When we first began our international adoption journey, it seemed the possibilities were endless. Through international adoption, we could, conceivably, build our family from any corner of the world. We could adopt from South America, Asia, Africa, or the Pacific Islands. We thought about our connections to different countries and how we would welcome that culture into our hearts and home. I had spent some time in Uganda, and so we started there with the hopes to adopt internationally. We quickly realized that not all country policies are the same and not all countries welcome intercountry adoption. After much education, we learned the ins and outs of adopting a child in Africa.

To begin with, it is important to note that Africa is the second largest continent and the second largest, most populated continent in the world—with Asia being the highest. Africa is home to 54 different countries and no two countries are the same. Each country sets its own rules and regulations with respect to intercounty adoption, and these guidelines must be understood before beginning the intercountry adoption process. The U.S. Department of State maintains a complete list of every country’s intercountry adoption process, and prospective adoptive parents can visit the U.S. Department of State’s website to see if they may adopt an African baby from their country of choice. But a word of caution: Just because a country permits intercountry adoption, in theory, does not mean they are actively sending or receiving adoptive children.

Another thing to understand before commencing an intercounty adoption journey is the importance of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. The Hague Convention, of which the U.S. is a signatory, directs all intercountry adoptions both to and from the United States. Even if the sending country (such as Uganda) is not a Hague country, in order for the adoption to be completed, the adoption process must adhere to Hague Convention guidelines. These guidelines are designed to protect the interest of the child and to safeguard against child trafficking. Per the Hague Convention, every effort must have been made to place the child in-country before intercountry adoption may be considered. As a result, families wishing to adopt African baby will find that the eligible children are either special needs or older, typically between the ages of 2-12. Families interested in only adopting an infant should consider domestic adoption in the United States.

Of the 54 countries in Africa, there are a few that welcome intercountry adoptions. The process to adopt an African baby is similar in that prospective adoptive parents must first conduct a home study with a state-licensed social worker then must work with a Hague accredited adoption service provider to facilitate their adoption. Typically, following the home study process, prospective adoptive parents will work to assemble a country specific dossier. Once compiled, the dossier is then translated and sent to the family’s country of choice. The dossier is then evaluated in-country and, once accepted, a family becomes eligible to receive a referral. The timelines for referrals vary from country to country as do the number of trips required to complete the adoption. Here is a list of the top 5 most popular countries to adopt from in Africa and the rules, regulations, and timelines associated with each nation.

1. Burundi 

A landlocked country situated in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, Burundi is a nation of ongoing political tensions. Though there have not been many adoptions from Burundi, the number has steadily climbed over the past 4 years, and in 2018, 19 children from Burundi found their forever homes in the United States. To adopt from Burundi, prospective adoptive parents must be at least 30 years old and at least 15 years older than the child they wish to adopt. Only heterosexual married couples who have been married more than 5 years may adopt. Families must also demonstrate sufficient income of at least $10,000 positive net worth for each member of their family, including the intended adoptive child. (So if a family of four wished to adopt, then they must demonstrate a net worth of at least $50,000.)

Because Burundi is a Hague Convention country, only after a child has been in institutional care for at least one year is that child eligible for intercountry adoption. As a result, children eligible for adoption from Burundi are typically between the ages of 2-10 years of age. There is a special need for families open to adopting children age five and older. Though prospective adoptive parents may have initially only considered younger children, older child adoption can be rewarding as well. Most families receive a referral within 12-18 months of dossier submission to Burundi’s central adoption authority. At least one trip of approximately 3-4 weeks is required to complete the adoption. Interestingly, after the adoptive parents meet their child in Burundi and meet with the Central Authority, families will travel to Kenya to obtain their child’s visa and complete all medical exams to return to the United States. It costs around $40,000 to adopt from Burundi.

2. South Africa

Set at the most southern tip, South Africa is a very diverse country. In order to adopt from South Africa, prospective adoptive parents must be between the ages of 25-48 years old. Heterosexual married couples must be married at least 1 year, and if one of the members of the couple has been divorced, then a minimum of 2 years of marriage is required. Single parents are welcome to adopt from South Africa. Larger families are welcome as well, but the youngest family member must be at least 3 years of age at dossier submittal.

Children available for intercountry adoption in South Africa are between the ages of 2-6. Almost all are special needs, though sometimes, this special need is merely that they are over the age of 5. Like Burundi, there is a particular need for families willing to adopt older children or siblings. The timeline to adopt from South Africa is estimated at 1-3 years. Though South Africa is a Hague Convention country, The Department of Home Affairs (which is the central adoption authority in South Africa) is instituting new procedures for issuing visas and travel documents for intercountry adoptees. The new system has left many prospective adoptive parents waiting in-country with their prospective adoptive children, and still other families have received a referral but have no word, or timeframe, of when they might be eligible to travel. Though this is not a permanent issue, families should work with their adoption service providers to receive updated information before embarking on an adoption from South Africa. The average cost to adopt from South Africa is between $25,000-$35,000.

