When my husband and I first start considering adoption, we looked at both domestic and international options. We were drawn to the idea of welcoming another culture into our hearts and home—but where to begin? If you’re embarking on your journey to adopt internationally, there are two places you can start: You can choose a country first or choose an agency.

Choosing a Country First

If you choose a country first, consider what nation would be a good fit for your family. Do you have a special connection with a certain language or culture? What age are you open to adopting? Some countries, such as India, have children as young as 8 months available for adoption, while other countries, such as Bulgaria, tend to have older children, ranging from 2 to 15 years of age. Are you open to siblings or just one child? In certain countries, like China, sibling groups are rare, while in others, like Colombia, they are more common. Then there is the issue of special needs. Because many countries concentrate on domestic adoption, today most of the children available for intercountry adoption are special needs or special focus. Evaluating what your family is open to is a significant factor to consider when you adopt internationally.

Each country has its own restrictions and requirements for who can adopt, so it’s important to do your research. Factors like marital status, number of years married, annual income, number of children in the home, and even body mass index may be considered in a country’s evaluation of prospective adoptive parents. Not every country is open to adoption, so be sure to check the U.S. Department of State’s website for current notices. You can also see a list of which countries belong to the Hague Convention, a potential factor to consider.

The benefit of choosing a country first is that different agencies specialize in different countries. A country that has a long tradition of adoption in China, for example, may just be starting a pilot program in India. Be sure to ask questions like these: How long has your agency been active in the country? Does your agency have relationships with specific regions or orphanages? What is your agency’s in-country assistance for adoptive families like?

Choosing an Agency First

All of the above sound daunting? That’s one of the benefits of choosing an agency first. A good agency can help guide you to the right country based on your family’s configuration and level of openness and might even recommend country programs you had never considered. Begin by attending local adoption fairs and talking to agencies directly. Get a feel for how they interact with prospective adoptive parents. Are they open to talking about your questions in depth? Or do they just hand you a pamphlet? Find out how often the agency connects to families throughout various points in the process. Do they check in weekly or monthly? Is it important for your agency to be local? We were able to complete everything—from our home study to travel to post-placement—with the same team, which was a key factor in our consideration.

Whether you begin with a country or an agency, you’re on an exciting path to bring a waiting child into your hearts and home. Congratulations on taking the first step!

As you begin your journey with foreign adoption, visit Adoption.com/international for help as you begin to adopt an orphan. For a guide to international adoption, visit Adoption.com.

Visit adoption.com/photolisting for more information on international adoption photolisting.

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. In a small government office in China, Jennifer became an adoptive mother. 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.