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Moving to South Africa with Children | Complete Guide

Andrew Macfarlane
Moving to South Africa with Children | Complete Guide

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Relocating a young family will always be stressful and challenging. This extends to the emotional elements, the paperwork, and all the other administration that must be overcome.

It’s also important to remember that moving to a new country brings loads of significant cultural differences, new languages, and systemic changes.

In this article, we take an in-depth look at what you need to know to move you and your family successfully to this beautiful country you’re soon to call home!

Legalities Of Travelling With Children In and Out of South Africa

It’s your child, so you can take them wherever you want to, right? Well, things get complicated in South Africa. We’re quite strict when it comes to travelling with children, and it’s best to make sure you know exactly what you need and when.

In May 2014, the South African government determined that children would only be allowed to travel with certain documents.

These new travelling regulations were implemented to lower the number of children being trafficked in the country. There was much speculation about the real motive at the time, but as it is the law, citizens and travellers need to abide by them. The documents are required for both local and international travel with children.

Then, just to confuse things a bit more, in November 2019, the requirements were revised again. Let’s take a look at the most recent requirements for travelling with kids.

For starters, foreign children with visas will only require a valid passport to enter and leave the country. This is because these visas are issued with documentation.

For South African children, you will need the following upon exiting and entering the country in the following situations:

Child Accompanied By Both Parents

South African parents will need to produce a:

    • Valid passport;
    • Copy of a birth certificate or equivalent document or passport containing the details of the parents.

This is the most straightforward situation, so parents should plan on travelling together. And with the international traveller, these are the documents you’ll need for the child’s visa application.

Child Accompanied By One Parent

Moving to South Africa with children

When a single parent is travelling with their child, they will need to produce the following documents:

    • A valid passport;
    • Copy of a birth certificate or equivalent document;
    • Parental consent letter from the absent parent;
    • Copy of their passport or identity document of the absent parent;
    • Contact details of the absent parent;
  • And where it is applicable:
    • A copy of a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights or legal guardianship in respect of the child
    • A copy of the death certificate of the deceased parent.

Adults will be required to carry all these documents and more for all other situations.

Child Travelling With a Person Who Is Not a Biological Parent

Adopted parents must prove they are the legal guardian, along with all the aforementioned documentation.

Adults just acting as a chaperone will need a copy/copies of all the documents affiliated with the parents and contact information.

For international travellers, the chaperone will need to produce all aforementioned documents upon arrival and have a valid visa for the child.

An Unaccompanied Child

Children, local and international, who are not accompanied by any adults will need to carry many documents.

They will need to have the following:

    • A copy of their birth certificate;
    • Parental consent letters;
    • Copies of passports and identity documents of parents and legal guardians;
    • A letter from the individual who is receiving the child in the country, and this must contain their address, contact details, and where the child will be living;
    • A copy of the passport belonging to the adult receiving the child, an identity document, or a visa or permanent residence permit;
    • And if needed, an adoption order, death certificate, or copy of the court order granting full parental responsibilities.

A child in alternative care will need to produce a valid passport and a letter from the Provincial Head of the Department of Social Development where the child resides authorising their departure from the Republic as contemplated in section 169 of the Children’s Act (Act No. 38 of 2005).

While this is a lot to take in, the revision that was implemented in 2019 did insert a few beneficial exemptions that make travelling to and from South Africa more accessible.


The exemptions make some of the processes more manageable. Namely, South African children travelling on a South African passport may travel into the country without birth certificates.

Also, children with valid South African visas are not required to produce the documents already submitted as part of their application when entering the country, which will relieve international travellers.

Local and international children presenting a passport containing their parents' details are not required to produce a birth certificate.

In a situation where the parents have passed away recently, you will need to apply for a special dispensation, which will require an email directed to the Office of the Director-General of Home Affairs.

Unabridged Birth Certificates? Yay or Nay

This was a hot topic a few years ago, and for the most part, parents sucked it up and made it happen. However, the government has heard the cries of the people and announced that as part of its move to a paperless system, children's passports will soon include both parents' details.

Thus, the need for unabridged certificates will soon be a thing of the past as they will automatically be unabridged.

It’s best to review all the legal requirements straight from the source and understand them.

But once the legalities are dealt with, it’s time to address other relocation hurdles.

Now, let’s talk about schools in South Africa.

South Africa School System and Study Visa Requirements

 South Africa School System and Study Visa Requirements

If you’re relocating to South Africa with your children, they must attend school.

Enrolment of children in South Africa occurs between 1 August to 31 September, the year before they are due to start. Grade R students must be at least four years old and turn five or older by 30 June during the school year. Grade one students must be at least five years old and turn six or older by June during the school year.

The school day in South Africa typically starts at 08:00 and ends by 14:30. On Fridays, some schools will close earlier, around 13:00.

Education is compulsory for children between the ages of seven (grade one) and 15 (grade nine). But school ends at grade 12, and students can attend a tertiary educational institution afterwards.

Foreign children attending any school within the country must get a South African Study Visa; otherwise, they will not be allowed to attend school in person.

Online and homeschooling are allowed, but your children will not receive the South African qualifications or matric certificate.

So, what are the requirements for this study visa?

School Study Visa Requirements in South Africa

The first requirement is to complete the study visa application form correctly. Once you’ve filled out all the necessary paperwork, you will need an acceptance letter from a principal at a South African school.

It’s best to reach out to a school beforehand to conduct interviews over video chat as the school's principal, or registrar, will need to provide the Director-General of Home Affairs with several notifications during the validity period of the applicant child.

