Travel.State.Gov > Intercountry Adoption > Country Information > South Africa Intercountry Adoption Information
Exercise increased caution in South Africa due to crime, civil unrest, and drought.
Violent crime, such as armed robbery, rape, carjacking, mugging, and "smash-and-grab" attacks on vehicles, is common. There is a higher risk of violent crime in the central business districts of major cities after dark.
Demonstrations, protests, and strikes occur frequently. These can develop quickly without prior notification, often interrupting traffic, transportation, and other services; such events have the potential to turn violent.
South Africa’s Western, Eastern, and Northern Cape Provinces are experiencing a severe drought. Water supplies in some areas may be affected. Residential water-use restrictions are in place in Cape Town and other municipalities. Please see links below for current information.
Please see our Alerts for up-to-date information.
Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.
If you decide to travel to South Africa:
South Africa is party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Therefore all intercountry adoptions between South Africa and the United States must meet the requirements of the Convention and U.S. law implementing the Convention.
South African law recognizes two kinds of adoptions by foreigners:
The first category (“non-Hague adoption”) requires the foreign adoptive parent(s) to be resident for five years in South Africa, and the adoptions are handled by an accredited agency and finalized by the Department of Social Development under laws relating to local adoptions. Note: Under applicable U.S. laws and regulations, children adopted in non-Hague adoptions will only be eligible for immigration to the United States after a waiting period of two years’ residence and two years’ legal custody with the adoptive parent(s).
The second category (“Hague adoption”) is only available to citizens of countries with a working agreement between the prospective adoptive parent’s country of origin and South Africa. As Of This Writing, There Have Been No Working Agreements Finalized Between South African And U.S. Adoption Service Providers. Please contact the U.S. Consulate Johannesburg Immigrant Visa Unit (contact information below) for the latest information regarding adoption in South Africa.
There have been a number of cases in which American Citizens have been issued “Guardianship Orders” from the South African High Court. These orders do not constitute “irrevocable release for adoption and immigration” as required by United States Immigration Law. As such, they cannot be used for immigration purposes.
Note: Special transition provisions apply to adoptions initiated before April 1, 2008. Visit our Hague Transition Cases page for more information.
To bring an adopted child to the United States from South Africa, you must meet certain suitability and eligibility requirements. USCIS determines who is suitable and eligible to adopt a child from another country and bring that child to live in the United States under U.S. immigration law.
Additionally, a child must meet the definition of a Convention adoptee under U.S. immigration law in order to be eligible to immigrate to the United States with an IH-3 or IH-4 immigrant visa.
Adoption between the United States and South Africa is governed by the Hague Adoption Convention. Therefore to adopt from South Africa, you must first be found eligible to adopt by the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government agency responsible for making this determination is the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Learn more by visiting our Who Can Adopt page.
In addition to these U.S. requirements for prospective adoptive parents, South Africa also has the following requirements for prospective adoptive parents:
Because South Africa is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, children from South Africa must meet the requirements of the Convention in order to be eligible for adoption. For example, the Convention requires that South Africa attempt to place a child with a family in-country before determining that a child is eligible for intercountry adoption. In addition to South Africa’s requirements, a child must meet the definition of a Convention adoptee for you to bring him or her back to the United States.
The consent of the child’s biological father, except in cases of rape and incest, must be obtained before a child born out of wedlock is placed for adoption. Unmarried fathers have the right to apply for access, custody or guardianship. Previously, only the consent of the biological mother was required. A married or divorced biological father can prevent his wife or former wife from relinquishing their child(ren) for adoption.
According to South African law, a child born to parents who are not married to each other at the time of birth is considered illegitimate. A child born to unmarried parents becomes legitimate as soon as his/her biological parents marry. Normally, the mother of an illegitimate child is not only the legal guardian of her child, but also has custody even if she herself is still a minor. Only if it is proven that she is unfit to have custody can the child be taken from her and placed in alternative custody. Under current laws, an illegitimate child may take the surname of its father only if the father has formally acknowledged parentage of the child in the birth register. The mother alone has the right to decide the child’s name.
