When embarking on the process of adoption, many families find themselves weighing the pros and cons of international vs. domestic vs. adoption from foster care. The age of the child at placement, whether a family can choose the child’s age or race, the age of the adopting parents at placement, the financial implications, and wait times all contribute to a family’s decision, as does the risk involved. Here are the top six risks associated with international adoption, and more importantly, what a family can do to avoid them.


  • The Country Might Shut Down


One of the greatest risks families fear with international adoption is that the country they are adopting from may change their policies and close mid-process. Who can forget the images of families in Russia being turned away from the children they were waiting to adopt? Countries’ policies change all the time, but thankfully, there are a number of countries who stay consistently open. A quick look at the top 5 countries to adopt from in 2019 shows China, South Korea, Columbia, and Haiti, as well as relative newcomer, India. It’s important to remember, too, that countries do not close overnight. Of the three most recent closings in Russia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, there were several incidents which led up to the closing. Families interested in a particular country should watch the U.S. Department of State website for adoption specific updates. Still concerned? Ask about your agency’s involvement in your country of interest and ask what trends they are currently seeing in the country overall.


  • The Child You’re Adopting Is Not Really an Orphan


Second to a country closing, many families have the fear that the child they are hoping to adopt is not really an orphan. Thankfully, due to the 1993 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, countries who are signatories of the Hague Convention, of which the U.S. is one, must prove a child is an orphan before they become eligible for adoption. This is done through “Finding Announcements” in-country, in-country court processes, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) evaluation. It may mean a longer process between referral and placement, but it will mean the child is without a doubt eligible for adoption. Additionally, in order for children to be available for intercountry adoption, every effort must have been made to place the child domestically first. So, families adopting internationally can be doubly sure!


  • The Wait Time May Be Different


Like all things in adoption, timelines vary. Perhaps the greatest unknown factor in international adoption is the timeline. There are things families can do to control their timeline, like expediting their paperwork process for their home study and dossier compilation, but there are also other things over which they have no control. Waits for a referral depend on which country a family chooses and how specific they are in what they want. For example, families who choose a girl under age 2 from a specific region in India will have a longer wait time than a family who is open to either gender and anywhere in India. The best thing to do is to ask your agency what trends they are seeing. What might expedite your timeline, and what are your non-negotiables?

Following a referral, most countries have a straight forward process to complete an intercountry adoption. Some elements of the process will be controlled by the sending country’s central adoption authority (such as CCCWA, China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption), whereas others may be controlled on the local level. Families adopting from India, for example, may face additional wait times from referral to placement due to intercountry adoptions being processed through the local court level. Most agencies will offer a fairly comprehensive timeline for adoption from the countries where they serve, so contacting your agency is a good place to start.


  • Medical Records Might Be Incorrect


As most families who have adopted internationally will share, it is not “Will the medical records of my new adoptive child be incorrect?” but rather “How will the medical records of my new adoptive child be incorrect?” Unfortunately, most sending countries lack the extent of medical care that exists here in the United States, so diagnoses and treatments listed in a child’s medical file may be incorrect. One thing a prospective adoptive family can rely on knowing, however, is how the child is developing and whether they are meeting the necessary milestones. Still, once a referral is received it is important to have your file evaluated by an international adoption doctor. Unlike a standard pediatrician, an international adoption doctor will be able to evaluate your child’s file based on your child’s birth country, whether or not they have been in institutional care, and what level of health care they have received since birth. They will also be instrumental in recommending questions to ask the orphanage about your child’s development and medical condition.


  • Finances Might Change


There is no question that international adoption is expensive. With costs ranging from $25,000-$50,000, knowing how much to budget is important. In the past, there were “surprise” costs that popped up for some families, particularly when they were in-country, but thanks again to the Hague Convention, such additional fees are no longer permitted. In fact, sending countries and agencies must list every fee for prospective adoptive parents, including an estimate of travel fees. When the time comes to travel to bring their child home, families will be asked to provide the list of fees paid to the U.S. Embassy in-country prior to leaving. If there is any discrepancy, the U.S. Department of State will follow up directly.


  • Staying Healthy and Safe When Traveling


International adoption is exciting but for some families, the idea of traveling halfway around the world can be a bit daunting. It is important to practice safe travel habits and to rely on your agency for recommendations of where to stay while in-country. Some agencies have their own travel agencies, but if not, be sure to find an agency familiar with adoption travel. As for staying healthy, a good place to start is the Center for Disease Control’s Traveler’s Health. Here families can find a list of which foods to enjoy and which food and drink to avoid while in-country. The CDC also issues a great list of recommended over-the-counter medications to bring with you when you travel. Lastly, on the CDC website, families can find a list of recommended inoculations. Outbreaks of malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, and Hepatitis A are common in many parts of the world, so it’s important to play it safe. After all, there is nothing worse than falling ill when you first meet your newly adopted child.

At the end of the day, adoption is a leap of faith. Whether a family chooses international, domestic, or adoption from foster care, there will always be risks. But the reward of opening your heart and home to a waiting child is like none other.


Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.