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How Do You Elope? FAQs About the Legal Side of Eloping

There might not be anything complicated at all about your decision to marry the love of your life—
you might not even have questions about how, where, or when you plan to get married.

But when it comes down the actual logistics and legalities of getting married—that’s’ a different story.

Especially when dealing with elopements.  

Maybe you’ve been dead-set on an elopement for years. Maybe you’re just now really discovering what an elopement truly is. No matter where you land on this spectrum, there are bound to be questions about how elopement legalities work.  

Listen, we get it.

The logistical and legal side of elopements might seem a little bit confusing at first.

They’re different than the traditional weddings you might be more accustomed to, and that (rightfully so) can lead to tons of questions about how they happen, what makes them legal, and what you need to do to ensure that your adventure elopement—as stunning and amazing as it might be—is recognized in the eyes of the law.

We’ve been professional elopement photographers and guides for a few years, and we’ve helped hundreds of couples have the elopement day of their dreams (we’re talking jaw-dropping, exhilarating, and once-in-a-lifetime adventures).

That means we’ve become well-versed on the legalities of elopements and pretty used to fielding questions about them, too.

As always, we’re more than happy to be a source of knowledge for couples who might be interested in eloping, because, the fact of the matter is, sometimes the logistics are dizzying—especially when it comes to destination elopements in different states and countries.

Embrace your questions! We’ve laid out a few the most commonly asked inquiries we get from couples when dealing with elopement legalities and logistics.

Above all, know that how you get married is entirely up to you.

The paperwork and rules that come along with that are truly just, well—paperwork.

That’s all.

What it really comes down to is that on your wedding day, you’re standing there with your partner, experiencing everything you’ve always wanted.

A bride and groom run through a snowy, alpine meadow in their wedding attire. The bride, gathering up her white wedding dress in her hands to reveal her hiking boots underneath, looks at the groom, running alongside her in a light grey suit. Behind them, an enormous, snowy mountain is looming.
A groom picks up his bride and gives her a kiss as they stand in a lush, green and gold field in front of a rocky, dilapidated castle. These elopement pictures were captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement wedding photographer.

Is Eloping Legal?

Don’t feel silly asking this for a second—we get this question all the time and totally understand how it could be a little bit confusing.

It makes sense that an elopement doesn’t really feel like a traditional wedding (which, to be fair, is sort of the point), but that often means that couples are left wondering if their adventurous, stunning elopement is actually legal in the eyes of the law.

It’s totally natural to wonder if getting married at the top of a mountain, or in a desert, or in the wilderness where there’s no one around for miles will technically and legally count as getting married.

The shortest answer we can give you on this is a simple yes. But, it’s also not always that easy.

Yes, technically, an elopement is totally recognized as legal as long as you’re abiding by the rules and regulations of the state or country you’re choosing to get married in.

That being said, your actual elopement day—the day you’re saying your vows, committing your lives to each other, and becoming partners forever—doesn’t absolutely have to include you getting legally married.

By that, we simply mean that if you’re not vibing the rules of the place where you want to elope, you don’t have to get legally married there. You can still have your elopement adventure there, just don’t do the legal stuff. If the waiting period or the rule or the red tape in that place bother you, don’t mess with it.

A lot of couples choose not to let paperwork rule their day. Instead, they have their ceremonies exactly as they want—maybe without an officiant, witnesses, or even signing their licenses—and then deal with legalities at another time,

For a lot of people, the reality of it is this—they get married on the day they say their vows and commit their lives to their partner.

The paperwork, the license, the officiants, the witnesses—all of that can come later (or before) your unique, intentional ceremony.

Do We Need a Wedding Officiant?

This is another short-and-long answer because it totally depends on where you’re planning to elope.

Every state and every country has its own marriage laws, so the requirements are going to vary from place to place.

There are some states that absolutely require you to have an officiant on your wedding day if you want to be legally recognized as married.

Some places (like Virginia) might require that you have a judge, a minister, or a person appointed by the court to act as your officiant.

There are some states that even let you self-solemnize (which, we love and will totally get into in a moment).

