Travelling to or from South Africa with children?

In June 2015 South Africa introduced new regulations for travelling into and out of the country with children. The law applies to both South Africans and foreign nationals. The premise behind it is to counter child trafficking and abduction. Most people are in favour of preventing such awfulness, so the theory is commendable.  However, as with anything new, there has been some initial confusion over the rules.IMG_6033 1

Certainly in the expat community the new rules caused a wave of panic when they were unexpectedly introduced more or less over night in June 2014 right around the time the international schools finished their academic year. There were plenty of teething problems meaning their implementation was then delayed until October 2014 and finally went live June 2015.

Since June 1st, when both parents are travelling with their children, they must now present an unabridged birth certificate for any child under 18. Unabridged just means full or complete. The unabridged version includes particulars of the child’s parents, as opposed to ‘abridged’, which means shortened and doesn’t include that extra information.  It’s a pretty a straightforward requirement.

However, if you are a lone parent travelling with your children, which many expat mums heading home for the holidays are, it gets more complicated. Leaving South Africa I presented a full birth certificate for each child, an affidavit signed by my husband for each child (i.e. the other parent) granting me permission to travel alone with them and notorised by a lawyer. I was also asked for a certified copy of my husband’s passport, both at check in and passport control both leaving and entering the country. It’s not something I’ve seen on the list, but thank goodness I had a heads up from friends that it was required, so I made sure I had it

Coming BACK to South Africa was a little trickier. The check-in lady at Heathrow asked to see my Court Order. Technically it shows on some lists as a requirement for a solo parent traveller, but when we were preparing the affidavits, we double checked this and were advised that this is only for situations where a parent is entirely absent or unknown I spent a LONG time arguing the toss with the check-in lady that I had everything I needed and would not consider boarding an 11 hour flight with 2 children if I seriously thought I would be returned to sender upon reaching the other end. I say arguing, I was extremely calm and reasoned that what I was presenting her with was what I’d presented upon leaving South Africa and that I was entirely confident that I would be allowed back into the country.

I do understand that airlines are extremely reluctant to fall foul of the new rules as any travellers deemed to be flouting them re deported and the airline fined and the check in lady took a lot of convincing.  It took a number of phne calls to her colleagues and 40 minutes of firm, unwavering persuasion on my part to ensure we could get on the flight.  Eventually, my marriage certificate was accepted as further and final proof that I was not absconding with my children to South Africa. South Africa where, I had assured her, my husband/the kids’ father would be waiting at the airport to pick us all up. I had also suggested she check the flight manifest from a few days previously when he had returned to SA. I had said that she was welcome to ask my children any questions regarding their father and his whereabouts. At passport control returning to South Africa the process was straightforward, I was again asked for the same three documents I had shown when leaving the country:

  1. Full birth certificate for each child (original or certified copy)
  2. Signed and notorised affidavit from other parent permitting me to travel alone with them.
  3. Notorised copy of my husband’s passport.

The consensus is to bring everything you can think of (thank goodness I had my marriage certificate) and maybe certified copies of originals too. There seem to be various interpretations of the rules depending on which country you are departing from to get to South Africa. As my fellow expats trickle back over the next couple of weeks, I’m interested to know whether everything is now running smoothly or whether other travellers have had complications.

Have you recently travelled to or from RSA with children? Did you have any paperwork problems? Are you aware of any further rule changes?

This post is based on my own experiences, so please be sure to check documentation requirements before travelling to or from South Africa with children.

10 thoughts on “Travelling to or from South Africa with children?

  1. James gray August 5, 2015 / 6:15 pm

    It’s hard to get all officials understanding the same thing the same way !

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  2. Expatorama August 5, 2015 / 6:52 pm

    It is, especially when every country (and I believe in America every State) has it’s own individual format for the birth certificate. Anyhow, all’s well that ends well. We were allowed on the plane and any teething problems should settle down soon enough.

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  3. Hilary August 5, 2015 / 6:55 pm

    No such problems returning from Somerset to Epsom I assure you!

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  4. Expatorama August 5, 2015 / 7:09 pm

    Good point. Perhaps we should consider an SA staycation next time. Lots of lovely places to go.

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  5. Shibu August 17, 2015 / 9:30 am

    I read somewhere that if the child’s passport has the name of the parents, then there is no need for the birth certificate.I will know in a week’s time when i travel to ZA with my family.

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    • Expatorama August 17, 2015 / 12:37 pm

      Thanks Shibu. I’d love to hear your trip goes and whether or not you needed the birth certificate/s. The rules are still causing some confusion and the consistent advice I’m hearing from other travellers is bring EVERYTHING, so it’s probably a good idea to bring birth certificate/s even if you think you might not need them. Good luck with the journey.

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      • Shibu October 1, 2015 / 10:37 am

        Back from South Africa. We were asked, by immigration officials at both Entry and exit, to produce the birth certificate of my daughter. The birth certificate is mandatory for children to be able to travel in and out of SA.But for those kids who hold Indian passport, the relevant page in their passport which shows the name of the parents is enough.My daughter has Indian passport. The Airlines check-in counter guy also asked for the birth certificate at O R Tambo.

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      • Expatorama October 1, 2015 / 10:58 am

        That’s interesting to know that the parents’ details in about the Indian passport. Thanks so much for the update Shibu. Hope you enjoyed your stay in South Africa.

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  6. June February 7, 2017 / 9:37 am

    Has anyone traveled to South Africa with a child who is British, I want to check if the British unabridged birth cert (A4, inc. father and mother name and place of birth, DOES NOT INCLUDE parents date of birth) is sufficient for the Immigration rules requiring parents travelling with children (under 18) to show the child’s full unabridged birth certificate (or a certified copy).

    Comparing the UK unabridged to the South African one, the South African one includes the parents ID numbers and d.o.b. We dont have ID numbers in the UK. But our d.o.b are not shown on the document.

    Thanks in advance for any info.

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  7. Expatorama February 7, 2017 / 1:11 pm

    Hi June – We’ve travelled numerous times now with British birth certs (A4 size). Absolutely no problems. Ours (the parents) d.o.b.’s are not listed, but your names must be on there. If you are travelling with a certified copy rather than the original, make sure it has been certified recently (some sources say within 6 months, others within 3). Hope that helps. Happy travels.

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