This Ultimate Guide Covers Every Stage of the Elopement Planning Process in BC
Have you watched Marriage or Mortgage on Netflix? Essentially, a real estate agent and a mortgage broker compete for a couples budget. If you feel like you'd opt for the down payment 100% of the time, and the idea of a large wedding doesn't make your heart sing, then this article is here to convince you to find an awesome location, throw away the rule book, and "run away together."
BC has a variety of incredible options for elopements and this ultimate guide is here to cover all aspects of how to elope in bc.
The word "elopement" can refer to anything from a shotgun wedding to micro-weddings with a low guest count higher than 10. They also includes "signing ceremonies." This style of ceremony, popularized during Covid-19, is when you sign your marriage papers, then plan a larger reception at a later date. According to Rocky Mountain Bride, the average wedding in the rocky mountains is $30,717. According to Wedding Wire, the average Canadian wedding is $29,500. Comparatively, the cost of Eloping in BC can range from $2000 - $15,000 depending on your vision, location and vendor preferences.
Whatever's attracting you to eloping in British Columbia, there are many practical benefits. Skipping out on complicated guest lists and large catering and venues bills, and focusing on an experience driven celebration, has become increasingly popular. Yes, you can completely avoid having a crowd watch you make out with your partner.
These days, a BC elopement ceremony doesn't need much else beyond a marriage commissioner, the couple, some rings, and two witnesses. Many elopements are experience driven celebrations that are often planed with two weeks to 1 year notice. With all this in mind, it may surprise you to learn that planning an elopement still requires many of the same decisions as traditional weddings.
There aren't nearly as many traditions that come with eloping. They're truly all about ditching the pressures of planning a huge party and celebrating your love story. To make the day special and memorable, I highly recommend planning your elopement well in advance. This way you can choose to involve your favourite people and wedding vendors in your ceremony.
My best advice for planning an elopement, that works with your goals, values and budget is this:
Picture Marie Kondo as your wedding planner. If it doesn't spark joy, remove it.
Keep reading to enjoy a step by step overview of how to plan an elopement.
Where to next?
CHOOSE YOUR VIBE AND BREAK THE NEWS
Weather you're all for traditions, or keen to create your own, the vibe of your elopement day is up to you. For it to be a legal ceremony, you will need to exchange rings, vows before an officiant, have to witnesses co sign your papers.
In terms of activities, elopement days can include things that are sentimental to you. This can include catching live music at your favourite bar, or planning a vow reading in the great outdoors. Weather or not your send out save the dates and invitations is up to you.
From there, dive into Pinterest, and magazines like Rocky Mountain Bride and JuneBug Weddings. They will give you ideas for your dream elopement – just be mindful that no two images will exactly the same. Even small weddings are worthy of a mood board and colour pallet to help curate and communicate your vision to your team. Before you begin booking your vendors and travel, be sure to plan your budget. This will influence every other aspect of your planning.
Pick a location & Accommodations in BC
There are many stunning elopement locations throughout the west coast, interior and northern bc. The iconic mountain peaks, forests, gulf islands and ocean views are all epic places with stunning views to get married.
Look for a spot that is comfortable and accessible for you and your guests. Seeking out locations with a wow factor will make this day most special for you both. It may be challenging to bring the archway you love (or a grandma) to a location that isn't easily accessible.
While making these decisions can be challenging, your relationship is likely full of ideas. If you like skiing or snowboarding together, the whistler elopements are likely a great fit for your love story. If you're big surfers, then Tofino may be a great fit. If you love dining together, maybe opt for your favourite restaurant in downtown vancouver suits you both the best.
It's important to feel yourself on your elopement day. If you're terrified of heights, don't talk yourself into a heli elopement for the sake of the photos!
Reflect on weather you'd like to be able to sleep in your own bed at the end of the night or visit a unique destination once or again and again. That's why a road trip to a boutique hotel near the moraine lakes of Lake Louise is a fun yet practical option for some. For others, it may be flying to Bali or the Dolomites of Italy.
If you're looking for specific locations or ideas, feel free to ask your photographer!
Some great locations in the Greater Victoria and Sooke area include:
- Saxe Point,
- Clover Point,
- Weirs Beach,
- Abhikazi Garden,
- Jordan River,
- Sombrio Beach,
- Goldstream Park,
- Starling Lane,
- Penny Lane at the Penny Farthing
- The Empress Hotel if you want somewhere more formal.
Pick a Date & Plan for Weather
You now have a budget and some awesome ideas - great! Before you can book or plan additional services, securing your date and then your location is key. There are many factors that shape date choices including school schedules, careers, vacation time, kids, and visas. Factors, such as seasons and weather, can also influence your date and location options for your elopement.
