♦ Plan to marry in a civil ceremony in the U.S., preferably before departing for the religious ceremony. After a destination wedding, you may be married in the eyes of God, but not according to city hall. Most foreign countries have red tape that makes legal marriage for foreigners difficult or outright impossible. This ranges from lengthy waiting periods — for witnesses as well as bride and groom — to blood tests and citizenship requirements. In many countries, the legal officiate must be a representative of the local government — or even of the state church!
♦ Book your rabbi first — preferably at least six months in advance. That’s the advice of Rabbi Suzanne Carter, a founding member of the International Federation of Rabbis. The consortium of freelance, mostly non-denominational rabbis is a resource for those looking for flexible, English-speaking officiates; with members located throughout North America, Europe and the Pacific, you can find someone to bless your vows in Fiji or Finland. But demand is high and rabbis relatively few, and they obviously can’t double-book for a wedding in Mallorca. So line up your rabbi before you book that villa (intfedrabbis.org).
♦ Historic synagogues are romantic, but odds are good your wedding will take place elsewhere. Europe and Latin America are peppered with stunning antique temples that breathe history; frequently located with the narrow warrens of medieval or colonial districts, these structures invite New World Jews to connect with a Jewish past. But Jewish communities outside the U.S. tend to be more traditional in practice, and the bar to marry within one of these shuls can be quite high. It’s common for a synagogue to demand documentation (preferably ketubot) testifying to Jewish parentage for both bride and groom, and sometimes all four grandparents — paperwork many Americans would be hard-pressed to produce. Interfaith unions are usually a no-no. Separation of the sexes can be strict, as can dress codes (the strapless gowns so popular in New York are off-limits in some Caribbean shuls, temperature notwithstanding). And fees to use the facility can easily climb into the thousands, even without use of the local rabbi.
♦ Take advantage of the uniqueness of your locale by arranging group sightseeing. “Instead of getting to see people for four hours, you can spend four days together with the people you’re closest to in the world,” says Rabbi Stephen Spiegel, who officiates in the Yucatan. You may not take your vows inside the historic temple, but you can tour it together with an English-speaking guide, stroll through the Jewish quarter, picnic on the beach, or take in local museums —all of them made more memorable by both the occasion and the company.