Planning a wedding is an all-consuming affair that seems to never end, whether it’s small civil ceremony or elopement or an all-day wedding with hundred of friends and family. There are so many details, from choosing the day, time, and location, to your wedding dress, what the bridesmaid and groomsmen will wear, the invitations, their color, size, texture, font, and whom to send them, the food, the drinks . . . To help you with all these details, we highly recommend you hire a wedding planner. To find out why, check out our 7 Reasons You Should Hire a Wedding Planner page.
In the following article, we present what we consider the 9 most important criteria to evaluate when choosing a wedding organizer for your Costa Rica wedding. Our perspective is based on our experience as wedding photographers who have worked with and been contracted by various event organizers, as well as our experience selecting an event organizer for our wedding at Villa Caletas in Puntarenas. If you plan to contract a wedding organizer, we hope these tips help you find the one who best meets your needs and expectations and makes your wedding day a wonderful, memorable experience.
Some of these tips may appear common sense. When planning a wedding, when you are being pulling you in a million directions and have to contend with the myriad obligations of daily, family life, and maintaining professional and personal relationships, common sense has a way of falling by the wayside.
1. Independent vs. In-House Wedding Planners
Independent wedding organizers work for themselves, whereas in-house wedding planner are employees of resorts that specialize in destination weddings and have a department dedicated to events and weddings. Hiring an independent or an in-house wedding planner has its pros and cons.
Some of the benefits of hiring an independent wedding planner is they might be more personally invested and go the extra mile as its their business and reputation. They also should have more flexibility with regards to pricing and creativity as they develop their own policies. They also have the wherewithal and freedom to choose which wedding day providers – florists, bakers, DJs, musicians, videographers, photographers – they rely and usually vet any wedding day vendors they recommend.
Choosing an independent wedding planner can have its drawbacks as well. It might not be a legal business and may be here today and gone tomorrow. The primary representative may or may not speak English, and they might have employees who are based in Costa Rica who tend to everything here while they are in another country. These employees might not speak English or speak it poorly. Also, they may not accept credit cards and request payment via bank transfer or in cash on your wedding day, which we highly recommend avoiding.
2. Reputation & Reviews!!!
Look for a wedding planner with a good reputation, not only with their local clients in Costa Rica, but also, and more importantly, with international clients. Local clients may love them, but international ones may have a differing opinion, possibly due to language and cultural differences, and payment and contractual procedures.
Finding legitimate, objective reviews online for an established, experienced reputable wedding planner should be easy. If the business is registered with Google Places, there will be reviews on their Google Places or Maps listing. Another method is to search the Internet for the company name and/or owner’s name, with or without the keyword “review” or “reviews”. This can lead to blogs by previous clients or posts on sites such as Trip Advisor by customers describing their overall experience. We personally find unsolicited comments more useful since they usually provide extended feedback and may discuss a specific factor of more importance to you than others. I love to read the negative reviews on Amazon to see if the issues most people have with an item is of any concern to me.
3. Business Status & Professional Certification
Ensure the wedding designer has a legitimate business, is licensed, has liability insurance, and is certified. This does not guarantee quality service, but it does demonstrate they have invested the time, energy, and funds to have a legitimate business, and that it is their sole enterprise.
For a business to be legal in Costa Rica, it must be registered with the Ministerio de Hacienda, the Treasury or taxing authority in Costa Rica.
It categorizes business according to their economic function, assigns them a specific tax category, and issues a Tax I.D. number or cédula. A bank account cannot be opened in the business’ name without a Tax I.D. This may impact which payment methods organizers offer and therefore your options of resolving contractual and monetary disputes in your favor. Your wedding planner should also have liability insurance in case they cause damage or injury to your property or person.
Ask if they are a certified wedding organizer. A common certification in Costa Rica is issued by Instituto Iberoamericano Event Planner. If they refuse to provide documentation showing they are a legitimate business, have liability insurance, and are a certified wedding designer, it may be better to continue searching. This has happened to us.
4. Making Payments
We cannot stress this enough. Pay by credit, PayPal, Apple Pay or any payment method that allows you to file dispute. Under no circumstances provide a wedding organizer with your credit card numbers. Use only a secure, online credit card processing service. Also, do not pay in full, and ensure you have a receipt detailing the service or product purchased.
