Everything you need to know to plan your Scottish elopement wedding (updated for 2023).
Are you currently engaged, but struggling to get excited about planning a traditional wedding? Do you love the idea of pledging yourselves to each other in a unique and meaningful way amidst a stunning setting? Do you want your wedding to be a relaxed, stress-free day that you will look back on with pleasure for many years to come?
Then an elopement in Scotland might be just right for you!
WHY ELOPE IN SCOTLAND?
Well, first of all, because you can! Scotland is currently the only country in the UK where you can legally get married anywhere – providing your ceremony is conducted by a registered celebrant.
This means that you can choose an elopement location that’s special and meaningful to you: it might be somewhere that holds happy memories, somewhere that you’ve always yearned to visit or simply a place that makes your heart sing and your spirits soar.
Scotland has it all when it comes to romantic elopement locations: epic mountains, pristine beaches, ancient woods and magical lochs. Any one of these could be the backdrop to your elopement wedding ceremony.
ELOPING IN SCOTLAND SOUNDS GREAT – HOW DO WE START PLANNING OUR SCOTTISH ELOPEMENT?
STEP ONE: Decide on a location.
First of all, you need to decide on a location as you will need to specify this when you apply for your paperwork — see details on this below. If you would like some advice on this, we are always happy to help!
We have lived in Scotland for many years, and have family roots here. We’ve explored the length and breadth of the country, so we know lots of scenic spots—some of which we’ve described further down this post.
If you give us a bit more information on the sort of settings you love (be it waterfall, woodland, cityscape or mountainside) we can offer some suggestions on elopement locations that would be just right for you.
STEP TWO: Pin-down a date
Along with your elopement location, you will also need to specify the date on your marriage paperwork. We can offer you advice on which month to choose. Our personal favourite season in Scotland is September–November, when you get glorious autumn colours, and atmospheric mists. Late-April and May tend to have some of the driest and sunniest weather that Scotland gets all year — so these are great times to visit, too.
June to August are usually the busiest months in Scotland. So if you are planning your elopement during this period, it’s a good idea to book your accommodation well in advance.
For an additional guide on this topic, read our post on ‘What is the best month, season or time of year to elope in Scotland‘.
STEP THREE: Find a celebrant
If you would like an outdoor elopement ceremony that embraces the beauty of nature and Scotland’s incredible scenery, then a humanist ceremony could be perfect for you.
The Humanism Society Scotland is a great place to start. They have an extensive database of registered humanist celebrants who can legally marry you in your chosen elopement location. We have worked with a wide variety of celebrants over the years, so do ask if you would like us to suggest someone who’s going to be just the right fit for you.
STEP FOUR: Get stuck into the paperwork!
Regardless of whether you are having a civil, belief or religious ceremony, you need to contact your registrar/celebrant before completing your paperwork. They will have married couples many times before, so don’t be afraid to ask them any questions you might have. A good guide is the National Records of Scotland ‘how do I go about it?’ page and their information leaflet (RM1 – Marriage in Scotland [PDF]).
You will need to submit your marriage notice form (also known as an ‘M-10’) by post to the Registrar of the district in which your elopement ceremony is taking place. National Records of Scotland have published a list of all Registrars in Scotland [PDF], but your celebrant will also be able to tell you. Each couple must submit one form per person, along with your registration service fee (currently £45 each, so £90). However, it’s always worth contacting your selected local Registrar before filling in the M-10, because there are subtle differences in how each registry office operates.
Additional documents that you will need include: your birth or adoption certificate, evidence of your residence and a valid passport.
You may also need a decree of divorce or dissolution (if you have previously been married) or a CONI or ‘Certificate of No Impediment’ to prove that you are not married (sometimes required when you are resident of another country).
If you are not British, Swiss or an EEA national, you will also need to complete a Declaration of Immigration [PDF].
Marriage Visas for couples travelling from USA and Canada
We shoot an equal number of legal and symbolic ceremonies with our couples from North America, both are equally beautiful and meaningful. The only difference is whether you sign a marriage schedule at the end of the ceremony. This advice is for those couples seeking a legal ceremony. You will need a Marriage Visitor Visa to visit the UK for the purposes of a marriage or civil ceremony, a process that can only be initiated from 3 months before your planned ceremony date. The marriage visa is a separate document to your M-10, and is essential a legal travel document. The application currently costs £100 and you should get a decision on your visa within 6 weeks (though it may take longer!).