Weather can be a big factor if you're planning a heli - elopement in BC. For example, if you want to elope on a glacier in Whistler, or Banff, I recommend planning a range of dates. Since helicopters fly by sight, you often need to plan a minimum 3 day window to fly and a back up location in case the visibility simply isn't available. Because BC has highly unpredictable weather, ensuring that you can be comfortable all day is a must. Clear umbrellas, tents, and sheltered locations are ideal, especially in the non-summer months. For the most accurate predictions, look at the historic data of your your chosen location.
Keep in mind, that the most iconic and photogenic scenery, often attracts crowds of tourists to BC. If at all possible it's best visiting these locations outside of peak times on busy weekends. For that reason, weekdays make excellent choices for elopements, due to costs and vendor availability. If you wish to book a popular vendor for a Saturday in the summer months, plan to start looking at least 12 months in advance.
It's important to decide what your elopement day (or weekend entails). Some couples choose to sign their papers with an officiant, rings and two witnesses prior to an adventure style elopement. Then they plan a special destination to read vows and take their photos.
Budget & Book your Photographer, Vendors and planning team
In the months prior to eloping in British Columbia, be sure to book artistic, punctual and reliable vendors, with great communication. They are key to help making your special day memorable and enjoyable. If you have a specific style in mind, then they need to be able to tackle your mood board and work with your colour palette to bring your goals to life.
Planning and Coordination (4 - 12 months out)
Depending on the scale of your celebration, logistics, and time constraints you may wish to hire an elopement planner. Elopement planners typically coordinate all the logistics including permits, locations, extra decorations and seating. Asking them or another vendor that you've already booked (and love) for recommendations is a great way to find vetted folks to add to your team.
Here's an example of what full service planning can look like:
- Personal consultation and planning
- Coordination of the day
- Detailed itinerary of the event
- BC marriage officiant
- Bride(s) bouquet(s)
- Groom(s) boutonniere(s)
- Bridal hair & makeup
- 2h professional photography
- Two witnesses
- Marriage licence assistance
- Signing table
- Wedding cake for two
- Access to curated locations list
- Rain Plan
Meals (3 - 12 months out)
I say to plan your meals, versus booking a caterer, because there are a diversity of acceptable elopement day meals. Ordering a pizza, crushing a taco, dining or catering are all valid. Depending on your location and style of celebration, you may wish to dine at a small restaurant, order takeout or co-host a bbq at the end of the night. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you have a plan to keep yourself nourished and your blood sugars up throughout the day. A charcuterie box is a great option for a stylish treat while you're on the go. Cakes are still a popular option for those eloping, so if you'd like it, be sure to have a plan to transport it and keep it chilled.
Book a Florist (3 - 12 months out)
Florals can include bouquets, boutonnieres, and installations including hair, archways and cake toppers. They always provide a lush formality and beautiful texture for the occasion. While some may opt for grocery store or diy florals, the artistic talent of a great florist is always a wonderful addition to your day. Take a moment to review a florist's portfolio, and to determine a budget well in advance. Some florals can be large ticket items. Speak to your florist early on about which flowers are in season to guage what will be available.
Beauty services (3 - 12 months out)
Depending on the location of your elopement, hair and beauty services may be limited, but I highly recommend booking them. These stylists are truly pros at planning a hair and makeup style that works with the environment the day of. In most cases they offer fully mobile services. How you want to look on your wedding day is deeply personal – opting for water poof makeup is always recommended. Hair styles that keep your away from your face, will allow for your photographer to best capture your reactions. I always recommend a fresh fade or beard trim for the gents as well.
Wedding attire (3 - 12 months out)
There are endless ideas for elopement style, but many opt for a formal look. Depending on your style and location, I highly recommend attire that allows for movement, provides support and flexibility, especially if you've planned a day full of hiking. While you're welcome to slip into a pair of heels for photos, those won't make sense on a trail. For heli elopements in the rocky mountains, companies typically ask guests to wear supportive footwear, and pack hats, and gloves. Custom gowns often need to be ordered up to 12 months in advance but some companies can do rush orders with 3 months notice.
Book a Videographer (3 - 12 months out)
Videography has become very popular in the last 10 years for those with room in their budget. If you'd like to relive or share your day with special folks who aren't present, this is an excellent way to relive and share your ceremony experience.
Décor and Leaving No Trace (3 - 12 months out)
While décor for many elopements is often minimal, arches, signing tables, rugs and string lights can still set an aesthetic ambiance, for the ceremony you're planning. The most important part is to plan to leave no trace - that means confetti, cans, or other things should never be left over after you celebrate.