Department of Social Development
Because South Africa is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, adopting from South Africa must follow a specific process designed to meet the Convention's requirements. A brief summary of the Convention adoption process is provided below. You must complete these steps in the following order so that your adoption meets all necessary legal requirements. South Africa implemented the Children's Act on April 1, 2010, which formalizes laws and procedures regarding intercountry adoption under the Hague Convention.
Note: If you completed a full and final adoption or filed your I-600a or I-600 with USCIS before April 1, 2008, the Hague Adoption Convention may not apply to your adoption. Your adoption could continue to be processed in accordance with the immigration regulations for non-Convention adoptions. Visit our Hague Transition Cases page for more information.
After you choose an accredited adoption service provider, you apply to be found eligible to adopt (Form I-800A) by the U.S. Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) National Benefits Center (NBC). Learn more by visiting our Who Can Adopt page.
The accredited organization is tasked with identifying a child who is eligible for adoption. After a home study has been completed by an accredited organization, the case is referred to a children’s court for a final hearing.
Once the U.S. government determines that you are “eligible” and “suitable” to adopt, you or your agency will forward your information to the adoption authority in South Africa. South Africa’s adoption authority will review your application to determine whether you are also eligible to adopt under South Africa’s law.
If both the United States and South Africa determine that you are eligible to adopt, and a child is available for intercountry adoption, the central adoption authority in South Africa may provide you with a referral for a child. Each family must decide for itself whether or not it will be able to meet the needs of the particular child and provide a permanent family placement for the referred child.
An order of adoption terminates all the rights and obligations existing between the child and any prior legally-recognized parents. The adopted child is thereafter deemed by law to be the legitimate child of the adoptive parent(s). The order of adoption confers the surname of the adoptive parent on the adopted child.
After you accept a match with a child, you will apply to the U.S Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for provisional approval to adopt that particular child (Form I-800). USCIS will determine whether the prospective adoptive child qualifies as a Hague adoptee and would be eligible under U.S. law to enter the United States after being adopted abroad. Visit our Who can be Adopted page for more information.
After this, your adoption service provider or you will submit a visa application to a Consular Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg. The Consular Officer will review the child’s information and evaluate the child for possible visa ineligibilities. If the Consular Office determines that the child appears eligible to immigrate to the United States, he/she will notify the South Africa’s adoption authority (Article 5 letter). For Convention country adoptions, prospective adoptive parent(s) may not proceed with the adoption or obtain custody for the purpose of adoption until this takes place.
Remember: The Consular Officer will make a final decision about the immigrant visa later in the adoption process.
Remember: Before you adopt a child in South Africa, you must have completed the above four steps. Only after completing these steps, can you proceed to finalize the adoption or grant of custody for the purposes of adoption in South Africa.
The process for finalizing the adoption in South Africa generally includes the following:
NOTE: If you are asked to provide proof that a document from the United States is authentic, we can help. Find more information on our Traveler's Checklist page.
You will first need to apply for a new birth certificate for your child, so that you can later apply for a passport. Your name will be added to the new birth certificate.
First, the adoption must be recorded in the child’s birth register at any district office of the Department of Home Affairs (www.dha.gov.za). Submit a written request, accompanied by a certified copy of the adoption order. If the adoption order authorizes the change of the child’s surname to that of the adoptive parent(s), this will be completed at the same time on form BI-193. The fee to record an adoption is R70.00 (South African Rand).
Submit a completed BI-154 application form in person to any district office of the Department of Home Affairs. You must request the unabridged or long-form version of the birth certificate, which will list the names, birthdates and birthplaces of both parents along with those of the child. The fee for the unabridged birth certificate is R70.00 and processing can take several weeks.
South African Passport
Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so he/she will need to obtain a South African passport.
