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How to Elope: The Complete Elopement Checklist

Published Tuesday, Mar. 15th, 2022

ELOPE! It's time. (Illustrations by Jessica Levey )

How to plan the perfect elopement ceremony




Elopements have a lot going for them: They’re less stressful to plan than a large-scale wedding, they can work for any budget, and they give couples permission to do exactly what they want to on their wedding day… without worrying about annoying traditions or family obligations. 


That’s why so many couples are choosing to elope this year!


Use this simple checklist to make sure you cover all the bases, whether you’re planning a deluxe destination elopement or a quick license signing ceremony at your favorite cafe. We’ve broken the whole process down into sequential steps so that you can create your own magic.


We’ll cover all the essentials – the stuff you can’t skip, no matter how spontaneous you’re feeling. 


Once it’s complete, you can relax and focus the fun extras, such as hair and makeup, and what to wear. 


Related: ELOPE: An illustrated guide to an eco-friendly & empowered alternative wedding



The Complete Elopement Checklist 

A step-by-step template for planning an elopement


Focus: Organization, Wedding Officiant, License, Fun 


⬜ Learn about the marriage waiting period in your state


Some states have a ‘waiting period’ to marry, which is the time a couple is required to wait before applying for a marriage license and holding a marriage ceremony. If you live in a state with a waiting period, you won’t be able to elope the same day you purchase your license. Check the waiting period in your state here. 


⬜ Pick a date to elope


Once you’ve got the waiting period figured out, choose a date! This date will also inform when you need to purchase your marriage license. 


  • Is your chosen date after the required waiting period? 
  • Does your chosen date give you enough time to prepare and invite guests/ witnesses?



⬜ Choose a location


One of the best parts of eloping is that you can hold your tiny ceremony almost anywhere, at any time – including underwater or while skydiving! If you’re planning a destination elopement, make sure to book your travel and lodging in advance.


If you’re considering an international destination or cruise ship wedding, read this first. 


  • Do you need to arrange travel or hotels? 
  • Do you need a venue? 
  • Do you need a permit or special permission to hold a ceremony? 
  • Will you need any special equipment, clothing, or gear? 
  • Do you need to book reservations for meals? 


illustration of a globe, to plan a destination elopement

⬜ Find a wedding officiant


Ask a friend or family member to officiate your ceremony to make the day truly special! Your friend will need to get ordained before the ceremony, and might need to register as an officiant (depending on which state you’re in). This process is usually simple, and online ordination only takes a minute. 


If you decide to hire a professional officiant, let them know exactly what you’d like the elopement to be like. Great officiants can make even the simplest elopement memorable – even a quick license signing ceremony at your favorite cafe.



⬜ Arrange any other vendors 


Elopements are small in size – not mood. They can be as luxurious as you want them to be. Decide what sort of vendors you want to help with your event, such as florists, photographers, videographers, caterers, musicians, a DJ, or any others. Once you’ve decided, book them as soon as possible. 


  • What other types of vendors do you want at your elopement? 
  • Contact them early to be sure they're available.


⬜ Apply for your marriage license 


The timing of this step depends on which state and county you want to marry in. Each county has its own guidelines to apply for and purchase a marriage license, so check those details first. In most counties, you’ll apply for your license through your county clerk, registrar, or court clerk. 


This process usually requires both parties to apply together, and you’ll need to bring valid IDs. You might also be asked to provide a divorce decree/s if you’ve been married before. Gather your paperwork before heading down to apply!


Expiration period: In almost every state, your marriage license has an ‘expiration period.’ This is the amount of time you have to use your license after purchasing it. If you don’t elope before your license expires, you’ll have to buy a new one. Check the expiration period in your state here. 


  • Do you need an appointment to apply or can you just walk in? 
  • Do you need to start the application online? 
  • What do you need to bring with you to apply? 
  • Don’t apply too soon, and don’t wait until the last minute. (Remember the waiting period and expiration period.)


stylized illustration of a marriage license that reads 'Just Married' with blank lines underneath, with an ink pen and envelope

⬜ Invite necessary witnesses


Some states require one or two witnesses to attend the wedding ceremony and sign your marriage license. Find out if you’ll need a witness here. 


  • Do you need a witness or two? 


⬜ Invite any other guests you want to join in the fun


Most elopements are under 10 people, but you can invite as few or as many people as you wish (as long as you have an officiant and the required witnesses present). 


  • Who do you want with you at your ceremony? 
  • Do guests need to arrange travel or lodging? 
  • How will you invite them? (By mail, email, phone, or video chat?)
  • Do you need to tell them about a dress code, or will they need to bring any special clothing or equipment? 



⬜ Ceremony planning 


Meet with your officiant before the wedding day to decide what to include and say during the ceremony. Some couples want to celebrate with a unique, personalized ceremony and custom wedding script. Others want a simple and pre-written ceremony script. This is completely up to you, and your officiant will help you pull it all together. 


  • Do you want a custom wedding ceremony script? 
  • Do you want to include a unity ceremony or ritual? 
  • Do you want to write your own wedding vows? 
  • Religious or nonreligious? 
  • How long do you want your ceremony to last? 


Visit AMM's Wedding Ceremony Script Library.




For more help planning your wedding ceremony: 



Ceremony Planning Articles


Articles for Engaged Couples


And check out these articles on eloping: 



illustration of polaroids of young couples eloping by Jessica Levey

Illustrations by Jessica Levey from "ELOPE: An illustrated guide," PART 1 & 2



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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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