Worldwide, “there are an estimated 10 million children living in institutions and more than 60 million children living on the streets today,” according to an article. In the United States, more than 400,000 children, from newborns to 18 year-olds, are living in foster care, 100,000 of whom are eligible and waiting to be adopted. The decision to adopt domestically or internationally is an extremely personal one and involves some major soul-searching and a lot of researching in order to determine what will work best for your family and the child you hope to adopt. While there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing to open your home to a child, there are differences between domestic and international adoption that you should know. While your intentions may be good, taking the time to thoroughly think through your decision is in the best interest of your family, but especially the child who may someday become part of your family. 

Before you make your decision, consider the following factors associated with domestic and international adoption.


Age of Parent. With domestic private adoption, the birth mother typically chooses the adopting parent(s) based on a personal set of criteria and decides what age she is comfortable with. However, some agencies place a cut off on the adoptive parents by the age of 40 with the expectation that an older couple’s chances of being selected are low, which oftentimes tends to be the case. With international adoption, each country has individual age guidelines. The article, “Is There an Age Limit in Adoption? discusses age requirements in more detail.

Marital Status. In the United States, both couples and singles may adopt. While there are no limitations, marital stability must be evident. Similar to age requirements, with international adoption, different countries have their own set of rules when it comes to marital status. 

Home Study and Background Checks. As part of the required home study for both domestic and international adoption, prospective parents will be asked to complete several background checks to cover and rule out items such as a history of arrest; a history of child abuse or neglect; and a history of domestic violence, sexual, or child abuse.

Other issues that may be discussed in the home study will include religion, income, method of discipline, and if you are willing to undergo required training. 

As can be expected, families who choose to adopt internationally will undergo extra paperwork and background checks at the international, federal, and state level.


While it’s been said that age is just a number—in the world of adoption, it is no secret that many hopeful adoptive parents choose to adopt infants. There is pushback from some in the adoption community where wishing to adopt an infant is viewed as a “selfish move” on the part of the adoptive parent, but again, adoption is a unique and personal experience. It’s not okay for anyone to judge your decision. All children, no matter the age, deserve the love of a family.

For many first-time parents especially, starting a new family at the infancy phase seems to be the right or safe fit. While others are open to and actually inspired to open their homes to waiting toddlers, older children, and teens who are at risk of aging out of the foster care system. 

Domestic. According to the article “Infants for Adoption,” approximately 2 million couples are currently waiting to adopt in the United States. In the article “Adopting an Older Child,” author Shannon Hicks says, “Adopting an older child is a different experience from adopting a newborn, and it comes with its own unique challenges and rewards.” Most prospective parents who choose to adopt newborn or young infants will seek out domestic private adoption agencies, while families open to toddler-aged children and up pursue the United States foster care system to adopt.

International. Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to adopt a newborn or young infant internationally. While this is in part due to the Hague Convention, it is also the result of other related government and social changes that differ from country to country. Additionally, in order for a child to be adopted internationally, they must first be cleared for adoption (similar to that of a birth parent in the United States voluntarily terminating their parental rights in court). Children must meet local government guidelines and be offered first to birth relations and then local families before becoming eligible for international adoption. This process can take several months to complete at the very least. Typically, the majority of children eligible for adoption are at least one year of age at the time of referral (with exceptions, of course) and with travel requirements and finalization time, almost two years old before immigrating to the United States.


“The waiting is the hardest part

Every day you get one more yard

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart

The waiting is the hardest part

Yeah, the waiting is the hardest part.”

–Tom Petty (The Waiting)

Any hopeful adoptive parent who has started along the pathway toward adoption can relate to these lyrics. From the moment your decision is made to start or grow your family through adoption to the moment you are finally united with your child—the waiting can seem endless.

Domestic adoption. While domestic private adoption can take years, foster to adopt often carries a shorter wait time. The wait for a healthy infant could be anywhere from two to seven years

International adoption. The wait times for international adoption are comparable to domestic private adoption. While international adoption used to carry a reputation for being faster than domestic adoption, the wait times have grown longer (in many cases), surpassing that of domestic private adoption. This is in part, due to the additional paperwork required to adopt a child internationally, as well as requirements of The Hague Convention adoption process, which approximately 100 countries worldwide now adhere to.


