Bangkok last July, I can tell you that there are many good reasons to host it overseas.
One of the best reasons is that it is an overseas wedding. This makes it novel, romantic and more intimate. Family and friends will mingle more, have breakfast together and gather in restaurants and other locations you have chosen. You know your wedding will be a celebration that family and friends will remember. And of course, the pictures will be amazing.
You will also only have your closest friends and family there. These are the people who have willingly travelled, leaving their jobs and lives behind for a few days, to celebrate with you.
Moreover, being on holiday themselves, they will not have anywhere to rush off to or anything else to focus their attention on – your wedding will be the main attraction for everyone.
You are also away from the tensions of life in Singapore, no work, no commitments and no responsibilities to fret over, just a few days of celebration.
But being part of DollarsAndSense, I’m obliged to point you in a prudent direction and force you to think about both sides of the coin. I’m not here to encourage or discourage you from having an overseas wedding.
Here are six cost areas that many couples in love, including my wife and I, may underestimate when planning for an overseas wedding.
# 1 Wedding Planner
One of the first things you have to decide when planning an overseas wedding is whether you want to hire a wedding planner. You have to recognize the pros and cons, so let me break it down for you.
Your wedding planner will demand for a downpayment before doing any work for you. If they are reputable, it may be ok to trust them, but I don’t really trust people I’ve never spoken to so I demanded we meet up first before we made any payments.
If your wedding planner agrees to this, you’re not out of the woods yet. They will usually just sit with you and take you through the process in slightly greater detail than what a Google Search would do.
The trick here is for you to be as prepared as possible about your requirements and let them know in advanced your budget for each cost item in the wedding.
This is nearly impossible, but you have to try to get as close as possible. Once you’ve detailed your budget, get that in the contract you sign with them. I’m not sure how binding this is, since I never tested Thailand’s legal system, but this is just for your peace of mind and to hold them to their end of the deal. As a rule of thumb, never pay more than a 40% deposit.
(ii) They Usually Receive Commissions From Other Vendors
Another thing you have to understand is that it may be extremely time consuming, but not impossible, for you to get in touch with vendors individually. You need someone handling make-up, the sound system, entertainment and even transportation.
By going through your planners, it makes the process hassle-free. However, wedding planners like to work with a preferred partner or people who give them the best commissions. You should look into one or two vendors to check on the general prices before agreeing to what your wedding planners have proposed.
# 2 Hotels, And Their Terms And Conditions
The next thing that should be on your mind is the venue – which hotel or site you want to hold your wedding at.
This is another tricky area to navigate.
(i) Minimum Spend
Hotels usually require a minimum spend to take up their ballrooms or meeting rooms. This can usually be offset with the cost of your food and beverage that the hotel supplies.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an amazing deal. Most hotels do this, and the relevant costs are already taken into account as part of their food and beverage bundle.
You don’t want to negotiate the prices of the ballrooms, as they are usually relatively affordable, depending on the venue. I think of this as a smokescreen for what you should really be negotiating – the price of food and beverage per guest, as this will drastically increase or reduce your cost.
Think of it this way, if you negotiate a minimum spend from $30,000 to $20,000, you might think you would be able to save $10,000. However, that would mean nothing if you have 200 guests paying $150 a head. In this scenario, you are still required to pay $30,000
(ii) Minimum Rooms
To host overseas weddings, many hotels recognize guests will have to book hotel stays too. At this stage, you must negotiate room prices and make sure you get a price that is below what you would normally get on hotel comparison websites.
This is important as many of your guests will always go for the cheapest booking option they can find. It does not matter if your deal throws in several insignificant freebies such as free Wi-Fi, or a cocktail at the bar, they will still book through the comparison website if it’s $15 cheaper per night.
Many couples, including us, underestimate this. Couples may hold a master list of rooms they are “guaranteed” to fill. If their guests fill these rooms by booking through comparison websites, your master lists remain pretty empty, even though you have helped the hotel with getting bookings.
