Unabridged vs. Abridged vs. Vault Birth and Marriage Certificates from Home Affairs: Image: Adobe stock

Unabridged vs. Abridged vs. Vault Birth and Marriage Certificates from Home Affairs

Abridged birth and/or marriage certificates merely indicate the most basic details pertaining to the person to whom the document is issued.


Unabridged vs. Abridged vs. Vault Birth and Marriage Certificates from Home Affairs: Image: Adobe stock

Obtaining documents from Home Affairs is generally a tedious and somewhat confusing exercise, but perhaps the trickiest part of the whole exercise is figuring out which documents you need to apply for. Do you need an abridged, unabridged, or vault copy of your official South African document? Or perhaps all three? Why are there three versions of each document, and what are the differences between them? Apostil.co.za, a document concierge service provider, provides some much-needed clarity on the topic…

Understanding Abridged Birth and Marriage Certificates

In essence, abridged birth and/or marriage certificates merely indicate the most basic details pertaining to the person to whom the document is issued.

Between 1995 and March 2013, all children born in South Africa were issued abridged birth certificates. These certificates stated the name and surname of the child’s biological mother only. Children born after March 2013 were issued with the longer-form unabridged birth certificate, indicating the details of both the child’s biological parents.

Abridged marriage certificates are issued by the Department of Home Affairs on default after a wedding takes place in South Africa. The married couple often receives this certificate immediately after their wedding. If you live, work, and plan to stay in South Africa, this certificate should suffice.

An unabridged marriage certificate is only issued by the Department of Home Affairs and thus the only version that counts in overseas applications. This document is given to South African couples as well as non-South African couples (if they apply for it) that get married within the Republic. These certificates are also issued in the event that one partner in the married couple is a foreign national. These certificates are typically issued if the couple lives outside of South Africa or has plans to travel outside of the country, but your reason for application can be anything, and you will not be denied application.

It is essential to understand that the terms’ ABRIDGED’ and ‘UNABRIDGED’ are no longer used by Home Affairs. Instead, birth certificates are simply issued as THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE, and marriage certificates are titled MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE. Although it does not state unabridged, these certificates contain the exact same details that can be found on the unabridged certificates.

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Understanding Vault copies of South African documents

Whenever a South African citizen is born, the original registration paperwork is stored at the archival offices of the DHA. The same process is followed when someone gets married or a person’s death is registered. These documents, which are stored in the vault, are proof that certificates issued to South African citizens contain the correct information.

As the name implies, a vault copy is an authentic copy of the original registration form. The “vault” is merely the name for the archives where these documents are stored. One can have vault copies for a number of documents, but usually, only birth, death or marriage certificates are required by South African citizens. Divorce decrees are held by the High Court in which the divorce order was granted.

Since vault copies contain essential information, they might be requested by foreign passport and visa issuing authorities for travel or immigration purposes. Vault copies are used as protective measures against fraud as it is believed that computer-generated South African unabridged certificates are vulnerable to forgery. In order to prove one’s lineage, you will often need to provide a vault copy of your birth certificate.

When taking the example of a birth certificate into account, when a birth is registered, a vault copy thereof is written by hand and contains the following information:
• Name and surname of the child
• Date of birth
• Place of birth
• Marital status of the biological parents
• Names and surnames of both biological parents
• Birthplace of both biological parents

How long does it take to obtain a vault copy from Home Affairs?

Locating the original file to make a copy of the birth registration form can be a lengthy process. When applying for these documents on your own, it can take a few months to obtain vault copies and in rare cases, even years. The process is further delayed by the fact that courier bags need to be filled up before they are dispatched to various branches of Home Affairs.

In the event that the DHA is unable to retrieve your documents from the vault, they might attempt to search for the document a second time, but after this attempt fails, the document will be classified as lost. This is why it is absolutely imperative to take good care of your original documents and make your own copies of them (hard and digital format copies).

Final thoughts

It is clear that it is always best to start planning early. Even if you do not currently have a need for the vault copies of your birth or marriage certificates, it’s better to apply for them and have them in hand when you need them most rather than finding out that an official process like applying for foreign citizenship might potentially be derailed by the fact that your vault copies are hard to track down.

If you need assistance with obtaining a copy of your marriage or birth certificate, get in touch with Apostil.co.za today.