The International Adoption Guide

A tour through the international adoption process.

Mary M. Strickert April 16, 2014

So you’re thinking about adopting a child from another country?  Wonderful!  International adoption can bring huge amounts of joy and love to both the children who are adopted and the families who adopt them.

At first glance, the international adoption process can seem pretty overwhelming.  But we promise it’s not so bad– and parents who have gone through it will add that it’s all absolutely worth it.

And that’s why we’ve put together this guide.  In the slides that follow, you’ll learn about the twelve main steps involved in completing an international adoption.  We’ll also provide links to resources that will help you decide if international adoption is right for you, choose a country to adopt a child from, and become a little more familiar with each of the steps involved in the process.

To get inspired before you plunge into the rest of this slideshow, we encourage you to watch this.  It’s one of our favorite videos about a family who has adopted children from around the world. Grab a tissue! It will pull on your heart strings.

Want more on international adoption? Click here.

<b>Step One: Decide on International Adoption</b>
1. Step One: Decide on International Adoption

Deciding to build your family through adoption is a huge milestone; choosing international adoption only increases the magnitude of this decision. To help decide if international adoption is right for you, take some time to explore the issues raised by these questions:

<b>Can I help a child create & maintain a positive identity with his birth culture?</b>
2. Can I help a child create & maintain a positive identity with his birth culture?

Before embarking on your international adoption journey, think about how you will give your child a cultural identity. Perhaps you can take language classes to learn the native language of your child. Or maybe there are restaurants specializing in food from your child’s country of origin. These are but two (very) simple examples of resources that can be a springboard to further cultural learning.

When children who were adopted ask, “Where did I come from?” they may be looking for more than an explanation of the birds and the bees. What these kids may be hungering to hear is their personal story – how they came to be living in this country with this specific adoptive family.

Developing friendships with other families who have adopted internationally can be a great way to help your child develop his or her own identity within the context of a multicultural family. It is good for children of international adoption and blended ethnicities to see other families who look like their family – i.e., families where the parents and the children don’t necessarily look alike.

To learn more about help your child embrace his or her culture, check out our Transracial and Multicultural Adoption Guide.

<b>Am I open to discussing birth parent issues?</b>
3. Am I open to discussing birth parent issues?

Birth parents are important in international adoption.

It is essential that you openly and frequently acknowledge and address the fact that your child has (or had, in the case of orphans) biological parents. Some countries open to international adoption keep very meticulous records about the birth parents -- some even have medical histories on members of the extended biological family. In other countries, however, the majority of children placed for international adoption do not have any information available to them about their birth parents.

<b>What are my ideas about race?</b>
4. What are my ideas about race?

When building a transracial family, it’s essential that you spend some time educating yourself about race issues and examining yourself for biases you may not realize you had.

Do you have family or close friends of other racial, cultural, or ethnic groups? If so,
these people can be a valuable support network and a great source of information on being a minority. If you do not currently have such friends, you should examine the reasons for this and explore ways to develop such relationships.

Prepare yourself to patiently educate others about these issues as well. Over the years you will find yourself fielding questions about your transracial family; these questions will provide a wonderful opportunity for you to patiently and compassionately help others learn as well.

<b>Why do I want to adopt internationally?</b>
5. Why do I want to adopt internationally?

It is important for you to understand your motivations for pursuing an international adoption.

Do you want to give a child a forever family? Do you want to help a child overcome some of the challenges he or she has faced early in life? Are you willing to be there as a support for the child through thick and thin?

<b>The Pros of International Adoption</b>
6. The Pros of International Adoption

There are lots of children – both boys and girls, infants and older kids, healthy and special needs children – available for adoption from a wide array of countries.

Once you have an approved home study, parents and children are matched by either your adoption agency, the country’s adoption committee, or during an in-country visit.

You know (more or less) what the costs will be before you ever begin the process. While the costs of international adoptions can vary markedly, your adoption agency should give you a printed schedule of all the fees before you begin the process.