USA: there are 10 premium visa application centres in major cities across the USA, however, there are 130 regional Application Support Centres, which may be easier to access. You will need to attend a centre for a standard biometrics appointment. Premium centres offer other services too, such as support with your documents. There are different support options for preparing/scanning your paperwork—for peace of mind you should consider purchasing (at least) the Bronze package ($410), though expedited packages are available at extra cost. You will need to travel to a premium application centre to use these services, so why not make it into a weekend city break! Remember that you need to purchase scanning support at the time of your initial application and include the receipt in the paperwork you send to the UKVI Visa Processing Hub in New York.
Alternatively, if you plan to scan and upload your own paperwork, you MUST make sure to do it within the specified period—the earlier the better. If you later find that you need help with document scanning steps, don’t assume help will be available at your biometrics appointment, especially if attending a regional Application Support Centre.
Canada: there are just six visa application centres for the whole of Canada, so couples living a considerable distance from their nearest centre will need to plan ahead for when you might be able to visit. Remember that there is further processing that needs to be done after your biometrics appointment, so the sooner you attend, the better. If you can’t get to a centre sooner in this process, consider booking an expedited application, so at least the process after your biometrics appointment is quicker.
STEP FIVE: Submit your marriage paperwork
Your M-10 marriage notice must be submitted within the 3 months before the date of your elopement. The absolute latest that it can be submitted is 29 days before your ceremony.
We highly recommend that you don’t leave it until the last minute — it may force you to postpone your wedding if they aren’t able to process your paperwork in time!
There is further information and guidance notes (and the application form itself) on the National Records of Scotland website. Since 1st January 2021, if you are an EU citizen who doesn’t have settled or pre-settled status in the UK you also now need to apply for a marriage visa for the purposes of your trip. In all cases, the earliest you can apply is 3 months before you travel. You will need to show evidence of this visa to the local Registrar Office in the Declaration of Status form (either the final visa, or evidence of your application for it), which you submit as part of your marriage paperwork.
STEP SIX: Decide who is going act as your witnesses
To legally elope in Scotland you will need two witnesses to be present at your elopement ceremony. If you are being accompanied by family and friends, then they can witness your marriage. However, if you are planning an intimate elopement — with just the two of you — we are happy to act as your witnesses. We have done so with many couples in the past, and it always feels like a real honour. The celebrant and witness details form [PDF] needs to be submitted to the Registrar with the M-10 form.
STEP SEVEN: Collect your marriage schedule
Once your marriage has been approved, you will be issued with your marriage schedule. This is a super-important document—do not lose it. Remember to bring it to your wedding ceremony, as you cannot get married without it!
Your marriage schedule will be issued no earlier than 7 days before your wedding day. You will get a call from the registrar to let you know that it is ready, and you will need to collect it from them in person. NOTE: Most registration offices are open Mon–Fri (09.00–17.00), but please check. This means your travel plans need to accommodate a visit to the office during these times, i.e. if getting married on a Saturday or Sunday, you need to collect your paperwork before 17.00 on the Friday, otherwise you can’t have a legal ceremony!
STEP EIGHT: Return your marriage schedule
After your elopement ceremony, you need to submit your marriage schedule to the Registrar’s office within 3 days of your wedding — note that is this is three consecutive days, not three working days! — otherwise your marriage will not be considered legal, and how disappointing would that be?! Many Registrar offices have a postbox, so you can drop your schedule off on a Sunday (when they are usually closed) if you plan to travel onwards before a weekday.
WHERE TO ELOPE IN SCOTLAND – 5 ROMANTIC ELOPEMENT LOCATIONS
1) Isle of Skye elopement
The Isle of Skye has to be one of the most spectacular parts of Scotland. However many times we return, Skye never fails to take our breath away. Eloping on Skye will always be spectacular in all weathers and all seasons!
Skye is about 5.5 hours drive from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. So if you’re planning to travel to Skye for your elopement, you might want to turn it into a bit of a road trip and spend several days there. It’s a large island, with lots to explore and very narrow, winding roads, so it takes time to get around. Don’t rush it!
2) Glencoe elopement
Glencoe encapsulates everything that is breath-taking about the Scottish highlands. This location really has it all: stunning mountains, rivers and waterfalls, and quiet lochs. Glencoe is about 1.5 hours drive from Glasgow, and 2 hours drive from Edinburgh — an epic backdrop that feels remote, but is actually very accessible from the city.
It’s worth noting that Glencoe does get pretty busy during the summer months. But we’ve sought-out some off-the-beaten-track spots where you can hold an intimate elopement ceremony away from other visitors.
See one of our elopement weddings in Glencoe.
