Marriage is in the cards for us, but we want to elope! How do we do it?
July 14, 2014 9:14 AM   Subscribe

We want to elope. How do we do it? What does it cost? What things do I need to think about? Ideally, I would love to have a target cost to shoot for.

I've went from lonely guy to very happy inside a year, and we've mulled over the idea of marriage at some point down the road. That's great, and I'm all for it. We even agree that we want to elope. Instead of kicking the can down the road and forgetting about this for a couple of years, I want to try to determine exactly how much this could cost, what I would need to do, etc.?

Are there any good resources for this? Sites that can help? Experiences from others who have done this before?

I've noticed there are, in some cases, lengthy legal things that must be done beforehand, so that would be one issue I'd love to know more about. How much do these things generally cost?

Any help would be appreciated!
posted by MMALR to Work & Money (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Where do you live and how far are you willing to travel to elope? Eloping could be as cheap as a very small application/ceremony fee at your local courthouse or county clerk's office, but this depends on where you live.
posted by muddgirl at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is totally dependent on location. Some states have marriage residency requirements, some have requirements that you apply for a marriage certificate 24 hours, or more, before you can get married, etc.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:18 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're in the U.S., United States Marriage License Laws to start, but verify at the appropriate website of your state and/or locality.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:20 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

We got eloped in San Francisco city hall prior to our 'real' wedding. It cost about $160 all in, for the license and the ceremony.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:20 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Visit the website for the circuit court of the county that you live in. I guarantee that they have a page on marriage requirements.

I think we got our marriage license a month before. Had to go in person to the courthouse together. It was maybe $50 for that and $50 for the officiant. It was extremely not complicated.
posted by radicalawyer at 9:22 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's a book called "Let's Elope" which is now very dated, but does have some good general advice. has a pretty good forum.

No one can answer how much things cost unless we know where you want to get married, etc. In our case, we got a marriage license at our county office. It was around $80. We got married in San Francisco, which is in the same state but a different county. To actually get married, we just put the call out to our friends. One is able to perform marriages legally in CA, and the other did the photography and served as a witness. (Make sure you know the requirements for officiants and witnesses!) We rented the Japanese garden in an SF hotel for about $250, just so we'd have a nice setting. (We did consider just doing it in city hall with the city officials, but this seemed a little nicer.)

Due to demand from loved ones, we set up an registry. People seemed to enjoy sending gifts even though there wasn't an event for them to attend, so who were we to stop them?

Prepare for disappointment from friends and family, even people you might not expect, that they weren't there on Your Special Day. We sort of circumvented this by announcing our party in our hometown at a city-owned facility. It was inexpensive (much cheaper than a typical reception) and still fun. Our party was a year later, on our first anniversary, but we shouldn't have waited so long. (We were both in grad school and didn't have much choice.)

We spent the money we might have spent on a small wedding on an awesome honeymoon in Japan. :D

I have a few regrets about how things worked out, because I know people would have really liked to have been there, but in the end, I think it was for the best.
posted by wintersweet at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the major cost of eloping is going to be the travel. Do you have any ideas about where you want to go?
posted by ftm at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2014

We eloped. The marriage license cost about the same as an ok lunch for two with no drinks, and there was a cooling off period, like for buying a handgun -- you had to get the license then wait a day or two before getting married. The hardest thing was finding an available officiant. In other words, it's no big deal, and was less complicated than renewing your drivers license.

A lot of hotels and resorts specialize in this if you want to go somewhere nice -- you tell them when you book the room and they handle the paperwork. That would be the nicest option and is what I'd do if I was doing it again.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:32 AM on July 14, 2014

My husband and I eloped in 2000 in Las Vegas. We got married at the County Clerks office. The whole affair took about an hour including filling out forms and cost $70. We still do not regret it!
posted by Sophie1 at 9:42 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I eloped to Toronto in 2007. Excluding travel and lodging, it took two days (license on Friday, scheduled ceremony with a judge on Saturday) and cost under $200, including the foreign currency charges that my credit card hit me with.
posted by MeghanC at 9:51 AM on July 14, 2014

It depends in part on where you are and what you mean by "elope." If you mean "court house marriage, no big wedding" it may not be instantaneous but does not have to be spendy. If you are in a bit of a hurry, traveling a smidge might speed things up and may or may not involve more money.

