South Africa International Adoption Process and Cost

Actors Daniel Radcliffe from the Harry Potter, Arnold Vosloo from The Mummy, and Oprah Winfrey all have African roots. Being a home to many famous celebrities, Africa has proven to the rest of the world the potential of its people aside from the beauty of its nature.

South Africa International Adoption
Wildlife Safari in the Kruger National Park, South Africa

However, despite its beauty, South Africa, in particular, is home to more or less 2.2 million orphans, according to a survey in 2018, who need a loving home. It’s then where international adoption comes in. Over the years, the convenience of international adoption has provided thousands of African children with appropriate love, care, and security.

Typically, international adoption in South Africa takes approximately 1 to 3 years. Moreover, it should cost adoptive parents more or less $30,000 to $40,000, depending on the various elements. These elements include the process’ potential delays or waiting periods, the service providers, and the travel required of the applicants. In light of this, these are the steps of a South Africa international adoption:

1. Choosing an accredited or approved adoption service provider;

2. Applying to be found eligible to adopt;

3. Matching and referral with a child by authorities in South Africa;

4. Applying for the child to be found eligible for immigration;

5. Obtaining legal custody of a child in South Africa; and

6. Obtaining an immigrant visa for the child and bringing the child home.

As a Hague country, the majority of the process in South Africa International Adoption discussed in this article is in accordance with the Hague Convention.

Pre-Adoption Process

Who are qualified to adopt?

The best way to be accurate on South Africa’s additional eligibility requirements for adoptive parents is to know directly from provinces. However, South Africa, as a Convention country, typically has the following requirements:

  1. Adoptive parents must be over 18 years old. However, preference is given to applicants who are 40 to 45 years old. Applicants above 45 years old may apply; however, the waiting time may be longer.
  2. Single individuals may adopt.
  3. LGBT individuals are allowed to adopt.
  4. Adoptive parents must prove financial stability and capability to sustain for a child. However, there is no specified income requirement for international adoption in South Africa.
  5. Adoptive parents must have no more than four children, with the youngest child at home to be at least 3 years old at the time of dossier submission.
  6. Adoptive parents must have no criminal history.
  7. Adoptive parents must be physically and psychologically healthy.
  8. Most importantly, applicants must be fit to handle transracial and transcultural aspects of international adoption. 

What are the documents required for adoption?

Like most Convention adoptions, these are the documents prospective adoptive parents should prepare for international adoption in South Africa:

  1. Confirmation that the child meets the definition of a Conventional Adoptee
  2. Proof of compliance with all relevant South African regulations
  3. Original and a copy of the adoptive parents ́ passports
  4. Copy of a document that states the current address of the adoptive parents
  5. Birth certificates
  6. Marriage certificates, if applicable
  7. Divorce decrees, if applicable
  8. Financial documentation or proof of financial assets
  9. Police reports
  10. Medical examination of the child completed by one of the Consulate’s approved panel physicians

Who are qualified to be adopted?

South Africa International Adoption

As mentioned, policies about the eligibility of children for adoption may vary depending on each province. However, prospective adoptive parents may expect children who are 0 to 17 years old and have been orphaned or abandoned at the time of referral. Additionally, sibling groups usually are not required in international adoption from South Africa. Children with special needs are usually on the waiting list. But generally, as a party to the Hague Adoption Convention, adoptees must first meet the definition of abandoned by 22 CFR 96.2.

Abandonment means:

  1.  The parents of the child have willfully terminated all parental rights, custody, obligations, and claims to the child. 
  2. The parents of the child have actually surrendered such rights, obligations, claims, control, and possession.
  3. The parents of the child have entrusted the child to an orphanage permanently and not temporarily.
  4. The parents of the child have signed a written document as proof of abandonment. This is given that he or she is able to read and write.
  5. The parents of the child entrusted the child to a third party in anticipation of adoption.


Children with special needs in South Africa generally refer to children who have complex medical and health conditions such as born to HIV+ mothers, prematurity, developmental delays, cognitive impairments, and brain abnormalities.

