How South Korea Adoption Works

Figuring out how South Korea adoption works isn't as bad as it may seem. Here are some good things to know before you start the process.

Jennifer S. Jones May 31, 2018

Considering international adoption is a big, exciting step. There are many countries to choose from, and it is important to understand how each nation works. The country of South Korea has a long history of intercountry adoptions dating back to the early 1950s. From 1999-2016, according to the U.S. Department of State, 20,318 children were placed with U.S. families from South Korea. Though the number of international adoptions has declined in recent years, South Korea is still considered to have a stable adoption program.

Though not a Hague Convention Country, South Korea adheres to much of the same rules regarding intercountry adoption. As such, the process is similar to other intercountry adoptions in that you will need to determine eligibility, find an accredited adoption services provider, complete a home study, compile a dossier, and be matched with a child who is ready for adoption. Sound daunting? Don’t worry. The steps aren’t as difficult as they sound.

Determine If You’re Eligible
1. Determine If You’re Eligible

Before pursuing international adoption with a specific country, you will want to make sure you are eligible as a prospective adoptive parent. For South Korea, you must be a heterosexual couple married for at least three years with no more than two divorces. (Though singles are not permitted to adopt in South Korea, there are many countries that allow single-parent households). Applicants must be between the ages of 25-44 ½ at the time of home study submission. For applicants of South Korean descent, or adoptive families pursuing a second South Korean adoption, the acceptable age range is expanded to 25-49 ½. Prospective adoptive families may have no more than four children residing in the home and must be in good physical and mental health with no serious conditions. Prospective adoptive parents must be open to adopting a child of either gender with mild, medically correctable needs. Children are typically around 2 years of age at placement.

Choose an Accredited Adoption Provider
2. Choose an Accredited Adoption Provider

South Korea may not be a signatory of the Hague Convention, but as per the July 14, 2014  Universal Accreditation Act, all intercountry adoptions to the United States must be processed through an approved accredited adoption service provider (ASP). This provider will serve as your primary provider to oversee all the aspects of your child’s adoption. A good place to begin your search is at the Council on Accreditation website where you can search by state. Federal laws do not require your primary provider to reside in your same state. (For example, though we live in Virginia, we used an agency in Minnesota to process our son and our daughter’s adoption). When you do select a provider, be sure to ask questions such as how long have they worked in South Korea? Do they have any relationships with specific partners? And what is their support like for families throughout the adoption process? From initial application to travel, most agencies average 24-30 months for adoption from South Korea. The cost to adopt from South Korea can vary widely depending on which agency you choose to use. Families can expect to spend $35,000-$50,000, including travel.

Complete a Home Study and Dossier
3. Complete a Home Study and Dossier

The next step on your journey towards adoption is to complete a home study. A home study is essentially an overview of your life. It includes information regarding your health, job, finances, and your life as a parent/prospective parent. Once your home study is complete, you will move on to your dossier compilation. “Dossier” is really just a fancy word for your home study and all the supporting documents which will be sent to the South Korean government which will include permission from the U.S. government to adopt (your I-600 form). The process can be a bit daunting, but if you manage your paperwork well, you’ll get there in no time.

Get Matched!
4. Get Matched!

As any adoptive parent will tell you, there is nothing more exciting than that moment when you get “The Call.” Most agencies reference a range of 1-4 months from home study and dossier submission to getting matched with a child. Like most international adoptions, children coming from South Korea have mild, medically correctable needs and are an average of 6-12 months at matching. Recent years have shown a greater number of boys eligible for adoption. South Korea promotes domestic adoption for the first five months the children are in the care of the state. If placement is not found, then the child’s information is released for intercountry adoption, which is why most files are between 6-8 months of age.

When you receive a match, you will receive a photo, medical, and social history of the child. It’s a good idea to have an international adoption doctor review your child’s file at this time as they will better be able to assess the condition of your prospective child. They will also be able to give you a list of questions to ask the child’s current caretakers. You will have two weeks to decide if the child is a good match for your family.

Complete an Acceptance Dossier
5. Complete an Acceptance Dossier

There is no better feeling than saying “Yes!” to a match and knowing that you will soon have an addition to your family. The next step is to complete an acceptance dossier for your child’s adoption. The acceptance dossier is comprised of affidavits from the Korean government citing appropriate income and assets to care for the child, a statement of adoption, and a completed I-600—which shows the child is eligible for adoption and has met the definition of “orphan” as described per USCIS.

The time between match and travel can be hard to navigate. Most agencies reference an 8-12 month wait after completing and submitting the acceptance dossier. While they wait, children reside in foster care homes until the adoption is completed. Foster parents are full-time providers who receive training, support, and medical care from the Korean child welfare agency. For the prospective adoptive parent, a good way to survive the wait is to ready your home and hearts. Paint your new child’s room, read about adoption parenting, make time with your spouse and family, and reach out to other waiting families. Before you know it, the time to travel will come.

6. Travel

To adopt from South Korea, there are actually two trips involved. The first trip is a court hearing during which both parents must be present. The judge will ask a few questions such as, “Why did you choose to adopt from Korea?” as well as questions specially related to your home study. After the court date, the judge will reach out to the birth mother, or place a public notice if the birth mother cannot be found, and ask if she still wants to relinquish her rights. The birth mother is not given any information on the prospective adoptive parents. If the birth mother still agrees to relinquish her rights, the judge grants final approval. The timeline between court date and final approval is typically 4-8 weeks. Once final approval is granted, at least one parent must return to South Korea to bring the child back to the United States. For each trip, families can expect to remain in country for 6-10 days.

Once you are home, you may choose to go through the formal process of readopting your child in the United States.

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Jennifer S. Jones

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and "is this really us?!" whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at

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