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International vs. Domestic Adoption – Which is Right for Your Family?

When you are at the beginning of your adoption journey, one of the first decisions you will have to make is whether to adopt in or out of the country. Many families have been successfully grown through domestic and international adoptions, and each one has its own advantages and challenges. Your decision will ultimately depend on what works best for you and your family.
Here, you can find a brief description of the domestic and international adoption processes, as well as the primary differences between domestic vs. international adoption.

Domestic and International Adoption Processes

Regardless of what type of adoption you choose, there are some general steps in the process that apply to all kinds of adoptions. Here, you can see some of these steps and compare where they are similar and how they differ from each other.

Choosing an Adoption Professional

  • Domestic – When choosing a domestic adoption professional, the biggest concern is working with someone experienced in the laws of your state and providing additional services you may need: advertising, matching, screening, counseling and more.
  • International – Because of the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012, your international adoption agency must be Hague-compliant, even if the country you adopt from is not. You will also need to find a professional who actively works in the country you choose, as most agencies work with a limited set of countries.

Completing a Home Study

  • Domestic – A domestic adoption home study requires a state-licensed social worker, who will take you through the steps of the background check, home inspection, and interviews.
  • International – The home study process for international adoption is very similar to domestic adoption, but your home study provider must additionally be Hague-accredited. If you complete a home study with a professional who does not follow Hague guidelines (usually because they are a domestic agency), then it will not be valid.

Finding a Match

  • Domestic – If you pursue a domestic adoption, you must locate an adoption opportunity, either on your own or through an adoption professional. Adoption professionals provide varying degrees of advertising and matching services, so be sure to find one that will help you locate a prospective birth mother has quickly as possible.
  • International – Because birth parents are rarely involved in an international adoption, you will be waiting for the country’s adoption authority to match you with a child. This is known as a referral, which your adoption professional will send you to either accept or refuse. Keep in mind that refusing a referral without a justifiable cause can greatly reduce your chances of being able to adopt from that country.


  • Domestic – In a domestic adoption, placement usually occurs when the mother gives birth to the child. When your professional informs you that the mother is in the hospital, you need to travel to her location as quickly as possible to be present for the termination of parental rights and the transfer of custody.
  • International – Similarly to domestic adoption, you must travel to the child’s location in order for placement to occur. In most cases, the adoption will be completed while you are still in the child’s country of birth, and the child will receive an IH-3 visa. If only one spouse was present to see the child before adoption, then he or she will be issued an IH-4 visa; this means that he or she is travelling to the United States but has yet to be adopted. Whatever route you take, it is strongly encouraged that you pursue re-adoption in the United States to protect your child’s rights. If your child has an IH-4 visa, this step is a requirement.

Post-Placement and Finalization

  • Domestic – After you bring your child home, your social worker will conduct anywhere between 2 and 6 post-placement visits to make sure you and your child are adjusting. Then, you will appear in court to finalize the adoption.
  • International – As with domestic adoption, you need to go through post-placement assessments and a finalization hearing. Some countries may require more post-placement reports than others.

International and Domestic Adoption Biggest Differences

While international adoption and domestic adoption have some similarities, they are also marked by several key differences that will be helpful to know as you make your decision. Below is a comparison of the areas where domestic and international adoption differ the most.


Despite some differences in state statutes, domestic adoption requirements across the United States are fairly similar: generally speaking, any adult or married couple that completes a home study can legally adopt a child. Certain adoption professionals may have additional requirements, but these are not legally binding. For example, an adoption agency may choose not to work with couples over a certain age, even if the state’s laws have no upper age limit.
In an international adoption, eligibility will depend on the laws of the country you choose and whether or not they are a Hague Convention country. Other countries’ adoption laws may be more specific than domestic adoption laws, such as in Thailand, where adoptive parents must be married for at least two years before they are eligible.
In a domestic adoption, you will almost always be able to find a professional who will work with you. If you pursue international adoption, your options for countries may be limited depending on your situation.


While the types of costs you encounter in each type of adoption are not the same, the overall cost between the two tends to be about the same. Because of the differences in the processes, however the breakdown of these expenses is very different. Couples adopting internationally will have to spend much more on travel, for example, but unlike couples adopting domestically, they will not have to pay expenses for a birth mother.
Generally, domestic adoption costs range between $28,000 and $35,000, and international adoption costs about the same, at an average of $30,000 to $35,000. These numbers should be taken as averages, and you should be prepared for the possibility of higher costs. In both types of adoption, your expenses can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors:

  • Your adoption professional’s fees may differ depending on the kind of services they provide and where they are located.
  • If it takes a long time for you to find a match, the extended timeframe could also mean extended adoption fees. This is one of many reasons to be flexible in your adoption preferences.
  • The needs of your adopted child can increase the costs of travel, necessities for the child, and more.
  • Your legal fees will depend largely on the complexity of your case and your legal needs, as adoption attorneys are charged by the hour.

Available Children

If you choose to adopt with a domestic agency, you will most likely be adopting a newborn. In rare cases, a birth mother may place an older child for adoption, but infant adoption is the most common. For the most part, you will have a thorough medical background of your child, which your adoption professional will obtain from the birth mother.
In an international adoption, the child you adopt will most likely be at least 1 to 2 years old. In some cases, the full medical histories of these children are not available, possibly because of abandonment or a lack of information on the birth parents.


The travel requirements for an international adoption will be much more time consuming than for a domestic adoption. If you adopt from another country, you will have to travel to the child’s country of birth at least once and possibly twice, depending on the laws of the specific country. Each trip can last anywhere from one to four weeks.
If you choose domestic adoption, you will most likely have to travel to the birth mother’s location at least twice: once to meet her before she has the baby (if there is time), and again when the baby is born. When you travel to adopt, you will have to remain there for 7-10 business days if you live out of state. This time frame allows the interstate placement clearances to be processed so you can take your baby home.

Choosing the Best Option for You

As you can see, each type of adoption has its advantages and disadvantages, all of which will play a role in the decision you make.
In general, domestic adoption may be a good fit for you if you:

  • Want to adopt a newborn
  • Have a gender preference
  • Want a relationship with your child’s birth parents
  • Are prepared for flexible wait times and adoption costs, which can vary depending on the birth mother
  • Want up-to-date medical information currently and in the future

Conversely, you may decide to pursue international adoption if you:

  • Want to adopt an older child or have no age preference
  • Do not want a relationship with your child’s birth parents
  • Are equipped for the possibility of a special needs adoption
  • Would prefer more predictable wait times and costs

Ultimately, you are the best person to decide what path works for you and your family. Through either international or domestic adoption, you will be able to achieve your dream of growing your family.