The Adoption Process

1. Choosing an accredited or approved adoption service provider.

The first and probably the wisest is to select an initial adoption service provider, provided that the service provider is accredited and approved to operate in the home country and the receiving country. The job of the service provider is to ensure that the adoption process, in accordance with the Hague Adoption Convention. 

Most adoption service providers around the world commonly operate in the:

  • identification of a child candidate for adoption and arrangement of adoption
  • the legal termination of parental rights
  • background study on a child and home study on the prospective adoptive parents
  • determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of the prospective adoptive parents
  • post-adoption reports

To ensure that the adoption service provider is not a scam, those who are applying for adoption are advised to contact the Central Authority in the country where you live. It is the Central Authority who will refer you to an adoption service provider in your country. After the referral, you will undergo a screening and assessment to determine whether you are fit to adopt a child or not.

2. Applying to be found eligible to adopt.

After choosing an accredited or approved adoption service provider, prospective adoptive parents must apply to be found eligible to adopt.

For US citizens, they can apply to the US government agencies. These are the Department of Homeland Security and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application that is to be submitted is the Form I-800A. Explicitly, the Form I-800A is an Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country.

Once the USCIS determines that you are fit and proper to adopt, it will compile a comprehensive home study report and forward it to the Central Authority in South Africa, which is the South African Central Authority (SaCa). Throughout the home study process, the adoptive family will learn about core adoption issues and how to prepare when adopting a child with special needs.

The adoption service provider will then submit the dossier to the South African Central Authority, and the South African Central Authority will review the application. A dossier is the packet of paperwork that an adoptive family will submit to be considered as a potential adoptive family in South Africa. 

The South African Central Authority will then forward the home study report to the child protection organization, which the foreign adoption organization has a working agreement with. The child protection organization in South Africa will look for a child who is available for adoption. Once there is a child available for adoption, the child protection organization will accumulate a child study report and forward it to the South African Central Authority for approval of international adoption. 

3. Matching and referral with a child by authorities in South Africa.

During the duration of the time when the prospective adoptive parents wait to be matched with a child in need of adoption, the adoption service provider will provide support to them. The estimated time it takes to be matched with a child in South Africa is 12-18 months after the submission of the dossier. When the referral arrives, the adoptive family will find that it is a packet of paperwork about the child’s social and medical history. The referral is basically compiled by the South African social workers. While the adoptive family is on the verge of deciding to accept the referral, it is the job of the adoption service provider to discuss with the adoptive family whether or not they are ready to make a lifelong commitment to look after a child they have never met.  

Once the South African Central Authority has determined that a child as available for adoption, a referral will be provided to the prospective adoptive parents or in other words, the applicants for adoption. Once they accept the referral, the adoption service provider will communicate the decision to the adoption of the South African Central Authority. 

4. Applying for the child to be found eligible for immigration.

Once the adoptive family accepts the child referral, they will then apply for provisional approval for the child’s immigration.  

For instance, US applicants will apply to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship, and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application is in the form of Form I-800, which is a Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative. USCIS will make a provisional determination as to whether the child meets the Convention Adoptee definition. In addition, they also determine whether or not the child is eligible to enter the U.S. and reside permanently as an immigrant.

Once the Form I-800 is approved, the adoption service provider or the adoptive parents will apply for the child’s visa. The Form I-800 and the visa application will be reviewed by a consular officer to determine whether or not there is further ineligibility. Then consular officer will send an Article 5 Letter to the provincial or territorial South African Central Authority. This letter will inform the Central Authority that the parents are eligible to adopt. Also, it will inform you that all indications are that the child may enter and reside permanently in the receiving county. This is provided that the receiving country agrees that the adoption may proceed.

5. Obtaining legal custody of the child in South Africa.

The documents for adoption and the process for finalizing the adoption or obtaining legal custody in South Africa can vary from case to case. It is therefore advised that the adoptive parents should contact the relevant provincial adoption authority for specific information. Some provinces may also require proof of the authenticity of the documents from the receiving country.

