One of the most common criticisms of international adoption is that “it’s so expensive.”

Why It’s Expensive

What really makes it expensive? Is it adoption itself? No! Is it the children themselves? No! It’s the services behind adoption that carry a price tag—one that international adoption advocates insist is necessary in order to ensure that all laws are followed, all orphaned children are safe and protected, and all families that form because of international adoption are truly and legally “forever.” Children are not a commodity being “bought and sold”; however, the services that bring those children together with forever families are. And those services are vital components to an ethical, legal international adoption that truly means “forever”!

Ah, so many steps, so many hoops to jump through—all to form the family you’re praying will come into your life. As an adoptive mom of one son from South Korea, I remember all too well that endless hoop jumping and step taking. It required patience, resolve, and, yes, money. But the money is for necessary services. That’s what I kept telling myself when I was a waiting parent. These “expensive” services not only protect families and agencies, but, more importantly, they protect the children being adopted. Children who could potentially become “your child”! That old adage “It’s worth the wait” rings true here. I can attest; it was worth the wait. And I now see the cost was necessary and, yes, unavoidable.

There’s so much and so many involved in the adoption process: the services behind adoption. The critical logistical steps leading up to that memorable day of adoption finalization (it’s a day you’ll never forget!). And, perhaps most important of all, the caring, committed people (social workers, judges, attorneys) who play an integral role in making sure children and their forever families are matched. All those things are services. And services, in any form, cost money.

Let’s break down the actual expenses behind the international adoption process so we can get to the truth behind international adoption—the fact that there’s a lot of “good” behind those “services.”

The international adoption process is strictly regulated by the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Known more commonly as the Hague Convention, this international treaty was enacted into U.S. law in 2008. Full text of the Hague Convention can be found here.

Dave Wood, Director of International Programs at Lifeline Children’s Services, breaks it down nicely in this article. The fees related to international adoption, says Wood, fit into three overarching areas:

  1. Agency fees (e.g., screening and educating various staff members such as adoption agency staff, adoptive families, facilitators, and attorneys)
  2. In-country fees (e.g., court costs, attorney fees, and medical checkups in the child’s birth country; much of these in-country fees are completely, 100 percent out of an adoptive family’s or an agency’s control)
  3. Out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., air travel, hotel accommodations, passport and visa fees)

Because the various in-country fees vary widely depending on the country, the Hague Convention stipulates that agencies detail all expected fees on their website, thus assuring prospective families that the agency is appropriately transparent and ethical when it comes to identifying fee structures and justifying the costs of adoption services. It’s not a racket. It’s not a hoax. These services really do cost this much money—so rather than saying “I can’t afford this,” how about delving into some out-of-the-box thinking?

A 2016 Washington Post article by Claire Swinarski explains one of the most expensive aspects of international adoption—the travel: “International adoption often requires couples to travel at least once to the birth country of the child they’re adopting. Sometimes adoptive parents must live in that country for a month or longer. In these cases, travel becomes an additional large cost. In addition, every small legal step along the way—such as filing for citizenship—comes with a price tag of a couple hundred dollars. It adds up quickly.” Cited in this Post article are some great avenues for exploring family fundraising in order to pay for your child’s international adoption. Check out those sites.

How Can I Afford It?

Also, Holt International (the agency my husband and I worked with to adopt our own son, Matthew, from Korea) ran a blog post in 2015 dispelling the common myth of “I can’t afford adoption” as part of its “Adoption Mythbusting and Fact Spreading” campaign. Many people don’t seem to realize it, but resources for adoptive families seeking financial support absolutely abound! Holt offers all kinds of suggestions for creative, unconventional, often unthought-of ways to find the funds to form your family through international adoption. It’s not always “remortgage the house” or “take out a loan.” Educate yourself before giving up on international adoption simply because it seems too expensive!

Julie Gumm is the mother of two children she adopted internationally. She is also the author of You Can Adopt Without Debtand a staunch proponent of looking to fundraising for adoption rather than incurring personal loans. Gumm told The Washington Post that “there’s always a way to adopt if that’s what you’re determined to do. [It] just requires finding a way to get your hands on the money, whether it’s through grants, fundraising or simply cutting major corners in your family budget. ‘It isn’t easy. … But if adoption is what you want to do, don’t let cost be the thing that keeps you from doing it.’”

If you’re still wondering, “Is there anything that can be done to curb the high fees associated with international adoption?” the answer is a staunch “no.” Wood explains, “There’s no way around it—the adoption process is expensive because much is required and necessary to protect and serve the precious children who need families. … Ask any adoptive family that you know if the journey was worth it … most will tell you that fulfilling God’s call to adopt is an incredible joy!”

For anyone navigating the financial waters of international adoption, we encourage you to stay the course. Have faith in the process. Find the funds to make this adoption work for you. Get creative. And never, never, never give up. Do not let the high price tag of international adoption intimidate you, because the good behind the services you are paying for will be well worth the cost. Because when all is said and done, you’ll see that good in your child’s smile, in her voice when she calls you “Mom” or “Dad” for the first time, in the fullness of your family, and in the sense of completion that has been created in your life.


Kathleen Kelly Halverson lives in Olney, Maryland, with her husband, Jeff; 8-year-old son, Matthew Seong-jin (whom they adopted from South Korea); and their two dogs. She works in scholarly publishing for a nonprofit association and has maintained an adoption blog since 2008.