By Diana Milne
A trip up the aisle to find out the cost of getting married in Dubai - from ceremonies to wedding receptions.
They say money can't buy love - but with the average cost of a UAE wedding now standing at AED30,000 it certainly does help.
Weddings in the UAE are a multimillion-dollar industry - with Dubai in particular having become the destination of choice for couples across the world to tie the knot.
According to an independent survey carried out at last year's Bride Show Dubai, 43% of respondents said they planned to spend over AED100,000 on their nuptials with 12% budgeting a staggering AED500,000 or more for their dream wedding.
But while these figures may sound daunting to couples on tighter budgets, as our wedding experts reveal in this feature, there are options on offer to suit most budgets when it comes to tying the knot in Dubai - and with a little careful planning you can get the wedding you want at a price that suits you.
The first cost to consider when planning your wedding budget is the cost of your wedding ceremony - and the paperwork needed in order to legalise your marriage in Dubai.
Wedding ceremony costs differ of course according to your religious denomination.
In the case of Christian weddings there is usually a fee to be paid for the conducting of the ceremony.
Anglican weddings are carried out at the Holy Trinity Church in Oud Metha, Christ Church in Jebel Ali and St Martin's Church in Sharjah.
The cost for the ceremony conducted by the chaplain is around AED850 while AED850 is charged for a marriage ceremony outside the Holy Trinity Church.
Weddings are always a huge expensive no matter what country you’re in. But you get far more for your money here.
It costs AED50 for extra copies of the marriage certificate. For the ceremony to take place the church requires both the partners' passports, at least one residence permit, original baptism certificates, one passport photo each and two witnesses over the age of 18. At least one month's notice is required for couples to book their wedding at Anglican churches in Dubai - but not more than one year's notice can be given.
Roman Catholic marriages are conducted at the St Mary's Church in Oud Metha. No formal charge is required however, the church asks for a donation in return for the ceremony being conducted there.
Documents required for the ceremony to take place are the same as for the Anglican Church, in addition to a birth certificate if one partner is not Catholic and a letter stating the couple are free to marry - or a letter from the embassy of a partner who is not Catholic. If a partner is under 21 then a letter of consent is needed from their parents.
In the case of Muslim marriages, a Muslim groom can marry a bride at the Dubai Court - or Sharia Court.
For this to take place both passports, a residence permit, proof that the groom is Muslim, two male witnesses or four female ones and a power of attorney letter are required.
The father or closest male relative of the bride must also attend the ceremony as a witness. There is a AED50 service charge for the ceremony to take place.
Hindu marriages take place at the Hindu Temple in Dubai and are conducted by the Maharaj. The temple is run in conjunction with the Indian consulate and there is no charge for the ceremony to take place.
Completed application forms, both parties' passports, a copy of the passports of both sets of parents are required as well as an attested affidavit from the Indian Embassy that both parties are free to get married.
The process of legalising a marriage in Dubai can be a long, drawn-out and costly one for couples. Marriage certificates must be translated into Arabic then attested at the Dubai Court, stamped at the Ministry of Justice and Foreign Affairs then registered at the couple's embassy - a process that costs around AED500. The Dubai Court will retain one English copy of the marriage certificate plus the Arabic translation and the couple will be given one certified English marriage certificate.
Dubai-based wedding planner Sarah Feyling advises couples to set aside up to a day for the processing of the paperwork to legalise their marriage.
"Just to authenticate the marriage you need to translate the marriage certificate into Arabic then to go to the Dubai Courts and register it there then they take a copy of the marriage certificate. You then go to the Ministry of Justice and have it stamped, then to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to also get it stamped there. It's a full day just to do all that," she claims.
It is possible for Christians in Dubai to have a religious ceremony but in a venue of their choice.
However as Feyling points out, this depends on the discretion of the church and couples would have to pay an extra charge to the church itself as well as to the hotel where they conduct the ceremony.
"There are only certain churches such as the Uniteed Christian Church that will allow you to get married outside the church. You have to get married legally in the church first though then pay the same fee again if you then get married say on the beach - so it ends up being double the cost. The different hotels have different charges for holding ceremonies there. Many couples choose to get married on the beach. At the Ritz Carlton you can get married on a grass area in front of the beach and that costs around AED3,000 and it costs AED4,500 to get married at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel."
Civil ceremonies can take place in the UAE providing the couple's embassy provides the service.
Embassies that perform marriage ceremonies include the German, Indian, Italian, Egyptian, Sri Lankan and Philippine embassies.
The US, Canadian, Australian, Lebanese and Pakistan embassies are among those that do not.
Wedding reception venues
Wedding receptions form the biggest part of most couple's wedding budget - with food and drink accounting for 33% of the average total spend, according to Feyling.
There is a vast variety of options for couples in Dubai when it comes to locations for their wedding receptions - including hotels to suit every budget.