The reality is, every single state and country is going to have a different rule on officiants—whether or not you need an officiant to be legally married in that state or country is going to depend on where in the world you are.

That being said, there are a few fun ways to get around that rule while still having the elopement day of your dreams.

First of all, the entire team at Adventure Instead is ordained.

That means, in most cases, we’re legally able to act as your officiants for your wedding. If you don’t want to hire an officiant or bring another person along with you, we can take care of that part for you. And we’ll only be as involved as you want. (There are literally two sentences that we are legally obligated to say to marry you—the rest of the ceremony is totally up to you).

Another way to include an officiant is to have your family members, friends, or other meaningful people get ordained so they can marry you. If you don’t love the idea of having a stranger act as your officiant, then don’t do that.

If you’re dead-set on having your elopement day legally recognized as a wedding day, ask someone important to you to get ordained (it’s easy!).  We’ve seen grandmothers, best friends, siblings, parents, and more (you name it, we’ve seen it) all officiate elopements, and every time, it’s meaningful, beautiful, and super intimate.

You also don’t have to be legally married on the day you choose to elope. For a lot of couples, the logistics and legalities of marriage don’t actually define their marriage at all and aren’t the reason they’re choosing to elope.

Taking care of the legalities another day doesn’t make your elopement any less than a wedding day where you sign on the dotted line.

A bride and groom listen as their Icelandic officiant reads through their elopement ceremony with them. In Iceland, you’re required to have an Icelandic officiant in order to be legally married here, but that’s not always necessary for your elopement day.
Two brides take hands as they stand on the top of a mountain during their elopement ceremony. Nearby, their chosen officiant takes them through their destination elopement ceremony. This is one of the benefits of eloping, you can choose to include an officiant in your destination wedding or not.
A smiling bride puts a wedding ring on her new husbands finger during their elopement ceremony. Behind them, their chosen officiant looks on. These adventure elopement photos were captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement photographer.

What is a Self-Solemnizing Ceremony?

Self-solemnizing is a super awesome law that a few US states abide by for recognizing marriage ceremonies as legal. In the most basic terms, self-solemnization is essentially granting you and your partner the power to marry each other!

That’s right. You don’t need an officiant, you don’t need a witness, you don’t need anything but yourselves and your love.

There are only a few states and areas in the US that legally let you self-solemnize:

·       Colorado

·       Pennsylvania

·       Wisconsin

·       Washington D.C.

You’ll still have to fill out your marriage license and file it with the state, but you and your love are the ones who get to sign as your own officiants!

As a note, if you dig a self-solemnizing ceremony but can’t technically do this in your state, know that the Adventure Instead team is ordained. That means we can say the minimum requirements for what counts as a legal ceremony and then let you take off on a more self-solemnizing route for your elopement.

(PS. If you’re getting married in a self-solemnizing state, you can include your dog in your ceremony as a witness—check out this post and thank us later).

A bride and groom stand next to an impossibly turquoise-colored alpine lake as part of their Colorado mountain wedding. These two chose to self-solemnize during their elopement ceremony as part of their destination elopement.
A bride and groom take their dog’s paw and press it to their marriage license. In Colorado, you can use your dog as your witness as part of your self-solemnizing elopement ceremony. This is one the best elopement ideas to include in your small simple wedding (when you can).
A bride and groom stand alone in an alpine meadow that’s overflowing with wildflowers during their elopement ceremony. As the two read their vows—part of their self-solemnizing elopement ceremony— the bride stares at the groom and smiles. Behind them, a giant, jagged mountain range can be seen.

Do We Need Witnesses for Our Elopement Ceremony?

This answer is a lot like the officiant question—it totally depends on where you’re planning to elope!

Remember, every state and country has different rules for how couples are legally recognized as married. Some states don’t require witnesses at all whereas some might.

If you are set on getting legally married on your elopement day in an area that requires you to have a witness, there are tons of ways to go about making this happen.

  • You can bring along two friends or two family members with you to act as your witnesses. Have them fulfill their legal obligation and then give you privacy for your own intimate ceremony— or, make them part of your day.