Documents required for this process are a copy of the child’s passport and a valid visa.

If a child is going to be cared for by a guardian, you will need to provide proof of the caregiver’s contact details, where they live, and who they are legally to the child.

In certain situations, the school’s principal and Director-General will require confirmation from the guardian on how they will fill the role.

The last requirement for a study visa is providing proof that they will be medically covered for the entire time they will be in South Africa as a student.

We recommend getting a study visa as soon as possible. Otherwise, they will not be allowed to attend school.

A study visa is valid for a maximum of eight years for primary school and six years for high school. And these can be extended if required within the country.

Now for general school information.

General School Information | Moving to South Africa with Children

School System South Africa for international students

Unlike many first-world countries, public schools are not free and must be paid for. These fees are, however, relatively low.

There are also private and International schools, which will be pricy compared to the public school options. International schools stick to schedules and curriculums based on the US schooling system.

Most schools in South Africa make wearing uniforms mandatory unless otherwise specified.

As mentioned, the school year runs from January to December, with the summer holidays happening at the end of the year. Like the rest of the world, summer holidays are the longest break.

Public schools are divided into four terms, and every year the Education Department will issue a timetable for the year ahead. Holidays and terms are not set in stone.

Primary schooling starts in grade R and ends in grade seven. Some schools will require that students attend another separate preschool for grade R. After grade 7, primary school students move to high school, starting with grade eight and ending with Matric (grade 12).

With public schooling, children will have an opportunity to take part in sports after school. Usually, this is incorporated into the curriculum. These activities however will not be subsidised, and parents will be responsible for outfitting children with school athletic wear.

If this is a significant change for your children, selecting an International school be easier.

And as an FYI, changing schools will require reapplication for the new institution.

It’s in your best interest to ask if counsellors can assist with the transition. After all, moving across international borders is an emotional process.

Now let's look at the discussions you should have with your family about moving aboard.

Discussions to Have as a Family Moving to South Africa

How to tell your children you're moving

It’s vital for any family’s dynamic to include everyone in the conversation about relocating to South Africa. Change is difficult for adults, and it’s even more challenging for children.

Conducting open discussions as a family is critical, and even the adults need to listen to the points brought up by the younger family members. If problems are mentioned, try to address them constructively.

For example, if the children are worried about learning a new language, make sure to find a school that conducts lessons in their native tongue. Luckily, South Africa’s school system includes English medium schools.

They will need to learn a second language like Afrikaans or Xhosa in order to pass the South African Matriculation. So, make sure you start tutoring early. Or, discuss going to an international school with a different curriculum.

A significant issue for children is keeping in contact with their friends, but with the advent of social media, it’s never been easier for everyone to stay in touch.

Explain every detail about what’s about to happen so that there is no confusion.

What other problems can cause issues when moving to South Africa?

Issues That Will Pop Up for Children Moving to South Africa

One problem that could pop up is the difference in daylight or nighttime hours.

Even within the borders of South Africa, daylight times can vary greatly, with the Western Cape having later sunsets than Gauteng. There is a lot of online material which can assist with explaining these changes.

Visiting your children’s new school is also essential in the early days of arriving in the country. And remember, no child wants their parents to parade them around the school ground. To quote some youths, “Be cool and blend in”.

Another issue that might not have occurred to the parents is the change of food. But South Africa does stock most world cuisines and flavours. Both Western and Eastern options are available at most grocery stores.

But this being said, changes in food flavours can be an issue for fussy eaters. If your children are picky eaters, ensure that their favourite foods are brought along during the move.

Another element that will make a move easier is ensuring that some familiar items are around the new home, such as furniture, pictures and so on. These items will help ease the transition and assist them in adapting to the new environment.

Cultural shocks are bound to happen. Make sure you discuss these changes with your children. Many places in the world don’t have people selling goods at traffic lights. Explain these new cultural norms to your children when they occur.

Finally, the biggest elephant in the room to discuss will be crime and load-shedding.

South Africa, Crime, and Load-shedding

South Africa has its issues, and the major ones are crime and load-shedding. Adults will need to change their own thinking around these issues as well as the children’s thought processes.

A surefire way to minimise the crime risk is to select a home in an area with a lower crime rate. If you have the budget, install a good security system, or find a home in a secure complex. Also, ensure that your children know the security code for the alarm company.

Check out the top neighbourhoods in Cape Town to get an idea of where would be a good place to stay with your family.

In some first-world countries, people don’t need to lock the front door. Make sure to teach your children the lock-up routine.

It’s unfortunate that South Africa has such issues, but every country has its crime issues.

Preparing for load-shedding is also vital to keep up the morale in the household, as it will not end any time soon. Make sure you set aside some budget for an inverter and battery, as these will assist with keeping the lights on and spirits high.

But generally, your family will need time to adjust to their new environment.

The Time Factor

No matter how well your family adjusts to the move, settling into a new lifestyle always takes time.

It takes time to understand the norms of a new country and population. But remember to have fun.

See the sights, get involved with the cultures, and immerse your family in what it means to be a new South African.

Also, ensuring that everyone has fun means they’ll be making new connections and friends. But what happens when you need something brought to your new home?

Remember, Getting a Quote for Movers Is Easy in South Africa

When landing in South Africa, you will want the quickest solution to locating the best mover to assist you and your family with settling in.

With Wise Move, you’ll be able to find the best mover in your area with reviews and quotes.

This will make one more element easier for you when moving to South Africa with children.

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