Generally, in this stage, according to most Hague countries, the Article 5 Letter is sent to the court. The court’s role is to review the application and issue an adoption order for the child’s placement. The process should take months until the court asks for the appearance of the adoptive parents. It will be the child protection organization that will inform you to travel to South Africa for the finalization of the adoption in the children’s court. Once the final hearing is done, the court will issue an order of adoption, which ends all the rights and obligations existing between the child and his or her former legally-recognized parents. The order of adoption bestows the surname of the adoptive parent on the adopted child.

6. Obtaining an immigrant visa for the child and bringing the child home.

As the last step, adoptive parents will need to apply for three documents for them to be able to travel with the adoptee. These are the following:

Birth Certificate

Applying for a new birth certificate for the child is necessary for a passport application. If the adoption has been finalized in South Africa, the new birth certificate will contain the adoptive parents’ names. Otherwise, if the custody is granted abroad, the new birth certificate will not include the adoptive parents’ name.

Application for a new birth certificate will require registration of the adoption of the child’s birth registrar at any district office of the Department of Home Affairs. This process can take several weeks to complete.

South African Passport

In order to fly to the receiving country, the child will need a South African travel document or passport since he or she is not yet a citizen of the receiving country. South Africa requires that the adoptive parents be the only person to apply for a passport if the child is 16 years old and below. The adoptive parents will have to provide proof of parental relationship to the child along with the child’s photographs. If the child is over 16 years old, his or her fingerprints will be taken or checking against the Population Register. The processing time for the South African passport to complete is 6 weeks. The validity of the South African passport for applicants under 16 years old is five years, while the validity of the South African passport for applicants over 16 years old is ten years.

Immigrant Visa

The application for the child’s immigrant visa shall be done with the U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg. The consulate will review the case, issue a Hague Adoption/Custody Certificate, approved Form I-800, and issue the child’s immigrant visa. 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 Adoption Cost

An entire international adoption process in South Africa may cost more or less $30,000 to $40,000. It is important to take note that the costs provided are but rough estimations. The costs, especially the total amount, can vary on a case-by-case basis. Below is a list of specific, basic expenses prospective adoptive parents can expect. 

Home Study$2,500 – $3,000
Application Fee$350
Adoption Education Meeting$500
Agency fees$7,000 – $10,000
Documentation feesInclusions:Birth certificate Passport Medical exam of the child for immigration Immigrant visa Form I-800A and Form I-800 (additional biometric services fee ) $1,500 – $2,000
Court and/or attorney fees$2,000 – $3,000
Travel expenses (1 week worth)Inclusions:International fareAccommodation In-country transportation Meals $10,000 – $15,000
Post-adoption applications and fees (if applicable)$500 – $1,000

Related Questions

What are the perks of adopting from South Africa? 

Aside from the fact that South Africa is open to adoptive parents of all backgrounds (single men and women, married and unmarried couples, and LGBTQ parents), adoptive parents who adopt a child from South Africa bring a rich and diverse history into their family. This is because South Africa is one of the many sending countries which has a rich cultural heritage.

Do the children who are up for adoption in South Africa speak English? 

If you come from an English-speaking country, it will be so much of an advantage for you as South African children speak English along with other languages. This also means that there is no need to translate the adoption documents.

Can the birth mother reclaim her child after the adoption? 

In some cases, when the child is not necessarily an orphan, but his or her parents put him or her up for adoption, the birth mother is given 60 days after handling the child to change her mind and reclaim the child. If she waits for 61st day to reclaim the child, she will not be allowed to do so since the adoptive parents will have full legal rights over the child by that time.

How long will you be on the waiting list? 

It depends on your specifications. In South Africa, most of the children who are candidates for adoption are those with special needs and those who are older. If you request to adopt these said children, the duration of your waiting period will be reduced. 

Eni Gordove

is a freelance writer who has a degree in Bachelor of Arts major in Political Science. She has also taken Bachelor of Laws, making her adept in domestic and international adoption regulations and processes.

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