If you have considered an international adoption, I am sure you have heard the word “dossier” quite a bit and aren’t quite sure what that even is or what you have to do with it. The purpose of this article is to answer your specific question: what is a dossier and how should I put one together? I want to start off by saying that this article should not be considered legal advice, rather it is written from my own research and experience. Let’s start with the very basics, what is a dossier? In its simplest form, a dossier is basically a collection of documents you will need to complete for an international adoption. It’s similar to the home study paperwork required for an adoption. The dossier is in addition to the home study process. However, the documents included in your dossier must be notarized, authenticated, and apostilled. After the documents are authenticated, the documents will be translated into the language of the country you are adopting from, and then they are sent to the central adoption authority for the child’s country of origin.
Let’s dig into your question: what is a dossier and how should I put one together? As I already indicated, a dossier is a collection of documents you need to present for an international adoption. The dossier is usually country-specific—meaning, every country will have its own set of requirements and paperwork that will be required to be included in the dossier. There are usually between 15 and 20 documents in the dossier. Again, this will depend on what country you are adopting from. For the sake of this article, I will provide a general outline of the documents that may be required for the dossier.
1. Birth Certificate or Proof of Citizenship.
You will need to obtain an original “certified” birth certificate for each person in your household. You can request a copy from the vital statistics office in the capital city of the state of your birth. For example, if you were born in Wisconsin, you would request the certified birth certificate from the vital statistics office in Madison, Wisconsin, the capital of Wisconsin. A birth certificate issued from a hospital or other local level will not be accepted by the Secretary of State for the dossier. It should be noted that if you do not have a passport, this would be a good time to get an extra copy of your certified birth certificate as you will need one in order to obtain a passport. It should also be noted that most vital statistics offices charge to obtain a certified copy of your birth certificate.
If you were not born in the United States, but your birth was registered with the United States upon return, you can obtain an original certified copy of your birth certificate from the State Department. You may contact them in writing and include the following information: your name, address, date of birth, place of birth, your birth mother’s name, maiden name, and birth father’s name. The cost to obtain a certified copy of your birth certificate through the State Department is $30 for the first document and $20 for each additional document. This can be sent to:
Vital Records Section
1111 19th St NW, Suite 510
Washington, DC 20522-1704
2. Marital Status Documents.
You will need to obtain an original certificate of marriage. You, again, should be able to obtain a copy of this from the vital statistics office in the county in which you were married. You will also have to provide a certified copy of any divorce decrees for any previous marriage(s) for both spouses. If you have been or currently are a widow/widower you will also have to provide a death certificate for the deceased spouse. Again, this can be obtained from the vital statistics office in the county or state in which the deceased died. If any of your marital or death certificates were obtained outside of the United States (foreign country), you will need to obtain a copy of the required documents from the State Department as listed above.
3. Financial Certificate.
You will be required to submit a completed financial statement for your dossier. It is important that the annual income listed on your financial statement matched that of the annual income from your employment letter. This may be a good point to point out you will be required to provide an employment verification letter, written by your employer and signed by them as well. This will include your profession, your annual salary, your position, your length of employment, and your prospect for continued employment. Most countries have a minimum net worth requirement in order to adopt. Make sure you know what your child’s country of origin’s minimum net worth is. In order to obtain your net worth, you subtract all of your liability from your total assets. You may also be required to provide backup documentation for all income, assets, and liabilities included in your financial statement. This may also be required to include previous tax returns.
4. Health Records/Letter.
Your agency will most likely have a form to be completed by your doctor. This is usually some sort of certificate of general physical examination. This form needs to be completed and signed by your doctor. There are certain tests that must be completed. You must make sure every box is checked and every spot is filled in. “Not applicable” or “N/A” is not an acceptable answer for a test or test result date. Everything must be completed as required by your agency and/or country you are adopting from. If you have had any operations, your doctor must include the date the operating was performed. It is important that all information is legible. If necessary, this form may need to be notarized as well. Make sure you talk to your doctor about this requirement and that they know this is a requirement. You may also be required to provide a written letter from your doctor. If you have had certain conditions, you may need a letter from your doctor to explain the medical information. If you are required to provide a written letter from your doctor, it must be on the doctor’s letterhead, have a date, have the doctor’s signature, and the doctor’s signature must be notarized. If applicable, you will also need to provide mental health records and/or a letter from your mental health professional.
5. Criminal Background Clearances.
A complete police background check will need to be obtained at the local, county, or state level. Each spouse must go through a complete background check, along with any other adults in your home over the age of 18. Some countries may require a separate police letter for each of the prospective adoptive parents be sent that is notarized, certified, and authenticated. This letter must conclude that you do not have a criminal record. If there is an incident in your letter, there must be an explanation of it in your home study. Also, if you have lived in another country within the last five years, you must also submit a letter from the country you lived in within the last five years. Usually, you can use the same background check that you used for your home study as long as it meets all the requirements necessary for the country you are adopting from. You will also need to provide the original copy with your dossier, a photocopy will not work. If your home study provider will not release your home study, you will have to obtain another background check.