Although the costs of hotel receptions in Dubai can be high, particularly the cost of alcohol, one of the advantages of holding a reception in a Dubai hotel, according to Feyling, is the fact that most venues will not include a hire charge and charge only for the catering of the reception.
She says: "Wedding receptions are a huge expense no matter which country you're in. But you get far more for your money here than you would for instance in Europe. Generally the hotels here don't have venue hire - this is included in your menu price. Whereas in most countries more often than not - you have to pay a venue a hire charge on top of the menu price."
Couples holding wedding receptions in hotels are advised to book at least six months in advance to ensure that they get the venue they want - particularly during the busiest wedding season, from October to May.
Irina Beutler, events manager at the Sheraton Dubai Creek hotel, says bookings are becoming increasingly difficult to secure as demand on the UAE's hotels increases.
Desert weddings are a popular choice but they are very expensive because nothing is set up so you need to arrange for everything to be transported in.
"The average I would say that people are booking their venues is eight months in advance. People are becoming more conscious because of the limited availability in the hotels. We would definitely advise people to book well in advance if they are planning to have their wedding reception during the October to May period. In the winter months there are far more corporate meetings, product launches and events happening that can take up banquet room space."
She adds however, that it is far easier for hotels to accommodate last minute weddings during the quieter summer months.
For expatriates another reason to book their wedding well in advance is that it will give guests who are flying in from abroad for the occasion more time to find affordable accommodation.
They could also take advantage of cheap summer hotel deals.
Most hotels will require couples to pay a deposit - usually a percentage of the cost of the reception - a month before the event takes place.
In the case of the Sheraton Dubai Creek for instance, couples are asked to pay a 50% deposit one month prior to the wedding.
Beutler says: "Each hotel has its own policy on this but as a general rule I would say that around 90% follow a similar pattern to ours."
Catering packages at hotels in Dubai are worked out at a price per head and start from around AED120 per head - not including alcoholic beverages.
According to Feyling beach hotels tend to be more expensive when it comes to catering starting from around AED250 for a three-course set menu or an international buffet.
Catering becomes more expensive the more choices are added to a set menu or a buffet and if certain ingredients are added - particularly seafood.
Mohammed Munjed, wedding manager at the Hyatt Regency, says: "Our set menus start from AED120 and buffets go from AED200 to AED500. The prices really depend on the number of main courses we have, the number of live cooking stations and whether there is seafood on the menu."
Feyling adds: "Seafood makes the wedding catering prices much more expensive - particularly if you offer something like oysters or caviar.
"Also if you have a set menu and you give your guests a choice of courses, that makes it much more expensive because the hotel has to buy double of everything."
Alcohol can either be paid for as a package or according to how much of it is consumed. Feyling recommends that couples choose the latter option:
"It's far more economical to pay for beverages on consumption especially as some guests may not drink alcohol. Because when you take a package it has to be for everyone."
Most hotels offer packages which, according to Beutler, are usually worked out according to how many drinks guests are expected to drink per hour.
"Hotels usually offer a package which is calculated on the amount the average person can consume in an hour. The first hour is always taken as the highest and is based on consumption of four or five drinks. Then it would drop to three drinks in the second hour and two drinks in the third hour."
Alcohol packages are usually divided into standard and premium packages. The Sheraton Creek for instance offers two packages - one at AED90 per hour per person for regular spirits and one at AED120 per hour per person for premium spirits.
A wedding cake is usually included at no extra charge in the catering package provided by the hotels. However, those who want a more elaborate cake can either request the hotel's pastry chef to provide one at a higher cost or can have one made by an outside caterer.
"When they do include a cake in the menu price it's usually three tier and a very basic standard wedding cake," says Feyling. "Other than that, if you go outside and have something specially commissioned it costs around AED 25 per person."
Beutler adds: "Wedding cakes are included in our menu packages and couples can choose their own design. But if they want something elaborate - such as extra layers or fresh flowers incorporated into the design there may be an extra cost. For extra layers we charge approximately AED100 per kilo."
Decoration of the room in which the wedding reception takes place is also partly included in the menu package. Hotels will include a simple flower centrepiece on the tables as well as the table linen and sometimes candles. However, for more elaborate arrangements there are extra charges - both for the materials that are used, the lighting and for the labour that goes into preparing the room.
Beutler says: "Table linen, flowers and candles on the tables are provided by the hotel. But there is an extra charge for lighting - which starts from AED1,500 with no specific maximum limit."
She goes on to say that the most expensive form of decoration is a stage, which are used particularly in Arabic or Asian weddings.
"When it comes to stage decoration the cost varies according to whether you are using fresh flowers on the stage and how complex the arrangement is and so on. The minimum would be between AED3,000 to AED4,000 which would be very simple with seating for a bride and groom and maybe a couple of bouquets."
