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South Africa Special Needs Program

Program Note:  We will be updating this page to reflect agency changes announced on our home page.We are not accepting application for the South Africa Program at this time.


2 South African ChildrenWe are excited to announce that we are accepting applications for the South Africa Special Needs Program.  This program is open to single male and females and married couples. LGBT individuals and couples are welcome to apply. 

Because this is a pilot program, applicants need to keep in mind that the program can change at any time throughout the process.  International Adoption in South Africa is new, policies and procedures are still being established and families who elect this program will need to be flexible.

Most of the children available for adoption are living with HIV and/or some have other moderate to severe special needs.  In the last 30 years, living with HIV has changed dramatically and with proper treatment chldren are expected to have a normal life span.  HIV has never been transmitted in a normal family living environment.  Most orphans have contracted the virus through mother to infant pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.   

Please take a few moments to view Project Hopeful's video "Truth Pandemic" to dispel myths and learn how HIV has become a manageable health condition. 

Fetal Alcohol Effect or Syndrome is also common in South Africa.  Please visit our Links page to learn more about these and other special needs.    

South Africa and the Children Who Wait

The Republic of South Africa is a country located at the southern tip of Africa.  It is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions.  Although South Africa’s economy is the largest and most developed in Africa, poverty remains widespread and there are many children in need of a permanent family.  The children who are waiting for a family are living in orphanages in the Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town areas.   Families will travel to their child's town to meet and bond.  After an initial adjustment period, families will appear in court to officially adopt.  All families will then travel to Johannesburg to obtain a U.S. government travel visa for their child before returning to the United States.  Both boys and girls are available for adoption and they range in age between 18 and 48 months.  Families are encouraged to be open to a child age 36 months and older.

Applicant Eligibility

The South African government has flexible eligibility guidelines to adopt.  These include:

Applicant/s are over the age of 25 (USCIS regulation, South Africa only requires that you be over age 18)

While there is no official cut off age, applicants age 50 and over will be accepted by Wandisa on a case-by-case basis

Applicants must be physically and mentally able to care for a child (If there is a significant health concern a doctor’s letter will be required)

Married applicants’ length of marriage should be a minimum of 2 years (at time of dossier submittal)

Applicants with minor criminal histories may be considered.

Male and Female single applicants may also apply

LGBT individuals are invited to apply

Overview of the South Africa Adoption Process

Completing an international adoption involves tasks performed here in the United States and then traveling to the child’s country to complete your adoption. La Vida will guide you step by step through each of the tasks briefly outlined below. 

  • Complete a preliminary application.  La Vida will promptly review it and notify you of your eligibility.

  • Complete a formal La Vida application and return it with the application fee. Upon receipt of your application, we will review it and generally notify you within 2 business days of formal program acceptance.  At the time of submittal of your application we also ask that you complete a "match form".  This application will aid us in evaluating whether the characteristics of the children available for adoption match the needs to which you are open to accepting.  We are always available to discuss the needs typical of children in this program.

  • Complete a home study.  A home study report is a requirement of your state of residence, the USCIS, and the country of South Africa.  If you reside in Pennsylvania, La Vida can complete your home study.  If you live outside of Pennsylvania, we will help you to identify a Hague Accredited home study agency.

  • Complete an application to the USCIS.  La Vida will provide the application and instructions to you, review and file it for you, and monitor it on your behalf.

  • Prepare an application for the South African government, also known as a "dossier". La Vida will guide you every step of the way with comprehensive instructions, samples, and staff support.

  • Wait for referral of a child. La Vida will update you regularly throughout your wait, keep you fully informed, and will provide support to you during this time.  If you have identified a waiting child then this step will be eliminated. 

  • Receive your child referral and then travel to South Africa to adopt your child.

Anticipated Time to Child Referral

The wait time from dossier submittal to child referral is expected to be 12 to 18 months.  Due to the newness of the program, as mentioned previously, waiting times as well as other particular details of this program are subject to change.


Adoptive parents will be granted permission to travel to South Africa to meet their child 8 to 12 weeks after accepting their referral. You will be prepared to travel with a comprehensive travel preparation manual and via a personalized teleconference with Wandisa staff.  It is important to understand that this program requires an in-country stay of 5 to 6 weeks.  This time includes a period of visitation with your child at his/her orphanage, independent care and adjustment, the wait for a court appearance, and time to process your child’s South African passport and visa to travel to the U.S.  If a married couple travels, one spouse may return after the court appearance.  Single applicants are strongly encouraged to take another adult on the trip and children of all applicants are welcome to travel.  While you are in South Africa, our South African representative agency (Wandisa) will be working very hard on your behalf to successfully complete each of the necessary steps as quickly as possible.

Post Adoption Supervision

Post placement visits by your social worker will be due within 2 weeks of arrival home and then on the 3 month, 6 month, 12 month, 24 month and 60 month anniversary of your arrival home from South Africa.  The purpose of these visits is to assess parent/child adjustment and to be available as a resource to your family. 

Fees and Costs

Please click here to view a fee schedule for the South Africa Adoption Program.

Program Partnerships

To offer the South Africa Adoption Program, we are working as a supervised service provider under the auspice of a U.S. Hague Accredited agency.  La Vida International works closely with Wandisa Adoption Agency in South Africa. Wandisa means “one who adds to the family” in Zulu & Xhosa. It is one of only a few agencies authorized by the South African Central Adoption Authority to facilitate intercountry adoption to families here in the United States, France and Canada.  Wandisa has an applaud-worthy reputation for providing quality adoption services, and we are very excited about having the opportunity to work with them.

If you are ready to apply, please complete a preliminary application.  You may scan and e-mail it to, fax it to 484-318-8562 or mail it to La Vida International, 101 Lindenwood Drive, Suite 225, Malvern, PA  19355. 

For more information about the South Africa Adoption Program, please contact Emily Bell by phone, 484-318-8543 or by email  We understand that the adoption process can feel overwhelming.  We want you to feel confident about your adoption journey, and are happy to support you through each step of the process.  

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