At the end of the day, you may still be liable for payment if you do not meet what you have “guaranteed”.
If you’re asking why you should even take this “master list” in the first place, I can give you two good reasons.
Firstly, if you leave it to the guests, there is a good chance that a quite a few of them would be making last minute reservations rather than booking rooms early. Add to the fact that hotels continue to take bookings from other guests, on top of your wedding guests, there is a good chance the hotel gets booked out, especially during peak seasons. Secondly, by taking this “master list”, you can also negotiate to receive a free room for every 20 to 30 rooms you guarantee.
(iii) Food & Beverage (F&B)
So you think you’ve negotiated the price of food and beverage well, and that, at least, is settled. Wrong.
During the ceremonies and functions you hold, there will always be more people than you’ve estimated for. And the hotel will charge you for these extra people.
The reason is that you would have invited vendors present to eat and drink as well. This can easily bring up the cost by 5% to 10% per function.
What you can do is tell the hotel to stop at your estimated budget. However, the downside to that is that they may be peeved by how stingy you’re being with them, and deliberately serve less. Once the food runs out, they will try to blame it on the fact that you had more people attending that what you estimated.
This may potentially ruin your wedding. So always provide the 5% to 10% buffer. And always be nice to hotel staff, as they may have the ability to close an eye over a few things.
Lastly, you should also note that many hotels do not allow you to work with outside caterers, so unless you are willing to pay a premium or have very good reasons, expect the food served to be no better than what you tried during your reconnaissance trips.
(iv) Travel (Reconnaissance Included)
In the process of choosing and meeting wedding planners, venue staff and other third-party vendors, you will have to travel to the overseas location a minimum of three times. I came to this number because I travelled to Bangkok twice for “recce” and once for the actual wedding itself.
There are flights costs to consider, hotel costs to manage and your expenses during these trips to consider. In other words, unlike planning a wedding in Singapore, there are many extra costs you have to pay for as you do your “recce” before you even start costing for the actual wedding.
You can try to negotiate to get at least two rooms free from the hotel for confirmation purposes. They will usually oblige this and refund the booking once you confirm their venue as the wedding location. Push a hard bargain, and you will also find they have some lee way in giving you certain discounts or perks during your second visit. However, hotels tend not to give away too many rooms for free.
# 3 Family and Friends
It’s great that you’ve invited all your family and friends to come. At this stage, you will know that some family members or extremely close friend will not be able to afford to travel or pay for their accommodations. If you want them there, this will be an extra cost on your end.
In my case, it was tradition to pay for the rooms of direct family members. So this added a big-ticket cost to our overall wedding budget. On the plus side, it made sure our “guaranteed” rooms were being filled.
In Singapore, “Ang Pows” tend to take the centrestage at some wedding. However, during your overseas wedding, you should not expect family and friends to give. This is because some of them have already travelled at a great expense, and they have given you something far more valuable – their time and effort.
Read Also: The True Cost Of A Wedding In Singapore
Anything you do end up getting from friends should be treated as a bonus rather than an expectation. If you do receive a large amount of cash overseas, you also need to take precautions handling it. Designate a “collector” for every event, if you have multiple events. This is extremely important as functions overseas can be more fluid, and letting several different friends or family members collect can lead to negative outcomes, including lost and misplaced “Ang Pows”.
# 4 Check-In Baggage And Customs
This basically refers to getting stuff you need from Singapore to your overseas destination. While I didn’t think it was a big problem, there were more hiccups than I expected.
One trick, to not pay a bomb when you finally travel for your wedding, is to bring stuff along each time you travel to the location during your “recce” trips. This should be in the form of duty-free alcohol (more on that later) and other items needed for traditional or celebration purposes.
The one thing you do not want going missing is the wedding dress, or any other outfits for the matter.
This should only be brought during the wedding trip itself with the most important outfit (i.e. the wedding dress) hand-carried. Grooms do not have to worry about their outfit as much as they can easily purchase suits off the rack at the destination country, if something does go wrong. Not so much for the bride.
