Adopting a baby abroad can be a complex yet rewarding journey for those up to the challenge. In fact, despite the complexities and difficulties involved with international adoption, thousands of families continue to choose to adopt children from overseas each year. According to the U. S. Department of State’s FY 2018 Annual Report On Intercountry Adoptions, American families adopted 4,089 children between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018. This is a decline of over 13 percent from FY 2017 and an 80 percent decline since 2004.
A decline in adoptions does not, however, equal a decline in the number of children who need homes. There are millions of children worldwide who will grow up without the love of a family. If international adoption is the path you choose, please read on.
International (or Intercountry) Adoption Defined
Before you consider adopting a baby abroad, you should take time to research what international adoption means. USLegal.com defines international adoption as “a kind of adoption in which an individual or couple becomes the legal and permanent parents of a child that is a national of a foreign country. An international adoption is also referred to as intercountry adoption or transnational adoption.
“In such an adoption, the prospective adoptive parents must meet the legal adoption requirements of their country of residence and also of the country whose nationality the child holds.
“An international adoption differs from a transcultural or Interracial Adoption.”
Researching International Adoption
You should become as familiar as you can with international adoption laws and requirements, processes, resources, and contact information.
Aside from the generic meaning of international adoption, you should also ask yourself what international adoption will mean for you and the baby you hope to adopt. Adoption.com’s “The International Adoption Guide“ provides an overview of the process from deciding on whether the journey is right for you, to deciding what country from which to adopt, to thoughts on ideas about race, to the pros and cons involved.
Knowing why you want to adopt internationally and understanding the impacts of your decision is just as important as knowing how to adopt abroad. Take time to learn as much as you can in preparation not just for the adoption process, but for what happens when you bring your baby home.
With international adoption comes important realizations, such as understanding that even infants will experience the effects of adoption trauma and institutionalization. Your adopted child may need extra care and attention to deal with the impacts of not just the loss of birth family, but of their birth home at some point in life. Additionally, most international adoptions result in transracial placement. You will want and need to research how you can best prepare for transracial and multicultural adoption.
Ages of Children Available for International Adoption
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “The ages of children needing adoptive families vary widely, from 6 months to 16 years, depending on the country. The Convention and laws in some countries require that due consideration be given to placing an infant or toddler with a family in that country where appropriate and in the child’s best interest before making a determination to proceed with an intercountry adoption. In those countries, infants younger than 6 months to a year old may not be available for intercountry adoption. Also, some countries have regulations prohibiting the separation of siblings.
“…In 2012, 10.4 percent of children adopted internationally were younger than 12 months old, 42.7 percent were ages 1 to 2 years, 15.0 percent were ages 3 to 4 years, 23.7 percent were ages 5 to 12 years, 7.7 percent were ages 13 to 17, and less than 1 percent were 18 years or older (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Children’s Issues, n.d.-a).” In recent years, the international adoption of children less than 1 year of age has become increasingly less likely due to a variety of factors, including internal social changes within foreign countries and the rise of a more independent middle class. Because of the growth of the middle class, more families residing in those countries have sought to domestically adopt healthy infants and children.
So How Do I Adopt a Child from Another Country?
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau explains it this way, “In intercountry adoption, (i.e., adopting a child from a foreign country), prospective adoptive parents are required to follow the laws in their state, the laws of the child’s country of origin, the policies and regulations of the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and, when appropriate, Hague Regulations. In the United States, you must be a U.S. citizen 25 years of age or older to adopt from another country. If you are married, at least one spouse must be a U.S. citizen.”
To adopt a child from another country and bring that child to live in the United States, you must first be found eligible to adopt under U.S. federal and state law and the law of the country from which you intend to adopt.
How Long Does It Take?
Like any adoption, adopting a baby abroad involves some uncertainty. The length and predictability of the international adoption process will vary depending on the country, service provider, and individual child involved; however, it typically takes from one to five years to complete an international or overseas adoption.
Fees Associated with Adopting a Baby Abroad
According to the Adoption.org article “11 Things To Know About International Adoption,” “International adoption ain’t cheap. Depending on the country you’re adopting from, an international adoption will cost you somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000. This price tag comes from a variety of areas, including agency fees, government fees, donations to the country/orphanage, travel costs, and legal fees.”
There are ways to afford international adoption, though, for those willing to try—everything from applying for adoption grants and loans to the adoption tax credit to getting your budgeting to fundraising. Adoption.com’s Guide To Affording Adoption offers several tips and tricks to help you afford your adoption.