Making payments in the U.S. is quite different than in Costa Rica. The most common payment method is making a bank deposit in person in the account of the provider. It is also normal to transfer funds from your account to theirs electronically, or to pay in cash and receive a receipt or factura (available only if the business is registered with the Ministerio de Haciendas). These payments methods leave you few to no options to recover funds. To do so would require you to demonstrate the planner did not fulfill their contractual obligations in civil court in Costa Rica, or hire a lawyer to represent you here. Pay with a credit card.
Professional event organizers require clients sign a contract, not only for their protection, but also yours. It should, at minimum, provide the legal business name, address, contract information, and the tax ID number and explain in detail exactly which services and products they will provide. It should also specify the start and end times and the specific wedding location wedding events (the preparation the ceremony, the dinner, for example), list their obligations, the cost of their service, the payment schedule and methods, and state clearly what happens if the they cannot fulfill their contractual obligations in case of force majeur.
Choose a wedding designer who has a website. In addition to demonstrating they have a personal and financial investment in their business and their brand, a well-designed, informative website is a must for clients. Unlike Facebook, which obligates visitors to scroll through one picture, post, or comment at a time that may have no relevance to the purpose of your visit, websites allow you to find relevant information quickly and bookmark specific pages you can easily send to your fiancée, family, and friends for input.
The website should have current and pertinent content, as well as quality pictures of recent weddings, not ones from 3 years ago. It should have a section explaining who they are, provide information about the business, state if they are a certified and licensed wedding organizer, and explain how they work at minimum.
The photos should provide representations of the tangible items they provide, such as the wedding cake, food, place settings, chairs, tables, glasses, silverware, flowers, the bouquet, canopy, altar and other items, from different angles, distances, and from different events. This will help give you an idea of what to expect and allow you to compare their work to other wedding planners.
7. Default & Recommended Providers
All wedding planners generally have a set of wedding providers they frequently work with and recommend, from florists, bakers, and furniture rental companies, to DJs, photographers, and videographers. These providers should likewise be reputable, legitimate professional companies with a website where you can see examples or their work.
Request wedding planners provide you with the links to the website of their recommended providers so you can review their portfolios and ask pertinent and relevant questions. Some wedding planners will not provide this information unless you sign a contract and make a deposit, for some reason. This is a large, shinning, red flag to move on.
Also, be sure to ask wedding planners if they charge providers a commission to recommend them. More often than not, wedding organizers in Costa Rica charge providers between 15-35% to recommend them. This means organizers recommend providers who are best for them, not necessarily their clients. Some planners also recommend providers based on friendship, not on professional qualifications, meaning your wedding photographer might be a great friend of the wedding planner but has no business photographing weddings. It’s best to include providers the wedding planner does not recommend along with the ones they do recommend, and vet them without giving any weight to any recommendations.
It is important to be able to have a professional and amicable relationship with your wedding organizer. The right mix of professionalism and friendliness goes a long way. One that is too serious can drain the joy out of planning your wedding and put a damper on your wedding day. One who is too friendly, on the other hand, may become tiring, in our opinion. This is one of the most personal factors in choosing a wedding organizer, and there is not much more we can say other than to find one whose personality you like.
As wedding photographers, we are confronted with this issue on almost daily basis. We understand. It is usually the deciding factor for most of our clients. Many people are willing to sacrifice quality for cost. For us, cost is a deciding factor when choosing photography and lighting equipment, but it is not the deciding factor. We must purchase durable, quality equipment that will allow us to provide our clients with high-quality photography yet not break the bank. It is possible.
We recommend not making a decision based solely on cost. You are not in the market for a bottle of bleach, in which case, anyone will more than likely due. It is your wedding, one of the most important days of your life. A good, professional wedding organizer with solid providers can make all the difference.
Putting It Together
Start by developing a budget based on what you consider the essential elements for your Costa Rica wedding. It gets expensive quickly and can easily get out of control without a budget. Then, decide if you want an independent or in-house wedding planner. Know that if you hire an independent wedding planner, resorts may charge for not using their vendors. For example, they may charge $150.00 for contracting a photographer not on their list of providers. Factor this into your budget if choosing an independent wedding organizer.
Find wedding planners whose style you like. Take into consideration the points in this article. After finding about 5-6 wedding planners that fit the bill, ask for an estimate. Then, reduce the number to 2-3 based on cost. At this point, any of the remaining organizers should meet your needs.
Planning a wedding, especially an international one, can be overwhelming. We hope this article helps uncomplicated the process and helps you find the best planner for your Costa Rica wedding, or wherever you get married. Congratulations!