3) Scottish Highland elopement – Wester Ross
We love this wild and remote part of Scotland. It might appeal to Game of Thrones fans — both in name and in landscape — as it could easily be taken for one of the Seven Kingdoms that GoT fans around the world have come to know and love.
Compared to better-known locations like Skye and Glencoe, Wester Ross is relatively off the beaten track, but includes iconic landscapes such as Torridon on the coast and the Great Wilderness that trails north of the craggy fortress of Slioch. At about 5 hours drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow, it’s a similar journey to Skye, but a lot less busy.
Wester Ross is part of the now well established North Coast 500 route, which makes for a spectacular drive through some of Scotland’s most breath-taking scenery. Why not combine your elopement wedding with the road trip of a lifetime!
See one of our elopement weddings in Wester Ross.
4) Cairngorms National Park elopement
On the opposite side of the country to Glencoe sits the Cairngorms National Park. It’s a spectacular setting for a Scottish elopement — combining mountains, ancient Scots pine forests and peaceful lochs.
One of our favourite locations in the Cairngorms is Loch an Eilein, a stunning setting nestling amongst Caledonian pine forests. It’s a real haven for wildlife: if you sit quietly in the woods for long enough you can see red squirrels, pine martens and (if you’re very lucky) the shy western capercaillie.
5) Edinburgh elopement
If you’re looking to elope in Scotland, but would prefer your Scottish elopement location to be a bit less wild and windswept, and involve a bit more art and culture, an Edinburgh elopement could be the perfect answer.
Not only is it a richly historic and beautiful city, but it boasts incredible restaurants, world class galleries, a vibrant theatre and music scene and a great cafe culture.
Plus, you have Arthur’s Seat (a 251m extinct volcano) on your doorstep if you want to get out of town stretch your legs and watch the sun go down over the city.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR YOUR SCOTLAND ELOPEMENT: What about the weather – what if it rains?
The weather in Scotland is notoriously changeable — the old saying about having a ‘four seasons in one day’ very often proves true here! It doesn’t matter whether you are getting married in July or in January, we get anything and everything. We always say: ‘embrace the elements, hold each other tight, and enjoy it!’
We’re outdoorsy people and we aren’t afraid of the rain (and our cameras are waterproof), but we’re always very happy to be flexible on the day, and work around whatever the weather throws at us!
In our experience, most wedding celebrants are, too. It’s worth mentioning that some of our favourite and most romantic images have been taken in the wildest weather!
Scotland’s weather is part of what makes it such a dramatically spectacular country and gives it such amazing light.
The weather fronts often move through very quickly, particularly on the west coast and isles. The chances are that if you are due to get married at noon and it’s pouring with rain, then waiting for half an hour will see the rain move on and the sun come peaking-out from behind the clouds.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR FOR A SCOTTISH ELOPEMENT?
Lots of people ask us about how to dress for their elopement in Scotland. The main thing we advise is, do not underestimate the Scottish weather!
Do bring waterproofs and do bring lots of layers. It’s really important that you are warm and comfortable, if you’re going to be able to enjoy and really make the most of your elopement day.
While waterproofs work great for getting you to and from your elopement location comfortably if the weather is wet, woollen wraps work far better for photos. Check out the recycled wool blankets and shawls at The Tartan Blanket Company in Edinburgh — they’re super-warm, amazingly windproof and look very at home in the Scottish highlands.
We love to spend time exploring the location with our couples before and after their elopement ceremony. Sturdy waterproof footwear is also a must if you want to get out an explore the spectacular landscape.
It’s a really fun way to turn your Scottish elopement into a bit of an adventure and take some spectacular unposed images along the way!
Some thoughts on their Scottish elopement from one of our previous couples, who decided to ditch their original wedding plans and elope in Scotland instead:
“We were supposed to get married today. We had it in the diary. We’d told the odd person to save the date. But then we got cold feet. Not ‘that’ kind of cold feet. We just weren’t sure if the ‘big’ wedding was for us. A day that wasn’t entirely what we wanted, one day that we were trying to make fit all, but would ultimately not fit some…
So we cancelled. Without telling anyone (except our parents — who were very supportive). We eloped. We were supposed to get married today, but instead, we did it our way — we had a Scottish elopement — so now we’re already married and we’re back where we feel most comfortable.
We’ve never regretted our decision. Do more of what makes you happy!”
We hope that you’ve found this blog post helpful. If are looking for a wedding photographer to capture your special day, feel free to drop us a line via our contact form, we would love to hear more about your plans!
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