Travelling to South Africa with children and what you need to know

I hate missing sleep.

I sat at 2pm in front of my laptop on the airline site, making my way through the check out process and I patted myself on the back for

a) actually waking up and,

b) being able to get everything to this stage of organised readiness for a family of 5.

For a South African Mom (or Saffamom as we call ourselves), travelling back to South Africa is not as easy as simply packing bags, checking passports, and making sure everyone is where they need to be.


Why? Because my homeland cannot for the life of them, make up their minds on entry rules. Each time I’ve gone back to see family and friends, there has been a curve ball.  You will not believe the amount of stuff you need to know, but you don’t know that you need to know, you know?

Travel Requirements for Minors Travelling to and from South Africa is a minefield and a new one for me (I say ‘new’ but this apparently came in in June 2015). SAA has a page on their website dedicated to this with a lovely link to South African Home Affairs. Wonderful. If you are flying SAA. Also I’m told booking through a travel agency is also fine as they (in theory) will also inform you on booking.

… you will not believe the amount of

stuff you need to know, but you don’t

know that you need to know,  you know?…


But what if you are not flying SAA?

We were not flying SAA. As a large family one of our first obstacles is the amazing amount of pounds you need to take a single trip. So along with the fact that I’ve been disenchanted with SAA for some time now, we generally tend to shop around for flights for the best possible value. My husband found some fantastically priced flights on Turkish Airlines. Having never flown Turkish before I was unsure of what to expect. As it turned out the flight was great and the stop over was really easy and went quickly. I would recommend Turkish Airlines to my Saffamoms as a very viable and quite pleasant option for travelling with kids. However nowhere during the booking or check in process was it mentioned that we would need birth certificates for any children under 18. I had made a phone call to South Africa house 3 weeks prior as I remembered hearing something about needing a letter when travelling with minors. I was assured that ‘no, no’ I don’t need a letter, because that is only if I’m travelling alone with the kids, without the father. Well hell, thanks SA House for neglecting at that point to say ‘BUT REMEMBER THE BIRTH CERTIFICATES!’

So to recap: we had booked tickets, called SA House, checked in online, and then been told by the site we had to print off boarding passes at the airport (annoying yes, but no alarm bells as it’s not the first time I’ve had to get boarding passes issued at the airport). At no point in this process was it mentioned that we needed birth certificates for the kids. So far, 4 points at which we could’ve been informed.

So with, passports checked, all flight details checked, kids calm, hubby pretty chilled and me feeling like the most organised woman on the planet, we arrived at Gatwick nice and early with the intent to have a meal before boarding, got to the desk and the very friendly man from Turkish Airlines asked us for the birth certificates. This was the 5th point of contact and the first time it was mentioned.

‘I’m sorry, what?’ I said, while trying to ignore the fuming face of my husband, who was turning a rather interesting shade of purple.

The man explained the situation, and thankfully because we live about 30 mins from the airport, Patrick sprang into action, called an Uber and raced back home to get the birth certificates. Thanks to his quick action, my wonderful filing system and our compulsive need to be at the airport stupid early, the situation was saved, Patrick made it back in plenty of time to get our boarding passes. He also swore blind he would never travel with me again.

So the take away of this?

  1. Don’t trust the airlines to tell you everything you need to know when travelling to South Africa. In fairness, I don’t think anyone can keep up with the amount of changes that are made regarding immigration, visa’s, entry, exit, general movement in and out of the country, unless you are a frequent traveller.
  2. Check all information with the Department of Home Affairs, not just SA House.
  3. Take the birth certificates for all Under 18’s. Without fail.

For more information on travelling with minor to South Africa, visit the Department of Home Affairs website.