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How to get married in Italy

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How to get married in Italy
A wedding in the hills of Tuscany. File photo: Pixabay
10:28 CEST+02:00
Getting married in Italy, one of the most romantic countries in the world, is a popular choice. But the planning process is not always straightforward. Whether you’re living in Italy or have your heart set on a destination wedding, here’s everything I learned from planning my own Italian wedding.

The first time I started questioning our decision to get married in the south of Italy was when the manager of a potential wedding venue told me: "Twelve courses for lunch is standard. No, we can’t do any less. But we can do more if you like."

We'd chosen Puglia – the heel of the Italian ‘boot’, famous for its abundant food and over-the-top wedding celebrations – simply because that’s where my now-husband is from and where his family lives.

The region has great weather, incredible food and fairytale wedding venues. It's also surprisingly good value for money. Our other option - gettimg married in the UK - just couldn't compete. So for us the location was an easy decision to make.

But as I soon found out, planning a wedding in Italy as a non-Italian comes with plenty of surprises and challenges; from old-school traditions to a confusing bureaucratic process.

I was months into the planning process before I fully understood just how very different weddings in Italy - particularly the south - are from what we're used to back home.

In fact, I was still learning these things the hard way right up until the days before the wedding. Stressful? Just a bit.

So to help you avoid the same stress, here’s a practical guide to organising your own wedding in Italy.

Location, location

There are all kinds of stunning wedding venues up and down the country, from castles to vineyards or beachfront hotels. The most popular destination wedding spots in Italy are Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast, where plenty of venues have experience of catering for non-Italian couples.

The simplest and cheapest option is to get married at the town hall. It's not a bad option. A lot of Italian town halls are incredibly grand and beautiful buildings that resemble museums or palaces, even those in small towns.

The other options are the church or a civil ceremony at a licensed venue - where the town hall's official, perhaps even the mayor, will come out to for a hefty fee (normally up to 500 Euros.)

Italy has some incredible wedding venues. File photo: Pixabay.

Wherever you choose to get married in Italy, the logistics can be tricky for non-Italians.

Don't get married hundreds of miles away from an airport, and don't underestimate the amount of time you'll need to spend helping your guests book flights, hotels, car hire and answering random questions about all sorts of other things, especially if they've never been to Italy before.

And sadly, the fact is that if you’re getting married abroad, a lot of people just aren’t going to be able to make it.

My family made it into a week-long holiday. Some friends scrimped and saved for months to pay for the trip. Others just chose not to come, for various reasons, and that stung more than I expected it to. Especially when my now-husband's family were intent on inviting every last neighbour and long-lost third cousin, as southern Italian weddings tend to be very big celebrations.

The language barrier

If you don’t speak Italian, you’ll need a wedding planner (or bilingual local friend) to help. There are lots of local English-speaking planners who’ll be able to translate not only the language but the cultural differences.

If you can't afford to hire someone to plan the whole thing, some offer individual services like translations or help with paperwork.

Even if you speak Italian and live in Italy, a planner is always helpful. But if the budget doesn’t allow for it, you can get by without - as we did - as long as at least one of you speaks the language fluently.

Bureaucracy

No one wants to think about wedding paperwork when there are cakes to be tasted. But if you get the right help and information, you can manage it.

The paperwork needed depends on where you come from, where you live now, and various other factors.

If you both live outside Italy, you’ll need to go and give notice at your local town hall and then get a couple of documents officially translated. Your local town hall should have all the information you need.

If you live in Italy and one or both of you has Italian residency, you’ll need to make an appointment with your country’s embassy in Rome to give notice and get a certificate of no impediment, called a nulla osta, which costs about 100 euros. Requirements vary for different nationalities.

You’ll then give notice at the comune of the town where you have residency - and for civil ceremonies, also at the town where you’re getting married, if it’s different.

We ended up having to give notice three times - once at the British embassy in Rome, once in the town we live in, and then again at the town we got married in.

For us, Italian bureaucracy fully lived up to its reputation. The amount of things that were miscommunicated between these three points was incredible, so make sure you follow up on everything and make sure paperwork has been sent and received - and actually has your wedding date written on it. (They forgot to do that on ours, and we found out two weeks before the wedding that our officiant was double-booked.)