You will (probably) get to travel to another country and learn about another culture. If you are going to give your child a sense of his cultural identity, what better way than by experiencing his birth country firsthand?

<b>The Cons of International Adoption</b>
7. The Cons of International Adoption

You will (probably) need to travel to another country. This can be viewed as either an advantage or a disadvantage. Busy people sometimes consider the travel requirement a disadvantage, especially if you are required to make more than one trip or stay for weeks at a time. But not all countries require travel, and many countries that do require travel ask you to stay only about one week.

You will not be able to adopt a newborn infant. The infants available through international adoption are under a year old. Depending on the country you choose, some children may be as young as three or four months.

The child’s background and family medical history may be unknown. Although you will get your child’s medical history when you receive your referral, you may not know anything about the health of the birth mother or birth father. If not knowing your child’s family medical history makes you uncomfortable, you can turn to modern genetic testing to fill in many of the blanks.

If the child was in an orphanage, he may experience developmental delays and other problems related to institutionalization. Not all children who spend time in an orphanage are developmentally delayed. Children who do experience delays as a result of institutionalization usually rebound to the norm very quickly once they have a supportive, loving family to attend to their individual needs.

The child’s birth mother may have received poor (or no) prenatal care. This depends on the health care system of the country-- some nations provide medical care to all their citizens, while in other nations almost no one receives preventive health care.

It is unlikely that the child will be able to trace her birth parents. This may or may not be true-- it all depends on the record keeping of the nation from which you adopt, attitudes in that country, and the adoption agency you work with.

There is a lot of paperwork required. Yes, the paperwork can seem endless at times. However, international adoption agencies, along with the social worker who completes your home study, will assist you with filling out all those forms. And the paperwork isn’t difficult, just tedious.

<b>Step Two: Choose a Country</b>
9. Step Two: Choose a Country

This is such an important and exciting decision. When you’re first trying to choose a country for international adoption, start by thinking about your comfort level. Think about how open you are to someone who is culturally or racially different.

Click here to learn more about adoption in different countries.

You can also check out our photolisting of international children waiting to be adopted.

Issues to consider are addressed in the following slides.

<b>Your Friends and Support System</b>
10. Your Friends and Support System

Who is coming over for dinner on Friday night? In other words, how isolated will the child be in your community? Do you speak another language? Have you visited – or lived in – a foreign country that is open to international adoption? How will you bring some of the culture and traditions of that country into your home? What about visiting that country later on? While there are many opportunities to learn about new cultures, start with what you already know.

Check out our international adoption forums to learn more about your chosen country and other useful information.

<b>Age and Marital Status</b>
11. Age and Marital Status

Your age and marital status will help narrow down the countries you can adopt from. Some countries prefer younger parents, and some even go so far as to set limits on how much older than the child the parent can be. Other countries are more amenable to older parents, and some even prefer slightly older parents.

Some countries have no problem with single parents adopting their children, while other countries won’t even consider single parent adoption. The same goes for same-sex couples. Doing your research will help you find the country that is right for you and your situation.

<b>Do Some Research</b>
12. Do Some Research

So what should you do first? After you weigh all the issues, do some research-- correction, do LOTS of research!

Learn which agencies do adoptions in which countries-- not all adoption agencies handle adoptions from all countries.

Find out which countries utilize orphanages and which rely on foster care for their children prior to adoption. Try browsing our Reviews/Directory as a starting place.

Find out which countries provide medical histories on the children’s birth parents, and which countries provide no information on the birth families. Know which countries require traveling abroad and which countries have a “travel optional” policy. Make sure you keep the child you are hoping to adopt at the forefront of your thoughts while making these decisions.

For more information about each country’s requirements, spend some time learning about International Adoption in the Wiki.

