If you plan on traveling to South Africa in the future with your kids, be ready for a headache! The Department of Home Affairs in South Africa recently started requiring unabridged birth certificates for any child under the age of 18 traveling into the country to prevent child trafficking. Knowing that this rule was in effect I prepared myself with Elara’s birth certificate and went to the SF Vital Records office to make sure what I had was “unabridged” and acceptable. In the US, all birth certificates have the parents’ names on them, and are therefore, unabridged. I was super vigilant and made sure I had all the proper documentation so we could go on our trip without a hitch!
Thinking I had everything I needed, we boarded our flight from SFO to London via Virgin Atlantic with no issues. Once we landed in London, our flight thru AirFrance denied us boarding, stating that our birth certificate wasn’t enough since it didn’t have my married name on it. Because my passport has my married name on it and the birth certificate has my maiden name on it, we were denied because they wanted the names to match on both documents. California birth certificates only state the mom’s maiden name, there is nowhere to put your married name.
We had it filled it out in accordance to the state. However, the airline asked for a marriage certificate to prove my name change. I had a digital copy, since it’s not a form I normally travel with. They wouldn’t accept it. I also had an old expired drivers license with my maiden name and a new license with my married name, all of which were deemed inadequate enough to show that I was the same person listed in the birth certificate.
The attendants at the AirFrance gate weren’t trained in what documents work so they sent us to the ticketing gate at Heathrow and pulled us and another family in the same situation as us, off the flight. The AirFrance ticketing center took no responsibility and sent us to Virgin Atlantic. Virgin put us up in a hotel and told us to come back the next day to see if South Africa’s DHA would okay our documents over the phone. The Virgin Atlantic manager told us there would be a possibility of DHA okaying the documents but the immigration officers denying it, which made us even more upset! We could possibly be okayed and turned away at the last-minute due to the lack of communication between DHA and immigration. Meanwhile, we had to take our baby girl in freezing weather with no heavy jacket and wait for a hotel shuttle outside to go to bed at 11 PM at night. We had landed in London at 1 PM, so we were beyond frustrated and tired at this point.
The next day Virgin called DHA and in less than 10 minutes we were okayed. The manager at the ticketing gate said that AirFrance should have never denied us in the first place and that all our documentation was correct. This was so frustrating! We ended up losing 1 night at our Airbnb, our car rental (which doubled), and a day in Johannesburg. We sent AirFrance a complaint email asking for a check for the money lost since it’s their fault for not allowing us on board even with the correct documents. I’ll give you guys an update once I hear back!
Once we got into Johannesburg, guess what? No one even looked at the birth certificate twice to verify the parents! They looked at it to match the passport and baby’s name and that’s it. The immigration officer didn’t even look at it for more than 10 seconds! Turns out airlines are fined ~$6K for every person that they bring into South Africa without proper documentation, making the airlines even more strict than the country!
The rules on the DHA website on what type of documentation is acceptable is vague and airlines are not properly educated on what is ok and what isn’t. Especially since every country has a different birth certificate. After doing some research I found out that at least 10 families are denied entry into South Africa at Heathrow Airport per day! That’s a lot of disappointed kids and tons of money lost!
My tip for any parent traveling there would be to bring your children’s’ birth certificates and your marriage license with you when you go! Push back if the airline says no and force them to call DHA’s 24/7 hotline to get an okay. If AirFrance had just called DHA when we were about to board, we could have made our original flight. So push back if you have to and be informed!
Not that we’re finally in South Africa, so far, the hassle was totally worth it!