United States Federal Law Requirements
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is the federal agency that determines whether or not a person may adopt. Prospective parents may not bring an adopted child into the United States until USCIS has determined their eligibility to adopt from another country. Families must meet certain requirements to bring a foreign-born child whom they have adopted abroad into the United States.
Some basic requirements include:
– Adoptive parent must be a U.S. Citizen.
– An unmarried adoptive parent must be at least 25 years old.
– Married adoptive parents must jointly adopt the child and both parents must either a U.S. citizen or in legal status in the United States.
– Prospective parents must meet certain requirements that will determine suitability, including criminal background checks, fingerprinting, and a home study.
United States State Laws/Requirements
In addition to qualifying to adopt under U.S. law, hopeful parents must also meet your home state’s requirements for prospective adoptive parents. To learn more about individual state requirements, go to the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.
Requirements in Foreign Countries
Just like individual state laws, each country has its own requirements for adopting parents. These are explained in detail here.
Which Countries Offer International Adoption?
Adoption.com’s article “10 Most Popular Countries To Adopt From And Their Adoption Policies” offers an overview of some of the most “popular” countries to adopt from as well as a basic information guide for each. It also includes the number of children adopted annually, age of children available, who can adopt, foster care vs. orphanage, referral vs. placement timeline, and travel requirements. It should be noted that country information changes by the day and for the most up-to-date information you should check out the Country Information page on Travel.state.gov.
Choosing Your Adoption Provider
An adoption service can help you arrange an international adoption placement, but they cannot represent you before USCIS or advise you on the legal aspects of a child’s immigration. An attorney can provide legal advice or representation for adoption proceedings.
You’re going to want to do a fair amount of research in order to find an adoption service provider or agency to help you through the process of adopting a baby abroad, both on the domestic side of things and the international side.
In addition to reaching out to local providers and internet searches, you should also reach out to other adopting families who have been there and done that to determine which agency may be the best for your situation.
You will want to ask the right questions of any and all potential providers to ensure they are reputable, experienced, and qualified—and are who they say they are—before you make your decision. Adoption providers should be able to answer your questions and in fact, they should be expecting you to have lots and lots of questions throughout your journey.
Whomever you choose should demonstrate that they have your best interest (and the best interest of the child you are hoping to adopt) at heart. They should also show that they will support and/or represent you in an ethical and legal manner.
According to Childwelfare.gov, “As of July 14, 2014, all agencies or persons providing any of the six specific intercountry adoption services defined in the accreditation regulations of the Intercountry Adoption Act must be accredited or approved to the standards set forth in the [Hague] Convention regardless of whether the adoption will fall under the Convention or the orphan (non-Convention) process. An adoption service provider that is not accredited or approved may provide intercountry adoption services under the supervision of an accredited or approved provider or as an exempted provider.”
While the Adoption.com “Selecting an Adoption Agency Guide“ provides an overview of what to think about and look for when choosing an agency, the Adoption.com article “5 Most Popular International Adoption Agencies“ provides information on some of the top-ranked international adoption agencies to date.
All About International Adoption and Immigration
Children who have been adopted from outside the United States must go through an immigration process. The USCIS determines the eligibility and suitability of prospective adoptive parents and families looking to adopt and the eligibility of children to immigrate to the United States.
According to Travel.state.gov, the U.S. immigration law provides three different processes for children to immigrate to the United States based on their intercountry adoption. Children may only immigrate under one of the three processes and they must meet all of the requirements for the selected process.
– If you are a U.S. citizen adopting children internationally, you may use either the Hague or the Orphan (non-Hague) process. Under these processes, a child may immigrate immediately after the adoption or may immigrate to the U.S. to be adopted here. The adoption process that may be available will depend, in part, on whether a child is from a country that is party to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Depending on what country you choose to adopt from will determine which process you will adopt by.
– The third process applies to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who may petition for their adoptive children through a Family-Based Petition.
How To Get Started On Your Journey
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website is a great place to start learning about international adoption. You can visit the U.S. Department of State Intercountry Adoption website for more information about individual country requirements, alerts and information about adoption service providers. Additional helpful webpages to help you on your way include:
– Before You Start webpage introduces the intercountry adoption process
– Immigration through Adoption webpage describes the intercountry adoption-related immigration processes
The USCIS National Benefits Center has a call center to assist you during your adoption process: 877-424-8374 Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Time or you can email [email protected]
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.
Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.