<b>Do Some Soul-Searching</b>
13. Do Some Soul-Searching

Now it’s time for more soul searching. (Better get used to it! You’ll be doing a lot of soul searching during both your international adoption quest and especially after you are a parent.)

Here are some more questions to ponder:

Is your heart set on raising a child from infancy, or would you like to adopt an older child?
Do you feel you need the experience of parenting an infant?
Do you want to parent a girl or a boy, or do you have no preference?
Do you want to parent a sibling group or are you hoping to adopt one child at a time?

Your answers to these questions will help guide your country decision, since some countries have more girls available for adoption, some countries have more boys available for adoption, and the ages at which children are placed for adoption vary from nation to nation.

<b>Narrow it Down</b>
14. Narrow it Down

Most people starting out on the road to international adoption usually find that one country becomes more appealing than the others. It may be that your best friend in college was from Ethiopia, or your family may have East European roots, or maybe you traveled to Asia as a child. In the end, many adoptive parents will say, “Country X just called to us. We knew in our hearts that it was the right choice for us.” Even though you may feel like you are miles away from making such a statement, you, too will get to this point-- don’t worry!

<b>Step Three: Begin Thinking About Funding Your Adoption</b>
15. Step Three: Begin Thinking About Funding Your Adoption

There are a variety of costs that come into play with an international adoption.
Expect to spend around $10,000 to $40,000 when all is said and done. You’ll spend money on agency fees, government fees, paperwork, and travel.

<b>Agency Fees</b>
16. Agency Fees

Agency fees go towards the costs of arranging the adoption – from passports for the child to translation costs and legal fees in that country. To ensure that you’re working with an adoption agency dedicated to helping children, be sure to ask each agency how much money is routed into building new orphanages or funding new foster families in that country.

Application Fee: $150-$300
Home Study: $1,500-$2,750
Dossier Fee: $2,700
Adoption Program Fee: (varies by country): $4,750-$12,250
Travel For an Escorted Child: $1,500-$4,000
Post Placement: $700-$1400
Orphanage Fee (required by some agencies): Varies

One very important question to ask the agency is whether there is an additional
orphanage fee. Some orphanage adoptions will require a donation to that orphanage
(this is in addition to the country fee). In China, for example, this generally runs between
$3,000 and $4,000.

<b>Government Fees</b>
17. Government Fees

One item not included in the adoption agency costs are the various fees charged by the U.S. government for processing all the forms involved-- the total cost for processing all these forms is around $1,000. This does not include small charges for local requirements like state or county fingerprints, and mailing costs.

18. Travel

Travel expenses can add up quickly. To get a decent estimate once you’ve chosen a country, see what ticket prices are for two weeks advance notice for travel to get there. Also check for special adoption fares from the airlines. (And remember that some countries require you to travel twice!) If you’re adopting a toddler or older child, you also need to remember to add in the cost of a one way ticket for your new child for the way back. Aside from airfare, the hotel bills and meals can also add up quickly so make sure you don’t forget to add this into your cost estimate and plan for saving.

<b>Legal Fees</b>
19. Legal Fees

Legal fees can vary from $500 to $4,000, depending on the circumstances. The best way to get a good estimate for this is to consult with an agency that you are considering or to interview a local attorney who specializes in international adoption.

<b>Where to Find the Money</b>
20. Where to Find the Money

Now that your hair is standing on end after reading about all the costs associated with international adoption-- take a deep breath! It’s really not as bad as it seems. With the right help, international adoption really is affordable! There are literally dozens of ways that help make adoption affordable for families with modest incomes. Assistance with the costs for adoption can vary from the federal government tax credit to foundation grants. Here are just a few ways to make your international adoption dreams a reality:

Adoption Tax Credit
Adoption Grants (add info about grants from Guide)
Employer Benefits

Remember that some adoption agencies may lower their fees for families adopting older children or children with special needs. They will also typically lower their fees if you are open to adopting multiple children at a time or if you use the same agency more than once. Even if the agency doesn’t offer to lower the fee, you should always ask. It can’t hurt and you never know-- you might end up saving some money!