In the UK you generally would book your civil ceremony official as soon as you book your venue, which could be up to two years before the big day.

But here in Italy, you can't give notice until six months before the wedding - meaning you can’t book the officiant until then either.

I dread to think how much the paperwork cost for our wedding in total. But the embassy fees, numerous stamps, and registar fees added up to at least 700 euros - that's without factoring in the cost of several trips to Rome, and the time we had to take off work.

Witnesses

Like elsewhere, you'll need two witnesses. They can be friends, relatives, or pretty much anyone really, but you will need to give their details and copies of their passports to the town hall a few weeks before the wedding.

As a side note: if you ask an Italian friend to be a witness, they might turn white and start stammering about previous commitments. It's not because they don't love you, but Italian tradition (at least in the south) says witnesses are expected to give large sums of money - at least a thousand euros - as a wedding gift!

Church weddings

In Italy, both of you will usually need to be Catholic, and if you're not Italian residents you may need a letter from your church back home. The rules can vary though so it's always worth checking with the church itself.

A wedding in Florence, Italy. File photo.

Finding suppliers

I wasn't looking forward to shopping around for suppliers in Italian.

But I was surprised and relieved to learn that a lot of reception venues in Italy include your cake, flowers, and various other ‘extras’ in the price of your meal. It’s rare to find venues where you’ll need to decorate or set up anything yourself.

However, if your tastes are anything but ultra-traditional you may struggle with finding some suppliers locally.

READ ALSO: The top 10 places to get married in Italy

Wedding dress shopping was very tricky. I found bridal boutiques here more expensive than those in the UK, customer service was always lacking, and styles tend to be a little outdated - and very traditional.

Most dresses are designed with church weddings in mind, and dress shop assistants balked at my request for something a little more unusual.

For me, dress shopping in Italy was not an enjoyable experience and I wished I'd done it in the UK. I did eventually figure out that you can have a dress custom made here for the same price as the off-the-rack styles, and that's what I did.

One thing I did source in the UK was our photographer. I met dozens of Italian wedding photographers, but all of them went for a very formal, soft-focus style and all of them were very expensive. Not only was it easier to find a more creative photographer in the UK, I found that incredibly it even worked out cheaper for them to fly over.

One of our wedding photos, by the excellent Kate Jackson Photography.

Timing

Italians have a well-earned reputation for being laid back, and nothing about that changes when you’re planning a wedding.

The most stressful thing for me was dealing with suppliers who took their time. Just make lots of notes and be prepared to chase them up instead of having them contact you about fittings or appointments. Because they won't.

If you're getting married in August or September, make sure you have everything organised before the August holidays start. Everything will be closed. For weeks.

To avoid stress on the actual day, my advice is to leave a lot of time in your schedule for things to overrun. 

The organisers at our venue insisted they'd keep to a tight schedule, but I wasn't convinced. After all, I didn't arrive in Italy yesterday. So I put my own, more realistic timings on the programmes (much to the organisers' irritation) and these turned out to be accurate.

And if you're a punctual bride, try not to be. No one will be expecting the ceremony to actually start at the time you’ve put on your invitation. Our guests were surprised, and a bit put out, when I arrived a mere ten minutes late.

Understanding local customs

Weddings in Italy are usually traditional, often Catholic affairs, without the added extras common in other countries. For example, Italian couples will usually just have two witnesses, instead of a wedding party of best man, maid of honour, bridesmaids and groomsmen.

While there's no reason foreign couples shouldn't bring their own traditions with them, it's still useful to understand how weddings tend to work in Italy. This way, you'll avoid crossed wires with suppliers and venues.

If either of you is Italian, be prepared to compromise often when trying to navigate the wedding traditions of two different cultures.

In our case, that meant me getting used to the idea that his family would be very involved in the planning, and them getting used to the idea that we wouldn't be following all the usual traditions.

And instead of choosing between a three-course dinner and that blowout 12-course Puglian banquet, we found a different venue that was happy to create a six-course tasting menu that kept everyone happy.

Planning a wedding abroad can be a little trickier than at home. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the day you really want, wherever you decide to get married.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about planning a wedding in Italy

A version of this article was first published in 2018

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