International Adoption: A Guide To Intercountry Adoption Outside Of The U.S.

What Prospective Parents Should Know About International Adoption

April 16, 2020 Updated July 6, 2020

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If you’ve made the decision to adopt, first of all, congratulations! This is a monumental step and one that will surely fill you with joy and anticipation. But at the onset, it may also fill you with questions — especially if you’re thinking international adoption might be right for you. According to UNICEF, there are roughly 153 million orphans worldwide. And while they aren’t all available for adoption to U.S. citizens, it goes without saying that your child could very well be out there somewhere in the world waiting for you. But the world is wide. Adoption can be complex and confusing even domestically. So, where do you start? Let’s explore the process of international, or intercountry, adoption.

If you’re looking for more info on other types of adoption, you can find our guides to embryo, open, closed, baby, foster care, private, adult, transracialstep parent, military, single parent, Jewish, Christian, and same-sex adoption

How common are international adoptions in the US?

According to the 2017 annual report by the U.S. Department of State, the overall number of adoptions to the United States from other countries was 4,714 in a year. Since 1999, U.S. families have adopted over 250,000 children from abroad.

Who can adopt?

Not surprisingly, international adoption can be considerably more complex than domestic adoption. However, the crux is the same: just as with other types of adoption, you must first be deemed eligible under federal and state law to adopt. With international adoption, though, you must also be deemed eligible under the law of the country from which you intend to adopt. This is why U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends first and foremost that you familiarize yourself with the intercountry adoption process, as governed by those three sets of laws.

Under U.S. federal law, there are four main requirements: you must be a U.S. citizen; you must be at least 25 years old if you are unmarried; you must jointly adopt the child if you are married (even if you’re separated), and your spouse must also be a U.S. citizen or in legal status in the U.S.; and you must meet other requirements determined by USCIS, such as passing a background check and completing a home study.

As far as U.S. state law and the law of the country of adoption, well, that obviously depends on your state of residence and the country from which you’re adopting the child. To learn more about your home state’s governing laws, you’ll need to visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.

Each country also has its own requirements for adopting, which you can find in the Country Information section of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

How does the international adoption process go?

First things first, you’re going to need to file an application with USCIS. This packet will consist of your USCIS form, a home study, your application fee, and other supporting documents that demonstrate your eligibility. Because there are three different processes for adopting a child from another country, your form will depend on which process you choose.

The first process (and arguably the fastest) is known as the Orphan process, which would generally require you to file Form I-600A and Form I-600. In order to be considered an orphan under U.S. immigration law, a foreign-born child must have no legal parents because each parent has died, disappeared, or abandoned the child. Or, if they have a sole or surviving parent who cannot properly care for the child, that person must irrevocably release the child.

The second process is through the Hague process — the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) is an international agreement to safeguard international adoption. As such, it establishes international standards of practice that govern intercountry adoptions. The aim? To prevent the abduction, sale of, or trafficking of children and ensure every adoption is in the best interest of the child.

To adopt a child from a Convention country, the child needs to have been deemed eligible for adoption by their country of origin, and due diligence must have been given to try to place the child with a permanent family in their country of origin. To start the Hague process, you must file Forms 1-800A and I-800.

The third option is the family-based immigrant petition process. If you adopted a child but did not go through the Orphan or Hague process, you might be able to immigrate them through this final process. You’ll have to file Form I-130 and, naturally, satisfy some requirements. The child’s adoption had to have been finalized before their 16th birthday (or their 18th birthday if you also adopted a birth sibling of the child and the birth sibling is immigrating as an adopted child or orphan).

The child must also have been in your legal custody for at least two years, either before or after the adoption. Likewise, they must have lived with you or your spouse (if you’re married and thus adopted jointly) for two years, either before or after the adoption. Note of interest: Those two years do not have to be continuous; you can add up multiple periods of time to meet the requirement.

What’s next?

The process will invariably differ based on which country you’re adopting your child from, the state the adoption will be finalized in, and which process you choose. However, there are some things that are standard across the board.

You’ll need to choose an adoption agency to serve as your liaison with your child’s country and to help facilitate the adoption. It’s also not a bad idea to consult with an immigration attorney. Not all agencies are created equal, so take your time vetting your options to ensure you find a good fit.

Your adoption agency can help you find someone who is licensed or authorized to conduct home studies to come to your house and fill out the required home study documentation in accordance with the Department of Homeland Security guidelines. Don’t give yourself an ulcer worrying about this; USCIS just wants to make sure your home environment will be suitable for your child.

