Destination Wedding Photographers: Are You Breaking the Law?

How many photographers do you know who travel to different countries and photograph weddings in beautiful and exotic locations? The question is: are those wedding photographers legally allowed to work outside of their home country, or are they rolling the dice on having their equipment confiscated and them being blacklisted from entering that country again?

Taylor Jackson is a Canadian-based wedding photographer who shoots dozens of weddings a year, and he has a question for professionals who make their income from destination weddings around the world. How are you legally photographing these weddings in these exotic locales? Are you really getting work permits to photograph your weddings or are you “taking a vacation” and just so happen to be photographing a wedding as a friend of the bride and groom while possibly accepting pay in advance?

I’ve seen this among some USA-based photographers for a long time with them traveling into Canada, where Jackson is from, where they are photographing engagements, weddings, and elopements in areas like Banff National Park, which itself requires its own specific permits for Canadian residents working in the park. Canada takes its work permits very seriously, as does the USA and many EU countries, as they want to protect work that can be fulfilled in their respective territories by their own citizens. The issue is some photographers flout those laws and do so at their own risk.

Do you or someone you know who works as a destination wedding photographer do so legally? If so, share the process that you have gone through to legally be able to travel from your home country or territory and work around the globe. 

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10 Comments

Leigh Miller's picture

Sheesh....jesus sweet christ

Yeah, I have seen this happening a lot. So does this apply to Youtubers as well? Working for brands and going to the US/Canada across the border for jobs does that count?

George Popescu's picture

It's the same with "traveling" models, who go to other countries as "tourists" and then book photoshoots for money with photographers in that country, therefore "working".
Unless immigration officials really care about the money that photographers and models make in other countries then nothing will change and they will not get caught, they have to get caught for doing something else and then the work situation will come up.

Leigh Miller's picture

Canada does care. If they suspect you are here to work in any capacity they will deny entry. They search bags and cell phones alike especially now with human trafficking entering the spotlight.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

I know a few fellow German photographers that announced how excited they are to shoot a wedding in the US publicly ob Facebook. Totally ignorant of that this might get them into a lot of troubes.

I mean basically if you see it from a different angle it becomes more obvious. For the US (or any other countries) immigration it does not really matter if you come to work to deliver mail, sell burgers or shoot weddings.

At the same time it is ridiculous that carrying professional gear makes you an illegal worker by default. I did travel to Hawaii or other places with all my gear just to shoot landscapes for my portfolio.

There is a grey area though. If I come to let's say NYC to shoot a TFP or even paid shoot (I pay the model) in a wedding dress and I use those shots for my portfolio. What is that? Illegal work as I use it to promote my business? Or am I actually rather the client (of the model)? :)

I’m Ukrainian citizen who once entered UK, with a lot of gear, I was upfront with my purpose of visit - collaborative TFP shooting - and was allowed to enter.

I totally understand what TJ is saying. Plus I have a colleague that I work with who was going from EU to shoot a wedding in the USA and got turned around at the US immigration at the airport. A panic phone-call to a US photographer that he knew to cover the wedding.

Here is a thought, what happens if I am going to a business meeting in a difference country? Technically I am now working in the foreign country without a visa...

Ted Mercede's picture

I traveled extensively all across the world professionally as an Electrical Engineer, and everywhere I had ever gone looks at business meetings differently than actually "working", its allowed without a work visa.

Ryan Sauve's picture

I was asked to fly down to Huntington Beach to film fitness influencers for a client here in Canada and I refused without them obtaining me the proper immigration papers and VISAs. Consequences could be being banned from the US for several years so I didn't budge on that requirement. Would have cost about $15k (according to several different lawyers) to make that work so the client opted instead to fly all the talent up to Canada. But yeah, I see a fair amount of local guys giving bogus advice and heading South to work, which I imagine is not all by the book. That being said, the rules for videographers seems more strict than photographers when we looked at the fine print with the lawyers.