Entertainment at wedding receptions can be hired in from between AED2,500 for a DJ to AED4,000 for a band - depending on the number of musicians involved.
Beutler says: "It depends on the type of entertainment you want. If you are looking for a DJ it would go from AED2,500 up to AED7,000 depending on what you are looking for. Very often DJs want to use their own equipment and they would include this in the DJ price. A band could be from AED4,000 for a three-piece band and this price could go up depending on the number of people in the band."
According to Feyling it is difficult to avoid spending over budget when it comes to hotel wedding receptions, particularly as many require a minimum spend before agreeing to host a wedding reception - however, she does advise on how to cut costs, and believes that making small sacrifices can make a difference to your overall spend.
She recommends couples to consider measures such as sacrificing live entertainment for recorded music and doubling up table centrepieces and gifts for guests.
"On the budget food and drink will generally account for around 33% of your budget if you're looking at figures. But there are small ways to cut down on the wedding reception costs. For instance you could use the centrepieces as the favours for the guests. You could also use standard drinks over premium drinks and have CD music at the cocktail and dinner reception rather than hiring musicians or a band. If live music is important to you then you could have live music at one or the other rather than both."
Hotels are by no means the only choices for couples holding wedding receptions in Dubai - though the costs may be higher for those choosing more exotic, adventurous locations.
Particularly expensive are desert weddings on private resorts, according to Feyling.
She says: "Desert weddings are quite a popular choice but they are very expensive because nothing is set up so you need to transport everything in - from toilets to kitchens to lighting in the desert.
"The set-up and rental for a private desert resort site is at least AED150,000 alone. Then there's the catering which would be at least AED275 a head and then the entertainers such as belly dancers and henna painters.
"You also need to think about how to transport your guests to the desert site and you'd probably need to hire a coach for that."
Feyling says that a 33-seater coach for six hours costs around AED420 in Dubai while the standard rate for a limousine is AED800 for two hours.
Another more exotic wedding reception venue could be a yacht. Dubai Exotic Yachts hires out a yacht at AED2,750 an hour for a minimum of three hours, with 20% taxes added onto that.
That price is just for the crew and the hire of the yacht however, and any food and drink costs would have to be added on top of that.
Golf clubs can also be used as a wedding venue and are, according to Feyling, generally cheaper when it comes to catering.
The Dubai Creek Golf Club for instance charges from AED145 to AED200 per head for wedding catering packages.
Whichever venue couples choose for their big day they will want to capture the moment on camera.
There are plenty of wedding photographers and videographers based in Dubai and their charges will vary according to how long the couple wants the event to be filmed or photographed for and whether they want copies of the photographs rather than just a disc, or if they want the video of the day also to be edited.
According to Feyling, a standard videographer for the day and a couple of edited DVDs of the event would cost from around AED2,500.
She says editing of the filming is usually included in the price for the day.
"If you wanted to cut costs you could get a standard videographer, take the unedited rushes from them and then spend money on getting it edited really creatively," she recommends.
Meanwhile photographers charge around AED5,000 per day and some would charge extra for developing copies of the photographs.
A wedding dress can be as cheap or as expensive as a bride wants it to be - particularly in Dubai where there is a plethora of tailors and dressmakers who given the right material, can create a wedding dress at a fraction of the price of a designer gown.
The price of a dress depends on the fabric used and if it includes any crystal detailing or elaborate embroidery.
An off-the-peg designer gown would start from AED 2,500, according to Feyling, who recommends Dubai bridal stores, The Wedding Shop, the Bridal Room and Frost as good places to find a gown.
She points out however, that the alternative is to get a dress made for around AED1000 by one of Dubai's many dressmakers: "If you go into a dressmaker and say ‘I've only got AED1,000 what can you make me for that', I'm sure they will create something for you."
Feyling goes on to say that it is possible to rent wedding dresses in Dubai, however, these are normally highly elaborate Arabic wedding dresses that can cost around AED10,000 a dress to rent for the day.
To finish off the look, hairstylists and make-up artistes charge on average around AED1,500 each to do a bride's hair and make-up, according to Feyling.
Flowers and invitations
The prices of bridal bouquets depend on which flowers are used. Hotel florists can provide simple bouquets but more elaborate arrangements can be created by florists such as La Vie en Rose.
Bouquets are priced per flower, with roses starting from around AED7 per stem depending on where they are from.
Meanwhile, more expensive flowers such as orchids can rise to as much as AED120 per stem.
Wedding invitations differ in price according to how simple or elaborate they are and start from as little as AED10 per card, according to Freeley.
She said: "I've seen the two extremes - standard cards for AED10 each and AED300 per card for fabric invitations with hand stitching."
Planning and budgeting
While it is certainly possible to set a budget for your wedding and to find out well in advance how much the marriage ceremony and reception will cost you, experts agree that unexpected costs will inevitably crop up and that you will usually end up spending more than you had planned to.
