When you begin your adoption journey, the possibilities seem endless. Should you adopt domestically, from foster care, or internationally? And if international adoption, then which country? There is literally a whole world from which to choose. When we first began our adoption journey seven years ago, to adopt a baby from India was not an option. We were of non-Indian descent, and at the time (2013), there was no formal law in India regarding international adoption. For our first adoption, we chose another path, and our son joined our family from China. When we began the process again in 2017, we learned that India had opened to international adoption. We considered adopting two children from the same country, but I had fallen in love with India while performing at the University of Mumbai a number of years prior. We called our social worker and talked through our options.

There had been 194 adoptions from India to the United States in 2016 as reported by the U.S. Department of State. Though the India program was small as compared to the South Korea or China programs, India was a Hague country, and our agency believed Indian intercountry adoptions to the United States to be on the rise. In 2018, 302 adoptions from India to the United States took place. One of those was our daughter, Mira. From questions of who can adopt, what is the process like, and how long does it take, here is everything you need to know about how to adopt a baby from India.

Children Available for Adoption

In India, the children available for adoption are between the ages of infant to 18 years old. According to the U.S. Department of State website, the majority of children adopted from India were age 4 or under at the time of placement. The reason children tend to be older is because India is a Hague Convention country. Per the Hague Convention, every effort must have been made to place the child in-country before the child becomes eligible for intercountry adoption. In India, this time frame is at least 60 days from the time the child is registered on the Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System (CARINGS) website. Also because of this law, most children eligible for intercountry adoption have minor, medically correctable special needs, and some have more severe, lifelong conditions. Sometimes, a child’s age, typically 4 or older, is enough to qualify him or her as special needs. Sibling groups also qualify as special needs, though the adoption of sibling groups in India is rare.

Who Can Adopt

The first thing to understand about adopting from India is that there are essentially three types of adoption: intercountry, NRI (nonresidents of India or of Indian origin) / OCI (overseas Citizen of India), and domestic adoption. For families who qualify for NRI or OCI adoption, the process may be slightly different. For these families, they may register directly with the Central Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System (CARINGS) to adopt a healthy young child. That said, the wait time to adopt a healthy young child is between 8-15+ months for a referral. This is compared to a 3-9 month wait time for families open to either gender and special needs adoption.

To adopt a baby from India, you must be between 25-55 years old if you are married and between 30-55 years old if you are adopting as a single parent. India welcomes single parent adoption, though single men may only adopt boys (single women may adopt either boys or girls). Married couples must be in a heterosexual marriage and have been married a minimum of 2 years or a minimum of 3 years if it is a second marriage. There may be no more than four children living in the home. All prospective adoptive parents must be financially and emotionally stable and in good physical health with no contagious or terminal illnesses.

The Process

Once you have determined your eligibility, the next step will be to find an accredited adoption service provider. Because both the United States and India are Hague countries, you must use an adoption service provider (ASP) to process your adoption. When choosing an ASP, be sure to ask the right questions to determine if the agency is a good fit for you and your family. Remember, not all agencies are the same. Be sure to ascertain how long the agency has been working in India and what their relationship is like with their in-country reps. What timelines are they currently seeing? What type of referrals? How do they communicate with their waiting families? The process to adopt internationally is a long one, and you want to make sure you are working with an agency that will meet your needs.

Once you have selected an adoption agency, the next step will be to complete a home study with a state-licensed social worker. Some families may choose to use a different agency to complete their home study while others may use the same agency from home study through placement. During the home study process, you will be asked to provide a series of documents including letters from employers, financial statements, marriage and birth certificates, physicals and a letter from your physician, and personal references. You will also need to complete a background check, fingerprinting, and child abuse and neglect clearances. Though the home study process may seem daunting, it is important to remember that the purpose of the home study is to provide an idea of what life with the adoptive family will look like for the prospective adoptive child. During your home study, you will meet with your state-licensed social worker, typically at least three times, and explore your motivations for adopting and what type of child you are open to adopting from India.

Another part of the home study process is the preadoption education training. The preadoption education is a great way to learn about transracial adoption, becoming a conspicuous family, how to foster attachment, parenting through trauma, and more. Each state sets its own preadoption education hours guideline, typically between 20-30, so prospective adoptive parents must meet these guidelines as well as Hague guidelines for an additional 20 hours of training. The additional training is typically country-specific and addresses the unique needs and challenges of international adoption.