Some countries will require that you also send your complete adoption home study with your dossier. Make sure you know if this is a requirement or not for your adoption, as it will also need to be notarized.
You will need to provide a copy of your passport, which includes the inside picture page and any addenda of each passport. Some countries require that your passport be valid for more than six months from the date you apply for a visa. If your passport is close to expiring, it is recommended that you get a new one before you begin the dossier process. You will also need to submit two professionally taken passport photos for each prospective adoptive parent. These pictures should be your standard passport size, two inches by two inches.
8. Letters of Recommendation.
You may have had several letters of recommendation for your home study, many countries require that a certain amount of these letters of recommendation be notarized and sent with your dossier as well. They may also require a different letter that includes country-specific questions. Make sure you check with your adoption agency to know what their requirements are as well as the requirements of the country you are adopting from.
9. Family Photos.
You will also be asked to submit family photos with your dossier. This is usually six to eight photos that include your home, your hobbies, your extended family, your children (if any), etc.
Depending on which country you are choosing to adopt from, they may require an adoption application letter. This usually is a short one-page letter asking for permission to adopt. They may also want a letter that expresses why you are choosing to pursue international adoption, the type of child (age, sex, special need, etc.) you hope to adopt, and why you are choosing that country. Again, the requirement for this letter will depend on your agency and what country you are adopting from. This letter will also need to be notarized.
11. Proof of Residency.
Some countries will also require that you provide proof of your residency. This can usually be done by submitting a copy of your driver’s license (as long as it has your current address) and a notarized statement indicating this is a true and exact copy of your driver’s license.
12. Child’s Information:
It should be noted that if you have children in your home already, you may also be required to provide information on their behalf. You may need to provide the following:
– A certified copy of the child’s birth certificate.
– If your child is adopted, a copy of the adoption decree.
– Any post-placement reports you may have if your child is adopted.
– Consent from the child. Many countries require that any children currently residing with you must consent to the adoption. They would simply write a two- to five-sentence letter stating they are looking forward to having a new brother or sister. Be sure to talk with your agency about this requirement, and if it is necessary for the country you are adopting from.
– You may also need to provide your child’s medical history or medical certificate. Just like the requirement for your medical clearances, this would need to be filled out by your child’s doctor and may need to be notarized.
There is no way around it, completing your dossier is time-consuming and some days can feel overwhelming. But here are a few tips on what a dossier is and how you should put one together:
Get organized. Create a tracking system. This usually works well in Excel or on a spreadsheet. List out all the required documents on the left column. Then as you complete things have a few date columns to the right. Once you have obtained the documents, put the date in when you received them. Make another column if they need to be notarized and write that date in when you complete that task. Then, work your way down the list. Don’t let it overwhelm you. It is also recommended that once you have the paperwork completed, whatever it may be, that you take a picture of it. When you complete one of the tasks completely, send that paperwork to your agency.
When you are filling out any forms, be sure to print clearly. If something is misspelled, re-do it. If the date is incorrect, re-do it. Do not use white-out, eraser, or any kind of strikeouts. Do not use any abbreviations. Make sure all signatures are original and legible. Also, when writing the date, make sure to write it out longhand. That is, use January 1, 2019, not 01/01/2019.
If you feel you have all documents ready to be sent in for authentication, make sure you have copies of everything. Make sure everything is notarized. If not, this would be the time to do it. You can usually find a notary at a bank, city hall, or your adoption agent may also be a notary public. You should ask your notary public when their commission expires. It should be valid for at least 12 months after you are going to sign the paperwork in their presence. This is because we want the document to still be valid by the time it is accepted by the country you are adopting from.
You then will begin the process of state apostille. This is essentially a form of authentication by the state verifying the authenticity of the documents being submitted. The Secretary of State’s office will verify the notary public who signed the document was true and official. They then will issue a cover document with the state’s seal. This document will then be stapled to the original document and should not be removed. Following the state level, they then will need to be sent to the U.S. Department of State for authentication. Again, the United States will put its seal on top of the state’s seal and stapled all together again. There is usually a fee for both the local state level and the U.S. level. Be sure to talk with your agency to know what these fees are and to include them with your paperwork to each agency. After this is all completed, the documents get sent back to your agency and then translated into the language of the country from which you are pursuing the adoption. Once your dossier is approved, you then will be eligible to be matched and the adoption process can continue.
I know this is a lot of information at once, but I hope it helped answer your question: what is a dossier and how should I put one together? My main advice, take it one day at a time and one step at a time. It is a slow process but will be worth it in the end. I wish you the best of luck with your international adoption.
Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.