Photography (4 - 18 months out)
Great photographers are high in demand, which is why I highly recommend getting in touch with your photographer as soon as you know your dates and locations. Depending on the scale of what you're planning, your photographer may be able to provide to assist with permit planning, vendor and location recommendations, and answering the questions your need for your elopement to come together without the assistance of a planner. Photographer's don't typically provide full service planning unless they specify that they offer "elopement planning and coordination" services.
Book a Marriage Commissioner or Officiant
Equally as important, is booking an officiant to make your marriage official in British Columbia. Officiants are often religious leaders, or, if you're non-religious, a marriage commissioner who is registered with the government of BC. Marriage Commissioners typically start at $78.75. In the busy summer months, try to book your officiant with as much notice as possible.
Some officiants with religious backgrounds, including Catholic priests, may have specific photography policies. Be sure to double check those when booking. You can see the details for marriage commissioners here and search for one here. You may be wondering if you can have a family members or friend marry you?
In BC, unlike the States, it isn't as easy as becoming ordained online. However, there is a work-around! It is possible to do a signing ceremony separate to the main event, and to have a marriage commissioner oversee the paper work at a convenient time. Some couples sign their papers with an officiant, rings and two witnesses before their elopement day. Others then plan a special destination to read vows and take their photos.
Find your Witnesses
Recommended planning time: 1 - 6 months before your date
This is typically a straightforward part. Your witnesses are two people that are 19 years or older. Close friends, two vendors, and family are common choices. This can include your photographer, and videographer, a helicopter pilot, or other folks on the trail. You may be wondering, why you need witnesses. It all began in the days when it was important to validate that the union was agreed upon by all parties. This discouraged the whole forced marriage practice or forgeries - wild, I know.
Recommended planning time: 2 - 12 months before your date
While elopements have a reputation for "winging it" being diligent is important. Liability insurance is valuable to cover illness, damage or injury, or cancellations. The City of Vancouver requires liability insurance (costs $100-$200) in order to get permits for some locations. Factors such as alcohol service and guest number also influence this rage. Some companies that can issue permits quickly include InsureBC and Front Row. I use FrontRow to insure my camera equipment. Don't forget to insure your wedding ring as well!
Secure Location permits
Recommended planning time: 2 - 5 months before your date
Options for Main Land Vancouver & Vancouver Island
Depending on your location, all wedding and BC elopement events will require an event permit. Some venues in British Columbia include these event permits in their fees, so be sure to check with your location. Many municipal and provincial parks have a straightforward process for obtaining a permits. However, many have maximum guest numbers, music and parking, and vehicle traffic limits. Other locations such as the beaches of Tofino on Vancouver Island don't require permits.
City of Victoria
If you do want to get married in Victoria, or elsewhere on Vancouver Island, you need to submit your permit a minimum of 6 weeks before your requested date. The City of Victoria has a variety of park-based wedding options, and it's only $129.91 to reserve an event space for 4-hours. City Hall weddings take place on 4 dates of each year. Wedding photos in any parks do not require a permit.
The Lower Mainland
The City of Vancouver has a clear guide here on how to get a permit for their park spaces or married at city hall. Many parks and beaches host weddings in designated wedding ceremony locations only. These can be booked with a minimum of 4 weeks notice. These wedding applications open in early January of each year.
The City of Vancouver has a variety of park-based wedding options. Those ranges from $105 - $476 1 to reserve an event space for 1 to 4-hours non inclusive of a $50 - $100 chair fee for up to 20 chairs. You can find more information about weddings in the city of Vancouver here.
Obtain a Marriage License
Recommended planning time: 1 - 3 months before your date
A marriage license is paperwork that makes your marriage legitimate. It costs $100 for the form, is non-refundable, and no - you don't have to go to city hall to get one. There are locations throughout British Columbia. You can find one near you here.
Plan to pick one up 1 - 3 months before your wedding.
While you don't need to go together, you will need to bring the ID of each partner. To make it official both your officiant and two witnesses will need to sign it.
Accepted primary identification includes:
- birth certificate
- IMM/immigration form
- Permanent resident card
- Citizenship card
Once you're married, you'll be mailed a marriage certificate by the marriage license issuer at the Vital Statistics Agency. Additional or replacement certificates cost $27.
CONGrats, your day has arrived
Remember, this day is all about your love story and enjoying a day that feel the best for you both. Take it at your own pace, eat your favourite food, and focus on celebrating with your partner and any of your favourite people. If you still need a photographer for your ceremony I would be honoured to connect, assist and explore working together.
Tips from a Vancouver Island Wedding Photographer
Kate is a VAncouver Island photographer that speciaizes in branding, PORTRAITS, Engagements, couples and intimate ceremonies.
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