When my husband and I began our international adoption journey in 2013, it seemed the world was our oyster. We attended numerous adoption fairs weighing the pros and cons of adopting from different countries. We looked at programs with long histories of international adoption placements, like China and South Korea, and at newer programs, like Uganda. The country requirements and length of time from dossier submission to travel influenced our decision, as did the need to find a connection with our potential child’s birth country. We knew that when we adopted a child we could gain a whole country, and we wanted to ensure we had the resources available to support our child’s culture when he or she joined our family.
We adopted from China in 2015 and from India in 2018. Unfortunately, the world has changed a lot since we completed our international adoptions. Some countries have closed their doors to international adoption, like Ethiopia, while others have opened, like Grenada. Each year, the landscape of international adoption shifts. In 2004, the peak of international adoption in the United States was reached; 22,988 children were placed with families from the U.S. In 2020, 1,622 international adoptions in the United States took place. This represents a 93 percent decline in international adoptions over a 16-year period.
The decline in adoptions is due to many sending countries terminating their international adoption programs with the United States such as Russia and Guatemala. There are reasons for this—both political and due to the implementation of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, of which the U.S. is a signatory. Then, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, international adoption rates fell further as many countries pushed pause in the wake of the rising pandemic. Still, there is some good news. There are many thriving international adoption programs open to U.S. citizens and thousands of waiting children in need of forever homes. Here are the top five international adoption countries of 2021.
1. South Korea
One of the countries with the longest history of intercountry adoption, South Korea has been a sending country since international adoption began in 1955. Prospective adoptive parents interested in adopting from South Korea must be between the ages of 25 and 44, have fewer than four children in the household, and have been married for at least three years. Children available for intercountry adoption are typically relinquished at birth and are between the ages of 12 and 16 months at referral. There is a strong need for prospective adoptive families open to parenting a boy with minor, medically correctable needs as well as children with more severe lifelong needs. From referral acceptance to travel is between 8 and 11 months and two trips, made by both parents, are necessary to complete the adoption. For prospective adoptive parents of South Korean descent, South Korea does have a heritage track and timelines for this program may be shorter.
Another country with a longstanding history of intercountry adoption is Columbia. Prospective adoptive parents interested in adopting from Columbia must be between the ages of 25-55 and may be married or single. Columbia also welcomes LBTQ prospective adoptive parents. Columbia requires a minimum of two years of marriage for couples adopting together. Children eligible for intercountry adoption are between the ages of 6 months and 15 years at referral, though the average age of placement is 10 to 12 years old. In Columbia, there is a particular need for prospective adoptive parents open to parenting an older child and/or sibling groups. From dossier submission to referral, adoptees typically range from 6 to 18 months depending on the prospective adoptive family’s openness to age, gender, and any special needs. Once the referral is accepted, travel occurs about 5 to 9 weeks later. Only one trip is required.
Slightly newer to intercountry adoption is India. In India, both married couples and single men and women between the ages of 25 and 55 are welcome to adopt. Couples must have been married a minimum of two years and no more than three children are allowed to currently reside in the home. Children eligible for intercountry adoption are between the ages of 6 months and 14 years at referral, with the average age being 18 to 36 months at referral. From dossier submission to referral can be anywhere from 3 to 18 months, depending on the prospective adoptive parents’ openness to gender, age, and special need. At least one trip is required to complete the adoption, though, in some states, such as Hyderabad, two trips are required. The adoption process by OCIs (Overseas Citizens of India) and NRIs (Non-Residents of India) is slightly different and timelines may vary. Interested prospective adoptive parents who fall into one of these two categories should consult with their international adoption agency to see whether the OCI/NRI adoption track or the intercountry adoption track would be best for them.
Another wonderful country to consider is the Republic of Haiti. Located close to the United States, Haiti welcomes prospective adoptive parents between the ages of 30 and 50 years of age. Single men and women are welcome to adopt from Haiti as well, though they must be at least 35 years old. If married, Haiti requires at least five years of marriage at the time of application and there is no regulation on children already in the home. Children eligible for intercountry adoption are typically between the ages of 2 and 8 years old and have minor, medically correctable needs. Sibling groups are common, particularly when one sibling is older than age 6. Two trips to Haiti are required to complete the adoption process with the first trip occurring only 3 to 4 weeks after matching with a child and the second trip 12-13 months later when the adoption will become finalized. That said, the time between home study approval and referral can range from 18 months to 2 years.
Finally, there is the beautiful European country of Bulgaria. Prospective adoptive parents interested in adopting from Bulgaria must be between the ages of 25 and 49 to adopt a child younger than 5 years old and between the ages of 50 and 55 to adopt a child older than 5 years old. Both single men and women are welcome to adopt from Bulgaria. Couples must have been married for at least two years and there are no regulations as to the number of children currently in the home. Children eligible for intercountry adoption are between the ages of 2 and 15 years of age; have minor, medically correctable needs; and have experienced institutional trauma. Sibling groups are common as well. Referrals from the Bulgaria Ministry of Justice take between 1 and 5 years depending on the prospective adoptive parents’ openness to gender, age, and special needs. But, referrals from a waiting child photo listing are immediate and the adoption may be complete in 12 to 18 months. Two trips are required to complete the adoption and both parents must travel for the first trip.
Notably missing from this list is China. Since intercountry adoption began from China to the United States, 280,367 children have been placed in their forever homes. But, since the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, intercountry adoptions from China have ceased. There are many waiting families and many families who have already accepted referrals who are unable to travel to meet their children. Though the situation is devastating, there is every hope that as the pandemic eases, China will reopen its doors to intercountry adoption. Until that time, no international adoption agencies will accept applications for the China program. That said, there are other countries in the China region open to intercountry adoption. Interested families should inquire with their adoption agency as to country programs in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well.
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.