  • Another fun way to include witnesses is to literally just ask strangers who happen to be where you are. We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve hiked up a trail, found some fellow hikers, and asked them if they’d do the honors of being a couple’s witnesses. It’s a fun and spontaneous way to meet the legal marriage requirements. In our experience, we’ve never had a problem finding someone to be a witness at an adventure elopement ceremony. (Personally, if someone asked us that randomly on a trail we’d be so excited to help).

But, again, you also don’t have to mess around with the rules and regulations.

If you want to have your elopement day in a state or country that requires you to have witnesses, but you’re not wild about the idea of doing that, then don’t.

Choose to have your elopement day wherever and however you want and deal with the legalities and logistics at home.  

Take a backpacking trip where you say your vows at the base of a powerful waterfall, just the two of you. That’s your wedding day. Then, when you go home, take care of the government technicalities so you’re legally recognized as a married couple.

Witnesses don’t have to determine or prove the love you have, or the commitment you’re making, on your elopement day.

A bride and groom say their vows in front of their witnesses during their elopement ceremony. They’re standing on a rocky, sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean. The bride, wearing a wedding dress and a white jacket, slips the wedding ring on her new husbands finger. Eloping with family is a great way to ensure you have the witnesses you need at your ceremony.

What if We Don’t Get Legally Married on Our Elopement Day?  

That’s an incredibly doable option—one that a lot of the couples we work with decide to run with.

The truth is, the paperwork part isn’t always important to everyone.

To a lot of couples, signing on the dotted line doesn’t start their lives together—the day they say their vows does.

If you are dead-set on getting married in a state or country where you really just don’t vibe with the rules and regulations surrounding their marriage laws, then don’t do that.

Have the elopement day you want and don’t sweat the small stuff like paperwork.

Climb a mountain in Switzerland.

Explore the white sands of New Mexico.

Backpack to a moody spot in the PNW.

Bungee jump off a bridge in New Zealand.  

Do whatever the two of you truly want to do on your elopement day and get legally married another time. Maybe do this back at home before or after your elopement day where you can pop into the courthouse and sign paperwork. Or, have a little separate ceremony with family and friends where you sign your license.

Being legally recognized as married on your elopement day doesn’t make or break your wedding.

Your elopement day isn’t your wedding because you’re signing your license, it’s your wedding because you’re choosing each other forever—over and over again—in a place that’s unique and meaningful to the both of you.

What if We Want to Get Legally Married on Our Elopement Day?

This is totally possible, too, but it might require jumping through a few hoops.

That’s not always a bad thing, it just means you’ll have to make sure you’re abiding by that state or country’s waiting period, marriage license rules, and ceremonies.

That’s not usually a huge issue in the states—though every state has its own requirement. More often than not, you’ll just have to make sure you’re abiding by the waiting period, and you’ll also (more than likely) have to include an officiant and a witness or two on your wedding day.

If you’re planning to elope in another country and want to be legally married there, it can get a little bit complicated.

Some countries rules aren’t that complex. For example, in Iceland, one of the only requirements is that you have an Icelandic officiant at your ceremony. That’s not always terribly difficult. In fact, when we captured a couple’s elopement in Iceland, we didn’t just find an awesome Icelandic officiant, we found an awesome Icelandic officiant who was willing to hike with us to where the couple wanted to be married. (Side note, if any of you want to elope in Iceland, we’d be so excited to work with this officiant again—he was the best).

That being said, eloping in another country can also be really complicated and require tons of time and effort to make sure everything is legal.

Our biggest advice if you really want to be legally married on your elopement day?

Make sure you’re doing all the research needed ahead of time. If being legally married on your elopement day where you’re eloping truly matters, there are probably a few important rules you’ll have to make sure you’re clear on.

A bride and groom sit on the rocks at the top of a cliff in Yosemite National Park. A Yosemite National Park elopement was the elopement wedding this couple wanted for their destination wedding. These elopement pictures were captured by elopement wedding photographer Adventure Instead.
A bride and groom hold each other close at the edge of a dark, but beautiful lake, In the lake below them, the reflection of the bride and groom embracing can be seen. Behind them, a large, dome-shaped mountain can be seen. These elopement photos were captured by elopement wedding photographer Adventure Instead.