If you’re intending to give your guests a door gift or welcome present, bear in mind that customs may stop you if you’re carrying more than 100 pieces of anything.
They will immediately assume you’re trying to sell the items in the country, no matter how vehemently you insist it is for your wedding. It’s a small cost, but a hindrance people don’t even think of.
Weddings also mean a lot of money, to pay vendors who may not accept credit cards, and jewellery for the functions. Most people do not consider this and neither did I, but it is a necessary hedge for downside risk given how much is actually at stake.
# 5 Vendors
Dealing with vendors is another tricky area. Be hard negotiators as prices can be significantly marked-up. They know you’re a tourist whose understanding of local prices is limited.
Know that anything you forget at the initial negotiation is going to come back to bite you in the future. Last minute requests will put you at the mercy of the vendors and you may end up grossly overpaying on even the most trivial requests.
Also, I’ve singled out these three vendors to elaborate on as they matter more and can have drastic effects on weddings.
At my wedding, we provided transport for transfers from airport to hotel and from hotel to airport. No matter how well you plan for seating, people will get lost or held up at the airport, or miss their flights entirely.
Additional transport arrangements need to be made, and since they are being charged per trip, the cost of these transfers will add up.
There’s really no way to get around this except negotiating with the vendor after the wedding for “excess trips”. They may give you a “friendlier” rate.
Alcohol consumption can be really costly, especially when you’re paying “premium hotel rates”.
Some things you can do to get around this would be to negotiate a corkage fee with the hotel to allow you to bring alcohol from outside. You then need to consider how to get alcohol from outside.
There are basically two avenues, and you need to pursue both.
One – get as many family and friends to purchase duty-free alcohol for you on the way to the overseas destination, and make sure you buy as much duty-free alcohol as possible on your trips to book the venue.
Two – get in touch with a local supplier, through your wedding planner or otherwise. They will be slightly more expensive, due to a combination of having to pay out commission to your planner and for profits, but necessary in case you run out.
During the functions, you have to continue keeping a vigilant lookout on alcohol consumption as they can be easily be pilfered and passed off as “consumed by guests”. This is prevalent for alcohol because they have the best resale value among all your wedding items. One simple way would be to ask the hotel staff to keep the corkage or caps for all alcohol bottles opened.
Decoration can be scary as there literally is no limit to the budget, depending on what you want.
As much as possible, try to use what the hotel provides and the natural beauty of your overseas destination.
# 6 Payment, Taxes and Damages
This is more like the miscellaneous headaches you deal with at the end of the wedding.
At the end of the wedding, you have to make payment. If you haven’t been attentive throughout the process, don’t be surprised when an additional service or government tax is slapped on your bill.
During the negotiation stage, ensure all the numbers you’re talking about includes the relevant taxes.
During weddings, there are also bound to be some damages. These could be caused by your guests during the functions. Rest assured that the hotel is keeping tabs and letting you enjoy your wedding till payment time comes.
If you enjoy a good rapport with the hotel staff, again, certain things can be overlooked. You just have to ask nicely.
Lastly, remember to check your bill in great details. From experience, the bill we received had some double charges and some missing charges. Again, rest assured that the hotel would call you up weeks or months after the event to try to get you to settle the missing charges while conveniently forgetting any double charges. Till date, I have not heard of anyone who’s had an overseas wedding telling me the hotel called to give them a refund.
Read Also: Basic Guide To The Cost Of A Wedding
Just Enjoy Your Big Day
Most of the things I’ve highlighted here should be done at the planning or post wedding stage. It takes a lot of effort, but what you get is a lifetime of great memories.
You are going to get hit one way or another no matter how detailed your planning is. So don’t be overly tensed or worried during the wedding. Also, once there, your worries should be off your shoulder, the large price tag should not affect you as you’ve already considered it and went ahead with the wedding.