Submit a completed DHA-73 application form in person to any district office of the Department of Home Affairs, accompanied by the unabridged birth certificate. The parents must satisfy the passport officer of the child’s identity and their parental relationship to the child. The child’s photographs will be checked to ensure that they are a true image of the applicant. If the child is over 16, his or her fingerprints will be taken for checking against the Population Register. The South African child passport (applicants under 16) is valid for 5 years and the fee is R145.00. The regular passport (applicants over 16) is valid for 10 years and the fee is R190.00 for a 32-page book. Processing time for all passports is approximately six weeks.
U.S. Immigrant Visa
After the adoption is granted and you have obtained the new birth certificate and passport for your child, you also need to apply for an immigrant visa from the U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg for your child. This immigrant visa allows your child to travel home with you. As part of this process, the Consular Officer must be provided the “Panel Physician’s” medical report on the child if it was not provided during the provisional approval stage.
The following additional documents are required for children who are fully adopted under South African law:
Note: If all required documents are in order and the child is qualified for the visa, it generally takes between 2-3 days to issue the visa. Unfortunately, it is not possible to issue the visa to adoptive parents on the day of the interview due to security procedures.
For adoptions finalized abroad: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows your child to acquire U.S. citizenship automatically when he or she enters the United States on an IH-3 immigrant visa. You may then apply for your child’s U.S. passport by following the instructions at http://travel.state.gov(see “Traveling Abroad” below for more information).
For adoptions to be finalized in the United States: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows children who entered the U.S. on an IH-4 immigrant visa to acquire U.S. citizenship when the U.S. state court issues the final adoption decree. We urge your family to finalize the adoption in a U.S. state court as quickly as possible.
*Please be aware that if your child did not qualify to become a citizen upon entry to the United States, it is very important that you take the steps necessary so that your child does qualify as soon as possible. Failure to obtain citizenship for your child can impact many areas of his/her life including family travel, eligibility for education and education grants, and voting.
Visit our page on Acquiring U.S. Citizenship for your Child to learn more about the Child Citizenship Act.
U.S. citizens are required to use a valid U.S. passport to enter or depart the United States. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue, or verify U.S. passports.
Getting or renewing a passport is easy. The Passport Application Wizard will help you determine which passport form you need, help you to complete the form online, estimate your payment, and generate the form for you to print—all in one place.
In addition to a U.S. passport, you also need to obtain a visa. A visa is an official document issued by a foreign country that formally allows you to visit. Where required, visas are attached to your passport and allow you to enter a foreign nation.
To find information about obtaining a visa for South Africa, see the Department of State’s Country Specific Information.
Before you travel, it's always a good practice to investigate the local conditions, laws, political landscape, and culture of the country. The State Department is a good place to start.
The Department of State provides Country Specific Information for every country of the world about various issues, including the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, and any areas of instability.
When traveling during the adoption process, we encourage you to enroll with the Department of State. Enrollment makes it possible to contact you if necessary. Whether there is a family emergency in the United States or a crisis in South Africa, enrollment assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.
Enrollment is free and can be done online via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
What does South Africa require of the adoptive parents after the adoption?
South Africa has no post-adoption requirements.
What resources are available to assist families after the adoption?
Many adoptive parents find it important to find support after the adoption. Take advantage of all the resources available to your family -- whether it’s another adoptive family, a support group, an advocacy organization, or your religious or community services.
Here are some good places to start your support group search:
Note: Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.
U.S. Consulate in South Africa
U.S. Consulate General
1 Sandton Drive
The Consulate in Johannesburg handles all consular matters, including immigrant visas, for Pretoria. The United States also has Consulates General in Cape Town and Durban; however these offices do not process immigrant visas.
South Africa’s Adoption Authority
Department of Social Development
Registrar of Adoptions
Private Bag X901
Pretoria 0001, South Africa
Commissioner of Child Welfare
Private Bag X61
Pretoria 0001, South Africa
Embassy of South Africa
Embassy of the Republic of South Africa
3051 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington , DC 20008
* South Africa also has Consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) For questions about immigration procedures, call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) 1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833)
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