What if We’re Already Legally Married Before Our Elopement Day?

Awesome! You’ve already taken care of the paperwork side and you’re free to have the day you’ve always dreamed of.

Couples get legally married before their actual elopement days for a lot of different reasons. Some couples will sign their paperwork ahead of time for health benefits, tax breaks, immigration issues, or convenience—that’s OK.

Just because you’re already married in the eyes of the law doesn’t mean that the day you signed your paperwork is your wedding day. Every couple deserves to create the elopement experience that’s the most meaningful, beautiful day of their lives.

The paperwork and government technicalities shouldn’t get in the way of that.

Is it Difficult to Get Legally Married in Another Country?

This is sort of a yes and no answer because truthfully, it totally depends on where.

Some countries are pretty easy (like we said earlier, Iceland is a breeze), but more often than it’s probably going to be more difficult and complicated to be legally married in another country on the day you’re choosing to elope.


Because a lot of countries require things that could complicate your elopement adventure, like longer waiting periods, blood work, and other little intricacies.

In fact, if you’re really set on getting legally married in another country on the day of your elopement, you might have to hire a wedding planner in that country to help you prep and ensure that you’re checking everything off the list.

It can be kind of complex to make that happen. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have your elopement day there.

Just because you won’t be legally married in the country of your dreams doesn’t mean that you can’t have your elopement day in the country of your dreams.

About 9 out of 10 couples we work with choose to have an incredible elopement experience abroad without getting legally married there.


Because for a lot of couples, that experience is the official beginnings of their lives together.

We 100 percent support (and personally resonate with) the intention that your wedding day should be recognized as the day that you say your vows to your partner—not the day you sign your marriage license.

If you both want to get married in a beautiful, epic country but don’t want to jump through the hoops to be legally married there, then don’t.

The fact of the matter is, your elopement day, the day you’re saying your vows and taking your adventure, is your wedding day—whether you’ve already signed your paperwork or not.

A bride and groom spin around outside on their wedding day in Switzerland in a photo captured by adventure elopement photographer Adventure Instead. Behind them, giant, snow-capped mountains can be seen.
A bride and groom hold each other close as they stand on the edge of cliff overlooking gorgeous blue water, a green valley below, and a rugged mountain range behind them. This couple’s small simple wedding included their own unique eloping ideas as part of their adventure elopement.

We hope our elopement legalities and logistics FAQ was informative, helpful, and not the least bit boring (we know that sometimes talking about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s can be a little less than scintillating. Didn’t see your elopement question in this blog post? No worries. We’d love to help you address it.

Remember, above all else, your elopement day is all about you, your partner, and how the two of you want to commit your lives to each other. The red tape, the government stuff, the license—none of that has to determine how you two create your wedding day.

The reality of it is, your lives together start the day you take hands, look into each other’s eyes— on a mountain top, in a desert, jumping out of a plane, wherever you want to be — and say your vows.

If you want, all the other legal details can wait.

Hi! We’re the Adventure Instead Team—Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori. We’re experienced elopement photographers and guides who are based in Seattle and Colorado. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to help capture the unique love and adventure of couples’ elopement experiences, and we can’t wait to help you with yours. Whether you want to talk about elopement locations, book with us, or even just run a few questions by us (maybe even more questions on the logistics of eloping), we’d be happy to help.


Get in touch with us and let us guide you.  



We're Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori. We are adventurous elopement photographers & guides based in Colorado that travel worldwide to help fearless couples like you create your unforgettable, wildly different wedding experience—that is completely yours.

Are You Ready to Create Your Own Adventurous Elopement?

If you would like help dreaming up your intimate wedding day, a customized elopement location idea list just for you, planning tools, vendor recommendations, and a creative, laid-back, documentary approach to your adventurous wedding photography—we would love to help you make your adventure elopement dreams come true.

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