Getting married in Portugal is one of the best choices you could make for your wedding abroad. Even those who go there for holidays can’t help but marvel at all the wonderful things the country has to offer, like the food, views, marvellous weather, hospitality… There are plenty of reasons why it makes the perfect wedding destination too, especially where budgets are concerned. Here is our expert guide to help you get started.
How to choose your perfect Portuguese wedding location
We asked Claudia Gameiro, professional at Lisbon Wedding Planner, to tell us just what it is that Irish couples love the most about Portugal in general, and Algarve in particular. She says: “first, it’s the great weather – the sun, the blue skies, and beautiful romantic sunsets. There’s over 3000 hours of sunshine in Portugal per year, which means you can marry in the sun all year round, not just in the summer. The options for venues are endless – beach, country, indoors, outdoors… you really have a spectacular choice here. Of course, with weather like this, you can count on fantastic sun-drenched photos against the blue skies.”
When it comes to easy planning, Portugal ticks all the boxes. It’s still a fairly undiscovered gem, so weddings are very affordable. The travel costs are low, with budget flights from Ireland to key Portuguese destinations, and reasonably priced accommodations, which is great for the couple and the guests. The Mediterranean food is incredible, especially the seafood. It’s easy to communicate with the locals, as many of them speak English well, if not fluently.
Claudia says, ‘there are two things that are most important to mention about getting married in Portugal. First, same sex civil weddings are legal here, without many complicated requirements you may find in other countries. Secondly, there’s no limitation on drinks. Wedding menus include all the wine your guests can drink at dinner; we don’t have such a thing as ‘a bottle of wine per table’. Also, most venues offer an open bar for a set period of time during the reception. For example, Villa Sao Paulo has full open bar for 4 hours starting from the cutting of the cake.”
Image of Villa Sao Paulo courtesy of Lisbon Wedding Planner
Best places to get married in Portugal
In Portugal, it’s easy to arrange a wedding that’s guided mostly by your wishes, and not so much the price, thanks to affordably priced packages and suppliers. And because you’ll likely have more flexibility in your budget, you can pretty much choose your favourite place and time, as long as you book long enough in advance. The following places tend to be the top favourites:
Estoril-Cascais region of the Lisbon Coast for couples whose tastes are more cosmopolitan with a touch of history. Villa Sao Paulo is one of the most popular venues by the sea in that area.
The Algarve is often the top choice for couples who like a more active stay, with golf and beach, which the guests love as well.
The Sintra region on the Lisbon Coast is the favourite option for grandeur, history and vintage style, with venues like Moorish Castle and The Quinta being very popular.
Hiring a Portuguese wedding planner
As we’ve already mentioned, most Portuguese people speak English, which may tempt couples to have a go at organising a wedding themselves. As for any wedding abroad, this is certainly possible, but not advisable. A planner can do everything from getting the best prices to taking away all the planning headaches. But do be careful and hire someone highly recommended, reputable and who has organised their fair share of weddings, with good feedback from other Irish couples. Nowadays, it’s easy to set up a business with a website and pretty pictures that promise a lot, but it’s actual experience that counts when organising such an important day.
Claudia also has a word to say about the cultural differences that may affect you if you’re planning the wedding yourself. She says, “it’s a perfectly natural thing in the Portuguese culture to leave things until the last minute – we’re not strictly taught to prepare for everything far in advance. Coming up with frantic, last-minute improvisations that somehow work is considered one of the most valued skills in Portugal, and situations seemingly on the brink are handled efficiently, professionally, and usually with great results. This approach means that even if something goes wrong, you can count on your planner to resolve the situation, even at the last minute. However, it also means that if you contact anyone more than a year before your planned wedding date, it’s simply too soon. Avoid making enquiries too far in advance – your chosen venue may not yet have any packages for 2016 or 2017.”