Once the home study is complete, it will be finalized by your social worker and submitted for approval. At this time, families will be formally accepted into their agency’s India program and begin the process of compiling their dossier. The dossier process will feel like déjà vu for most families as they hunt and gather much of the same documents they needed for the home study process. Unlike the home study documents, however, the dossier documents will need to be notarized and then authenticated on both the state and federal level. While compiling their dossier, families will also work to submit an I-800A form to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). The I-800A essentially is a way for the U.S. government to approve of an adoption of a foreign child by the prospective adoptive parents. Once I-800A approval is granted, families will submit this along with their completed dossier to the Child Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) of India. CARA will register the family to adopt a baby from India, and the family will then wait to receive a referral. A referral may come anywhere from a few days to a few months later.

There is nothing like receiving a referral. All the paperwork and long hours have led to this moment, and it is tempting to immediately say “Yes!” But families should take the time to carefully review the referral and consult an international adoption doctor. India gives families 96 hours to evaluate a file, and many international adoption doctors are used to working within this time frame. It can be tempting to say “yes” to a medical condition previously not considered but take the time to determine if this child is the right fit for you and your family. Most times the answer is yes, but turning down a referral is always an option. You will not be penalized by your agency or CARA for saying no.

If the family decides to accept the referral, the next step will be to complete the acceptance dossier and apply for the child’s Article 5. The Article 5 is a letter issued by the U.S. government to government of India, stating that the prospective adoptive parents have been found suitable to adopt by the U.S. government, and the intended adoptive child has been found suitable to be adopted by the intended adoptive parents. Once CARA receives the Article 5, they will issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC). The Article 5 and NOC process can take anywhere from one to three months to complete.

Following NOC, the most unpredictable part of the adoption process occurs. Like in America where adoption laws are decided and governed on the state level, so too is it in India. Even though the adoption taking place is an international one, the adoption itself must be processed on the state level. As a country, India is made up of 29 different states and 7 union territories. The difficulty is that each state essentially functions like its own country. Some state courts may be familiar with international adoption and process the paperwork quite quickly where others may take a long time. Since intercountry adoption is still relatively new, many local courts have never processed an international adoption before. This was the case in our adoption journey, and it can be the most difficult part of the process as there is nothing you can do but wait. A good agency will have contacts in-country who can evaluate the court process and make recommendations accordingly. It is important to remember, however, that even though CARA has rules and guidelines about the timeline in which intercountry adoption must occur (which is in-line with the Hague Convention), some regional judges refuse to acknowledge CARA’s authority. It can be very frustrating, but as our agency repeatedly shared with our family, “Your child will come home.”

In court, the judge will issue verbal approval and then generate a written approval, typically within two to three weeks. After written approval is granted, the child is legally a member of the adoptive parents’ family. Agencies ask that families do not consider travel plans until after written approval is granted. Even then, some agencies ask for families to wait until their adoptive child has received his or her passport. The orphanage will use the judge’s written approval to apply for the child’s passport and Adoption Decree. It is important at this time to check that your child’s name is correct on her passport as that is what she will use to travel to the United States.

It is hard to decide which is more exciting: receiving a referral or getting the call from your agency that it’s time to travel. Upon notice from their agency, families will travel to India to meet their child at the child’s orphanage. Typically, families will spend two to three days getting to know their child in the child’s home state and visiting with the staff and caregivers of the child’s orphanage. Next, they will travel to Delhi, where the U.S. Embassy is headquartered. While in Delhi, families will complete a medical exam for the child and apply for the child’s visa to the United States. This process typically takes about a week. Most families spend approximately 10-14 days in-country. The time in-country is a wonderful one, and families should take advantage of this unique time to bond with their child and explore their child’s cultural heritage.

When the family returns home to the United States, the child will become a U.S. citizen the moment he steps foot (or are carried) onto American soil. Families may choose to readopt their child, though the adoption will be legally binding regardless of whether this extra step is taken upon returning home. Once home, families will need to file post-placement reports at 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 months. It is important to file your post-placement reports on time to ensure the future of intercountry adoption.

The cost to adopt from India is between $25,000-$40,000, depending on which agency a family chooses and how long they stay in India. Though many families experience sticker shock, it’s important to remember that not all the fees will be payable at once, and there are many adoption grants and adoption loans available for prospective adoptive parents. The adoption tax credit is another way to offset the cost of adoption as are fundraisers and crowdsourcing platforms like AdoptTogether. To adopt a baby from India can be expensive, but the love you will experience will be priceless.