Need a little inspiration? Here’s a story about a family who had no idea how they were going to fund their international adoption.

<b>Step Four: Choose an Adoption Agency</b>
21. Step Four: Choose an Adoption Agency

Okay, you’ve conducted an in-depth self psychoanalysis and decided which country you would like to adopt from. Now it’s time to choose an adoption agency. Just what does an international adoption agency do? Good question! A good international adoption agency will:

• Review the eligibility of prospective adoptive parents;
• Provide home studies, or can recommend someone in your area to conduct your homestudy;
• Assist you with preparing your adoption paperwork;
• Coordinate the referral of children;
• Provide adoptive parenting programs
• Provide post-placement services and file post-placement reports.

You can check out reviews for international adoption agencies here.

<b>What is Important to You?</b>
22. What is Important to You?

Before you sign on with a particular agency, you need to decide what you’re looking for in an international adoption agency. Do you want a large organization that offers programs in many different countries and is well-known around the world? Or would you be more comfortable working with a smaller agency where you get one-on-one contact and lots of handholding? Don’t know where to start looking for an agency? Then it’s time for more research!

23. Research

Ask your friends and family who have adopted internationally which agency they used, or contact an international adoptive parents support group.

Check out our Reviews/Directory. Gather all the information you can about the agencies you’re interested in--call or e-mail the agencies and ask for more information. Be sure to ask for references and be sure to check them! When you get the deluge of brochures and pamphlets from all those international adoption agencies, be sure to take the time to read them thoroughly--even the small print. This is not the time to skim through your reading assignment!

24. Investigate

Next, you need to investigate the agencies you’re interested in to make sure they’re the type of people you want to do business with. Call the state licensing specialist in the state where the agency operates to see if the agency’s license is current and to find out if any major complaints have been filed against them. The Better Business Bureau is also a good source of information about complaints, as is the state’s Office of the Attorney General.

<b>Check for Accreditation</b>
25. Check for Accreditation

Check to see if the agency is accredited. Accreditation is different than being licensed. Agencies must be licensed by the state in which they operate-- a license simply ensures that the agency meets the minimum standards of the state.

On the other hand, adoption agencies are accredited by outside organizations. Accreditation certifies that an adoption agency’s operations are the best that they can be. Among other criteria, accreditation standards include effective operation as a non-profit organization, effective and accountable management operations, sound financial management, effective personnel practices and training, effective client services, documented and effective procedures, and, most importantly, effective and ethical international adoption practices.

Requirements in each of these areas are set forth in extreme detail by the
accrediting organization.

Furthermore, some countries will only allow international adoption agencies that are accredited by their country’s government to place children for adoption. Before you settle on working with a particular agency, check to see if they are approved by the government of the country from which you are adopting.

<b>Evaluating Agencies and Their Programs</b>
26. Evaluating Agencies and Their Programs

Only you know what type of agency will best suit your needs and lead you to the child who is waiting for you.. Some people prefer the options offered by large agencies with numerous international programs, while smaller, more personal agencies that are closer to home better suit the needs of other people.

While most international adoption agencies are legitimate and truly have the best interests of the children at heart, some agencies are nothing short of fraudulent. The international adoption process is rife with stress and emotion without mixing in the specter of fraud. During your research process, review agency literature, attend international adoption seminars and open houses, and talk with agency staffers.

<b>Step Five: Get a Home Study</b>
27. Step Five: Get a Home Study

Yes, this means a social worker is going to come to your house. But don’t panic! Basically, a home study involves assessment and education. The social worker, on behalf of the adoption agency, wants to make sure of two things:

1) You are suited to be an adoptive parent
2) You have an appropriate place to raise a child.