Real wedding at The Quinta courtesy of My Vintage Wedding in Portugal
The seasons vs the costs
Luckily for Irish couples, beautiful blue skies are pretty much guaranteed all year round. Claudia says: “depending where you’re from, it’s very likely the temperature will always be warmer than in your home town. Even in the winter, when it’s cooler, you still get many beautiful sunny days and flowers. Of course, the best thing about a winter wedding is the low prices. From April to June the days are the longest and flowers are everywhere, with prices increasing accordingly. The beaches aren’t crowded yet, so those are the perfect months to get married by the water. The summer holidays run from July to September, so expect bigger local crowds, more tourists and higher prices. Then comes October – a fabulous month for a wedding, with perfect temperatures and lower prices again. In November, we have the legend of São Martinho that delivers the summer back again, and we prepare special delicacies with chestnuts, like chestnut soup or roasted chestnuts.”
Image courtesy of Lisbon Wedding Planner
The legal requirements of getting married in Portugal
As with most weddings abroad, the law is changeable, so the information you find online from former brides may no longer be valid. Always check with the local Irish authorities about the current laws – do not rely on what you read online. If you’ve hired a reputable wedding planner, they’ll be up to date on all the latest requirements and will advise you accordingly. But you should still verify the information with an Irish embassy. While you may not be able to book a wedding more than a year in advance, you can certainly start planning the paperwork and finding out what documents you need to file and when. Leave no less than 12 months before you start, lest you run out of time.
At the time of writing, there’s no legal residency requirement for a wedding, but you must arrange for your non-impediment certificate to be ready no less than 6 months prior to the wedding, with the help of the Irish embassy. If you don’t speak Portuguese, you’ll be required to hire an official translator to ensure you understand the ceremony. If you’re planning a church wedding, you’ll be pleased to know many priests speak English and will be delighted to perform your ceremony. However, a Catholic ceremony may only take place inside a church, and not elsewhere. A church ceremony in Portugal is legally binding.
As usual with most weddings abroad, you have the option of getting legally wed at home, and then jetting off to Portugal for a ceremony of your dreams and the reception.
Image courtesy of Garrett at Algarve Wedding Photography
All the wedding bits and bobs
As Portugal is only a short flight away, you may be tempted to bring some wedding things with you… bits of décor, favours, etc. We say, as with any wedding that involves anything more than a simple limo ride, don’t worry about it. Get your dress to Portugal in perfect condition, and that’s all you need to worry about. A wedding abroad has a special charm and uniqueness because of its local and cultural influences, so it’s best to leave it to your planner. And, we can’t stress this enough – when your planner is a reputable one, you’re guaranteed everything will be beautifully arranged.
This, in fact, is one of the most attractive things about getting married abroad. There are so many things you simply don’t have to put on your to-do list, because they’ll all be waiting for you already when you arrive.
Hiring a photographer abroad
While the planner may already have a wedding photographer they work with regularly, it’s the couple who have the final say – after all, it’s a true record of your special day. We asked Garrett at Algarve Wedding Photography, a well-known local professional, to give us some tips about how to deal with hiring a photographer in another country. He says: ‘it’s essential you get clear and detailed correspondence on all agreements you made before the wedding. As you would at home before you hire anyone, do your research and look into more than their website portfolio. Ask to see some examples of full weddings, or use Google to find a full real wedding. This will show you whether the photographer is sharing just a few edited shots, or whether the quality is good throughout, especially in the photos that matter to you personally – like family shots, for example. When you email them to ask questions, pay attention to how professional they are in their responses. Don’t be afraid to ask to make special arrangements for an exciting photoshoot away from the wedding. Algarve has so many stunning locations, you may not have time on the wedding day itself for all the gorgeous scenery pictures. I’m always happy to arrange a separate adventure, like a boat trip or a jeep safari, or even ‘trash the dress’ session, so the couple can have a truly memorable time and the most beautiful photos they could dream of.”
Finally, some useful links for further reading:
Image courtesy of Garrett at Algarve Wedding Photography
Main image courtesy of thetig.com