3. Ghana

Set along the West African coast, Ghana is one of the fastest-growing countries in Africa. Adoptions from Ghana to the United States have steadily declined since the height in 2014 when 124 children were adopted from Ghana to the U.S. to now only 15 children in 2018. Prospective adoptive parents must be between the ages of 25–50 years old and be at least 21 years older than the child they intend to adopt. (So, for instance, a 25-year-old prospective adoptive parent could not adopt a 6-year-old prospective adoptive child.) Only married heterosexual couples may adopt from Ghana. Prospective adoptive parents must be financially, physically, and mentally sound and exhibit an ability to parent a child who has experienced trauma.

The children available for intercountry adoption are typically 2 ½ years old or older at the time of referral, and sibling groups are possible. Most children have special needs with everything from mild and/or medically correctable conditions to lifelong illnesses. Ghana’s Ministry of Social Welfare is the central adoption authority in-country, and while Ghana is a Hague Convention country, adoption is governed by the local family courts. This makes the process of adopting from Ghana somewhat unpredictable. The timelines to adopt from Ghana vary widely from 12 to 36 months. Two trips to Ghana are required, and the cost to adopt is between $30,000-$40,000, including travel and airfare.

4. Uganda

Often referred to as the “Pearl of Africa,” Uganda welcomes intercountry adoption. Families who wish to adopt an African baby from this land-locked East African country must be at least 21 years older than the prospective adoptive child. Heterosexual married couples are welcome to adopt from Uganda, and single women are permitted as well. Children available for intercountry adoption are at least 18 months old at referral and have special needs.

In recent years, the number of adoptions from Uganda to the United States has fallen (from 202 in 2015 to only 26 in 2018). This is likely due to the 2016 amendment signed by the Ugandan President, President Museveni, titled Uganda’s Children Act. According to the Act, legal guardianships of children may not take place until the intended guardian has lived in Uganda for at least 3 consecutive months. Even once guardianship occurs, intercounty adoption shall only be considered a “last option.” Though Uganda is not a Hague Convention country, this language is consistent with most Hague Convention countries (where every effort must have been made to place the child domestically before intercountry adoption may be considered). Though it may be possible for some families to take up residency in Uganda for 3 consecutive months, once guardianship occurs, the family must stay in Uganda for an additional full year before the adoption may be finalized. It is possible to obtain an exception to the yearlong guardianship restrictions, but these exceptions are not guaranteed. Families who wish to try to enter an exception to the residency restriction can expect to make at least 3 trips to Uganda. The average cost to adopt from Uganda is $30,000-$40,000 with a timeline between 18-36 months. Because the country of Uganda is in the process of overhauling their current intercountry adoption program, families are advised by the U.S. Department of State to proceed with caution.

5. Nigeria

This beautiful country on the coast of West Africa is a popular country for families who wish to adopt an African baby. In 2018, 173 adoptions took place from Nigeria to the United States, which is more than any other country in Africa. Like other African countries, prospective adoptive parents must be at least 25 years old and at least 21 years older than the prospective child they wish to adopt. Heterosexual married couples, as well as singles, are welcome to adopt. Prospective adoptive single parents may only adopt a child of the same gender as themselves. There are no income requirements to adopt from Nigeria, but families should be in good financial standing to meet USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) guidelines. The children available for intercountry adoption are typically 5 years of age or older, though younger children with special needs are available between the ages of 2-5. With regards to the timeline, it typically takes roughly 18 months from application to referral.

One of the unique things about adopting from Nigeria is that different states in Nigeria set their own residency requirements. Like Uganda, some states may require prospective adoptive parents to stay in-country with their intended adoptive child from anywhere for a few months to up to two years. This time is designed to foster attachment before the family files a petition with the Nigerian courts to formally adopt the child. The cost to adopt from Nigeria is between $40,000-$55,000, depending on the length of stay in-country. Nigeria is not a Hague Convention country.

Other African Nations

There are many African countries not on this list, and sadly, some of the top sending countries to the United States such as Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently changed their country’s policies and no longer support intercountry adoptions. Other countries, such as Egypt and Somalia, are governed by Shari’ah (Islamic) Law which does not permit the adoption of children in the U.S. sense of the word. In the U.S., when children are adopted, they are viewed as having “all the rights and privileges as if they were born to them [the adoptive parents].” This goes directly against Shari’ah Law. In Shari’ah Law, bloodlines are very important, so although adoption (in the U.S. sense of the word) is not possible, long-term foster care is frequently employed in-country.

Final Thoughts

Before beginning the journey to adopt an African baby, take some time to consider if transracial adoption and transcultural adoption is right for you and your family. Parenting a child of a different race and culture is not without its challenges, and it is important for families to be prepared to offer their children racial mirrors and other avenues to explore their race and cultural heritage. If you can, talk to other families who have adopted from Africa or explore adoption forums to get a sense of others’ experiences. A little research now will go a long way to parenting a child of a different race and culture than your own.