This doesn’t mean that you have to transform into Ward and June Cleaver overnight. (If you did, you’d probably scare the daylights out of your social worker!) The home study lets the adoption agency get to know you while you learn more about the adoption process. The entire home study process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on how quickly the meetings with your social worker can be arranged and how quickly you can gather all the necessary information.

The home study will involve a lot of paperwork, so plan on gathering up all your official documents, all your financial documents, completing a criminal history background check, and making a visit to your doctor.

Click here to learn more about getting a home study and request information from a home study professional.

<b>Step Six: Open up a Correspondence with the USCIS</b>
28. Step Six: Open up a Correspondence with the USCIS

If everything goes the way it is supposed to, you’ll be working with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service – the USCIS – (the agency that used to be called the INS and was then called the BCIS has changed its name yet again!) on only a few occasions during your international adoption odyssey.

You’ll start by submitting the I-600A: Application for Advancing Processing of Orphan Petition. If something goes wrong or you need extra help you may need to call the office of your Congressional Representative for help getting your child’s paperwork processed correctly.

<b>Step Seven: Complete & Submit a Dossier</b>
29. Step Seven: Complete & Submit a Dossier

Although its name sounds a little intimidating, a dossier (pronounced “doss-e-A”) is really just a collection of papers containing very detailed information about you. The vast majority of countries open to international adoption require prospective adoptive parents to compile a dossier.

Compiling a dossier involves gathering documents, having these documents notarized, and then adding various seals from your county, your state, and the U.S. government.

Is it complicated? Well, yes and no. Click here for more information and read on.

<b>There’s Good News and Bad News</b>
30. There’s Good News and Bad News

The good news is that some of the documents required for your dossier are the same documents required by the USCIS and your homestudy.

The bad news is that the vast majority of these documents need to be notarized, certified, apostilled, and authenticated. What does this mean? Read on!

<b>Notarization and Apostillization</b>
31. Notarization and Apostillization

We’ve all had documents notarized-- where a Notary Public certifies that they witnessed a specific person sign a specific document. This is done to eliminate the possibility of forgery. A Notary Public can also certify that a copy of a document is a true and unaltered copy of the original document.

Here’s a notary tip: Before you hand your local Notary Public a stack of documents that are bound for your dossier, ask when the notary’s commission expires. Most countries require that the notary’s commission be valid for at least a year past the date they witness a signature.

Putting an apostille on something is the equivalent of having the Notary Public’s seal notarized. When a document is apostilled, the governmental body that registered the Notary is certifying that the Notary’s signature, seal, and license are valid. The government official will look at the signature and seal of the Notary on your notarized documents and then check their records to validate the signature and seal. They will then attach another paper to your document with their authorization seal and official signature.

<b>Step Eight: Wait</b>
32. Step Eight: Wait

Once the rush is over and you’ve rounded up all the paperwork and submitted it to the right places, the real wait begins. This is an anxious and very exciting time.

You are waiting for the phone to ring and your social worker to say,” We have a child for you!” With every phone call, your heart momentarily stops as you ask yourself, “Is this it? Is this the call where I learn about my child?”

The average wait for an international adoption is 12-18 months, but this varies from country to country and from situation to situation. Your adoption agency will give you a ballpark estimate regarding the length of wait you should expect before being matched with a child.

<b>Surviving It</b>
33. Surviving It

This time of waiting for our child to come into your lives is marked by fear, anticipation, hope, patience, faith, trust, sorrow, and possibly even some anger about delays or changes over which you have no control. There are two certainties within international adoption: The first is that (eventually) you will have the child you are longing to love (even though it may take longer than you initially thought); the second is that it won’t all be smooth sailing. There will be delays, difficulties, and much less information and control than you will want and need to feel completely comfortable.

If you can get through the frustrations, keep your hope alive (and your sense of humor!), learn patience, gain faith, and absolutely refuse to give up when you confront an obstacle, you will have a child once your homestudy is approved. You will be the forever family a child is waiting for.