Your adoption agency can also help you request a comprehensive medical examination for the child you want to adopt. Because children adopted from abroad come from such diverse cultural backgrounds and living conditions, it’s possible for your child to have unique needs. Not only should you be aware of these to best care for your child, but some conditions could also jeopardize a child’s eligibility for visa eligibility.

The U.S. Embassy or Consulate can provide a list of physicians in different countries who are approved by the department of state to examine the child.

As previously mentioned, you’ll need to apply to USCIS and, once approved, work with your adoption agency to fill out and submit any additional forms. Once all of your forms are approved, you should be clear to adopt your child. Before you can bring them back to the U.S., though, you’ll need to ensure you have your child’s immigrant visa all lined up and ready to go.

What is a home study in an adoption?

Home studies are part and parcel in nearly all types of adoption, including international, so knowing how to prepare for one will help ensure its success.

In addition to home visits and interviews, a home study will require the prospective adoptive parents to submit information on their health and income, as well as their housing situation. Adoptive parents should also submit autobiographical statements about their lives, undergo background, and provide several reference letters from family members and friends explaining why they will make perfect candidates for adoption. In the case of international adoption, home studies may include specific requirements from the adoptive country or international agency. Your agency representative will further elaborate on all it entails.

How much does it cost to adopt a child internationally?

It will probably come as little shock to you that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. There are far too many individualized factors to consider to give you a precise figure. We can tell you that, ballpark, adopting a child from another country can cost anywhere from $20,000 to upwards of $50,000, depending on which process you choose, the adoption agency you use, the country of the child’s origin, and more. Per the 2017 annual report by the U.S. Department of State, adoption service providers reported charging between $0 and $64,357 for all adoption services.

There are other cost factors to consider, too. For example, you’ll need to visit your child in their home country — possibly numerous times — prior to the adoption being finalized. We don’t have to tell you international flights add up quickly, right? And that’s to say nothing of hotels, rental vehicles, food, and anything else that might pop up along the way.

Then there are the routine fees. The USCIS charges a filing fee of $775. It costs $85 per person for anyone 18 or older in your household to have your fingerprint officially recorded. In total, the U.S. Department of State says that fees for accreditation and approval of persons run from $2,318 to $3,906.25.

Which countries can you adopt from?

You can find a full list of countries that allow adoptions from the U.S. here. It’s a deeply personal decision, so you should do your homework. But by the numbers, the top source countries for international adoption are China (1905 adoptions in 2017), Ethiopia (313), South Korea (276), Haiti (227), India (221), and Ukraine (215).

Is the process any different for LGBTI+ parents?

On the U.S. side, the same rules governing intercountry adoption apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. Comply with the laws and regulations, and it shouldn’t be an issue. Federal law doesn’t prohibit LGBTI citizens or same-sex couples from adopting a child from another country.

Having said that, it’s important to know that some foreign countries can have strict rules regarding same-sex couples and LGBTI individuals. (It’s illogical and totally unfair, so, hopefully, it changes in the future). You certainly don’t want to have your heart broken once you go visit your child’s home country only to discover that the country doesn’t allow LGBTI adoptions. Do as much research as you can upfront.

Is International Adoption the right move?

There are many reasons parents might choose international adoption and a few things to consider before you dive in.

Why would someone consider adopting from a foreign country instead of from right in their “own backyard?” America is still a melting pot, so perhaps you see adopting a child from out of country as a way to add to America’s inclusive population. Maybe you did a missions trip in Haiti and felt deeply for the children in an orphanage there — you see this as your chance to do “something bigger.”

There are a few things you might want to consider, though. First and foremost, how “legit” is the agency from which you’re using — as with any major decision in life, it’s important to go the extra mile when it comes to research. Reach out to official government agencies to help direct you to adoption agencies that cover their bases when it comes to ethics and rules. Additionally, how in tune to that country’s culture are you? If you adopt a baby from Ethiopia, do you have any connections within the Ethiopian-American community who can help you teach your child about their heritage? Depending on the age of the child you adopt, are you fully prepared to help them through any culture shock and trauma that comes with being moved across the globe?

Every child deserves to have a family who loves and supports them, and whether you look domestically or internationally to grow your family, educating yourself on all the variables is imperative.

Are you considering international adoption?

Once you’ve decided international adoption is right for you, go ahead and get the ball rolling! And take heart — you’ll have plenty of resources to lean on along the way if you start to feel a little lost. From local support groups to the USCIS National Benefits Center, don’t be afraid to ask questions.