The world of international adoption (no pun intended) is a complicated one often portrayed in the media as either glamorous or scandalous or both, and considered by many to be an easy alternative to domestic adoption. Up until the idea of international adoption entered our radar, I’d had the distinct impression that it was strictly for the wealthy and/or for people who had limitless time and resources to travel outside the country. If you don’t understand the process of international adoption, here are some things I’ve learned. 

Since then, and two adoptions later, I know that international adoption is neither glamorous nor scandalous, nor is it easier than domestic adoption—but it is doable and it is most certainly rewarding. Here’s what you don’t understand about international adoption.

Easy Peasy?

There is no such thing as an easy or foolproof adoption. Although some cases may go much more quickly and smoothly than others, choosing to adopt internationally is no guarantee that you will not run into legal hurdles along the way. Some people believe that by adopting internationally, they will avoid that pesky domestic red tape. But be assured, there is plenty of red tapes to cover the length of the globe.

Also consider that typically you’re not cleared for international adoption until you’re cleared right here in the red, white, and blue. On top of that, in most states, families are encouraged to “re-adopt” through their state court (after finalizing overseas) for your child to obtain a US birth certificate, which comes in pretty handy once s/he is school-aged. While the US has its fair share, international adoption brings in an extra layer of background checks, paperwork, and fingerprints on top of what is required stateside.

Setbacks occur frequently, whether you adopt in your home state or halfway around the world.

Additionally, be prepared to hurry up and wait while your paperwork sits on the desk for weeks or months before it’s cleared both here in whatever country you’re hoping to travel to. And let’s not forgot to apply for visas and passports, crossing your fingers all the while that they spell your name correctly the first time (ahem). Your best bet is to do your research, stay organized, communicate often with your adoption service provider, and be prepared for a few setbacks. Setbacks occur frequently, whether you adopt in your home state or halfway around the world.

Money Matters

While you don’t need to be one of the 10 richest people on the planet to qualify for international adoption, you should have a healthy nest egg in the bank to cover not just the expenses of adoption and the necessities of preparing for and bringing an infant and/or child into your home, but also your travel and living arrangements for an unknown period of time. Just like any other major expense, adoption is one you should plan to plan for, and save for, and sacrifice for well ahead of time.

Your destination will determine what airlines and pricing options will be available to you. Obviously, the farther the destination, the greater the expense. While some airlines offer discounts to families who are adopting (they normally don’t advertise this, but I was able to work with one airline twice when our dates were going to change based on a legal glitch while we were out of the country), you should be prepared to pay for flights as well as other travel costs.

You’re also going to need a place to stay on top of footing your mortgage or rental payment back home. Don’t forget the food and other necessary items. Also, depending on your situation, you may need to take time off from work and cover your health insurance costs out of pocket should you choose to take advantage of the Family Leave Act. While the adoption tax credit is available, it is not going to cover all of your expenses. Still, in some cases, domestic private or agency adoption can be on par with international adoption. As with anything, be smart and do your research to make smart financial decisions throughout the process.

Health Concerns

You must be prepared to deal with the aftermath of a child who has spent some time in an overcrowded orphanage, or one who may have been moved from place to place, having endured unstructured and negligent conditions. In impoverished areas, a lack of prenatal care is to be expected. Children who have experienced long periods of time in abusive or neglectful “homes” may have a more difficult time adjusting.

While an infant may have an easier time of it, toddler-aged and older children have likely had limited experience with a family, home environment, education, and health care. Aside from getting used to new tastes, smells, and fabrics, these children will need to be given time to adapt to an overall life environment and find their place within it.

It is important to work with your adoption service provider to ensure you are working with a reputable agency overseas. You’ll want a medical report before you begin the adoption process and should make sure to follow up in-country with the doctor or nurse who has worked closely with your child to ensure you are up-to-date on whatever medical issues they may have experienced, as well as any treatments, especially if you are adopting a special needs child.

Truthfully, though, so long as you have access to medical records and have set up a qualified health professional back home, your commitment could make all the difference to a child’s future health. There are no guarantees in life, no matter where a child is born.


Whether your adopted child has special needs or not, consider the fact that your home may be the first she’s ever known. Be prepared to slow down and transition at her pace, not yours or your in-laws or your friend’s who has read such-and-such a book about international adoption and is just trying to help. Each adoption is unique, as is each child and how they will perceive their new living situation.

I had a friend once tell me that I was making too much of things and should read “What to Expect” to see that my toddler-aged child was no different than anyone else’s. As if I was looking for things to be different or more difficult. The truth is, international adoption is more along the lines of “what not to expect.” A toddler-aged or older child coming from a structured orphanage into an English-speaking home setting complete with Stranger 1 and Stranger 2 is much different than a biological child coming home from the hospital in her biological parents’ arms.

It’s OK, though. As complicated as it may sound, it’s an amazing experience to share so many new-to-you firsts with your little one. Just be prepared to take it slow, don’t push, and work toward healthy bonding and attachment in the process. One day she may be fascinated with the garbage can in your kitchen (the first she’s ever seen), and the next she may be interested in the freckle on your cheek.

Be aware that so much transition at once may mean a delay in the normal string of milestones. If you don’t understand these milestones, be sure to research them. Speech, for instance, is often delayed in young children coming from other countries who may have a difficult time balancing everything new in their world. Reaching out for early intervention services is not giving up or failing and will go a long way in providing the boost a child may need to help keep up with everything she is experiencing.

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

While some families may choose to adopt internationally because they do not wish to have a semi-open or open adoption, the truth is private adoption is no guarantee that your child will not want to search for his biological family someday. No matter your feelings on open vs. closed adoptions, most studies have shown that adopted children do wish to know at least some things about their past, their biological family, and their place of birth.

Even if you do adopt from a country where adoption remains private, do consider sharing your child’s adoption story with them often and early. If you don’t understand when to do this, be sensitive. Do answer any questions he may have (age-appropriately) about his birth country or birth family when he feels comfortable bringing it up. It has been proven that children adopted internationally who are taught from an early age about their native culture, traditions, and background develop a better sense of self and the self-esteem needed to be successful throughout their lives.

Know that while you may be removing a child from his place of birth, you should strive not to remove his place of birth from his memory. Respect and include his heritage in your new life together. Expressing your interest in where he came from may encourage him to be open and honest about his feelings later on.



Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.