Click here for a list of ways to make your wait bearable.

<b>Step Nine: It’s a Referral!</b>
34. Step Nine: It’s a Referral!

When you have been matched with a child, your adoption agency will call your social worker, and your social worker will call you. Usually you don’t get much information over the phone, just the basics like the age and sex of the child and any special needs the child may have. Your social worker will want to meet with you as quickly as possible to go over the child’s file.

<b>The Referral File</b>
35. The Referral File

The referral file usually contains photographs of the child, a medical report, and the child’s social history. Depending on the country, you may have more (or less) information about the child. Some countries include videotapes of the child and the medical history of the child’s birth parents, while others offer very little about the medical or developmental history of the child. Based on the research you conducted prior to choosing a country, you should know the type of information to expect in the referral file.

<b>Making a Decision</b>
36. Making a Decision

Some agencies (and social workers) make a point of withholding the photos until you accept the referral. They don’t want you to make a quick emotional decision based on how cute the child looks. Those photos will pull on your heartstrings! Other agencies and social workers let you see all the photos beforehand. Although it is extremely tempting, try not to make an instant decision about accepting the referral. It’s a good idea to take the file home with you so you can read—and read and read again—everything. Most agencies ask that you take at least 24 hours (and no more than a week) to make a decision on the referral.

<b>Step Ten: Pick Up Your Child</b>
37. Step Ten: Pick Up Your Child

Once you accept the child, the adoption process can begin. Some countries will allow adoption of a child without the prospective adoptive parents’ physical presence. If a couple is adopting, the country may require only one member of the couple to be present to conclude the foreign adoption. Other countries do not permit foreigners to adopt a child in their courts. Rather, they grant you guardianship of the child with permission to bring the child to the United States for subsequent adoption. In order to accomplish the adoption or guardianship, you may have to give power of attorney to the international agency or to a foreign lawyer who will represent you in court during these proceedings.

The fee for this is usually part of the country program fee. Your adoption agency and/or your foreign attorney also can assist you in securing a passport for the child to enable travel to the United States.

<b>Meeting Your Child</b>
38. Meeting Your Child

You will never forget where you were when you got “the call” from your social worker about your referral, and you will never forget the first time you saw your child’s photograph in the referral file. Yes, these are moments you’ll always remember.

But the first time you meet your child is truly breathtaking-- all those long hours of getting your paperwork together, worrying, praying, and waiting have come down to this one moment when you can see and touch and hold your child for the first time. Even if things don’t unfold like a perfect fairy tale (and they rarely do!), the first meeting with your child will be a magical memory you’ll treasure your entire life.

<b>Step Eleven: Just a Little More Paperwork</b>
39. Step Eleven: Just a Little More Paperwork

Compared to the paperwork you've already conquered, this will be a breeze. Check out the next slide to see what post-placement paperwork awaits you.

<b>Post-Placement Supervision & Reports</b>
40. Post-Placement Supervision & Reports

Many foreign countries require post-placement supervision and reports for six months to two years after the child is in his new home. Post-placement reports are highly valued by foreign governments. These reports include photographs of the child in his new home, written reports by the social worker, and medical reports from your child’s pediatrician.

In addition to going to the foreign government, these reports are usually shared with the orphanage personnel and/or the foster family who cared for your child. Post-placement reports demonstrate that a child has made a successful transition to life in an American family. The same officials who approve new international placements rely on post-placement reports as an indicator of the success of their efforts. In other words, you can help other families who are hoping to adopt children from the same country you adopted from by complying with the post-placement requirements! This is a time when you can “pay it forward” and assist future adoptions.

If you're looking for resources on parenting and adoption, you can check out this list of recommended books for preparation and support.

<b>Other Documents</b>
41. Other Documents

You’ll also need to go through the process of applying for a social security number for your child, as well as helping him or her obtain a U.S. Passport.

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Mary M. Strickert

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