What is International Adoption?

Adopting a child from another country might be the right path for you. But, there are some key requirements that you and your family will need to be mindful of.

International adoption, or intercountry adoption, is the adoption of a child from another country. These children are usually adopted from orphanages and are eligible for adoption because their birth parents were unable to care for them due to financial, legal, or emotional issues.

International policies have led to a decrease in international adoptions in recent years, but it is still an entirely viable option for hopeful parents. As a birth mother considering adoption, you can find more information about the adoption process and the resources available by clicking here

People who May Consider International Adoption

International adoption may be appealing to:

  • People wanting to raise a child of a different culture
  • Families looking to adopt regardless of age
  • People who do not want contact with their child’s birth parents
  • Families prepared for an uncertain medical history
  • People who would like more predictable wait times and adoption costs


Before beginning the international adoption process, adoptive families must meet a number of requirements under U.S. law. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) basic international adoption requirements include that:

  1. You and your spouse are U.S. citizens.
  2. You and your spouse adopt the child jointly (even if separated).
  3. If you are not married, you are at least 25 years old.
  4. Your family is suitable to raise a child, which is determined by an international home study, criminal background checks, fingerprinting and other documentation.

To adopt internationally, your family must also meet the requirements of your home state and the requirements of the foreign country in which you want to adopt, both of which can vary greatly.

International Adoption Process

Adopting a child from another country follows a few basic steps that are quite different from any other type of adoption:

  1. Pick a country and provider – You will want to consider each country’s specific adoption laws and pick a Hague-accredited international adoption provider.
  2. Complete International Home Study – Just like in a domestic adoption, you must complete a home study before you are officially eligible to adopt. You will also need to prepare your dossier
  3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – This will allow the country and the USCIS to evaluate and verify your eligibility. See more about documentation and Hague accreditation to learn about how to complete this.
  4. Child referral – Once you are cleared to adopt and a child becomes available, your specialist will inform you of the situation. You will also get information on the child, but how much can vary. After that, you will usually have about 24 hours to accept or decline the referral.
  5. Travel and Legalize– If you accept a referral, it’s time to travel. Depending on the country, the entire adoption could take place in the country of origin, or you may have to gain legal custody there and return home to complete the formal adoption process.

Domestic vs. International Adoption

If you are deciding whether to adopt a child internationally, consider the ways in which international adoption differs from domestic adoption (adoption within the country):

  • Cost – The cost of an international adoption is less likely to vary, so you will probably know all of your expenses from the outset; domestic adoptions can have more variable costs. However, travel for international adoption is more expensive.
  • Medical History – In a domestic adoption, you will usually receive a fairly comprehensive medical history of the child. In international adoption, medical records are less commonplace, so you may be unaware of your child’s and his or her family’s medical backgrounds.
  • Contact with Birth Parents – Unlike in domestic adoption, it is rare for a birth family to remain involved in any way in an international adoption.
  • Child Development – Your child may be a little older and accustomed to a different language, and adjusting may take some time. You may also need to be prepared for any psychological issues your child has from previous living arrangements.

Final Thoughts

While the number of international adoptions has decreased significantly, it remains a viable option to grow one’s family. If you do decide to adopt internationally, do plenty of research before deciding on a country or an adoption agency to ensure you find the best adoption situation for your family.

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