Having access to your adopted child’s background (AKA social history) is of major importance for medical, mental, and legal reasons. It is recommended that parents push for as much information as is available. While small details may not seem like much with everything else adoptive families are working through during both the pre- and post-adoption stages, these details can prove life-changing and life-saving later on in your child’s life. Medical and family information is something most people take for granted as it’s usually just a phone call away—to grandma or to your family care practitioner. Now imagine having access to neither when you’re faced with a sudden and mysterious illness and are unable to complete even a basic medical health history. Additionally, knowing your child’s history may help you to access subsidies available to your child at the federal and state level.

Domestic. With domestic adoption, based on the child’s age, you may request a child’s case file to obtain written personal records. It is more likely that you will receive the birth parent’s health history and birth mother’s medical care records for newborn and young infant adoptees. Just as crucial will be receiving an older child’s social, trauma, development, educational, and mental health history. Information about your child is governed by state laws. The North American Council on Adoptable Children offers details on finding more information about an adopted child.

International. It is important to speak with your agency and social worker before accepting a referral for an international adoption and in some cases, request a physician review available medical records. Detailed information may be more difficult to obtain with international adoption; however, you should work closely with your agency and the child’s caregivers whether that be an orphanage or another adoption facilitator in the child’s country of origin. Although recordkeeping has come a long way, some countries are still playing catch up, have different standards and requirements, and many foreign governments do not require the amount of detailed information as prospective adoptive parents might hope to receive.


Whether you adopt domestically or internationally, there is a chance some travel may be involved.

Domestic. Adoptive parents can expect to travel to the place of their child’s birth in order to obtain custody and in some cases, depending on the state, travel back to finalize the adoption. Adoptive parents also may choose to meet with birth parents during the pregnancy.

International. Prospective adoptive parents are often required to travel to the country of the adopted child’s origin in order to finalize the adoption. Families can expect to travel anywhere from a week to a couple of months depending on the country and its court system. In some cases, more than one trip is required. While traveling overseas is not appealing to everyone, especially where a young child may be concerned, it is an opportunity for adoptive parents to visit with the child’s caregiver, experience their native country and culture, and spend the time bonding away from the day-to-day back at home.


The cost of adoption varies with the type of adoption be it domestic or international. offers several resources, links, and articles concerning affording adoption here.

Domestic. Adopting a healthy infant of any race through a private agency or attorney adoption may cost tens of thousands of dollars. It is less costly to adopt a child with special needs. Prospective parents should work with their agency to see if a sliding scale is available. Special needs children also may be eligible to receive subsidies to cover medical and other related expenses. Additionally, adopting a child from foster care costs very little to nothing, depending on the state. In addition to the Adoption Tax Credit

International. Similar to domestic adoption, adoptive families can expect to pay between $20,000 to $60,000 in fees, which may not include the cost to travel overseas as well as related living expenses and time away from home and work. Some countries require both parents to stay for the duration of the adoption process and in others, require multiple visits. It is important to speak to your agency to estimate the total fees and costs before you begin the adoption process.


Adoption laws vary state by state and country to country. Prospective parents interested in domestic adoption should take the time to research your state’s laws here. Prospective parents interested in international adoption can learn about a country’s adoption laws here and state laws on intercountry adoption here.


Now that you know some of the basic difference between domestic and international adoption, here are some additional considerations to keep in mind:

Domestic Adoption-

     – It’s a common misconception that domestic adoptions cost more than international adoptions, but the cost of adoption varies depending on circumstances.

     – In the majority of domestic newborn adoptions, adoptive parents are selected by the birth parents, and in at least half of the cases, birth parents and adoptive parents meet ahead of the birth. 

     – Information about birth parents in domestic adoption can include OBGYN, pregnancy, legal issues, and family history, as well as social history/hobbies and interests. 

International Adoption-

     – Adoptive parents will be required to comply with the laws of the adopted child’s country of origin, federal laws of the United States, and laws of the state where the adoptive parents reside.

     – The Hague Convention will most likely affect your adoption process. Prospective parents should become familiar with the requirements of your selected country. Prospective parents adopting a child from a non-Hague Convention country will need to complete paperwork in order to determine whether or not an adopted child meets the definition of an orphan.

     – Know that your adoption may be impacted by changes to immigration laws.

Ready to get started? Visit’s How to Adopt a Child Guide, Adopting a Baby in the U.S. Guide, or International Adoption Guide to learn more.

Learn how to have a more successful adoption journey. Watch 60+ adoption leaders and experts FREE at the virtual Adoption Summit. Get your free ticket.

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at 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.