Just like any other type of adoption, international adoption comes with its own learning curve and unique set of rules and regulations. Families interested in growing their families through international adoptionsometimes referred to as intercountry adoptionshould be prepared to do a fair amount of research and understand what it will mean for everyone involved.

The U.S. Department of State defines international adoption as “the process by which you adopt a child from a country other than your own through permanent legal means and then bring that child to your country of residence to live with you permanently. This website can give you valuable information about intercountry adoptions, from starting the process to post-adoption information. 

Am I Qualified to Adopt Internationally?

Once you have decided that you want to adopt internationally, it’s important to determine whether or not you are qualified to do so. The United States requires the following under U.S. federal law:

  • You must be a United States citizen
  • If unmarried, you must be at least 25 years old
  • If married, you must jointly adopt the child 
  • You must meet certain requirements, including criminal background checks, fingerprinting, and home study.

In addition to these, you will also need to research and comply with your home state’s requirements and the requirements of the country you will be adopting from. 

How Do I Choose a Country?

The Adoption.com article “7 Tips for Choosing the Country You Want to Adopt From” suggests interested families should make sure they meet the requirements of countries of interest. Just like states have different adoption-related laws and requirements, so do different countries. You should also learn about country-specific legal issues and how these could impact your adoption process. If this sounds like a heavy load, your adoption facilitator should be able to walk you through the requirements and laws to ensure that you are not wasting time and money.

Red tape aside, your decision should include a deeper dive into issues such as cultural differences and race. Ask yourself why you are interested in a specific country and understand that should you adopt a child from this country you will be forever bound. Just because you will be bringing your child home with you does not mean that you should expect your adopted child to leave her birth country behind her. Make learning about the culture of your child’s country a priority. Learn about the history, people, arts, food, music, entertainers, and even the politics and religion. What makes the country special? Your adopted child may ask you this at some point. Ask yourself if you’ll be willing to incorporate traditions into your household. A big aspect of ensuring your adopted child will grow into a confident adult is by instilling pride early on. 

The article goes on to state that “Although nobody likes to talk about race factors, they do exist. This does not mean that you shouldn’t adopt from a certain country for fear of race issues, but you should be prepared to deal with them should they come.” And it’s trueas much as we’d like to think that we’ve come a long way in the United States with racial issues and racial tension, it still exists and can be especially difficult for an adopted child to deal with. Adoptive families should be prepared for questions and stares from family and friends. Chances are, you and your child may not matchbut that’s okay! Learning to become a strong transracial family is possible, and the rewards can be great so long as you keep an open mind, surround yourself with support, be ready to deal with some awkwardness, and focus on what is important. Most importantly, make sure that you are there to support your child. Consider joining an adoption support group, participating in community events, reaching out to other families who have adopted from the same country (encouraging friendships between adoptees can be quite powerful; although experiences may be different, the reality of being an adopted child is a bond that adoptive parents cannot fill), and ensuring your child is aware of a strong network of support surrounding him or her.

What Is the Hague Convention?

As defined by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) is an international treaty that provides important safeguards to protect the best interests of children, birth parents, and adoptive parents who are involved in intercountry adoptions.”

The United States joined many other countries in implementing the Hague process on April 1, 2008. The Hague requires participating countries to have an officially designated Central Authority. In the United States, this authority is the Department of State

Is International Adoption Safe?

In addition to the Hague Convention, there are many safeguards in place that make international adoption safe; however, some issues that can occur at any time include a country shutting down or suspending adoptions. The U.S. Department of State regularly posts updates regarding countries who have, for whatever reason, suspended adoptions. Prospective parents also need to be on top of paperwork and ensuring they receive complete and accurate social history (or personal history) and health history information. 

It’s important to align yourself with an ethical and reputable adoption agency both domestically and in the country from which you are adopting. While most adoption facilitators have good intentions, like any other industry that involves the exchange of money, there are fraudulent agencies and individuals posing as adoption facilitators who prey upon hopeful adoptive families.

To avoid unethical adoption and the potential for child trafficking, you should consider adopting from a Hague Convention country, which was established specifically to protect adoptive families, birth families, and adoptees from being taken advantage of in international adoption.

Is International Adoption Ethical?

The Adoption.org article “Four Things That Tell You Your Adoption Is Ethical” advises “Those seeking to adopt need to be aware of whether or not their adoption journey is ethical.” And while adopting internationally brings its fair share of challenges as compared to domestic adoption, you can still take steps to ensure the birth parents have been properly represented and understand what international adoption means. Make sure that any questions you ask of your agency, attorney, and international adoption facilitator/orphanage are answered. Take care that all the “i’s” are dotted and “t’s” are crossed. Just like the domestic adoption process, the international adoption process involves mountains of requirements from all involved parties, paperwork and documentation, all of which must be reviewed and approved by local, state, federal, and international government agencies. Be aware of the possibility of coercion or child trafficking. If you feel that something feels off, you should not proceed with the adoption.

