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A rising number of canny couples are planning to marry overseas, to cut down costs. Jeremy Gates reports.

Thousands of British couples will escape the economic gloom in 2013 and get married in cheaper, faraway locations.

Andreas Palikira, who set up Ionian Weddings with his wife Jan in 2007, says: “The downturn has been good for the idea of marrying abroad, as it can save so much money for couples who might need it later on.

“An average wedding in the UK today costs around £22,000. Abroad, attended by about 20 friends and relations, the bill comes in around £6,500 - and many people love to combine a celebration with a holiday.”

Mathilde Robert at Planet Holidays & Weddings, part of Sunvil Holidays, says: “Cyprus is still the place to get married because it is so easy to get married there; all it takes is a birth certificate and affidavit confirming you are free to marry.

“But my Greece bookings for 2013 could be up by 40-50 per cent. It seems to be back in fashion.”

Though Cyprus and the Greek islands set the pace for weddings abroad, the choice is much wider in 2013.

Planet offers weddings in Lapland and Italy for the first time, along with Gozo, Portugal and Croatia, and arrange same-sex civil ceremonies in the Algarve.

Civil weddings in Italy, Lapland and the Algarve start at about £1,200, including paperwork and a civil service. Ionian Weddings can now also arrange ceremonies in Malta and Italy next year.

“Smaller operators like Planet put the wedding ceremony at the centre of everything and plan a holiday around it,” says Robert. “With big operators, you often buy a holiday, and somebody in resort fixes a wedding. The time and date might not be decided for you.”

In total, weddings abroad account for nearly 20 per cent of all UK couples’ weddings – following a 27 per cent surge in numbers since 2005. Over the same period, weddings in the UK are down about 11.5 per cent, mainly due to spending constraints. The cost of an overseas wedding starts at about £700, including venue hire, paperwork and marriage certificates.

Robert believes unusual locations are key for couples: options range from an “ice chapel” or “under the midnight sun” in Lapland, overlooking Lake Garda in a Tuscan castle or a spectacular count’s villa in Italy to luxury yachts, cliff tops, historic buildings and lake and beach locations to name just a few. The Caribbean is the other big choice.

Joanne Tipping at Thomas Cook says: “Whilst destinations such as Mauritius and Las Vegas are popular, the islands of the Caribbean still see the highest demand.

“This region accounts for around half the weddings abroad booked through Signature from Thomas Cook.

“Although the stunning beach locations are important, a big attraction is free wedding packages.

“When you consider the average spend for a honeymoon is about £5,000, to get married as well within that figure is great value.”