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Adoption Decisions – Part 2: Domestic vs. International

This is the second in a series of posts about decision-making in adoption. Read Part 1: Deciding to Adopt here, and stay tuned for next week’s post about making the decision to adopt privately or through foster care.

After the long and prayerful decision to begin the adoption journey for your family, your varieties of options have just begun. What you must also research and conclude is whether your family will be more suited for a domestic or international adoption. If you are new to most anything adoption-related, you may think that only geography separates the two alternatives. However, considerations far above a child’s geography play into which type of adoption your family elects to pursue.

Some questions your family may have when making this decision may include the cost difference between domestic and international adoption, wait time differences, ages of children being adopted, legal processes and more. While there are a few similarities, each adoption process comes with its own specific details that make it unique, just like each adoptive family is unique. What your family will ultimately need to do is review each option’s requirements and choose which path is best for you.

Below, you can read through some of the characteristics that identify each type of adoption and be more educated as you make your decision.

Comparing the Steps of Domestic and International Adoptions

Choosing an Adoption Agency/Professional:

Regardless of which type of adoption you choose, one of your first steps will be finding a reputable professional to guide you through the steps ahead. Here’s what you need to know about finding a professional for each type of adoption:

  • Domestic—Find an agency or adoption professional that is knowledgeable about the adoption processes and laws in your state and is connected to someone who can assist you with the laws in the state you will be adopting from (if outside your state lines). You will also need to ensure that whoever you are working with provides the necessary services that you need for your adoption, such as creating a profile book, advertising to multiple areas, pre- and post-adoption counseling, and more.
  • International—Do some research about different countries that are open and available to adoptions. You must find an agency that is Hague-accredited for international adoptions and that works alongside the country you would like to adopt from. Some agencies only work with a couple international locations while others have a longer list of available countries.

Home Study Requirements:

Another similarity international and domestic adoption share is the requirement of an adoption home study. However, the home study process will vary depending on the type of adoption you choose:

  • Domestic—A licensed social worker in your state must perform the home study interview and inspection for your adoption and ensure you meet the requirements to be approved for the adoption process through background checks, reference letters, health updates, and an assessment of your finances.
  • International—A home study for an international adoption will be similar to the requirements of a domestic adoption, but to be acceptable for international countries, the provider must also be Hague-accredited. You may also find that with some of the countries you explore for adoption, some of their home study requirements differ or are more strict than others.

Children Available for Adoption:

One of the biggest differences between domestic adoption and international adoption is the type of adoption opportunities that are available to prospective parents. Here’s how the two types of adoption differ in this aspect:

  • Domestic—When adopting a child within the United States, there are different options. Families who choose private adoption will be matching with an expectant birth mother or a baby born situation of an infant. Many private agencies only complete these infant adoptions. If adopting through the foster care system, there are waiting children of all ages available to join your family. Also, with domestic adoptions, there may be options to be gender-specific (depending on the adoption agency you choose) as well as set limitations on things like drug usage or health background in a birth parent.
  • International—If your desire is to adopt an infant, international adoption will probably not be the choice for you. Most children are older when adopting from another country, and only in rare cases will they be less than 1 or 2 years of age. International countries will also be less lenient with families who ask for certain genders or want specific medical histories of families. Social and medical history information is often much more limited in international adoption.

Openness Desired in Adoption:

The level of openness is another factor differentiating domestic and international adoption. While every situation is different, domestic adoptions tend to allow more opportunity for openness than international adoptions do.

  • Domestic—Most agencies within the U.S. advocate for a semi-open or open adoption with a child’s birth mother. The research has shown that this is the healthiest and happiest option for all parties involved. This will be a factor when deciding whether domestic adoption is right for you because closed adoptions are much more rare now than they were 10 or 20 years ago; if you are not comfortable with open adoption, it may be difficult for you to adopt domestically. You will also have a greater chance of having a more detailed medical history of your child’s family or the child themselves when choosing domestic adoption.
  • International—In almost all cases, birth families are uninvolved in international adoption cases. It will also be much harder to find any type of medical records for the child or their family based on the neglect of the child or lack of medical care.

Travel Required for the Adoption:

Of course, this may be the most obvious difference between international and domestic adoption. The geography of your adoption will affect your process for your family and your finances when it is time to travel to meet your child.

  • Domestic—When adopting within the U.S., many times you may be asked to travel to meet the prospective birth mother before she delivers the baby, and at minimum, you will be notified when a mother is in labor with the child for you to travel to the hospital. If the baby is being born in another state, you will need to make arrangements to stay in the baby’s birth state for up to two weeks while the legal processes play out. Once the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) has cleared you, you will be released to travel home. For foster-to-adopt situations, you will only have to travel to the city where the child lives in your state and complete those necessary steps. (ICPC requirements will not apply if you are adopting a child who is born or lives in your state).
  • International—Adopting internationally will involve you traveling to the child’s home country. Sometimes the country will require you to make the trip twice before you are able to take him/her home, and the stay each time can be from a couple weeks to a couple months. Each country differs on how they handle this process.

What Does It Cost?:

This is often one of the major deciding factors for couples debating between international and domestic adoption. Here’s what you need to know about the costs for each process:

  • DomesticCosts associated with a domestic adoption can vary greatly depending on which agency or lawyer you use, if you are fostering-to-adopt, or if you choose a nonprofit organization to handle your adoption. While foster care adoption usually costs very little, a private domestic adoption can cost anywhere from $20,000–$45,000, on average. The money at risk in a private domestic adoption would be what is paid to a prospective birth mother and legal fees if there is a failed adoption, though some agencies offer a financial protection program in these cases. These amounts are different for every agency as well.
  • International—The costs for international adoptions don’t vary greatly from domestic adoptions. It mainly depends on the particular country and situation surrounding the adoption. If travel expenses will be higher, that will increase your adoption costs. International can also average $25,000–$45,000, more or less in some cases. Your risk of losing any money could be if the country you have applied to suddenly closes its borders to adoption and you are no longer able to consider them for adoption.

While these are just the most obvious and frequently asked questions surrounding your adoption options, there will always be more to consider, starting with your family’s hopes, anticipations, ability to travel, financial commitments, and much more. When you have done your research and been in contact with multiple adoption agencies to answer your questions and offer information for your family, you will be better equipped to choose between domestic and international adoption when bringing a child into your family.

This is the second in a series of posts about decision-making in adoption. You can read Part 3: Foster Care vs. Private Adoption here.

Jill is a 32-year-old wife and mom. She has been married to her husband, Brannon, for eight years and has 5-year-old and 1-year-old daughters. Jill and her husband are currently in the adoption process to bring another baby into their home. Jill lives in a small community in Kentucky. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish and obtained her Master’s degree in Christian Ministries. Jill’s passions are her faith, her family, writing, playing sports, and eating good food.