I eloped many years ago. We needed to have blood tests done beforehand, which involved a small wait. We spent $60 on simple gold wedding bands. In addition to blood tests, marriage license, and rings, we also had cab fair, dinner and a movie as part of our expenses. I think the total for everything was around $180 (and we could have left out dinner and movie if cost had been a big concern).

When I was growing up in Columbus Georgia, I heard that quickie marriages could be had by going across the state line into Phenix City, Alabama. From what I heard, they did not require blood tests and thus there was no delay. You could just go to the court house and get hitched.

So: A) find out what the local laws are and b) if those are not to your tastes, see if the laws are different a short drive away and c) there is always Las Vegas if you are able to travel.
posted by Michele in California at 9:58 AM on July 14, 2014

Las Vegas is the traditional choice because the marriage license bureau is open from 8am-midnight (used to be 24 hours) 7 days a week (including holidays) and there's no waiting period or residency requirement to get married in Nevada. Most of the wedding chapels in the immediate vicinity of the marriage license bureaus take walk-ins. Then you enjoy the rest of your trip to Vegas as your honeymoon.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:06 AM on July 14, 2014

Response by poster: I apologize for leaving out an important detail...

We'd prefer this to be a destination elopement, preferably somewhere warm. We've looked into St. Croix, St. Lucia, and Puerto Rico, but I'm up for any other suggestions. We live in the Chicago area.
posted by MMALR at 10:26 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Florida Keys? No waiting period for non-residents, ceremony itself can be performed by "ordained clergy, judiciary, State of Florida notaries, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, and Deputy Clerks," and a quick internet search turns up many hotels (and other businesses) offering elopement packages at different price points (plus a few discussions on TripAdvisor).
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:45 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

If either of you has been married before, you'll need proof of divorce in hand when you applynfkr your license. And given that this can take as long as a few weeks to secure (depending on what state you got divorced in) that's a potentially major hitch in your hitching. So if this applies, get on that part sooner rather than later.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:46 AM on July 14, 2014

Best answer: A friend of mine got married in the Bahamas at a big resort with a small circle of friends and family. She loved that everything was included in the package - you had a few choices for cake and decor and such. I'm sure if you decide on a country/city that you can call some hotels and resorts there and they will tell you everything you need and what they offer.
posted by radioamy at 10:54 AM on July 14, 2014

The most lengthy legal process comes up if one of you has either not started or not finalized a divorce, even if you are legally separated it still must be done. If that's the case you'll want to ask a divorce lawyer about costs.

If you don't have to deal with that legal things should not be all that lengthy or complex wherever you go.
posted by yohko at 12:54 PM on July 14, 2014

Best answer: Mr. Nerd and I eloped in Maui. No blood tests, and no waiting period, IIRC.

We stayed here: Hale Kai
We used this guy, and his wife was our photographer and witness: Dolphin Dream Weddings

I think we spent a total of two grand, which included airfare from LAX, a week at the Hale Kai, the clothes, the rings, and the ceremony. Of course, this was 14 years ago, so the prices may have changed.
posted by luckynerd at 1:24 PM on July 14, 2014

We eloped to the Hartness House in Springfield, Vermont.

They even have an elopement package! It cost us maybe $1200 total because we paid for the room the two friends we had come used. The stay came with a number of meals included. We paid the photographer we hired, and we tipped the Justice of the Peace who married us.

It was a charming place. They helped with everything. It was really easy. I planned my entire wedding in two weeks of August. We were married two months later.

We ordered formal announcements to mail out from the place most of my friend's got their wedding invitations. Those were maybe about $100. So I had those ready to go for when we got back and mailed them out the week after we got married.

How much it costs and how much you spend is very personal. We were extremely low budget and loved it! It was perfect. So I started by looking at places we could afford and then at convenience of the location, and the everything fell into place after that. My thoughts on eloping were that I was doing it to avoid stress of a regular wedding, so if anything about it was causing me stress, I said, "I don't need this!" and tossed it aside.
posted by zizzle at 5:18 PM on July 14, 2014

As wintersweet said, "Prepare for disappointment from friends and family, even people you might not expect, that they weren't there on Your Special Day."
posted by Cranberry at 11:53 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

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