On the flip side, some adoption advocates would argue that adoption can serve as a child trafficking deterrent. The Adoption.com article “Adoption Prevents Child Trafficking” states, “Without the care of a permanent, loving family, kids are more susceptible to child trafficking. We must stop this heinous crime from happening.” Author Jennifer Mellon goes on to say, “Most countries have a mandatory date by which children age out of the system, without an option for adoption. Most of these children leave the institutions in which they were raised without any safeguards or safety net. Without the option for adoption, these children are the most vulnerable to trafficking.”

Who Are the Waiting Children?

According to UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund), there are approximately 153 million orphans worldwide and an estimated 5,700 more children become orphans every day. Children who find themselves without families and are forced to live on the streets or in institutions or orphanages are often relinquished due to war, natural disasters, poverty, disease, stigma, and medical issues. Concerning international adoption, the Gladney Center for Adoption says “a child may be considered a waiting child because of various factors that could include developmental delays, mental issues, medical special needs, emotional issues, or because they are part of a sibling group. They are also classified as a waiting child simply because they are older.”

International Adoption by the Numbers

In 2018, according to statistics posted on the U.S. Department of State website, 4,048 children were adopted internationally by families in the United States. Of these children, 47.% were listed as male while 52.1% percent were listed as female. Thirty-four adoptees were under one year, 1,124 were between 1 and 2 years old, 912 children were between 3 and 4 years old, 1,320 were between 5 and 12 years old, 606 were between 13 and 17 years old, and 62 children were 18 years and older.

The Hauge convention governs adoptions between the United States and nearly 75 other nations.

At last count, of the estimated 153 million orphans worldwide, Asia is home to the largest number of orphaned children with 60 million (per Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

Choosing an Adoption Agency

Finding a reputable adoption agency should be high on your priority list as you begin your international adoption journey. The Child Welfare Information Gateway states, “Locating an agency to assist you in building your family through adoption should take into account your family’s personal preferences regarding the adoption services provided by that agency. While there are overarching characteristics that should be true of any agency, there are different qualities that families might find important.”

As with everything else adoption-related, you should plan to do your researcha lot of it! Ask a lot of questions of the agencies you approach, ask a lot of questions of other families who have gone through or are going through the international adoption process, ask (your agency of choice) for references, watch for red flags that may give you pause about working with a specific individual or organization, and be prepared to walk away from a “bad” agency (one that is uncommunicative, displays unethical practices, refuses to answer your questions, puts you off, does not have the interest of adoptive families and adoptees front and center).

It is important to note that with international adoption, adoption service providers may only assist prospective adoptive parents with a Hague adoption if they are accredited or authorized to provide adoption services with Hague adoption cases. Make sure to ask potential adoption service providers if they are authorized to work on Hague adoption cases before entering into a legal agreement or paying any money or fees.

You can find a list of adoption attorneys and judges, agencies, and social workers here.

How Much Does International Adoption Cost?

Although some resources show international adoption ranging anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000, it’s difficult to determine the exact cost of an international adoption because it varies by agency and country. Typical international adoption fees include overseas travel, foreign country government, legal, and facilitator fees, adoption agency fees, liability insurance, United States government fees, and orphanage donations. Many countries expect all family members to travel and be present for at least a portion of the adoption process, with some countries requiring multiple visits.

While expensive, international adoption is not impossible. Consider living lean and saving, budgeting, and planning for it yesterday! Consider researching loans and grants geared toward adoptive families. Plan a fundraiser, start a GoFundMe, or reach out to family and friends who may be excited to help you begin your journey! Additionally, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a report showed that more than half of 940 large employers surveyed said that they offer some type of adoption assistance. Other nonfinancial assistance such as parental leave and legal assistance may be covered under your state’s Family and Medical Leave Act. 

Further, Section 36C of the United States Internal Revenue Code offers a credit for “qualified adoption expenses” paid or incurred by individual taxpayers. The adoption tax credit is a tax credit that is offered to adoptive parents to encourage adoption. More information about the 2019 Adoption Tax Credit is available here.

Getting Started

Interested in learning more about international adoption? Check out Adoption.com’s international adoption page, which includes lots of information and links to an International Adoption Guide, Wiki, articles, a directory of services, and international adoption forums. Additionally, you can view a photolisting of waiting children here.

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.