"At the last minute everybody remembers things they have forgotten," says Beutler. "And no matter how small they may be those costs can really add it. Also most of the couples are unfamiliar with the catering business so there are costs that just don't occur to them."
Feyling recommends that couples should set aside additional 10% to their budget for these types of unexpected costs. "I always say in general that people should add another 10% to their budget in case of unexpected extras. Some brides come in with a very fixed budget and don't want to do any overspending at all But in nearly all cases the budget won't be exactly as they had planned it to be."
One way to ensure that your wedding doesn't throw up too many surprises and to ensure that the day goes as smoothly as possible is to hire the services of a wedding planner like Sarah.
She charges AED15,000 for her services and handles every part of the wedding planning process apart from tracking RSVPs and organising guest accommodation.
If hiring a wedding planner is out of your budget however, then hotel wedding planners provide a similar service without the charge - albeit only when it comes to the wedding reception and without providing information on different venue options.
In an ideal world every couple would create a budget for their wedding and stick to it. But few events in life throw up more surprises and unexpected costs than a wedding. So while planning ahead and economising where possible can certainly get results - expecting the unexpected - and putting emergency money aside for surprise costs is the only way to ensure that the cost of your dream Dubai wedding doesn't spiral out of control. And most importantly that you have money left aside for your dream honeymoon.
Wedding packages available at Dubai venues
Dubai Creek Golf Club
International menu includes appetizers, salads, main courses and deserts - ranging in price from AED145 to AE185 per head. Prices include tea and coffee only.
Three-course set menus are available from AED145 to AED165 per head. Four-course set menu from AED165 to AED200 per head - only tea and coffee included.
Buffet, which includes soft drinks, tea and coffee and a cooking station. 14 main courses are available, hot and cold mezze and desserts. From AED 225 up to AED345 per head.
Set menu - six courses including hot and cold mezze, deserts, soft drinks and tea and coffee. From AED160 per head to AED285 per head.
With both ballrooms the hotel will include one night in the bridal suite with complimentary dinner in the room and breakfast.
Burj Al Arab
There is no set price as all packages are tailor-made depending on the guests. However, there is a minimum spend on food and beverages depending on the month.
January - AED 100,000
December - AED 85,000
During Ramadan - AED40,000
February to May - AED85,000
Wedding receptions are held during the evening in the Al Falak Ballroom on the 27th floor.
Maximum 180 guests for a buffet and 220 maximum for a sit down meal.
Every package is tailor made to the guests' requirements but they ask for a minimum spend of AED35,000 A complimentary room is also included (subject to availability)
Four buffets are available - two international and two-themed menus. Prices from AED250 to AED295 per head.
Eight set menus are available (all international unless requested otherwise). Three courses including tea and coffee from AED240 to AED360 per head.
During the week a minimum of 500 guests is required (AED 60,000) and during Thursday and Friday a minimum of 700 guests (AED80,000).
A choice of Arabic, Indian, Iranian and International menus are available.
Set menus (from 6-11 courses) are from AED 120 to AED195 per head. The Buffet menu to from AED190 to AED300 per head.
Sheraton Dubai Creek
Minimum spend of AED8,000 is required which includes a night's stay in a junior suite with breakfast in bed, layered wedding cake, stage for entertainment, dance floor, flowers for dinning table and special room rates guests.
Set menu with three or four courses AED155, AED165 or AED 185 per head.
Buffet from AED145, AED155 and AED165 per head including soft drinks. Menus are available in International, Arabic and Indian.
The Montgomerie Golf Club
Choice of four barbeque menus costing AED120, AED140, AED160 and AED170 per person.
Choice of four breakfast buffets for AED60 per head, AED110, AED130 and AED155.
Five buffet menus from AED100 per head, AED130, AED160, AED210, AED250.
The Fairmont Dubai Hotel
A minimum of 100 guests is required. Included in the package are breakfast and dinner at the hotel, a honeymoon suite for the couple, a 10% discount on treatments at the spa, complimentary five-layered Fairmont styled-wedding cake.
Arabic and Indian menus are available and are priced at AED130, AED140, AED155 or AED170 per person.
Jumeirah Beach Hotel
A minimum of 50 guests is required for the choice of three international buffet menus that are available priced at AED220, AED240 and AED250 per person.
Banquet beverage prices are worked per head per hour based on a minimum of 40 guests.
One hour costs AED40 per head for non-alcoholic packages, AED80 for the Standard package, AED110 for the Deluxe and AED140 for the Premium package.
Two hours cost AED65 for non-alcoholic, AED150 for Standard, AED180 for Deluxe and AED 250 for Premium.
Three hours of drinking costs AED90 for non-alcoholic, AED195 for Standard, AED 260 for Deluxe and AED 330 for Premium.