Guide to Adopting a Child Outside of the U.S.

Find out the typical process for adoption from a foreign country including most common countries, requirements, waiting time and what to expect.

The path to parenthood is different for everyone. For some people, that journey includes adopting a child outside of the U.S.

While the rate of international adoption has been on the decline for many years, it’s still how many people build their families. In 2015, American parents completed a total of 5,647 adoptions abroad.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to adopting from a foreign country. Here, we break down how to adopt a child internationally, international adoption costs and more.

Why choose international adoption?

People choose international adoption over domestic infant adoption or adopting from foster care for a variety of reasons, with a wide range of individual circumstances influencing each family’s decision.

“People come to international adoption for many reasons,” says Hannah Reichert, international adoption specialist with Hands Across the Water adoption agency in Ann Arbor. “Perhaps one or both parents are from that culture, or they’ve enjoyed going to that particular place, perhaps they’ve done mission work there or it could be the requirements of that country really fit their family.”

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In many cases, the requirements of the specific country are the deciding factor.

“Every country has very different rules and regulations in regards to who can adopt there, so oftentimes that’s the limiting or deciding factor,” she says.

Others are drawn to the matching process offered in international adoptions, where potential parents are placed on a wait list and matched with a child by the country’s government versus waiting to be selected by a birth mother in the U.S.

“International adoption is more of a governmental process,” Reichert explains. “It’s more about a timeline than it is about someone coming into our agency and wanting to make a decision for their child.”

How to adopt a child internationally

Choosing a country is one of the first steps for many people pursuing international adoption, since it’s only possible to apply for an adoption in one country at a time, she says.

“One of the first things that we ask our families to do is decide on a country,” Reichert says. “That’s a big first step and lots of families go about picking in lots of different ways. Once they’ve decided on a country they would file an application with the agency they want to work with.”

It’s best to interview multiple agencies before you decide on one.

“I always encourage families I meet with individually to talk to many agencies. Every agency has a different feel even if they have the same exact program,” she says.

That’s why it’s important to talk with many agencies and “look for that vibe that really meshes with them as a family,” Reichert recommends.

The home study process comes next, where the agency essentially creates “a report all about you” including several home visits, a collection of important documents and detailed information about the prospective parents’ backgrounds and how a child will fit into their lives. This process should take 90 days or less.

“Ultimately the result is a 12 to 20 page report all about the family,” she says.

The next step is to be approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will then prepare a collection of documents required by the specific country where the adoption will take place.

“That’s something that we would also assist them with,” Reichert says.

The entire approval process could take nine to 10 months. Once the country approves the parent or parents, the wait for a child-specific referral begins.

“This is when the government matches them and presents them a match,” she explains.

Waiting time

The amount of time parents must wait before receiving a referral can vary greatly depending on the country and program. The special needs adoption program in China, for example, has a typical wait between two to 12 months, Reichert says.

In the Dominican Republic, the wait time could be 12 to 48 months.

“There’s a wide range of wait times,” she says. “A big part of adoption, no matter what adoption route you choose, is waiting – and that’s hard. A lot of it is hurry up and wait. That’s just part of the nature of adoption, especially with international adoption because you’re not only working with the U.S. government, you’re working with another government.”

What to expect

Once a family receives a referral, time is provided for the parents to review the information and, if needed, seek advice from doctors about any medical needs of the child. If the adoption moves forward, the time it takes to complete the adoption also varies.

One to two trips to the country are often involved to initiate and finalize court paperwork, Reichert says.

Having the support of family and friends throughout the process is key.

“This is something that takes a while and knowing that you have the support of your loved ones behind you is really important,” she says.

What countries?

Adoption programs are currently available in many countries. Hands Across the Water works with adoptions in Bulgaria, China, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Mexico and Ukraine.

“China has the most adoptions that take place with our agency and just in general,” Reichert says. Next most common include eastern European countries like Ukraine and Bulgaria, and countries in Africa and Latin America.

“In general, international adoption numbers are on a decline but there are still many thousands occurring every year,” she says.

Requirements

While adoption requirements vary between countries, people interested in international adoption should know that they must be at least 25 years old and have no history of child abuse or neglect.

“After that, everything is really variable – the age of the parents, married or single, how long [they’ve been] married, the number of children they have, their medical history,” Reichert explains. “I would encourage them to reach out to an agency or the travel.state.gov adoption website [for more details].”

International adoption costs

Like many other aspects of international adoption, “variable” also applies when it comes to adoption fees. Generally speaking, though, international adoption costs range between $20,000 and $40,000 including all fees and travel expenses, Reichert says.

“There are grants, scholarships and loan opportunities available for people who are adopting,” she points out – and that’s an important question to ask the agencies you meet with. “It can vary depending on where you live as well.”

Find more information on the international adoption process here.

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